Tornadoes, hurricanes, and snowstorms motivated me to get a generator, here's a look at my ETQ TG72K12 with 8250 Watts, 14 HP, low THD, and clean sine waves
I live in a lovely, quiet suburb in central Connecticut, about 30 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean/Long Island Sound. This proximity to warm water moderates the temperature extremes a bit. But we do occasionally get strong thunderstorms, snowstorms, or worse.
Here in New England, my experience with generators started when a very rare Tornado struck June 26 2009, the eve of a major family milestone outdoor party I was helping with. Thankfully, nobody in town was hurt, and my home was undamaged, even with the tornado path a little under a mile away.
So off I went to find a generator that'd work, for the video projector and sound equipment, to keep the large party going. I had about 1/2 hour to research generators, since the venue in town was only about a third of a mile from the tornado path, and without power, and stores were closing soon. So I made the 20 miles distant Home Depot run (after ensuring they had some stock), arriving just before closing. It worked out fine. The party went on without a hitch. Our electronics didn't seem to mind it. And that generator later found loving home, by the person who paid for it. But that particular model is no longer made.
Then, the double-whammy of Hurricane Irene hitting on August 28 2011, followed just 2 months later by the Halloween Nor'easter freakishly-early-snowstorm on October 29 2011. This really opened my eyes. Hot windy weather with no power for days, then 61 days later, deep, sticky snow that took down trees (that still had leaves) left my state with widespread power outages. I'll never forget the sight of a nearby transformer exploding, unbelievably bright, with that distinctive greenish afterglow. Longer than a week without power in many areas of Connecticut. My own home was without power for over 4 days, see also When your home’s Internet goes down, here’s a cellular work-around. This was the first serious outage in my neighborhood, in the 17 years I've lived in this home. And the blown transformer brought back vivid memories of witnessing the same sort of explosions, watching 1985's Hurricane Gloria through my childhood home's front windows, where the eye passed right through central Connecticut, right over us.
During last year's Hurricane Irene, I was lucky enough to have a less affected family member loan me a generator. It was old and loud. The generator, not the family member. But it sure worked nicely, delivering close-enough-to-60Hz-sine-wave AC power to all my CyberPower UPSs that didn't complain a bit, when plugged in via beefy extension cords. And it kept our vital items going, including the gas-fired heating system's water pump and thermostats, our refrigerator and freezer (saving a lot of food), and our cablemodem/router/laptop/VOIP phone. I was able to continue to do my infrastructure related day job, helping businesses keep going too.
Back to that freakishly-early snowstorm. It sure downed most power and communications lines, with trees (not just limbs) laying across most roads. Even major interstate highways like I-91 had trees nearly blocking all lanes, seen for myself, while driving to other family members homes to help out. Drove far during that storm to get a generator for myself, that didn't operating anything but my fridge. All electronics complained and shut off when plugged into it. Luckily, it was early enough in the year to not have burst pipes issues through lack of heating. So it was a good wake-up call, alerting towns to the need for solid community centers that could provide disaster relief (shelter/food/heat). And alerting me to the need for a generator that works, and works well, for all my gear.
In the aftermath, the state began extensive pruning of trees and limbs near streets and highways and power lines. That extensive work continued clear through the summer of 2012, doubling Connecticut Light & Power's budget, for example.
With Hurricane Sandy now looming, Hurricane Sandy Could Be 'Perfect Storm' on East Coast, now seemed to be a good time to get this article started, in case this latest scare sends people into thinking about generators, yet again.
If you have a much higher budget, and a natural gas line, admittedly, that's probably a better way to go. Gasoline stations often can't pump gas after disasters, given they may have no generator to run fuel pump. And trucks can't get into town to refill the gas station. Both issues were evident in the October 2011 snowstorm aftermath. But if you're just trying to have a way to limp along for a few days every once in a long while, on a few 5 gallon tanks you can keep safely stored, then a gasoline powered generator like this one may be a viable solution. A reasonable balance between economy with utility.
After pretty extensive research of models most likely to work with electronics, I eventually chose this ETQ model. Much of what I describe in my quest may be helpful in your search for what you wish to get for your needs. And I admit this isn't an extensive, head-to-head comparison of numerous makes. It's just a story of what worked for my family.
From Amazon, I paid no shipping charge because of my Amazon Prime membership, despite the ~220 pound weight of the item. Shipping would have been ~$225.
Here's an excerpt from Amazon's product description, marketing fluff of course, with a bit semi-science:
Alternator Technology Safely Delivers Electricity to Your Appliances
One of the most innovative features of the TG72K12 is its ETQ Clean Sine Alternator Technology that ensures low total harmonic distortion (THD). THD is a measure of the quality of the electricity produced by a generator, and THD above six percent can damage electronics and other components over time. With THD of less than five percent, the TG72K12 ensures high-quality, safe delivery of electricity from the generator to your electrical components.
I had to wait until the extensive winter back-orders were filled, but the factory told me an accurate estimate of when those back-orders would be filled, and it finally shipped on Feb 27 2012, at an excellent price of $711.68 USD.
which has admittedly risen all the way to $984.27 USD, on Oct 26 2012:
Having experienced a borrowed old/loud/powerful generator, then briefly owning a Home Depot bought model that didn't work out (more about that later), the features I was seeking became much more obvious to me.
- affordable price for admittedly only occasional use (once a year on average likely), so
- decent reviews
- some sort of sine-wave like claims
- decent tank size (>8 hours, so I could get decent night's sleep)
- moderate noise output
- automatic throttle to conserve fuel use when under less than full loads
- CARB compliant
Nothing met all the criteria. This ETQ TG72K12 met the all but the last 2 criteria. While it does have automatic throttle control, it only cuts down fuel use if there are 0 watts of load. Even one 8 watt LED bulb plugged in ramped up throttle back to full. But I still like having that feature, even if it's rarely actually used. I also couldn't find any decent, affordable CARB complaint models anywhere, so I had to let that idea go as well, after waiting and looking for months. The models that are CARB compliant cost considerably more, but didn't meet many other requirements.
I suppose another way to look at this is that many of my extended family members come to live in my home on the rare occasions the power goes out for days, so the overall impact to running this gasoline powered motor for a few days once-in-a-long-while is modest, on a per person basis.
I also realize my chosen model is not manufactured in the US, and isn't near the quality of the typically $3000-$4000 Honda inverter models intended for more frequent and quieter use. But it does appear parts should be reasonably easy to get.
So after months of waiting for my generator that was on backorder, I finally got a shipping notice from Amazon, followed quickly by the Amazon-chosen freight-carrier contacting me to coordinate the delivery. They used a truck with a lift gate, and a dolly, to get the box set down right in my garage, no damage.
Note that mine seems to have a 14HP engine, despite the 13HP listed in the specs. Not sure why exactly, but I'll be curious to see what engine comes with a new ETQ identical part #TG72K12 generator, also from Amazon, arriving for another family member in early November 2012. This one is being shipped from TN to CT by CEVA Logistics/Eagle Freight, but it will likely be delayed by Sandy's wrath/aftermath.
Always nice to be able to look before you buy (out of stock in Home Depot, but they still have instruction manual):
Using batteries for computers and routers and such is really only meant to allow graceful shutdown, or handle brief power interruptions smoothly. It's convenient to leave those UPSs alone, and whatever is plugged into them, during these outages, leaving only essential systems powered up. Particularly important is the UPS my router is on, allowing me to share my LTE to the household, described here. So I talked to my UPS vendor, CyberPower, on their excellent technical support line. We discussed the CyberPower's VMware ESXi support for auto-shutdown, which they've since greatly improved, with VMware vMA appliance, and PowerPanel monitoring via USB 2.0, that now working together. We also discussed generator compatibility, which I could find little info about, anywhere really. I was essentially told, quite politely, that no UPS company can claim to truly support any generator that doesn't put out perfect sine waves, especially on the affordable UPS product lines that essentially pass the power right through. The representative explained that the particular series of PFC-compatible UPS I had chosen (affordable) wasn't really filtering or cleaning up the generator power. I just got lucky really, with that old generator I had borrowed. I can also say many brands of UPSs abruptly shut off when the frequency goes above around 62Hz. Both CyberPower and APC. I learned that the hard way, with one Honeywell generator I had tried for 40 hours. I had to beg the senior Home Depot management for a refund, since it had no consumer-adjustable way to fix the flawed 64Hz-65Hz it was delivering. This made it useless, or even dangerous, to all my electronic items in my home.
Here's a quick overview of my own assembly procedure, to supplement what the manual covers. It took well under an hour to do, from unboxing, to starting the engine for the first time.
- unbox (open top, cut all 4 corners open, drop box cardboard sides as work surface)
- tip on-left end (as viewed from electrical panel side)
- conveniently install wheel axles and wheels on right-end bottom
- install rubber foot pad brackets on left end bottom
- remove red shipping brackets that prevent engine from flexing on the rubber bushings
- tip back upright
- use cable tie to move battery and other cables out of the way of the oil fill
- fill with oil (synthetic might be preferable, if you got it, see manual page 1, SAE 10W-30)
- fill with gas
- turn on fuel valve
- turn on choke
- pull cord to start, mine started on second try
While the generator is running, you may then wish to plug in a Kill A Watt EZ, or CyberPower UPS, to get a real-time read-out of the frequency output of the generator in Hz. Do this monitoring while stressing the generator with various loads. Try power drills and hair dryers, for example. Then, if needed, calibrate the generator to 60Hz, or perhaps a little above, using this procedure described here:
Here's the relevant excerpt:
To set the frequency look above the choke lever you'll see a screw with a spring on it with a jamb nut on the back the screw contacts a tab, loosen the nut adjust the screw with gen running and a small load it watch the kill a watt meter and stop when the freq is at 60 or as close as you can get to that then tighten jamb nut
I didn't bother purchasing a battery, to allow push-button start, since I'm fine with pulling the cable. I see having no battery to maintain as one less thing to worry about the rest of the year.
FYI, to make a proper hookup to my home's 200 Amp service panel, avoiding awkward thick extension cord routing, I do plan to use this manual transfer switch, which seems to have very favorable reviews for ease of installation. I'm supposed to pick the 8 most important circuits on my 200AMP service panel, and I'm also told I should balance my circuits carefully, to try to balance the load across the 2 halves of this switch..
From Home Depot: Reliance Controls 30 Amp 10 Circuit Manual Transfer Switch Kit, Model # 31410CRK Internet # 202214969 Store SKU # 298881 (purchase locally to save on shipping costs and reduce shipping impact on environment)
Manual Transfer Switch Instruction Manual here
- Once everything is cabled correctly, be sure main breaker on generator is off
- Make sure fuel valve is opened beneath gas tank
- Turn key to "On" position
- Position choke lever to left
- Pull starter cord
- Position choke lever to right
- Turn on main breaker
When it comes time to refuel, here's the procedure I use:
- flip the main breaker off on the generator itself, so any electronics in the house not on UPSs don't experience a nasty sag, instead loosing power instantly
- turn off the generator, turning the key to the "Off" position
- remove fuel tank cap
- pour until the fuel reached the rim of the opening, taking care not to overfill
- reinstall cap
- start engine
- flip breaker back on
Don't forget to keep track of hours (there's an hour meter), ensuring you change oil according to the schedule specified in the instruction manual. I'll probably stick with the first oil change at 1 hour, then subsequent changes every 24 hours of running.
Diary of a disaster: Living off the grid after Superstorm Sandy: How a tech writer and his family kept heat, lights and computers going during 10 days without utility power
By Brian Nadel November 12 2012
Nov 09 2012 Update:
An unprecedented letter was sent to all Connecticut Light & Power customers today, thought it interesting/relevant:
Thank You from CL&P
Jul 14 2013 Update:
Kind of interesting that the much-lower-end ETQ now showing up at Big Y, which I spotted today in the store, but seen on their weekly flier here as well.
Sep 23 2013 Update:
Spotted this exact generator model at Christmas Tree Shops for $699, so that'd be one way to save on the cost of shipping, should you be lucky enough to spot one of these locally. No online site to check inventory, probably best to just use the Christmas Tree Store Finder to give your location a ring, to see if they still have any in stock.
Nov 05 2014 Update:
I have spotted this generator at Sam's Club site:
Jan 30 2019 Update:
I finally got around to having an electrician finally install the Reliance Controls 30 Amp 10 Circuit Manual Transfer Switch Kit, with a timelapse video here. It looks like the nearest equivalent that's available now is the 30 Amp 250-Volt 7500-Watt Non-Fuse 6-Circuit Transfer Switch Kit.