Product reviews? Sure. When you live off grid as we do, portable generators are familiar faces. Dueling generators, though? The Homelite 5000 (with Subaru engine) and Generac 5500 didn’t start out that way. They were buddies. Workhorse machines good for the heavy wattage home appliances.
We have a portable solar generator which produces nice, clean, pure sine wave electricity to power our computers, TV sets, lights, and the like. Wonderful unit, that solar gem…but it has limitations.
It’s not big to casually ignore any of the following, each of which pulls a lot of power when in use
1. Curling iron (okay on low)
2. Hair dryer (okay on low)
3. Microwave oven (okay with 900 watt unit, not good with 1200 watt unit)
4. Laundry dryer (unable to handle under any conditions)
5. Laundry washing machine (unable to handle under any conditions)
6, 8,000 btu window air conditioner (unwise to use, drains battery bank in less than an hour)
7. Water well pump (okay unless battery bank is low)
Technically, “the solar” can handle the curling iron and hair dryer if they’re set on low, but most of the time we don’t take a chance. “I’ll go fire up the gennnie,” I tell my wife, and that’s that.
The killer of the lot is the AC unit. It draws roughly 800 watts, far less than the microwave, but the microwave runs for minutes at a time while the air conditioner runs for hours at a time.
With that in mind, I bought the Generac GP5500 just a little less than a year ago to coincide with the installation of an air conditioning unit for Pam’s bedroom. The idea was to use it (the generator) primarily as a home based machine. The Homelite/Subaru, which had been handling that job for eight or nine months already, would be shifted to “light duty”, permanently stationed over at the wellhead.
Our well sits 1/8 of a mile away from the house, right out there in the middle of our 20 acres (the home is at the west end of the property). It would only need to run for half an hour every week or so, powering the well pump to refill our 500 gallon batch storage water tank.
2012 marked the first summer Pam had air conditioning in her room. The Generac did the job, kept her cool enough to function.
It did use a lot of fuel, but the redhead was no longer comatose during the summer months. That made both of us happy, or at least relieved.
Our income was okay for a change. We could live with the endless trips to the gas station.
Over at the wellhead, the Homelite/Subaru thrived. It started on the first pull nearly every time. Looking good.
That was true until the summer of 2012 was long gone and colder weather began to set in. The Homelite was still doing what it was designed to do. The Generac, however, had begun to show its true colors.
It was not a cold weather machine.
Fuel issues for the Generac
As the temperature began to drop, the number of pulls it took to start the Generac GP5500 began to rise. By the time the thermometer was reading in the forties (Fahrenheit), the generator was announcing there would come a point where it intended to rebel completely.
That point turned out to be 32 degrees. Freezing. If it was below freezing outside, the Generac refused to get out of bed and go to work no matter what was done to it.
20 pulls? Nah. Full choke me all you want, Buster; I ain’t budging!
I was used to fighting cold weather with power equipment on the Roan Plateau in Colorado. Natural gas drilling rigs on the Roan work in temperatures that attract penguins. 27 below? Just an average winter day up there. It’s so cold on the Plateau in the depths of winter that 400 barrel frac tanks full of water are covered with tarps, and sometimes that isn’t enough.
But this is southern Arizona. Any generator that refuses to start when it’s sitting one mile north of the Mexican border at an elevation of 4300 feet is a piece of junk.
Freaking fair weather machine. We’d never seen anything like it.
Never. Over the years, Pam and I have owned portable generators made by Yamaha, Champion, Troy-Bilt (with Briggs & Stratton engine), Homelite (with Subaru engine), and now Generac. Only the Generac has flat refused to start in subfreezing weather. The other machines might require half a dozen pulls on full choke if it’s really cold, but they don’t wuss out completely.
Still, the seasons turn. Spring 2013 rolled around, and the Generac was happy again. It loves starting on a single full-choke pull when it’s 80 degrees out. Happy happy happy.
Not so happy at 95 or above. Tricky then, necessitating the memorization of a special pattern of starter rope pulls: No choke full choke no choke no choke no choke SPUTTER-COUGH–VROOOM-M!
Okay. We could live with that. As long as it powered Pam’s summer air conditioning, it was all good.
Which it did just fine. My redhead toughed it out until June second, but then it was time to get that chilled air flowing into her abode.
Oops. Mere days into the program, and what’s this? Not the generator, but the AC unit is on the fritz! Stupid fancy little digital control panel. Set it for “coldest possible” at 61 degrees, and 5 seconds later it pops back up to 99 degrees? How wack is that?
Target provides this year’s version of the same AC model…and the manufacturer has made some improvements. Internal improvements. We like it a lot.
Okay. Now we should be good for the summer.
Hold on. This Generac GP5500 generator is sucking down an average of one full gallon of gasoline every hour?
Whoa. Was it that bad last year? Must have been. I was so relieved to see Pam in summer comfort for a change, maybe it didn’t dawn on me that I was running the empty gas cans back to the station for refills every other day.
Let’s see…if we average 10 hours of AC use per day for the next 100 days, that’s a thousand gallons of gasoline this thing is going to eat. Regular gas is running just under $3.50 at the Jumping Jack…wha–?! Three thousand, five hundred dollars just to keep my better half this side of a heat stroke for one year?
Well, yeah, of course she’s worth it, but we’re lucky we were able to shell that much out in 2012, and so far in 2013. We certainly couldn’t have done it in 2009 or 2011, and 2010 would have been as iffy as finding an American citizen whose phone calls aren’t being monitored these days.
I looked at those numbers, shuddered…and did nothing. The Homelite would probably need just as much fuel, or close to it. Big gennies have big thirsts. Yeah, our little Yamaha 2000 will run 11 hours on a single gallon, but….
And then the Generac took things into its own hands. Or pistons, perhaps, since it has no hands.
The gas tank broke.
Weirdly enough, the molded plastic decided to produce an inch long crack in the bottom of the tank. When it was running, fuel started spraying out and down, all over the rest of the hot machine.
Pam had one of her weird intuitions, went out to check things out around 8:30 p.m. while I was in town on errands. Shut the beast off like a good girl and then called me.
Huh. Now what?
“No big,” I told my sweetheart. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll snag the Homelite back from the wellhead, change the oil, and put it to work running the air conditioner. Then I’ll load up the Generac and take it to our favorite small engine shop. Plus, I might as well pick up another Homelite from Home Depot on the way home. We do need one more, just to fill in whenever one of the others is in the shop.”
The plan met with Pam’s approval. Life was good.
Our repair guy popped out from the back room the moment he heard me come in the shop’s front door.
“Got a Generac that needs a new gas tank,” I announced–and he recoiled in horror.
Not quite literally, but his body language was clear: “Generac” did not appear to be his favorite Word of the Day.
He explained: They don’t service Generac portable generators any more. It’s the only brand they don’t service. Some time back, the boss signed on with Generac to be a Generac distributor–after which Generac promptly arranged to place their products in Lowe’s and other big box outlets at lower prices.
As if that weren’t enough, many of the Generacs failed during the warranty period. The shop would repair the machines under warranty, submit their claim paperwork…and get nothing but grief in return.
I can’t even guess at the total financial bath they must have taken. My little busted gas tank problem was nothing.
“Never mind, then.” I grinned at our friend. “I’ll just get hold of a tank and handle it myself. No big.”
His relief was palpable. They don’t like not being able to help a customer.
That settled one thing: We would never buy another Generac generator.
Will I fix it myself as I said?
Oh yeah. But not with a company issue replacement gas tank. No, what we’ll do is let Pam’s son, Zach, know we’re in the market for an old gas tank out of a car. Then I’ll build a mounting framework for the thing, suspend the automotive tank a few feet above the ground. Run the tankless Generac in under the suspended tank, hook up a flex line, and away-y- we go!
I didn’t pick up the extra Homelite generator on the way home, though. With the Generac still sitting in the back of the Subaru Outback, there was not enough room.
Fuel economy and a purring sound
Strangely, we’d never really known just what sort of fuel consumption the Homelite gennie might have. We did notice that it was much quieter than the Generac, no more than half as noisy–and it’s got a bit of a purr to it. Not nearly as irritating to the ear.
However, I was about to get a very pleasant surprise. 3:30 p.m. rolled around. I’d gassed up the Homelite and started it before heading to town around 9:00 a.m., which meant it had been running for 6 1/2 hours. It was still purring away.
The Generac would have run out of gas at the six hour mark, its tank bone dry and demanding a full six gallon fill-up.
How much fuel did the Homelite want?
Amazingly, it wouldn’t even take 2 1/2 gallons. I was pouring from a 2 1/2 gallon can, and there was still a bit left in the can when the generator’s gas tank was full to the brim.
What did that say about the numbers? Quite a lot:
1. The Generac could run for one hour on one gallon of gas. On that same amount, the Homelite could run for 2 1/2 hours.
2. The Generac would go through 1,000 gallons of gas in a single summer. The Homelite would do the same run on 400 gallons.
3. At our local station’s current price of just under $3.50, the Generac would cost us $3,500 in gasoline in a single season. The Homelite would cost $1,400.
Truthfully, I didn’t know whether to rejoice at these findings or kick myself in the tail for shelling all that money out last year…but I decided to rejoice. After all, the past is the past. If I fixated on every mistake I’ve ever made–nope. Not going there.
Officially rejoicing now. When the Generac busted its own gas tank, it did us a $2,100 per annum favor.
Also, officially rating these two machines.
Hm. Nah. Only going to rate one of them. Five stars for the Homelite. The Generac doesn’t even deserve to be rated.
Rating for Homelite 5000 portable generator with Subaru engine: FIVE STARS, all the way
For the Generac? Well, the company has messed up with its distributors and service shops, so it’s impossible to find service locally. A gas tank cracking in two out of the blue is unheard of, so that sucks. It uses a lot of fuel when it does run. It won’t start in even moderately cold weather. So….
Rating for Generac GP5500 portable generator: ZERO STARS, with the addition of a serious DO NOT BUY recommendation if you value your time, your money, or your sanity.
UPDATE: 24 hours later
Interesting. We’re pretty proud of the Homelite gennie (as you could tell)…but when I stopped by Home Depot last evening to pick up another one, I got a surprise: The chain is no longer handling Homelite.
Instead, they’re now stocking Briggs & Stratton models. That could be a good thing, since they’re all B&S. We own a Troy Bilt generator with a Briggs engine that gave us fits, but the problem was not the engine. The problem was the fuel supply, and that was all Troy Bilt.
So yes, we now own a new 5,000 watt Briggs & Stratton generator (placed on full time well water pumping duty) and a 10,000 watt Steele (able to handle both washer and propane dryer at the same time, easily–assigned to full time laundry duty).
Perhaps after using it for a while, we ought to compare it to the Homelite with Subaru engine–which, apparently, can now only be found online.
UPDATE: One of our readers (see comments below) requested a photo of the Homelite’s throttle linkage, so here it is…sort of. It was the best I could do by flashlight in the middle of the night. Didn’t dare wait for daylight, as my sunshine hours get so jammed for time it’d be all too likely I’d never get it done that way.
Hopefully, there’s enough detail visible in the photo for James to figure out which part(s) might be missing from his Homelite’s linkage.