Homelite 5000 Watt Portable Generator with Subaru Engine: Product Review

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“Did you know,” I asked my wife, “that Home Depot has a portable generator–5000 watts–Homelite brand with a Subaru engine?”

“Subaru?”

“Subaru.”

It was a double wow moment for the pair of us. Our 2001 Subaru Outback has been with us since the 14,000 mile mark. Today, topping 171,000 miles on the odometer and still going strong, it uses absolutely no oil between changes. When it comes to Subaru, we are big fans.

Homelite…not so much. I remember the brand from childhood. A Homelite chainsaw back in the day was okay, more or less, but only if you couldn’t afford a McCullough. Or, later on, a Stihl.

Regardless of make, however, we weren’t in the market when I made that discovery. Our 5500 watt Troy-Bilt (with Briggs & Stratton engine) was our big-job gennie for things like pumping water and powering the microwave oven. We had little to no money, either, so there was that.

Until the Briggs bit the dust for the third time.

Don’t get me wrong. The Briggs & Stratton was/is a great engine. Unfortunately, this particular unit was set up all wrong when it came to the fuel tank and fuel shutoff valve designs, as follows:

    1. Venting the tank is accomplished by (get this) a simple hole drilled through the side of the gas cap. This encourages water infiltration, especially during the monsoon rains.

    2. To make matters worse, the neck for the gas cap sits in a little well which collects rainwater. Not quite enough to flow over the neck (and into the tank) before flowing out over the top of the tank and dripping off the sides, but still.

    3. The fuel shutoff valve is situated in the fuel hose right next to the tank itself. What this does is stress the rubber grommet every time the valve is turned on or off–which in our situation amounts to several times a day.

Yes, water in the gas had been a problem. Beyond that, the fuel hose would break in two every six months or so…and the half of the fuel grommet inside the tank would stay right there. You can’t get those suckers out. Remove the tank, take off the fuel cap, dump the fuel, shake the tank this way and that (upside down)…no joy.

So those little rubber pieces bounce around in there and eventually find a way to block the fuel exit from the tank. The generator won’t start, or if it does start, it dies.

When it happened this time, we happened to have a bit of money in the bank.

“I’ve had it,” I told Pam. “I’m heading to Home Depot.” Three hours later, I was back with a brand new Homelite/Subaru generator. In a box.

The old and the new.

The old and the new.

For now, the Troy-Bilt gets to rest & recuperate in one of our storage sheds. An aged window air conditioner had to be shifted to one side to make room, revealing (besides the inevitable mouse droppings) half a dozen tiny, very strange–and very confused–beetles. They’re like no critters I’ve ever seen before, but that’s another tale.

  See all 10 photos Home Sweet Home: The Great Shed of Retirement.


See all 10 photos
Home Sweet Home: The Great Shed of Retirement.

The Bad News

One bad habit of mine: I tend to deliver the bad news first. You know, to get it out of the way.

In the case of the Homelite 5000 watt generator, there were two–and only two–design flaws that looked from the get-go like they really, really sucked. Fortunately, those flaws involve the wheel setup and the handle, nothing that seems likely to keep the machine from starting, running, and producing endless electrical power.

Which does not mean they aren’t a pain in the butt.

    1. The wheel axles are nice, solid steel pins–but they’re short, and the frame holes that house them are too large for the pins. With the combination of leverage (machine weight pushing down on one end of each axle) and short axles, the wheels can’t help but cant (tilt) in at the top and out at the bottom.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

This design could be improved a thousandfold by (a) making both axles part of a single long rod and (b) making the axle-to-frame-hole fit a lot tighter. It’s not like the axle has to turn; the wheels are fitted with wheel bearings to do that. The long rod could even be welded solid at the factory.

Yes, it’s an irritating flaw, especially since our well sits 1/4 mile from the house. Dragging the machine by hand (which I’ve been doing with the Troy-Bilt) to pump water for the batch storage tank is going to be…interesting.

    2. The handle arrangement is a bit problematic. There are good things about it (which I’ll cover farther on down the page), but for long hauls (to the well), it’s going to require me to back up all the way. That’s not a huge problem…unless I don’t check my rear view mirror often enough and heel-down on top of a Mojave green rattlesnake someday.

Fortunately, neither of these irritants present major problems. In fact, for most users, they present no problems.

Now for the good stuff…and there’s a lot of that.

Thinking outside the box.

Thinking outside the box.

Attaching the legs.

Attaching the legs.

Ready for the rear wheel and axle assembly.

Ready for the rear wheel and axle assembly.

Wheels on.

Wheels on.

Good to go.

Good to go.

The Handle (Good News)

As mentioned above, the handle requires the operator to back up when hand-towing the machine from place to place (because it doesn’t rise high enough). But there are good things about its design as well:

    1. The folding design is awesome. Flip it up from the folded position, and a lock pin automatically secures the handle in the upright position. No fuss, no muss.

    2. Running lengthwise of the machine rather than crosswise, you get plenty of pipe to grip for leverage. Very stable.

Other Good News

    3. This fuel tank should never let water in through the cap and/or filler neck. First of all, the cap is solidly waterproof with no vent hole whatsoever. Secondly, there’s no water-collecting well around the filler neck; Subaru rigged an “open slope” to get rid of each raindrop as it arrives.

    4. The fuel tank vent is a truly efficient design. Air enters through the same down-pointing scoop that supplies the air filter for the carburetor, then travels up through a hose to the top of the tank, where it enters through a closed, watertight fitting. There’s no way a heavy drop of water is ever going to manage the uphill journey through that lengthy hose to contaminate the fuel tank.

That feature alone is enough to tell me I can get away with not building a “rainport” to protect the Homelite/Subaru generator against the weather. I’m in love.

    5. The fuel shutoff valve sits in the fuel line between tank and carburetor, just like with the Briggs & Stratton…but there the resemblance ends. Instead of being jammed up close to the tank (creating instant stress with every turn of the valve), it’s positioned well away from either tank or carb. Numerous inches of fuel hose running in either direction from the valve provide major flex-protection.

Additionally, there’s also a real inline fuel filter, not merely–as in the case of the Briggs & Stratton design–a simple and mostly ineffective in-tank screen.

Most importantly, there’s no fuel grommet. Instead, there’s a short section of pipe cast in one piece with the tank itselt. The fuel hose goes over that, leaving nothing inside the tank to break off and cause problems.

    6. The engine starts like a dream. According to the manual, full choke is applied until the engine fires up, but that turned out to be wrong. It refused to start under full choke because it didn’t need it. As soon as the choke was turned off, it leaped into life with a single pull of the starter cord.

    7. For the size of the thing, the Subaru engine is quiet. Not as quiet as the 2000 watt Yamaha that runs our electronics and electric light bulbs–duh–but a whole lot quieter than the Briggs & Stratton ever thought of being. With the windows closed in the house, you can almost forget it’s running at all.

Since the closest windows to that generator happen to be in my wife’s bedroom, that counts as a super-nice feature. Happy wife, happy life.

8. Although the axle design gets a frowny-face, the wheels themselves are a significant improvement over the Troy-Bilt version. That is, the new gennie’s got wheels that are both taller and wider than we had before. They should roll a lot easier and sink a lot less when the ground is semi-soft. (When it’s really soft, we don’t move generator wheels at all.)

In fact, the new wheels looked so massive next to the old ones that I had to take a few measurements. Old (Troy-Bilt): 7 3/4″ tall by 1 3/4″ wide. New (Homelite): 10 1/4″ tall by 2 3/4″ wide. But the numbers don’t do the difference between the wheels any justice at all. Take a look.

Massive new wheel vs. undersized old wheel.

Massive new wheel vs. undersized old wheel.

Awesome rainproof tanktop design.

Awesome rainproof tanktop design.

Fuel hose including shutoff valve, fuel filter, and molded tank pipe.

Fuel hose including shutoff valve, fuel filter, and molded tank pipe.

Since the bad news for the Homelite 5000 watt generator (with Subaru engine) pertains only to axle and handle designs most users won’t care about (not having to hand-tow the machine long distances), I’m giving it an A+ rating, a full FIVE STARS.

The only thing I wonder about is…why did it take me this long to get one?

Update, October 12, 2013: Home Depot no longer carries this brand. The last time I checked, they only had Briggs and Stratton generators in stock. In our view, that’s unfortunate. We needed (and could finally afford) more generators, so I did pick up a Briggs–which we do not see as an overall improvement over the Homelite with Subaru engine. The Homelite gets noticeably better fuel economy, it’s quieter, and after nineteen months of being owned by us–which means a lot of summer hours put in to keep Pam’s window air conditioner going–it runs even better than it did right out of the box.

13 thoughts on “Homelite 5000 Watt Portable Generator with Subaru Engine: Product Review

  1. I’v heard that Home depot now has a Husky brand 5000 watt generator that is the homelite model with the Husky decal on it. Check it out.

  2. Thanks; I’ll do that. Our local Home Depot was only stocking Briggs & Stratton generators the last time I checked, claiming these Homelite/Subaru combos had generated a lot of returns–which I seriously doubt, though I didn’t call the HD guy a fibber. Ours is still running beautifully; the only thing it needs is a new starter rope.

    But Home Depot certainly could have switched again; it was several months ago, last time I looked. I expect to be there tomorrow and will try to remember to drop by the Tool Corral to take a looksee.

  3. Carrie, I’m not familiar with the “home life” generator but am thinking you meant to type “Homelite”. The possible list could be pretty extensive, but when any generator of ours won’t start (the brand doesn’t really matter), I check the following:

    1. Did I turn the ignition on?

    2. Did I set the choke to Full? (That’s the usual starting point for most generators, though there could always be an exception.)

    3. Is there gas in the tank?

    4. Is the engine oil topped off? Nearly every newer generation generator comes equipped with a low oil sensor that will shut the engine down completely if the oil in the crankcase falls below a certain level, and every generator we own uses oil between changes.

    5. Did I remember to turn on the fuel valve? This is kept in the closed position when the machine is not in use. I missed that on a generator today. Took me a minute or two to palm-slap my forehead and turn the gas on.

    6. Is the air filter clean? I don’t always clean ours as often as I should, but there have been times when the engine would start if the filter was removed entirely. When that happens, I know for sure I’ve let it get too filthy.

    7. Does the spark plug need changing? The big Subaru generator (6500 watt) that we use to power our washer and propane dryer died in the middle of a run the other day. Nothing else was helping, so I pulled the spark plug–and despite the relatively low number of hours on the machine, the plug was 100% clogged with carbon, both around the porcelain base and between the electrodes. I’ve never seen any machine carbon up a plug like that–and especially not that fast. But with a new plug installed, it fired right up and ran like a charm.

    If it goes beyond those 7 items, who knows? We had a Steele that shut down in the middle of a run. That’s a Chinese machine and more trouble to fix than it’s worth, especially since it was pretty obvious (the oil level was fine) that it was an electronic failure. Then again, an earlier Briggs & Stratton had an intermittent fuel supply problem that we never did figure out, either–not even with me plus five different techs at 3 different small engine shops giving it a shot over a two year period.

    Hopeully, your issue will be one of those seven. 🙂

  4. solicito informacion por favor ¿que tipo de aceite sedebe usar en el generador homelite de 5000 watts

  5. My Spanish is anything but fluent. However, it seems you’re asking what kind of oil is used in the Homelite 5000 watt generator.

    Answer: We use Pennzoil 10W-30, but any name brand of 10W-30 will work. I just happen to be partial to Pennzoil.

  6. Problem: gas cap will not come off the tank. It feels like the ears do not align with opening. Help as I don’t want to damage the tank opening. Perhaps the cap is defective.

  7. I’ve not run into that problem. Don’t have a clue. Is the first time you tried to remove the cap, i.e. a brand new generator right out of the box, or…?

  8. I found your blog as I have the same generator brand new and was looking for pictures to post on the internet…Are you interested in a brand new Homelite 5000 watt, same as yours?

  9. Buenas noches como puedo conseguir un manual de usuario o instructivo de este modelo de Generador de favor

  10. Greg: My apologies for not responding sooner to your October 2015 comment. For whatever reason, the site never flagged me to let me know there was a comment waiting. As for interest in a new Homelite generator (which hopefully you got sold some time ago), no, we have no interest in this model at this time. My wife’s failing health reached the point where pulling a starter rope was too much for her, so we’ve gone entirely to electric start units, mostly Honda inverter models. Nothing against the Homelite, which still works just fine, but we no longer use it.
    ——————————————-
    Anonymous: There are several websites where you can find online manuals for this generator. This link looks promising:

    http://lawnandgarden.manualsonline.com/manuals/mfg/homelite/hg5000.html

  11. I bought a homelite 5000 brand new they said they never used it, but when I try to start it it won’t start, I noticed that when I check the oil level ones I took the cap off starts dropping the oil, maybe is over filled or supposed to be like that, thanks

  12. Erick, there are a whole lot of possibilities when you’re looking at a machine you’ve not personally used before–regardless of what the seller had to say. I’ll list a few, but there are undoubtedly other causes I’ll miss in this brief list:

    1. If the oil is pouring out when you pull the cap, then yes, it is over filled. That shouldn’t prevent it from starting, but you might want to stick something under to catch the oil and let the extra drain down level. It’s usually good to fill the crankcase to the point that it ALMOST spills over, but not quite. (Most late model generators have LOW oil sensors that shut things down, but too much oil has not been addressed as far as I know.)

    2. If there was fuel in the tank when you got the machine, it could have gone bad over time, depending how long it was in there. We don’t have that problem much, but that’s because we buy high end gasoline that has stabilizer built right into the formula.

    3. Presumably the fuel valve was turned off when you got it? If not, and if there was fuel in the tank, undue pressure could have hit the carburetor when the temperature was high outside.

    4. Spark plug. If it’s truly brand new, about the only thing to check there would be the gap; I’ve seen them come from the factory with the wrong gap setting. And of course make sure the spark plug wire end is firmly seated over the plug. Oh, and while you’re at it, check to make sure the engine has the RIGHT spark plug installed. You never know.

    5. I’m sure you turned the ignition switch on, but I’ve failed to do that on occasion–after being sure I HAD done it.

    6. Choke operation is simple but critical. Most of these generators like the choke pulled out all the way until the engine starts.

    7. Air filter. If it really has never been used, that’s not an issue, but it still can’t hurt to look before you give up and take the machine to a shop, which of course costs money and time.

    And finally (for now), ol’ cynical me has to wonder, “Hm…did the sellers never use it because they couldn’t start it either?”

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