One of the most important items you should have stored away for an emergency is a good quality high power 110v electric generator. These can come in handy when there is a blackout, or if you just need to get some power to a remote part of your property to run a water well pump.
As an electrician, I always had a little 1000w EU10i Honda generator set up in the back of my van. It came with the van when I got my job and it was ok with simple power tools. But when I would load it up with a Welder or a 1hp Well Pump I quickly realized it was not going to do the job.
Without a constant flow of steady amps, the arc caddy welder would splutter and stop welding for me. This made it hard to get those perfect bead welds on cable trays and brackets. Using a smaller welding rod with lower amp settings was better but would take too long. So I had to get a better generator for my job and I wanted the best, lightest, most powerful one I could afford.
Which Generator for Well Pumps, Caravans, and Welding Machines.
Let us explain a few important details that may affect your decision on why the size and type of generator you will need. Depending on the size of your portable welder, power tools and the current draw of your sump pump will determine the minimum size of the Genset you will require. Generators are rated in kilowatt hours, KVA or to the common man their power rating. To work out power we need to know two variables like current and voltage.
Power = Volts x Amps
So if your water sump well pump pulls around 8amps on full load then you will need a generator that is able to provide around 110v x 8amps = 880 watts of power.
For a reliable machine, I would round it up to 1000w and then double it 100% for the starting current also known as inrush current. So now we are up to a 2KVA generator.
Depending on the size of the water well pump motor, your inrush current could be as high as 2-5 times the normal running current. Saying this you will only have this high current for a second or two. We need to make sure that the generator that we are purchasing will be able to handle a large inrush current for a short period of time.
Newer well pumps have a soft starter installed which will reduce the inrush current to the pump motor. This makes sizing the generator easy. Just consult the manufacturer’s specification on the well pump.
Some generators that have been built cheaply will fail at a high inrush current and will either trip a circuit breaker, stall out or simply just turn off. That’s why I always recommend buying a brand name generator or one will good specifications to handle high inrush situations without letting the user down. I have seen plenty of cheap Chinese generators fail into a glob of hot smoldering plastic over my years as a sparky.
So let’s look at 3 generators that I see a lot around work sites and out at campsites. I have picked the most common power ratings for different applications.
Top 3 Economic Inverter Generators
Which generator do I need?
This is the million dollar question. For most of us, it will come down to portability also known as weight and functionality, also known as the power rating.
Do you need a generator for camping to have music and fun? Or do you need a generator for welding? Each application is different.
It is no good buying a 7KW generator if you can’t even move it to your campsite due to its weight. I have put together a list of different appliances and their rated watts used. It will tell your their normal running current as well as any starting current spikes. This way you can add a few up to see how much power you really need.
Basically the more powerful the generator the heaver it will be. The copper winding and the larger motor to drive the generator increased this weight massively. So let’s look at the average power draw of everyday items in your hose.
|Item||Running Full Load Watts||Starting Peak Watts|
|Lighting and Water|
|Incandescent Light Bulb 60w||60w|
|LED 60w comparable light bulb||10w|
|Fridge / Freezer||700w||2200w|
|Sump Well Pump 1 HP||1050w||2200w|
|Water pump 1/2 HP||900w||2200w|
|Submersible pump 2HP||2000w||4000w|
|Electric Water heater||3000-4000w|
|LED 42 Inch TV||200w|
|Lenovo 15 inch Laptop Computer||250w|
|Inverter Arc Welder 140A||700w||2000w|
|Heating and Cooling|
|Space rack heater||1300w|
|Furnace fan blower||800w||2350w|
|Wall/window air conditioner||1200w||1800w|
|Central split system AC||3800w||4950w|
|RV air conditioner||1000w||1600w|
|Microwave Oven 1100w||1100w|
How to work out which size generator for Well Pump
Well pumps are usually installed down deep in a borehole. These submersible pumps have to push the water up as high as 200 feet. As a survivalist out in the middle of know where these can be a lifesaver.
Amps = Power / Volts
One horsepower equals 745.7 watts. So if you have a 2 hp well pump then it should need only 1,492 watts of power to run. But we need to take into account the voltage drop and the starting current. So 2000w should be ample running current but I would look into a 4000w generator or higher.
What size generator for an arc welder?
The arc welder will pull a massive amount of inrush mains current while the arc is being struck. Once the welding arc is underway and you are welding metal the input current will drop off.
Look at the manufacturer’s specifications and I would then triple the size of the generator required. So an inverter arc welder that is pulling 5 amps at 110v will be using 550w of power normally. A 2000w generator would be perfect in this application with spare power available to deal with the inrush current.
Which Generator did I go for?
After looking at all of the features I needed I ended up going with the Briggs and Stratton P3000. There were a number of reasons I chose this one:
- Great compromise between power and price. 2600w is more than enough for what I need around the work site such as welding and powering up submersible water pumps. Now I can go camping with it as well.
- Compact unit that has a large number of outlets as well as the ability to daisy chain. This is also known as parallel port outlets to get 2x the power from one lead using 2x generators.
- Quiet operation as to not to annoy the neighbors.
- Good starting spike amps 10% up to 3000w but I have pushed it further and it was fine for a few seconds.
- Great LCD meter generator information. One of the most advanced electrical generators around.
I love that it has wheels and you can just roll it around. Just think of a suitcase. What’s easier to move around? an old heavy suitcase without wheels or one with.
If you would like to check out the Briggs and Stratton P3000 user manual for extra information and specifications you can download it here.
Generator Maintenance Tips
If purchasing a new generator online most will come without any oil in the sump. It is very important to read the instructions and fill the transfer case sump up with oil before attempting to start the generator.
Just like a car engine, petrol generators have oil in the sump. This oil needs to be replaced at least every year maybe more depending on the use. Even if you don’t use it very much the constant change in temperature will cause the oil to absorb moisture.
Over time this can cause damage to the internal timing chain, bearings, piston, and bore. the easiest way to remove the oil is to either use an oil suction pump or just tip the generator on its side with the oil cap removed to drain the oil into a pan.
Measure the amount of oil that has come out so you can quickly replace the same amount. Most of the smaller generators will take around 1L of oil. Any good quality 10-30 car engine oil will do the trick. Just read the manufacturers manual to check their recommendations.
Most quality generators will have a low oil level switch that will cut out the generator if the level drops. But I have seen some cheap online Chinese generators that don’t have these safety switches and overtime they fail because the oil level got too low and the owner didn’t check the level.
Generator For Survival
I have decided to go with another one smaller generator and one more powerful one for our getaway shack which is not connected to the grid. The reason I have done this is for ease of transport. The smaller Briggs and Stratton 2600 watt generator can be taken away on day trips whereas the larger WEN 5000 watt generator will be kept in our bug out shack.
The scout motto is “Be prepared” so for the small cost of these generators I can have power all year long, provided I can get fuel for the generator. Most generators now days will run all night long on a tank of fuel so its best to have a few jerry cans available with emergency fuel.
Fuel does go bad over time so its best to rotate petrol every 6 months. I just put it in my 4×4 and then top up the jerry at the gas station. Be aware if there is a blackout most service stations don’t have emergency power so you have to provide for your self.
A simple manual or electric gas pump will make topping up your generators with fuel easy. No more holding up large cans of fuel.
What to do if your 120v generator won’t start up?
It is best to go over systematically the following points.
- Is there fuel in the generator and is it fresh not old.
- Check the fuel cap bleed valve is open if fitted?
- Did you turn on the fuel valve?
- Is the generator electrical system turned on, emergency stop reset, and the choke pushed in?
- Disconnect any electrical appliances that still may be connected to the generator.
- Check that the spark plug lead is pushed on and not lose.
- Remove the spark plug and clean the end contacts sometimes these get carbon on the end.
- Clean the air filter
- Check the oil sump for correct level and top up if required.
This will fix 99% of problems of a not starting generator. If it still will not start you may need to take it to a mechanic to diagnose the fault.
The generator is blowing smoke
Excess smoke usually means there is a problem with the combustion process of the motor. Sometimes it can be a simple fix like the choke has been left on. Or a user has used 2 stroke fuel which has been mixed with oil rather than straight car petrol.
Another reason for excess smoke is that the piston rings are damaged and are passing and burning sump oil. This can be because the unit is old and worn. They can be re-sleeved and a new piston and rings fitted but it may be more economical to buy a new generator.
A generator is using too much fuel
Most generators now days have an auto econ mode and will virtually idle the speed for a very little load. If your generator has an eco switch try flicking this switch and seeing how the fuel economy goes.
If you run them to their maximum rated capacity they will chug down a lot of fuel. If you find you are constantly over 90% of rated capacity its best to invest in a larger power generator. You will get better fuel economy.
As an electrician, I value the benefits that generators can do for me. Be it power in a remote location or as a backup for the end of the word, well maybe just a blackout. Be sure to always take care of your gear and it will take care of you in the time of need.
I recommend staying away from cheap no-name generators as their quality and reliability can be questionable. Honda generators have an excellent name but you will pay for the top of the range name brand, they are very quiet and reliable.
The Briggs and Stratton P3000 has been a great work van generator due to its compact size, weight, and high power rating. If I ever need a larger power generator over 5kw I will be checking out the WEN brand of generators.
WEN Generators have a great reputation and are supported by a 2-year warranty with service agents all over the united states. They have models all the way up to 13000 watts.
If you are looking to use the parallel cable features of these newer generators always stay with the same brand. Sometimes the generators from other manufacturers don’t play nicely together when trying to daisy chain power.
I’m glad to see my neighbors test running their emergency generators every now and then. Don’t just store it away hoping it will work in a few years. Fire them up and give it a good run for 15 minutes with a small load like a 100w light globe or power tool like a drill.
This will provide lubrication to all of the internal moving parts and will also cycle fresh fuel into the carburetor ready for the next time you need emergency power.