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Whole House Generator and propane heat #8284435 06/04/21 04:25 AM
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I think the risk of increased high summer demand rolling blackouts is real and will not be cured within the next 5 years...its likely to still be getting worst in that time frame. I'm also worried about the potential for cascading issues, when rolling blackouts take out natural gas pipeline compressor stations, which in turn impact natural gas fired power plants.

The wife and I were already talking about a whole house generator for our new home before the Feb storm left us without power for almost three days. We moved into our new home last month and have seen two weather related outages >4 hours already. That has sealed the deal with my wife. I'm definitely not arguing. We are both professionals that now work from home full time, so being able to work through local power outages is important. Our new home is out in the country, so that in itself increases the power outages. I cannot be dropping conference calls every time there is a lightning strike within 5 miles.

After a lot of contemplation on the matter, yesterday I order a 18KW unit that will just barely run the resistance heat on our heat pump during periods below 40 degrees (hey its Texas, that's not may hours in a year) and the electric water heater....but that leaves no room for the oven, dryer, stove, or the other things involved in "living normally" instead of "camping in your house".

I'm looking for some validation on the sizing decision, or sound reasoning on why it was wrong. I used to do this stuff for a living, but that has been 30+ years ago, and I have undoubtedly forgotten a lot. I probably have until Monday to stop the shipment. There is no other size that would be available before August.

As mentioned, hours below 40 degrees are pretty limited. The chance of power outages during those periods is relatively low (prior to this Feb, the last time was 2011...so once in 9 years for us). Power outages when we needed AC have been much more common.

Generating electricity with propane, then using resistance heat is pretty stupid. I am not replacing my brand new heat pump with resistance backup, but I will install a propane outlet in the living room and get a 75,000 BTU blue flame heater that we can keep in the garage until needed. The genny will be able to carry the stupid resistance heat if power goes out on a cold winter night. The next morning, we could then pull the propane heater out of the garage, fire it up in the living room, and shut down the resistance heat, using the central system blower to circulate heat throughout the house. That dramatically reduces fuel use and lets us run everything else in the house.

Other than lots of humidity from using vent less propane for heat, is there anything I am missing here? ( I grew up with ventless propane heater as our only heat and I am still alive, so save the the lectures on the dangers of these heaters.)

The unit is supposed to arrive late next week. I plan to install the generator and transfer switch myself. I am having the underground propane tank installation done by the the local supplier... that will be a couple of weeks out. I have installed generators and transfer switches before, but this will be the smallest by more than an order of magnitude. I cannot imagine it taking more than a half day to install and test. DYI saves me almost $4000 and three months on the installation date. There are no permitting or inspection requirement in our county, and Harry Homeowner can legally do his own electrical work here.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284548 06/04/21 12:27 PM
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All I can add it that you might as well get the larger 20kw unit, or the 22kw if they have it. Not much more money, and you might as well max out on available power.

Put an inline filter between the propane tank and the generator.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284559 06/04/21 12:38 PM
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Your heat pump should still produce meaningful amounts of heat way below 40F. Not as efficiently, but still at far less current draw per BTUH than straight resistance.

Set your resistance heat up to run at partial capacity when you are on generator power. You likely have three strips at 5 kw each, so running the heat pump plus 1 or 2 stages the heat strips will likely keep your home tolerable down to 20F or 25F.

You can also have your water heater change over to 120v operation while on generator. My 4500 watt water heater draws about 1100 watts on 120v, but yes - it takes four times longer to recover - but it still makes hot water the same temperature. (I have a simple wiring diagram to do this if you are interested)


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284747 06/04/21 04:05 PM
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Great ideas Marc

I was already planning to interlock the third bank of heat strips, so they never in on the generator. A load manament relay on the second back is strips would not be a bad idea…just to keep things automated.

If power is out in very cold weather, I still think its wise to heat directly with propane to stretch out the fuel.

I’ll give the 120 to the water heater some thought. It’s easy enough to do, but the reason behind the whole house system is to be Abel to live life normally. Out water heater struggles already.

As far as going up a size or two. I have put a lot of thought into sizing and believe 18kw is our sweet spot. In the summer, we are going to cruise along at a little less than 5kw when the ac is running. Upsizing past 18kw starts to see in increase in wasted fuel, as the larger units would be sitting at their minimum throttle position needed to maintain 60 hz.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284785 06/04/21 04:30 PM
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22kW, propane fueled is what I put on my house, with electric heat. 3625 sq. ft.

And during the single digit weather it could not run the east and west systems simultaneously. The heat pump cannot exchange air that is less than 20° to whatever you have the thermostat set at. The emergency strips have to kick in, and they draw quite a bit. I had to kill the east side since my wife and daughter were in the west side, with the plan of killing the west in an hour and closing circuit on the east. Well, power was restored by then. I called the electrician that wired the house and asked if I got enough generator. He said absolutely, as long as the temp is over 20°. When the temps are under 20° the generator was having to provide 180 amps. It was turning itself off and telling me overload. Over 20° outside and the generator will powder every single circuit in the house.

So, buy a bigger one than what you have coming. If you're going through the expense and trouble don't half azz the capacity of the generator.

I had a 500 gallon tank buried for two tankless heaters, the cooking range, and most importantly the generator.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284802 06/04/21 04:45 PM
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nak,I agree with getting a larger at least a 20 if not 22K generator.Don't say later "I wished I had opted for a bigger generator".


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284864 06/04/21 06:23 PM
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We have a lot less house. Only 2500 sqft, with only one hvac system. it is just the wife and I the majority of the time.
No water well, sump pumps, or sewage pumps. Brand new foam insulation construction

Wood burning fireplace with forced air heat exchanger.

It’s not the incremental generator cost that is keeping me from going bigger. Going 22Kw only benefits us at temps below about 38 degrees, yet it decreases my expected summer and mild winter runtime on a full tank of propane by more than a day.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284872 06/04/21 06:38 PM
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Like others have said if you are going through the expense right now to set it up i wouldnt go with what you know is too small.

On the other hand Im not planning in any way on permanently or semi permanently running my home on a generator. I would likely have the water heater and hvac not hooked or only run them when i wanted. If the generator will power the A/C, what I would worry about in texas, I wouldnt even worry about it for the heat. During the most recent outage my inlaws had no heat for almost a week and I think the coldest we ever checked their house at was in the low 50's. Add another blanket and get close to your wife or a plug in space heater.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284901 06/04/21 07:10 PM
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oh, make sure your 18k generator puts out 18k running on the fuel you plan for (propane?).
max output varies depending on fuel.

Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284929 06/04/21 07:52 PM
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Originally Posted by nak
We have a lot less house. Only 2500 sqft, with only one hvac system. it is just the wife and I the majority of the time.
No water well, sump pumps, or sewage pumps. Brand new foam insulation construction

Wood burning fireplace with forced air heat exchanger.

It’s not the incremental generator cost that is keeping me from going bigger. Going 22Kw only benefits us at temps below about 38 degrees, yet it decreases my expected summer and mild winter runtime on a full tank of propane by more than a day.


Below 38° is quite common for five months out of the year.

Get an additional, or larger, propane tank.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8284933 06/04/21 07:56 PM
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Very good point by oldoak. Will you indeed get 18kw on LP? Go ahead and get the 20kw. It runs off demand anyway.

When I had our 20k installed, I had tried hard to find out what max possible demand might be in extreme circumstances, but that was an impossible answer to get. So I went with what was max at the time. And I asked the installer if he thought it would run the whole shebang if necessary. He said “maybe, if you don’t have all the resistance heat in operation”. Since I never intended to, I felt like I was Ok. But then the Big Chill showed up, and I did not have enough power to run it all.

Go bigger than you think you need. Trust us. And if run time worries you, do as I am and get a bigger propane tank.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8285143 06/04/21 11:13 PM
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What about water? First, do have a well? If so, how do you keep the well house warm enough to keep pipes from busting(been there, done that last year.) without water, you may as well go to a motel.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8285251 06/05/21 01:50 AM
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18KW rated on propane...its Natural Gas they they are de-rated for, since a give volume of natural gas has less energy than the same volume of gasified propane.


"No water well, sump pumps, or sewage pumps. Brand new foam insulation construction

Wood burning fireplace with forced air heat exchanger."


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8286216 06/06/21 12:47 PM
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At the risk of being repetitive, don't ignore your heat pump because it is cold outside. Check the ratings on your system, but mine are pretty typical for modern systems.

My 15 KW strip heat produces just a bit over 50,000 BTUH. It doesn't need to run continuously, so I obviously don't need it all. (I recently converted to heatpump)
My 3-ton heat pump produces 17,000 BTUH way down at 7F, using 2.6 KW.

I am not claiming that you don't need more. I am pointing out that it is still a good tradeoff when running on generator because 2.6 KW of strip heat will only produce about 8,800 BTUH.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8287070 06/07/21 04:16 AM
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I agree Marc. That is why we sized as we did and we will have a different plan for temps too low for the heat pump to keep the house comfortable.

I've decided I'm comfortable with the sizing decision.

Thanks to everyone that provided feedback and suggestions!!!!


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: FiremanJG] #8289225 06/09/21 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by FiremanJG
22kW, propane fueled is what I put on my house, with electric heat. 3625 sq. ft.

And during the single digit weather it could not run the east and west systems simultaneously. The heat pump cannot exchange air that is less than 20° to whatever you have the thermostat set at. The emergency strips have to kick in, and they draw quite a bit. I had to kill the east side since my wife and daughter were in the west side, with the plan of killing the west in an hour and closing circuit on the east. Well, power was restored by then. I called the electrician that wired the house and asked if I got enough generator. He said absolutely, as long as the temp is over 20°. When the temps are under 20° the generator was having to provide 180 amps. It was turning itself off and telling me overload. Over 20° outside and the generator will powder every single circuit in the house.

So, buy a bigger one than what you have coming. If you're going through the expense and trouble don't half azz the capacity of the generator.

I had a 500 gallon tank buried for two tankless heaters, the cooking range, and most importantly the generator.


How long did the generator run and do you know how much fuel you burned?

Our power cycled on/off every 20/45 minutes. The old thermostat would get power and blast heat into the house even though the house had maintained the same temp, then we would lose power. Because I was at work a lot of this and didn’t want to bother the wife and child with watching the thermostat, I didn’t say anything. Because of this though, we burned through 200 gallons of propane in a week.

I’m thinking if the generator would’ve stayed on, never allowing outside power in, then we could’ve maintained temp as we always do and not had the heater working overtime for no reason, and come out ahead with less propane usage... maybe


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: FiremanJG] #8289405 06/09/21 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by FiremanJG
22kW, propane fueled is what I put on my house, with electric heat. 3625 sq. ft.
And during the single digit weather it could not run the east and west systems simultaneously. The heat pump cannot exchange air that is less than 20° to whatever you have the thermostat set at. The emergency strips have to kick in, and they draw quite a bit. I had to kill the east side since my wife and daughter were in the west side, with the plan of killing the west in an hour and closing circuit on the east. Well, power was restored by then. I called the electrician that wired the house and asked if I got enough generator. He said absolutely, as long as the temp is over 20°. When the temps are under 20° the generator was having to provide 180 amps. It was turning itself off and telling me overload. Over 20° outside and the generator will powder every single circuit in the house.
So, buy a bigger one than what you have coming. If you're going through the expense and trouble don't half azz the capacity of the generator.
I had a 500 gallon tank buried for two tankless heaters, the cooking range, and most importantly the generator.


If your building new or renovating, and on electric/propane, smarter option is stack propane furnace onto the heatpump system - that way you (thermostat) can switch to propane furnace heat below 20deg - all automatically.
It's called dual-fuel heat - and you can get a propane furnace that's 96% efficient, versus generator/strip which is 50% efficient at best ( so half the fuel burn, or double the run time, during 'emergencies').
Mine worked wonderfully during the 'snowpockaplyspe' , and my 3500watt portable generator was more than enough to power furnace blowers, fridges/freezers, lighting, & computers.

Another low-cost 'manual' option is to add some gas(propane) outlets inside to attach vent-less propane heaters, during emergencies.

Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8290180 06/10/21 02:40 AM
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I built houses for over thirty years and have had plenty of conversations with propane installers. I've had more than one tell me that they wouldn't have a buried tank. Various reasons were given, I think unknown leaks being one.

If you are open to a 1,000 gallon above ground tank I think it would possibly cost less than the 500 gallon buried. I have forgotten pricing.

Some folks don't want the appearance. However, there are lots of creative ways to hide them with landscaping. Here is a link I just found that gives some size dimensions.

http://www.gasteconline.com/blog/understanding-propane-tank-dimensions/

Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8290871 06/10/21 07:15 PM
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Well, I think its safe to say I am committed on sizing at this point.

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I did some additional load measurements last weekend and I am confident 18kw puts us in good shape.

We are in a small development and there are deed restrictions prohibiting above ground fuel tanks. The local propane company doing the tank install will stand behind the underground tank install 20 years. They have been in business for over 40 years...


Transfer switch install this weekend and then install the generator next weekend.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8290909 06/10/21 07:55 PM
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You are saving a lot of money, looks like the local generator place is charging about $10k between markup and install over the price of the generator. Plus I would have to wait 9 months.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8291793 06/11/21 05:10 PM
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I cannot install it for a few days. Due to rain, the contractor pouring an extension to by driveway and back patio has been delayed. The Generac is going on that new concrete, next to the driveway. Propane tank installation will have to wait a week for the slab to cure. so they can get the backhoe in the back yard.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: oldoak2000] #8292158 06/12/21 12:27 AM
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Originally Posted by oldoak2000
Originally Posted by FiremanJG
22kW, propane fueled is what I put on my house, with electric heat. 3625 sq. ft.
And during the single digit weather it could not run the east and west systems simultaneously. The heat pump cannot exchange air that is less than 20° to whatever you have the thermostat set at. The emergency strips have to kick in, and they draw quite a bit. I had to kill the east side since my wife and daughter were in the west side, with the plan of killing the west in an hour and closing circuit on the east. Well, power was restored by then. I called the electrician that wired the house and asked if I got enough generator. He said absolutely, as long as the temp is over 20°. When the temps are under 20° the generator was having to provide 180 amps. It was turning itself off and telling me overload. Over 20° outside and the generator will powder every single circuit in the house.
So, buy a bigger one than what you have coming. If you're going through the expense and trouble don't half azz the capacity of the generator.
I had a 500 gallon tank buried for two tankless heaters, the cooking range, and most importantly the generator.


If your building new or renovating, and on electric/propane, smarter option is stack propane furnace onto the heatpump system - that way you (thermostat) can switch to propane furnace heat below 20deg - all automatically.
It's called dual-fuel heat - and you can get a propane furnace that's 96% efficient, versus generator/strip which is 50% efficient at best ( so half the fuel burn, or double the run time, during 'emergencies').
Mine worked wonderfully during the 'snowpockaplyspe' , and my 3500watt portable generator was more than enough to power furnace blowers, fridges/freezers, lighting, & computers.

Another low-cost 'manual' option is to add some gas(propane) outlets inside to attach vent-less propane heaters, during emergencies.


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I failed to have the wood burning fire place completely hooked up. It has an outside air supply and a blower fan. I had a cord of wood, but couldn't use it. Had I been keeping the fire going, things would have been better.

Last edited by FiremanJG; 06/12/21 12:28 AM.

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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8300098 06/20/21 07:40 PM
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Generator installed, tested. and in Standby Mode...I am now part of the Standby Generator Master Race: Middle finger raised to ERCOT!


"Run at full load for 20 - 30 minutes. Listen for strange sounds. Look for oil leaks. Record fuel pressure during starting, no load, and full load." the manual says.

Well hell...Full Load. I can only do that in the winter, with 15 KW of resistance heat running. Not way I'm turning the Emergency Heat ON for 30 minutes. Texas is already Hot as Hell.

Put a load of cloths in the washer on hot and another load in the dryer. That fired up the Water heat. Oven on...time for pizza (right side up). Cooktop boiling water for Ice Tea. AC running full blast. All that got me to about 50 amps. 75 is full load, but 50 will have to do.

Noisier than I would have liked, but not terrible. Quieter than my open frame Champion portable generator or the lawn mower, but I would not want to sleep in the room next to it, but that the wife's sewing room, so no problem. The spare bedroom is two doors down, you can hear it, but its not too loud to sleep with. You cannot hear it in the living room or master bedroom.

When a big load changes, on or off, every UPS in the house transfers to battery and then right back to utility. I think they are 59 Hz - 61 Hz freq tolerance. That's not an issue, but the one in my office and the one in the master bedroom closet (for the router, NAS, and OTA Tv recorder) B E E P at high volume when they go on battery, then CHIRP to let you know the power is back. This afternoon's project will be to find and kill the little piezo beeper in both of them.

Still need to find my pressure calibrator and check the propane regulator pressure. I have not seen that since we moved...lot of [censored] still stacked up in the garage. Maybe ill just use some plastic tubing and make a manometer. 10" water column is easy to do.

Not sure how I messed up the wire measurement, but there is 32' of 2/0 copper left over. at $3.70/ ft. I cannot believe I was that that far off on the estimated. I guess I'll scrap it. It should be worth close to $50

I enjoyed doing the install myself. I used to do electrical work years ago, but I let my licenses expire 20 years ago. It was nice doing this stuff again, especially knowing it saved me right at $4,200K, for two mornings worth of work.


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Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8300112 06/20/21 07:57 PM
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Sound like your ready!

Re: Whole House Generator and propane heat [Re: nak] #8300143 06/20/21 08:30 PM
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Congrats!

We have a Generac 24KW propane at the Ranch House.



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