• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • jordan barton
  • Pearl Sutton
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Steve Thorn
  • r ranson
master gardeners:
  • John F Dean
  • Carla Burke
  • Nancy Reading
gardeners:
  • Jay Angler
  • Mike Barkley
  • Liv Smith

Generator recycling - hard, but possible

 
pollinator
Posts: 108
11
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We've worked with a number of generator types:

 - low-end at $500 or so (camping and such, small/complex); 1 or 2 years of life-span
 - mid-range at $1000 or so (power around the homestead, bigger and easy to work on yourself); 2 years of life-span
 - and high-end (to us) at $4000 or more (standby power to run everything, dealer lock-in on service/repair); 2 or more years of life-span

All have unique use cases that might make you want one, and you might be willing to accept the trade-offs for that type. We've settled on the mid-range type of generators, specifically Duromax and Westinghouse brands, at about 10k or 12k watts, running on propane (our fuel of choice for the homestead). In our off-grid life, the sweet spot seems to be the mid-range gennys, and we get about two years out of them. which leads to recycling of these (as we try to recycle everything).

Gennys are notoriously hard to recycle, unless perhaps you can do it like this:

1. buy two of the same brand and model at the start, and another every two years or so; the second is a backup to the first, so if a tough problem arises, you switch to the second while repairing the first.

2. with the brand/model the same, if one dies a horrible death (engine or generator head), it gets parted out to keep the others running. there are numerous little parts to harvest, such as starter motors, electronic sensors, etc.

The reasoning behind this has to do with how such gennys are built ... purpose-built in fact, such that only this particular engine with its special tapered shaft, matched to this gen-head, will produce power ... you can't easily mix and match among disparate brands and models. But, by staying within a brand and model, everything moves back and forth between the units.

An engine might die, but all other pieces go to the next unit, and so on. We are actually doing this now, and about the only thing left over is the open steel tubular frame. Parts are now inexpensive (zero-cost) because they came off another unit and are sitting on the shelf. If one of the two critical components, engine or gen-head, goes out, we don't throw away the whole thing, and there is zero waiting to get parts in.

This isn't feasible with either the low-end (too complex to work on) or high-end (dealer lock-in, like generac) ... the mid-range is the only tier where it is easy to diy. Basically, we pay $1000 every so often, and accrue savings over the life of multiple units, and still come out ahead of the high-end units, which didn't seem to live up to their promises ...

And, no gennys piling up in the yard or dump ...

Hope this strategy can work for you, if generators are in use at your homestead ...
 
pollinator
Posts: 1730
Location: Victoria BC
273
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Seems like a great system compared to just chucking them.

What sort of hours are you putting on in that approx 2 year lifespan?


I've got a propane generator as a general purpose backup, a Champion in my case. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the customer service when I needed a new regulator, and have had no other issues in 3.5 years of occasional use.

Propane is really a fantastic fuel for long term storage. I wish it was more practical to switch all the other small gas engines to propane.

I'd hate to run my life off propane, though; usually I am on solar, but if that wasn't viable I would figure something like a Lister powered diesel would be the cheaper way to fly, in the long run..
 
Jt Lamb
pollinator
Posts: 108
11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We put upwards of 4 hours per day on a genny ... construction/shop tasks, battery recharge if weather isn't cooperating w/ solar panels, and moving energy around the site.

BTW, all "generator repair" videos we'd ever need are on youtube ... helped tremendously with the strategy. Most everything justs un-bolts, but de-rotor-ing an engine head the first time was ... interesting.
 
Posts: 180
Location: East Tennessee
28
forest garden hunting woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been running generators since I was little, I currently have a Generac 5000 watt that I keep for running my welder, and for emergencies and jobs. I have a battery bank and solar for the house, but it isn't enough to run my welder.

In my experience all gen sets will slowly vibrate themselves apart, I've had a few of the older RV sets that didn't, but they are usually on rubber pads. I tend to just fix the generators when they go down, the current Generac has been in service for over 5 years. Not continuously, but when we use the thing it runs for 6-8 hours at a time. And heavily loaded, especially when we are building houses off grid.

I try and repair them for as long as possible and then I will list them forsale on craigslist for parts. Somebody always comes to get them!
 
Jt Lamb
pollinator
Posts: 108
11
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Wasn't aware that vibration is a key component of failure at some point, but it makes sense ... always thought maintenance was the primary killer. Our current gennys sit on two rubber feet, and two hard rubber wheels ... not sure how to determine if that is still vibration-prone, or how to lock them down such that vibration would be eased ... more research needed.

Maintenance in the form of oil changes/filters/spark plugs (easy) and valve clearance adjustment (kind of easy, but time-consuming).

Don't know if further work has to happen inside the propane engine to get the longest life, like piston/ohv effort (very hard, as the genny has to be stripped down and possibly de-rotored). It might be easier to replace an engine, vs break it down and fix or clean something internal ...
 
pollinator
Posts: 2685
Location: 4b
747
dog forest garden trees bee building
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
These issues are the reason I'm building a big solar generator.  My gas gens are just too unreliable.
 
Jt Lamb
pollinator
Posts: 108
11
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Which gas gennys ( brands/models and type, as in gasoline/propane) are unreliable for you, as it might help the rest of us?

I've had a great experience with propane gennys, as there is no fuel mess issue, no carbs gunking up, and such ... thru severe winter conditions as well. Only issues are lifetime, as we get about 2 years or so out of the current models. I've had less to bad luck with the top-tier, due to the vendor lock-in issues, but that's why we switched to the mid-tier, which we have full control over.

These gennys also serve as backups (and backups to the backups) for solar, as the weather doesn't always cooperate with solar, at least in our area and in off-grid mode; they also serve to meet big/peak electrical demands, which I just can't size solar for at this time ... I always need more panels, more battery bank capacity, and more supporting infrastructure.

I assume the "big solar generator" is for portability, to move around as needed? It would be interesting to see if a big solar generator could fit all power requirements, under all conditions we get to experience up here.

Price-wise, one genny is $1000 ... two for more reliability is $2000 (mid-tier); operational/maintenance costs are present. Solar generator: X number of solar panels at $300/each, plus LiFePO4 batteries at $400/each, plus inverter at (guessing) $500 for 120v or way more for 240v, plus bits and bobs, and trailer or something for portability; almost zero operational/maintenance costs, as long as weather cooperates?

This would make a very interesting comparison ...
 
D Nikolls
pollinator
Posts: 1730
Location: Victoria BC
273
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So at ~4 hours a day, in 2 years you might see 2-3000hrs on these units before failure? That actually seems pretty good to me..

The things that put me off genset use are:

1) Emissions
2) Fuel cost
3) Noise

Noise can be mitigated with an enclosure and placement, but the others are pretty much a given..

The 9375/7500w Champion I am looking at grabbing will supposedly run 5.5hrs at 50% load on propane. I am guessing they mean from a 20lb tank...

This works out to $3 per hour, at last months propane price... maybe your propane is cheaper, but this would sure add up!




It's not all fun and games on solar; my $6600 LiFePO4 bank is nonfunctional right now. I am hoping it is one bad cell, but it doesn't look promising..

I will never again depend on a single series configured bank, the hassle factor of the downtime is too great..
 
Jt Lamb
pollinator
Posts: 108
11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We *intend* to get about 2000 hours or so out of each genny ... that's 2000 hours or so before a major failure (engine or gen-head); little things fail and have to be fixed/replaced, and consumables are needed for each genny. Maintenance is key, and generator  forums exist to really help with achieving quality maintenance. By recycling gennys the way we do, each becomes part of the next working genny, so I hope our efficiency is even better (imagine *all* the parts from the oldest one moving up the line; nothing is wasted).

Then there's how some manufacturing employee felt one day, as our genny came down the line. One genny died an early death when the engine blew its top; the manufacturer warrantied the engine, but there's still time and effort to get things back to normal. It's part of the reason we always have two of same make/model. This scheme helps us recycle each genny, turning what would normally be a boat anchor into another working genny. Frustration is also greatly reduced ...

It would be true that we could never match a "per kw" price of a utility grid, but we can't easily get on the grid, and don't want to be on it in the first place (outages and other bureaucratic madness). Gennys are part of our scheme to have always-on power like a grid, but without the grid. Solar is in our mix, but it can't meet all needs, all the time. Our propane is in bulk form (500 gallon tanks), and directly hooked up to the gennys, so the best possible price, and no "small tank" issues ...

Emissions ... don't know how we compare to a utility grid ... even if a 1000 of us were doing this, I don't know that we'd ever match a utility plant, or a concrete plant, or any of the hundreds of professional emitters out there. I think propane is about the cleanest we can be, and as we add more solar, and complete all projects, propane will reduce.

When all the elements of a homestead power system are in place (propane generator, solar panels/inverter/battery-bank, backups to the backups, etc), you'll have all the power you need, and you'll never be without power. Plus, no madness from the utility grid. This ability is priceless (for us), as the saying goes ...
 
I'm not dead! I feel happy! I'd like to go for a walk! I'll even read a tiny ad:
Pre-order for "Tour of Wheaton Labs, the Movie!"
https://permies.com/w/tour
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic