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Generac 05251 7 Kilowatt Standby Generator

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PREFACE: About a year after the following review was written, our three-and-a-half-year-old backup generator refused to start. Upon summoning one of Generac’s service technicians, it was discovered to have almost no engine compression, indicating that it had burned its valves or its piston rings. The quote we had for repairing it – which entailed trucking it away, replacing its engine, returning it and setting it up again – was within a few hundred dollars of replacing the whole machine, and would have left us without a backup generator for at least a month. In that the generator’s two-year warrantee had expired, the manufacturer wasn’t interested in assisting us. While we remain convinced that a backup generator is about as optional as indoor plumbing out here, we’d look to another manufacturer if we had to install one of these things from scratch.

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Life’s possible without electricity, but it’s not a lot of fun. The sudden failure of the power grid can turn your refrigerator into the domain of squishy purple mutants; your business into a nuclear winter; and your days into an endless wait for a utility that only cares about you at the end of a billing cycle. Especially in rural areas, where the electric infrastructure is often increasingly aged and under-maintained, power failures are becoming common, protracted and more than merely annoying.

You can address the problem of faltering power with a portable gasoline generator and a box of extension cords – while workable in theory, this is a troublesome way to get the lights back on in practice. Traditional generators require periodic maintenance to keep them ready for action, a supply of reasonably fresh gasoline and considerable effort to get them up and running and connected to your essential technology when things go dark. Finding the beast and getting it on line by flashlight at two in the morning is an adventure.

The Generac 05251 standby generator is a cost-effective, convenient alternative to a gasoline generator. It runs on propane or natural gas, starts automatically when the lights go out, performs a weekly exercise cycle to keep itself ready for action and is permanently wired into your home or business, replacing your conventional electricity supply when your conventional electricity supply leaps off a cliff. While it’s usually structured to address specific electric circuits in your home or business, for a slight increase in installation costs it can be fitted with a transfer switch to handle the entire structure.

A Generac 05251 standby generator has been keeping Alchemy Mindworks on line for about two years as for this writing. Located as we are in northern Ontario, where the power only works when it feels like it, the generator’s been busy.

Having researched a number of alternatives, it must be said that Generac 05251 is arguably the best such device currently available. This isn’t to say that it’s flawless – nothing with this many moving parts can be expected to wholly behave itself. Ours came with a few teething issues.

Our Generac generator is powered by propane from the tank used to heat the building. Installing it required that it be connected to the propane supply and switched over to propane operation, an undertaking that entailed the coordination of a surprising number of disparate tradesmen. This was also our first introduction to the multiple levels of skill sets surrounding these devices.

One of the important considerations in running a Generac generator is that, while it’s based on an internal combustion engine, it’s sufficiently unlike the one powering your car as to make everything you know about spark plugs, carburetors and hand tools virtually useless. Generac maintains a network of technicians, but not all of them are a whole lot more knowledgeable.

The one who set up our generator, for example, failed to completely convert it to propane. It ran rough, used a lot more fuel than it had to and produced fluctuating, erratic power. Not having owned a Generac generator previously, it wasn’t immediately apparent what was amiss.

This problem was resolved by accident. The only shop in town that sold Generac consumables – the air filter, oil filter and other tune-up items required to maintain the beast are unique to it – was presided over by a fellow who actually knew how to fix them.

Keeping a Generac generator generating is an ongoing undertaking, no less so than performing routine maintenance for a car. It requires an annual service to change its oil, adjust its valves and check its voltage. Ours has also called for a few visits by men in overalls to address a frozen gas regulator, a cracked starter motor and so on. It’s probably no less reliable than a car, but it likes to keep its problems to itself until it’s suddenly needed and it proves reluctant to start.

While it’s clearly intended to require no intervention by its owner, a Generac generator arguably wants a weekly inspection – unlock its case and peek therein to make sure its status lights are as they should be. If it tries to start itself and fails, it will shut itself down to protect its inner workings and do nothing more until someone comes by to see to it. As it will start itself once a week to exercise its engine, its fail-safe mode can go undetected for a considerable time.

You can perform the annual service for a Generac generator yourself. Changing its oil, air filter and spark plug are all agreeably easy – checking its value clearance is a bit tricky. This having been said, if you can find a local Generac service person who really knows his stuff, a hundred dollar service call once a year is a well worth it.

While a Generac generator will run on natural gas, you might want to give some thought about having it do so. In many areas, natural gas is pumped by electric motors. If the power’s off for a protracted period, the natural gas can go away as well.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that while a Generac generator starts up automatically, it takes almost a minute to do so – it waits about 45 seconds to make sure that it’s really looking at a power failure, rather than a minor disturbance in the force, and then it takes another ten seconds to get up to speed before it instructs its transfer case to switch it into your building’s electric supply. It’s not a replacement for uninterruptible power supplies for technology that you need to keep on line.

Properly adjusted, the power produced by a Generac generator is almost as clean as that provided by your local power grid when it’s working. The occasional flicker isn’t unheard of, and a building-wide surge and spike protector is a worthwhile addition when you get a generator installed.

While a Generac seven kilowatt generator costs about $2500, by the time you add a transfer case to switch your home or business into its circuit, and professional installation of the generator and its attendant hardware, you’ll have spent about twice this. It certainly feels worth it, however, when the rest of the world’s in darkness and you’re still having a nice day.

Generac standby generators are available in several larger sizes as well – the basic seven kilowatt generator is more than adequate for a medium-sized home unless to insist on arc welding during power disruptions. Larger generators consume more fuel even if you don’t use all their capacity.

Despite its service issues and middling ongoing expenses, the Generac 05251 standby generator is an excellent box, and increasingly, a necessity for anyone who needs reliable electric power. The certainty of having to endure no blackout longer than sixty seconds can make one decidedly smug.

The edition of Storm Gods you’re reading was assembled entirely by the power of our Generac geneator, the local electric grid having gone on vacation the day this page was created.

Comments (1)

NDeMastersJuly 7th, 2012 at 8:29 am

07/07/2012
Been w/out elec 7 da & under governmental state of emergency due to masive storms in midAtlantic region. My generac generator lasted 4 da when the brushes and rotor burned out. The generator is only 6 mos old. Electrician observed this is manufacturing problem that they knew about. Never the less, Generac wouldn’t next day are the parts, but will be trucking them to arrive 6 da later. Could not recommend this manufacturer’s product nor especially their customer service. ND, Salem, VA

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