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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

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Archive for the ‘Natural Gas’ Category


Dependability of street gas if it Hits the Fan

Monday, February 9th, 2009


I’m considering buying a backup generator. I have street LNG to the house. I assume since it always has pressure, as long as suppliers don’t shut it off, I’d be ok. But if there were a period of extreme social disruption, suppliers may do just that, in which case the unit would be useless. I could go with a liquid fuel unit, but don’t really want to store fuel.  What’s your opinion on the disruption problem?  The 1st on-line sizing calculator I found says I need a 17.5 kW generator.


Rob Wagner


I was a boy-scout, so I always believe in their motto – “Be prepared”.   Having said that, I do not know how big your house is, but a 17.5 kW generator is REALLY big for a home, unless it is all electric with 2 or more heat pumps.  We have found a generator in the 8 kW range will handle everything in a typical home except air conditioning or electric heating.  This size unit will easily power all lights, kitchen appliances, big screen TV and audio equipment, freezer, micro-wave oven, and well pump.  It will also power your furnace fan if you have gas heat, but will be on the edge if you also try to power a heat pump or AC unit.  Going up to a 12 kW generator will usually power all of the above, plus one fair sized heat pump or air conditioner.

I have many clients with homes having 4 or more heat pumps or AC units due to the large size of their home.  I always tell them to decide what parts of the house they really need during an extended emergency and only heat or cool those spaces.  This will not only reduce the size generator needed, but also the fuel since most generators use almost the same fuel at half loaded as full, so a over-sized generator only lightly loaded will usually use more fuel than a generator sized better to match the load.

As far as emergencies go, usually natural gas from the local utility is more reliable and available during storm related power outages, but there are times during line breaks or peak loads in the winter when line pressures drop.  Any generator designed for natural gas can be easily converted over to run on propane.  The Kohler line which I favor has a manifold block that has 2 pipe plugs, which are moved from one port to another to change over from propane to natural gas.  It would be fairly easy to make a piping arrangement to allow a quick disconnect from the city line to a line from a underground propane tank, but I would make sure you are using a piping connection that must be first disconnected from one supply before connecting to the other or you could have a very dangerous situation if high pressure propane gas passed into the lower pressure city gas line.

If this is a real concern why not just keep the generator connected to a underground 500 or 1000 gal propane tank?  Propane fuel does not go stale like gasoline, and you generator will always be ready as long as you run it every few weeks to keep it lubricated and battery charged.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Producing electricity from natural gas

Monday, February 2nd, 2009


I have unlimited, free natural gas from a gas well on my property. I would like to produce electricity for my own use from this gas. My electric bill is not that large since I have a gas furnace, gas water heater, gas clothes dryer, and gas range. How would you recommend I use the natural gas to produce electricity?

Thanks in advance .



Lucky you!  Wish I had free gas after this winter.  Although this may not be the most elegant solution, the easiest way is to buy a contractor- or better-quality gasoline engine generator in the 12 kW range.  Almost any quality brand generator can be ordered with a propane/natural gas carburetor and gas control valve.  These are easy to retrofit and just require replacing the existing carburetor with one modified to take a flex hose connection.  The kits should also include a gas regulator and a gas solenoid valve wired to the run switch.

When the engine tries to start, the electric valve opens and makes gas available to the gas regulator.  As long as the engine is “sucking” gas from this regulator, it will allow gas to flow.  If the engine stalls or stops and the ignition is still holding the gas valve open, no gas will flow because the “sucking” has stopped so the gas regulator will not allow any gas to flow.

Of course this would require this generator to be running 24 hours per day if you wanted free electricity full time.  This would quickly wear out this type of generator, so I would either shut it down at night, or combine it with an inverter and battery bank and let the generator only run 3 or 4 hours per day to re-charge the batteries, then shut down and run the electric loads off the inverter.  It can all be set up to do this automatically, and we have had several articles on this type of system in past issues you can read online.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Vent pipe fins

Friday, August 22nd, 2008


In a previous house I bought aluminum fins that wrapped around the gas furnace vent pipe to reclaim waste heat. I would like to buy more but have not been able to find them. Are they available?

Ken Ladd


You are having a problem because most of the stoves and heating appliances built in the past 10 years are much more efficient and many no longer even require a metal flue pipe. Many use PVC plastic vent pipes because the exhaust temperature is so low, and therefore not much “free” heat to reclaim with the fins you are looking for.

The following link is for a really good supplier of “old time” stoves and other hard to find non-powered household equipment. What you want may not be on their web site, but call as they may have this item or something that will do the same thing.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago



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