Backup Generator - Champion 3500 Watt
Like it or not most of us have become very dependent on electricity; short term power outages can be a major inconvenience, while long term outages can become life threatening in some situations. Where I live it is not uncommon for temperatures to dip well below zero in the winter, so I wanted a generator primarily to keep the heating system in my house going when the power was off. There is not shortage of generators on the market with numerous models selling at a wide range of prices; after much research I decided on buying a Champion 3500 Watt model.
Champion 3500 Watt
My primary concern was to keep my house warm when the electricity is off and what I really wanted was a wood stove. However, after looking into wood stoves I realized a generator made more sense for me as it was less expense and could also be used to keep my refrigerator/freezer running, and power various other electronic devices during power outages which are not uncommon here. The Champion line of generators quickly emerged as one of the top contenders for affordable generators that were suitable for this application, and when I found their popular 3500 watt model on sale I bought it.
For those of you not familiar with generators they are heavy, this particular model weighs in at 110 lbs and that is without gas which can add an addition 25 lbs. Fortunately the model I selected came with a wheel kit and fold down handle, which makes maneuvering this unit very easy on most surfaces. There was some assembly required but it was all very straightforward and the directions were easy to follow. My generator arrived with just a little bit of oil, so I added about half a liter of 5W-30 to get the level up to the full mark. The proper thing to do would probably have been to drain that oil and then add all new oil.
Despite some funky looking outlets and a voltmeter that goes past 240 volts, this is strictly a 120 volt model. There are three connection options on the outlet panel. On the left there is a L5-30R connection which uses a twist locking plug in system. The middle outlet is known as a TT-30R and is commonly used for RV applications. The right outlet is a standard 5-20R three pronged outlet that fits the standard type extensions cords that you probably have lying around the house. Again, it is important to remember that despite the different styles of connectors they all operate at 120 volts, so those looking to run a washer & dryer, welder, or other device that needs 240 volts would need to get a different model.
Gas and Oil
This Champion generator uses a 196cc 4 stroke engine, so it does not require that the gas and oil be mixed. The gas tank is filled from the top and holds 4 gallons; the manual recommends using a minimum of 85 octane although I have found it is usually good policy to spring for the good stuff when for use in small engines. Oil is added through the hole beneath the yellow screw in cap and it takes .6 liters of 5W-30, 10W-30, or 30. There is a temperature range chart in the manual to help you decide which oil is best for your application. The oil drain plug is below and to the left of the yellow fill cap, and it uses a 12mm socket to remove the plug and washer. Catching the oil is a little difficult because of the angle; I cut the top off a tall 24oz water bottle and it did the trick nicely, although putting a few rags down underneath the drain plug is a good idea.
After filling with oil and adding some gas, you need to insure that the gas valve is turned to the “ON” position and that the choke is set on “Choke” and not run. You then flip the red switch up to the “ON” position and pull the starter rope. My unit usually starts on the 2nd pull when cold, and I quickly move the choke lever back to the “run” position to keep it operating smoothly. The unit is shut off by simply flipping the red switch from the “On” to the “Off” setting, although the manual recommends you unplug all connected devices and let the unit run for a couple minutes before shutting it down.
Looking at the top of this generator is like looking at a NASCAR driver’s uniform as the unit is covered almost entirely, only not with sponsor’s names but with numerous warnings. Generators can be very dangerous and it is very important to use them properly. Not to get preachy but two big things to remember are don’t use them indoors or in enclosed areas, and don’t plumb generators into your house’s electrical system unless you absolutely know what your doing. If wired wrong the generator can send electricity back down the line and end up hurting workers attempting to repair the lines who expect the electricity to be off. I’m all for DIY projects but at least consult a knowledge electrician beforehand, so they can either talk you out it or through it and advise you of any relevant building codes in your area.
Runtime and Load Capacity
This generator is listed as being able to run 12 hours on its 4 gallon tank of gas at half load. So if all the devices you are running average about 1750 watts (.5 x 3500 watts = 1750 watts) you could expect to get about 12 hours of runtime which seems to be pretty efficient to me. While the gas gauge on this unit is more or less an approximate fuel level in my experience so far with this generator I would say that it appears to be a pretty accurate estimate as to what you can expect for runtime. Also, I feel that half load is a good goal to shoot for when purchasing a generator, so add up what you think would be your average wattage use and then multiply by 2 for roughly the wattage range of generator you are looking for. Models in this 3500 watt range are popular with the RV crowd and those looking to run the essentials (and maybe a few extras) during power outages.
I have had my Champion 3500 watt generator for about a year as I write this. While I have had numerous small power outages that didn’t last long, I did finally get to give it a real test this last winter when a snow storm combined with high winds knocked out the power. The power went out after dark with the temperature well below freezing and the wind gusting up to 45 mph blowing snow everywhere; so I elected to bundle up until morning as the house still wasn’t very cold when I went to bed. I woke up early to a very cold house but much calmer weather; so I pulled out the generator added some gas and it started without hassle. After I let it warm up for a few minutes, the generator had the furnace making up for lost ground. Once it had got the house back to a normal temperature I went outside and shut the unit off, and just when I got back inside the power had came back on. While the test turned out to be minor, the confidence boost that it gave me in being able to handle most normal power outages was major.