Keep the Power On – Welding Generators Offer the Best Value for Emergency Power | MillerWelds

Keep the Power On – Welding Generators Offer the Best Value for Emergency Power

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July 1, 2007
Hurricanes, ice storms, and natural disasters of all kinds leave countless people without electricity each year. Instead of buying a machine that only generates emergency power, it may be a better investment to invest in a welding generator and get two machines for the price of one.

The 2013/2014 winter season brought recording breaking temperatures and an ample amount of snowfall and ice all across the country. Many people lost power due to down power lines. Summer brings its own set up challenges; severe thunderstorms, tropical storms, and hurricanes can devastate entire regions.

When you desperately need lights, tools and appliances, a generator becomes worth its weight in gold. If you need 120/240 VAC power in the field, such as for emergency equipment repair, construction or farm/ranch work, portable generators also make sense for everyday use.

What doesn't make sense is spending good money for a machine that only generates power when an engine-driven welder/generator offers a much better value. Welder/generators offer these benefits:

  • They produce 4,500 to 12,000 watts of 120/240 VAC power
  • Provide 140 to 325 amps of welding power
  • Typically retail for $1,900 to $4,500 - that's up to $1,400 less than an equivalent generator-only unit!
  • Use high-quality Kohler engines
  • Are built to professional-duty standards

The shear weight of ice buildup easily snapped an electric pole and evergreen in two as parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri were hit by an epic ice storm.

Powering Up

The welder/generator that's right for you first depends on how much generator power you need. Keeping household essentials running - lights, furnace, refrigerator, well pump, stove, microwave, TV and/or air conditioner - requires at least 5,000 to 8,000 watts. Under this type of load, a welder/generator with a 12-gallon gas tank will run more than 10 hours.

As for running motors and tools, look at their nameplate to find how much power they take to run (either in watts or volts and amps; volts x amps = watts). Unlike resistive loads that require a constant amount of power (e.g., light bulbs), non-resistive loads - that's any equipment with a motor - can require three to six times their "running wattage" when first turned on. This is known as the "starting wattage."

If you do not know the starting and running wattage of common farm, home and contractor tools, Miller provides a Wattage Reference Guide. In addition, we have a handy Power Calculation worksheet and Cost Savings Comparison to generator-only units.

Be sure to test the capabilities of any welder/generator since there is a huge performance difference between models (read about one man's "ice storm" experience at the end of this story). For instance, some welder/generators actually have a starting wattage that is less than their total output, where others are designed to better manage the "over current" that occurs briefly when starting motors.

The Bobcat™ 250 - Miller's best-selling unit, provides good motor starting capabilities, while Miller's Trailblazer® 325 provides the strongest motor-starting performance in its class. Both units deliver 12,000 watts of Accu-Rated generator power, which means that they provide 12,000 watts of peak power for a period of 30 seconds (some machines can only deliver peak power for a very, very short time).

When size matters, Miller’s compact and portable Blue Star® 185 DX models offer a fuel capacity three times larger than previous models. Featuring useable peak power of 6,000 watts the Blue Star is perfect for power generation and welding in areas where space is limited. When outfitted with optional running gear, the Blue Star is one-man portable and takes up very little truck space.

Plugging In

You can plug tools and appliances directly into a welder/generator's 120/240 VAC outlets. Generally try to limit the load to 90 percent of generator output. Always start non-resistive (motor) loads in order from largest to smallest, and add resistive loads last. If a motor does not start within five seconds, turn off power to prevent motor damage. The motor requires more power than the generator can supply.

Trees can fall under their own weight causing damage to housing and cars.

You also can connect a welder/generator into your house, garage, barn or work shed's electrical supply. For safety reasons, a qualified person should perform this task. Be sure to comply with code and license requirements, too. For example, the National Electrical Code (NEC) advises that the only legal and safe way to wire standby generator power to your home is through a three-position transfer switch. Also for safety reasons, never keep a running generator in a garage or enclosed area where the fumes could harm people or livestock.

Refer to your Owner's Manual for complete safety and generator power guidelines. Since owner's manuals often get lost, damaged or used once too often as a coffee mug coaster, Miller makes them available for free on-line.

Two for One

If you're like most folks who buy a welder/generator, you'll probably use the generator power more than you think. However, you'll definitely value the welding power, especially if you live in a rural area, farm or ranch.

All welder/generators provide DC output suitable for Stick welding. This lets you weld just about anything made of mild steel, stainless steel and cast iron. Most of these machines also let you weld steel and stainless with the DC TIG process (GTAW or "heli-arc"). For welding aluminum, you need a machine with an AC TIG output or a constant voltage (CV) output for MIG welding (a wire welding process).

Machines with a CV output also work better for flux cored welding. This process is often used for dirty or rusty materials and for portability, as some flux cored wires do not require a bottle of shielding gas like MIG welding does.

Note that some machines cannot provide good generator power and welding power simultaneously. However, Miller designs its machines for this purpose, enabling both you and a helper or two to work from a single unit. Take building a fence from steel pipe for example. One person can weld, a second can grind and a third can run a chop saw.

Where Can You Find It?

When hardware and traditional supply stores run out of machines - as they always seem to do during emergencies - call or visit your local welding supply distributor. Distributors sometimes maintain a bigger stock of welder/generators, and they can get emergency shipments direct from the factory. Distributors are also your best source of welding advice and supplies.

Welder/generators are intentionally designed with arc performance characteristics suitable for particular tasks. If you plan to do delicate or specialty work, you don't want to use a unit designed for general purpose welding. Conversely, if you know what you want to weld, there's no sense spending more money than necessary.

While you might not need to weld or use generator power every week, investing in a machine that performs both makes economic sense. A welder/generator costs no more than a regular generator, and it saves time and money by allowing you to make your own welding repairs. Consider it an early Christmas present for yourself. After all, an electric razor or DVD player won't keep the furnace blower fan running during a power outage, but a welder/generator will.