Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

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kcbooboo
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Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kcbooboo » Mon Dec 28, 2015 5:04 pm

I've got a 12k Onan natural gas residential genset and it's been nothing but unreliable in the 14 years I've owned it. Real Onan horizontally-opposed engine too; Onan doesn't use their own small engines in their gensets any more. A technician is coming to take a look at it Wednesday because it cranked fine but failed to start a week ago and I'm tired of futzing with it.

There's nothing worse than a standby generator that won't work. That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one. If it can't be made 100% reliable then it's time to be replaced with one that is. Onan may be great for high-power units but this RS12000 is a real dud, or POS as they say in the vernacular.

Anyone have anything good or bad to say about Kohler or Generac natural gas gensets or service/support? At this point I'm steering towards a Kohler 14RESA.

Bob M.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by TPT » Mon Dec 28, 2015 5:43 pm

I have an Onan 10 kw geni too. Onan service went to hellll several years ago. The Honda tiller motor in this thing hasn't run for several years.
Now, the Onan 20 I bought about 10 years ago runs fine--but that uses a GM 4 cylinder motor.

Will find out on Generac--having a new 20 installed at one of our studios, to run on nat gas. Tiny little motor on this thing. Installed by local HVAC company, will be able to get on-going service from them.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by NECRAT » Tue Dec 29, 2015 12:24 am

The Kohler units are nice. If I was getting a small gen-set, that would be my first choice.

I've heard hit or miss things about the Generacs. We had them in our live trucks, and they were horrible. The Onan's weren't much better.
The Hondas worked great, however.
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kcbooboo
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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kcbooboo » Tue Dec 29, 2015 5:11 am

I know Honda makes lots of portable gensets, and their EU-series can't be beat, but they're very expensive.

This is for a permanent installation, whole-house backup. I doubt I need anything bigger than 8kw but it's always nice to have the extra capacity.

I've heard that Generac parts are harder to get than other makes. Kohler engines are used on commercial lawnmowers and they've been around a very long time.

The Onan genset had the intelligence in the transfer switch; a contact closure there would tell the genset to run, and it decided when to switch back and forth. Most of today's gensets have all the logic in the genset and the xfer switch gets a signal to switch directly from the genset. Kohler's units can work either way, so I can at least continue to use my existing xfer switch.

I've experienced one 8kw LP-fueled Generac that takes forever to start. Not sure if it's a fuel issue or just the way they are, but it cranks for a good 10 seconds before making any sounds of life. That just seems way too long.

Thanks for the comments. Keep 'em coming.

Bob M.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by TPT » Tue Dec 29, 2015 7:25 am

For whole house (essentially what I am getting installed--our studio is in a 3 bedroom split level) I would go with a 20 kw. This allows you to keep the air conditioning up during a prolonged summer outage. At our other studio--the one with the Onan 20--we were on generator power for 11 days back in 2012 when a "Derecho"--straight line tornadic winds--toppled transmission towers at our local power plant. Unfortunately, we had retrofitted the single phase 20 kw geni into a 3 phase plant. Only certain circuits were run into a 100 amp sub-panel powered through the transfer switch. Enough power to run a 2.5kw backup transmitter, lights, consoles, computers--but we figured we could leave the central air off the system. Big mistake--after that storm we had several days of typical-hot and humid-July weather.

The difference in prices between a 10 kw and a 20 kw is not that much. If your inclinations or local regulations require outside installation of the transfer switch you may find those costs higher than the cost of the generator. Also, if you can find an installation company with a service department that may balance the risk of installing the cheaper Generac over the Koehler. You will also want to set the transfer switch up for a weekly exercise cycle, which will increase reliability.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by Shane » Tue Dec 29, 2015 11:05 am

Kohler: good. Generac: not so good.

Sometimes something external can cause a non-start. We had a regulator go bad earlier this year.

Have a 2nd backup plan if you don't have 24/7 service in your contract.
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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kcbooboo » Tue Dec 29, 2015 11:51 am

The original xfer switch was installed inside, and I replaced the main breaker and distribution panel along with it, so it made sense to do it all at one time. While that unit can exercise the genset, I never activated it, prefering manual exercising cycles instead. That way I'd know when something didn't work, which was most of the time. Luckily the system did function in the few power outages we had.

This isn't a big house; just a 2 ton A/C. It's just me, no transmitters. Keep the heat or A/C going, some lights, TV, computer, refrigerator, microwave, and I'm good to go. The current 12kw unit does all of that quite nicely. It would probably also run the clothes dryer or the stove if need be, but I could do without those.

The longest outage so far was two days a couple of years ago around Halloween.

I'm hoping to avoid another building permit, since the new genset is just replacing the existing one. I'm sure the town would want one but they got their unfair share back in 2001. If I keep the existing xfer switch, the electrical work will be minimal; just adding a new GFCI breaker to the panel to run the charger in the genset and removal of the existing charger inside the xfer switch. I can do that myself; it's my house.

I'll probably get a service contract this time as part of the installation, if that happens. I didn't have millions of dollars to pay for Cummins/Onan service, plus the few times I had to deal with the local office was a few times too many.

Bob M.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by jammerdave » Tue Dec 29, 2015 1:52 pm

Had some really good results and reliability with Gillette in years past. Had a bunch of the propane units in service at transmitter sites.

https://www.gillettegenerators.com/products/3/SPP-180#
kcbooboo wrote:The original xfer switch was installed inside, and I replaced the main breaker and distribution panel along with it, so it made sense to do it all at one time. While that unit can exercise the genset, I never activated it, prefering manual exercising cycles instead. That way I'd know when something didn't work, which was most of the time. Luckily the system did function in the few power outages we had.

This isn't a big house; just a 2 ton A/C. It's just me, no transmitters. Keep the heat or A/C going, some lights, TV, computer, refrigerator, microwave, and I'm good to go. The current 12kw unit does all of that quite nicely. It would probably also run the clothes dryer or the stove if need be, but I could do without those.

The longest outage so far was two days a couple of years ago around Halloween.

I'm hoping to avoid another building permit, since the new genset is just replacing the existing one. I'm sure the town would want one but they got their unfair share back in 2001. If I keep the existing xfer switch, the electrical work will be minimal; just adding a new GFCI breaker to the panel to run the charger in the genset and removal of the existing charger inside the xfer switch. I can do that myself; it's my house.

I'll probably get a service contract this time as part of the installation, if that happens. I didn't have millions of dollars to pay for Cummins/Onan service, plus the few times I had to deal with the local office was a few times too many.

Bob M.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kkiddkkidd » Tue Dec 29, 2015 6:32 pm

I have installed (or had installed) 3 of the HomeDepot Generac generators and I can say that they are "OK". The controller is split between the xfer switch and the genset itself so using one with a common xfer switch would require additional wiring.

They work and several UPS's don't complain when operating on emergency.
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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by NECRAT » Tue Dec 29, 2015 11:57 pm

Here you go Bob. I hope this will match the color of your kitchen though.

Image
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kcbooboo
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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kcbooboo » Wed Dec 30, 2015 6:12 am

Onan Green doesn't go with dirty beige.

But where's the dip-stick?

Bob M.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by KPJL FM » Wed Dec 30, 2015 9:07 am

Would this work?
thunderpumpkin2.jpg
Trim to fit, paint to match, tune for minimum smoke.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by RodeoJack » Wed Dec 30, 2015 10:17 am

I'd factor in your budget and how often you think you'd need the unit.

Onans are all over the place here... but pricy.

If you don't need it often, the Generac isn't all that bad. A couple of friends have them at their tower sites and have reported no problems. I've seen several smaller installations at a few cell towers around here. Several years ago, I bought their 20kW "whole house" package (including automatic transfer switch) for my parents' house, and it's kept them nice and warm over several days-long outages. That package cost me about $4600, including drop-shipping (but not installation). I think it ran another $1,200 to have an electrician do the work around the utility meter. Aside from annual oil changes (and one plug change after break-in), I haven't had to do much more than admire it.

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by TPT » Wed Dec 30, 2015 11:47 am

My Generac installation will be about twice that--but we have to redo the entire power entry because of the way the meter and 100 amp panel were built into the house--no practical way to insert the transfer switch without completely removing the panel and putting in a new feed from the meter.
So we are moving the meter to the garage side of the house, mounting the transfer switch outside and putting a 200 amp panel just inside that common wall. The old 100 amp panel will then become a sub-panel.

Continuing service a factor here--the Generac distributor (one of many in the area) is a large local HVAC contractor. Cheaper packages available from Lowes/Home Depot, other big box stores, but they farm out installation. Also didn't hurt that the contractor is a major radio advertiser we finally got signed up for a yearly buy..... :)

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Re: Small (under 20kw) backup gensets

Post by kcbooboo » Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:07 pm

I too had to redo everything from the load side of the meter, but the main panel was filled past its capacity and it really needed to be replaced, so it was worth doing all at the same time.

The generator tech just left. Naturally the unit started and ran find for him the first time, but it went downhill after that. Sometimes it would start, other times it wouldn't. Something going on with the fuel system. I could throw hundreds of dollars at it replacing the major assemblies, but in the end I'd still have the same unreliable POS that I currently have. There's nothing that's actually broken, that he could replace and insure success, so as Dr. McCoy would say, "It's Dead, Jim!"

So I'll be calling the company to get a new Kohler 14RESA genset installed ASAP. He also told me they have what they call a senior citizen platform; basically it elevates the genset 1-2 feet off the ground, so you don't have to shovel the snow away from the rather low air inlets and outlets. It also makes servicing a bit easier.

The installation should be pretty simple as they're only replacing an existing genset. It will require running a pair of wires to bring 120VAC out to the genset to power the charger and carb heater; the charger was inside the xfer switch with the Onan unit, and it had no heaters at all. The xfer switch is already installed and working. The gas line is already installed and has its own 11 inch WC regulator. It's just the wrong time of year to install a genset.

Thanks to all for their comments. I've just heard more bad things about Generac than other brands, which might be because there are more of them installed.

Bob M.

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