Monthly Archives: September 2010

Fun Facts About Generators

We got a notice a while back that PG&E was going to be downing the power on our street in order to fix a transformer. Power was to be down all day, which unfortunately posed a bit of a problem since, well… We have all those computers and stuff we use to run our business.

Having survived the infamous “Gray Outs” where “rotating outages” would leave us sending everyone home when the place went dark’ I was in no mood for a repeat.

Then a brainwave hit: “I know!” thought I, “we can get a generator”

Thus began an educational adventure, as a result of which I discovered a number of interesting things:

1. They’re not as loud as you fear. It’s just like someone’s mowing the lawn…all the time.

2. If you actually want to plug something in to your generator which lives more than 20 feet away, prepare to spend as much on heavy gauge power cords as you would for yearly passes to the waterslide park for a family of four.

3. They are every bit as heavy as you feared. Luckily, they have wheels. This is when you’ll discover that the place you want to put your generator does not have pavement.

4. You apparently need about a million watts of generator capacity if you plan on actually using a major appliance–like, say, your electric razor. That’s because–at least according to the “sizing charts” that accompany generators–even the most innocuous appliances are given to wild streaks when–like the Hulk when you make him angry–they surge to 20 times their original power. That fridge you’ve been monitoring at 22 watts all year? According to lore, it can surge up to 1750 watts when something (the defroster?) sets it off. Consider yourself warned.

5. GFCI outlets and computers don’t mix. This is the big one, and really the whole excuse for writing this post. You see, a GFCI outlet (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is standard on most portable generators, and is used to make sure you don’t kill yourself by taking the genny with you as you take a quick dip in the pool. The idea is, if it ever sees even a tiny disparity in the generated power vs. What it senses on the neutral wire, it’ll throw the breaker so that your loved ones will be safe as they fish your body out of the shallow end.

Unfortunately (as my electrician friend explained it to me after a miserable day when the genny decided to throw the switch whenever we dared ask it to, umm… actually generate some power for us) the GFCI design also implies that any time you hook up a medium-to sorta biggish capacitor to the line (like the sort in UPSs, computers, and all that gadgety stuff), it’ll also think someone is drowning and blow the whistle.

So yes, that in short is why we were down all day, why me and the staff are a bit frazzled, but why the beer in the fridge (no big capacitor there–just an allegedly Hulk-sized defroster which didn’t cause a lick of trouble) is still icy cold.

And boy do I need one after today….