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