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Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset


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  #1  
Old 07-11-2019, 06:53:04 AM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Hello! I'm a new member to the forum but not new to generators and engines. I've built a generator some years back with a Chinese Changfa 185 engine years ago that I still have. Got the info to build it from the utterpower website. Also maintain and older Generac whole house generator for my current home and have a couple of other portable units that I own for my construction company.

Anyways, it's getting close to the time I need to select a new whole house generator for the house I'll be building. About 18 years ago, I had a Generac whole house generator installed at the house I currently live in. Honestly, I really haven't had good luck with it and it really hasn't been the best unit. I've had problems with computer board, transfer switch and other electrical issues. When I've needed it the most, it's let me down and I've had to plug in one of my other units.

For the new house, I'm looking for something simple. The unit has to be natural gas as I have a well on the property and I'd like to utilize it. Also have municipal gas at the street so I'll always have a supply of natural gas. Looking for something completely manual and simple. Going to have a manual transfer switch wired in so if I lose power, I'll have to manually transfer the power and start the unit. The auto transfer is nice but worthless to me if it fails and mine has.

The house is going to be about 2700 square feet and I'd like to have something that can run the A/C unit. Preferably, I'd want something outside in its own enclosure. I'm thinking around 20k. Just want something reliable and easy to fix. This is going to be my last residence and want something for the long haul. I even considered buying a new Generac unit and removing all the electronics from it and using it as a completely manual unit.

Thoughts and recommendations?
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Old 07-11-2019, 08:15:17 AM
Bill Hazzard Bill Hazzard is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Anything built before 1970 would be ideal. My Onan was built in 1940 and it always works.
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Old 07-11-2019, 10:37:47 AM
K-Tron K-Tron is online now
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Other than a vintage Onan, you are going to have a hard time finding a simple reliable natural gas generator. Generac has never made a good unit, so I would quit searching for one. Had you opted for a diesel there are quite a few good options. Personally Id go for a 12.5KW 1200rpm General Motors 2-71 Diesel with a Delco generator head. There is nothing more reliable out there, but they are loud! Second choice would be a three cylinder Lister Diesel ST3 or HR3 with Kohler or Lima generator head. In Onan natural gas world, you are probably looking for a 12.5 or 15KW Onan JC. The guys on here are the best Onan guys around. Someone will walk you through the ins and outs of their natural gas generator lineup.

Chris
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Old 07-11-2019, 10:44:35 AM
I like oldstuff I like oldstuff is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

You'll get no love for Generac on this forum and rightfully so.
The company is a revolving door for employees, poor designs, outsourced end of production components, poor customer support and within a year or two most parts are obsolete. As all the newer stuff is circuit board controlled, it's all problematic. And with Generac your boards are likely obsolete two years after production ends and you're screwed.

I have an older Kohler from the 70's and it's bulletproof. I still would recommend a 1800 rpm Onan from around 1985 or earlier.
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Old 07-11-2019, 10:59:06 AM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

If you want something affordable with a warranty, a new air cooled Kohler is not much more expensive than anything else. They actually know how to make an engine that lasts. We use them in off-grid service and they run a lot more hours than any standby set will ever see. Their warranty actually encourages dealers to go out and fix their stuff. Their control board (everything is all-in-one today) is expensive but it does not break. Never had to replace one.

I am a dealer but I am not telling you this because I'm a dealer; I became a dealer because I wanted to sell this product.

The others have said older generators and that is great if you are into that sort of thing. Only I would say not necessarily 1970s or 80s, as new as you can get is fine too. Just come on here and we will tell you the track record of a particular set before you buy it. Some were turkeys, others were great.

In my mind newer is better up to a point, late 90s/early 2000s were good years for most, then they started getting all electronic and took a few years to work through that.
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Old 07-11-2019, 04:34:54 PM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Yeah I thought about a diesel but have natural gas on the property. I always have plenty of diesel on the property with my construction company but natural gas is going to be ideal. Were these old Onan's natural gas units? Did they have an AVR or were they brush type heads. Seems like a brush type gen head would be more reliable in the long run.

I haven't even looked at the new Kohlers it just seems like anything made these days isn't meant to last. They have any manual models in the Kohler that don't have all the circuits and computer boards that go bad? Am I able to remove all that junk and have a reliable, simple generator?

I found a honda unit online that's rated at 15k which I'd think would be enough. Doesn't have an enclosure and I'd have to rig one up. My only concern is if it would run too hot in an enclosure. It's also a new style gen head with an AVR which are prone to failure I hear. Is it better to try and find an non AVR gen head? I use a lot of small Honda engines for my business and have a soft spot for them. They've always been reliable for me.

Model numbers of these older Onan units would be appreciated. I have some time to find one I want.
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Old 07-11-2019, 04:38:51 PM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Manual start does not equal reliable. Automatic start generators have to be reliable or the manufacturer gets dinged for warranty. (Unless they make it difficult to get warranty.) I'll let you guess who does that.
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Old 07-11-2019, 04:48:33 PM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

http://www.centralmainediesel.com/or...sp?page=H04599

Honda generator I was looking at.
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Old 07-11-2019, 08:12:48 PM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Those things are just thrown together in some guy's garage and are the opposite of reliable. Using the cheapest parts possible except the Honda engine. Every one I have dealt with has been an unmitigated disaster.
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Old 07-11-2019, 08:34:00 PM
Wayne 440 Wayne 440 is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

If you want an Onan, look for a 20ES, 30EK or similar.
They use Ford 4 and 6 cylinder engines respectively,
and are relatively common and reasonably reliable.
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Old 07-11-2019, 08:41:30 PM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Quote:
Originally Posted by Birken Vogt View Post
Those things are just thrown together in some guy's garage and are the opposite of reliable. Using the cheapest parts possible except the Honda engine. Every one I have dealt with has been an unmitigated disaster.
That's funny you say that. My automatic whole house generator didn't start during a power outage about 2 months ago. I got it started making power in manual mode.
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Old 07-11-2019, 09:42:10 PM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

What are the specifics on your automatic set?
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Old 07-11-2019, 09:58:34 PM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

it's a 17 year old 14 kw generac unit. Still works but I've been limping it along for a few years. I want something with a manual start and transfer switch. Seems like most of the problems are with the switching and circuitry in the generator units. I really didn't start having problems with mine until it was 9 years old. Was told by a repair guy I'm not going to be able to get many parts for it at this point.

Not sure I want to get one of these old Onan units either. They seem like robust units but somewhat complicated. I'm definitely mechanically inclined but I'm thinking something that old may have bad parts availability.

Are there any good generator heads still being made that I could couple to one of those V twin honda engines. You say the unit I shared the link to is not a good unit. I'm pretty sure the engine is reliable. Are there better gen heads to use? Not sure what that company is using for the head attached to the honda.
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Old 07-11-2019, 10:33:55 PM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

I'll let the others comment on your current generator.

This thing is a Mecc Alte gen end. The cheapest, all the Internet "generator assemblers" use them. That Honda engine probably does not have a generator governor on it. [from my experience with these units] So if it is adjusted to 63 Hz no load it may sag below 55 Hz before it even reaches 75% of theoretical load. Capacitor regulated generator so the voltage sags (or swells) in lock step with RPM. The steel frame will look like it was made by cousin Cletus in his back yard because it was.

The engine is reliable I am sure but it was probably not built for a generator and it definitely was not built for natural.

This stuff is all one-off and not prototyped at all.
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Old 07-11-2019, 11:56:08 PM
AlexV AlexV is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

I have two modern Auto start Kohler generators. One at my business in NJ and one at my home in Florida. Both so far have been excellent. The one at my business runs on natural gas and the one in Florida runs on propane. At my home in NJ I have a Honda EU7000 with a manual interlock on the panel. I like the auto start best. I don't have to do anything. auto start is nice in the middle of the night or when its raining out. If there's a problem the Kohler transfer switches can also be thrown manually, and the generators can be started manually.
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Old 07-12-2019, 02:19:35 AM
Steve Dawkins Steve Dawkins is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Honda used to (and may still) have a 10 or 12 kW portable generator that used their V twin engine. Although the unit was all Honda and solidly constructed, it was extremely loud. Part of the reason it was noisy is that it was not housed. Also, it ran at 3600 RPM. I would steer clear of any V twin air cooled generator unless it is in a sound attenuated enclosure. Even then, you probably won't get the life out of it that you would with an older Onan or Kohler that operates at 1800 RPM.

I understand your concern about the parts availability on these older units. With the number of Onans that are still around, parts will be available for a long time. With the resource of the internet, locating parts should be relatively easy. If you are mechanically and electrically inclined, there are several folks on the Smokstak that can help you with troubleshooting and repairing almost any Onan you find. As for engine parts (and you will need these more often than the "gen-end" parts), the liquid cooled engines are usually Ford or GM. The same engines were used on vehicles, and many of the parts are available through auto parts stores. The main exception would be the governor systems. Those may be a little tricky to find. Electronic governors have been the standard for 10kW and larger generators for several years, and they are usually reliable. Again, knowledgeable folks on the Stak can help you troubleshoot those governors, and point you in the right direction for repair parts, should you ever need them.

Please realize that if you get an older liquid cooled generator set, you will probably need to spend some time and money to flush out the coolant system and check the integrity of the radiator, in addition to other maintenance items. Also, if you get a generator with the Ford LSG-423 engine, you will probably want to replace the timing belt as a precaution. From what I have read from others on the Stak, that is not a difficult task.

Good luck in your endeavor.
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Old 07-12-2019, 07:16:37 AM
giannid giannid is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

I'm very mechanically inclined but probably not so much electronically inclined. My concern with buying a generator like an old Onan is that I think there's just too much mechanical stuff that deteriorates with age. When I say that, I mean gaskets, seals, wiring and just everything else. I own heavy equipment and when things get that old, I consider them non production machines. Meaning I really don't want to rely on it because at anytime, something can go wrong. It's usually not something major but it's just not going to the job.

It sounds like a Honda engine coupled to a gen head isn't a good choice because the lack of a governor? Like I said, I'm not too electronically inclined. Is it the governor on these manufactured units what keeps the power at a constant voltage and consistent? I imagine this component is electronic and prone to failure. Are there any gensets where this component is seperate from the computer board that controls the auto start?

For a backup generator, I think I'd be fine with an air cooled 3600 rpm unit. I'm not living off grid and the power doesn't go out that often. Most importantly is reliability and the power to run my A/C. Are these newer unit like the Kohler generators able to be run without the auto start feature and automatic switching? Is it possible to have an air cooled generator and bypass all the features that cause problems in the future?

Guess what I'm looking for is a natural gas air cooled unit with a governor minus the auto start and automatic transfer. Does it exist or am I able to convert one of these modern generators?
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Old 07-12-2019, 05:10:24 PM
Steve Dawkins Steve Dawkins is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Virtually every home standby generator you find now will have an electronic governor. If you buy a Honda engine and connect it to a generator, the engine will have a mechanical governor. They are reliable, but won't hold the speed (which translates to the 60 Hz frequency on the generator) tolerance as closely as an electronic governor. Mechanical governors usually have ~3% tolerance, whereas electronic governors have 1% or less tolerance.

The electronic controllers on the home standby generators are usually one module that has the safety shutdown controls (low oil pressure, high engine temp, overspeed, under frequency, etc.) and the engine start/stop controls. Some controllers even have the automatic voltage regulator for the generator built into the single module. If one part of the module goes bad, the entire module has to be replaced. You can buy a spare module, but replacing it may not just be a "plug and play" process. I have heard that Generac modules have to be initiated with a code when they are installed. If you call Generac for help, they won't even talk to you unless you are one of their authorized service dealers.

You should be able to manually control a home standby generator with the 3 position switch on the generator: (RUN, LOCAL, or MANUAL position for control at the genset), (OFF), and (AUTO or REMOTE position) for automatic transfer switch control. For convenience, you can install an ON/OFF switch indoors near your manual transfer switch to start and stop the generator. Most automatic transfer switches use 2 wire start control. A set of dry contacts in the transfer switch close to signal the generator to run, and the contacts open to stop the generator. You can use a simple single pole light switch to this. The control switch on the generator would need to be in the AUTO or REMOTE position for this switch to be active. Make sure the generator you get employs "2 wire start" control. Generac home standy systems are different creatures, and the 2 wire start control doesn't work with them. The Generac industrial generators do use 2 wire control.

I only mention Generac because your choices will be limited on generators with air cooled engines. Based on your comments about your current generator, I don't think Generac would be your preference. Believe me, I'm not a fan of them either. Other options will be Kohler, Briggs & Stratton, and Cummins/Onan. Some manufacturers of home standby generators are now offering a 10 year parts and labor warranty if that helps with your decision.

Last edited by Steve Dawkins; 07-12-2019 at 08:38:00 PM. Reason: Deleted Katolight, added Cummins/Onan
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Old 07-12-2019, 09:42:07 PM
pegasuspinto pegasuspinto is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

The new Generac air cooled panel is plug and play. The ones for the water cooled are not, but I bet you could gather all the secrets to programming them in a 5 minute search on the internet. There not only is no special software required, there is NO software period. The USB port is to allow the firmware to be reflashed by a memory stick.

NONE of the big players are going to give you much time unless you are a dealer. That being said, we have had Generac call US when a customer can't get their set serviced, so they can and do listen to the customers and try to help.
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Old 07-12-2019, 09:46:51 PM
Wayne 440 Wayne 440 is offline
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Default Re: Recommendation on a simple whole house natural gas genset

Winco, maybe?

https://www.wincogen.com/product/pss12h2we/
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