For Generator Safety, GenTent Has You Covered

GenTent 10k StormbracerWe bet you never heard, while you were first shopping for a portable generator, that you couldn’t safely run the machine in the rain or snow. You wouldn’t splash water at an electrical outlet in your home, would you? But that’s exactly what the sky is doing to your portable generator while you’re running it outdoors unprotected during a storm.

You might be tempted to run the generator in your garage—just barely sheltered, with the exhaust pointed outward. Think again. Remind yourself that carbon monoxide from generators can kill everyone in the home, and there’s a reason experts recommend you keep the machine 20 feet away from your home. Then check out GenTent Safety Canopies, LLC, the only company that makes generator tents, a safe solution for more than 1,500 generators from 145 manufacturers.

Quick reality check: You can buy a cover for a portable generator for as little as $10, rather than $180 for the product we tested. But such covers are for storage alone; a generator that traps heat and emissions while running would quickly seize up. GenTent’s line, ranging in price from about $150 to $200, differs in that its canopies shelter the generator while permitting ample venting. It’s solely intended for portable generators; stationary generators, permanently installed outdoors, have their own weatherproof shielding.

We tested the 2017 version of the GenTent 10k Stormbracer, which adds UV treatment and resistance to cold down to -35o F. (All are flame-resistant and can resist wind up to 70 mph.) Whichever open-frame generator you own, the Stormbracer comes in a specific version for it. GenTent has also begun making tents for many closed-frame inverter generators. A few open-frame models, however, require special workarounds due to their designs. Some, for instance, have square rather than the round tubular frames to the product typically attaches. The company has developed several extra-cost adapter kits for most exceptions.

Installing the GenTent
GenTent matched the 10k Stormbracer we tested to a specific generator, the Generac GP7500E, though this version accommodates the majority of portables. The no-tools installation varies by which generator you own, and you tell the company your model to ensure you get the right canopy. For the Generac, we followed a three-step process outlined in the manual.

First, we attached one fiberglass/nylon clamp plus its rubber sleeve, which some models need, to each of the generator frame’s vertical corners. (The manual specifies how far beneath the generator’s electric panel to situate it.) The clamps’ length locks in place, and a lookup chart in the manual tells you which position is appropriate for your generator’s dimensions. Four fiberglass rods insert in the brackets, and their other ends meet in one fiberglass/nylon “central connector,” which forms the crown of the tent’s frame. The vinyl-coated polyester tent (in tan or gray, with black trim) slips over this frame, and elastic loops (outdoor-grade Gore-Tex) grips the brackets below.

Up to this step, the top of the generator is covered, but the sides are protected only a few inches down. One of two additional pieces included—one short, one long—attaches with Velcro beneath a flap that extends around the tent’s bottom edge. Depending on where the generator’s electrical panel is (and its length), you’ll attach one of the two pieces to cover the panel with enough wraparound on the adjacent sides to protect against rain blowing toward the generator from the side. Nothing covers the vicinity of the exhaust.

Checking or adding fuel is no problem: A hatch in the canopy, also firmly attached with Velcro, gave us ample access. Just remember to shut the generator and let it cool for five minutes before you add fuel.

GenTent versus nor’easter
GenTent invites customers to email them photos of your installed GenTent. For us, the company’s prompt reply suggested using the long rather than short electric-panel flap (for more wraparound) and better positioning of the stretchable loops beneath the canopy. We did not have to wait long for a storm to decisively test the GenTent.

What we got was a bitter nighttime nor’easter with a messy mix of sleet and heavy rain, GenTent 10k Stormbracerbacked by winds gusting to 50 miles per hour. We wheeled the generator out during the peak of the action, fired it up and had no issues, even given the GenTent’s panel covering, while connecting the unit to the transfer switch. A few drops of rain dampened lower components, but none reached where it could cause trouble, such as the panel or the electric-starter’s battery beneath.

With every major storm, more portable-generator owners learn about GenTent’s products, which protect your family as well as the generator. And since the best time to spring for a protective canopy is when you buy the generator itself, the company has launched the Covered by GenTent program, under which a generator maker will offer model-specific GenTents when you’re first buying the generator. Champion Power Equipment, the first generator manufacturer in the program, offers the product for much of its Storm Shield line. Other manufacturers could follow.

Stellar reviews on Tool to Power don’t come easy. But GenTent launched its product line months before Superstorm Sandy clobbered the northeast, and the company has only grown since. From our hands-on assessment, we can see why.

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Use Your Phone to Monitor this Briggs & Stratton Generator

Briggs & Stratton 8,000-Watt Elite Series Portable Generator / Credit: Briggs & StrattonA generator, unlike most outdoor power equipment, does its thing away from the operator—and often runs out of your range of vision. That can make it a challenge to ensure there’s enough fuel and oil to keep it going, and your home powered, as long as you need it. What if you could check on your generator from your La-Z-Boy and go out to it only when you have to? That’s the latest in home-generator monitoring, and you’ll find it in the Briggs & Stratton 8,000-Watt Elite Series Portable Generator with StatStation Wireless, which hit Amazon and Home Depot this week.

The industry has been headed toward remote monitoring for some time. Standby generators, which install permanently outdoors and power on automatically, have had extra-cost options through which, say, a Briggs & Stratton, Generac or Kohler unit can email or text you (or a servicing dealer) when it needs attention. But for portable generators, the best available option was a control-panel extension module such as the one included with the $900 Troy-Bilt XP 030477. The extension connects to that generator via a 25-foot cable and lets you plug in devices, check usage and even start or stop the engine. The drawback is that you need to run the cable out a slightly open window, making placement of the generator at least 20 feet from the house even more critical.

The new Bluetooth-enabled Briggs & Stratton is rated for 8,000 watts plus 2,000 more for surges, powered by a built-in alternator. Its Briggs-branded 420cc overhead-valve engine has electric as well as recoil start. The gas tank holds 7.5 gallons, enough to run the generator at half-load for nine hours, according to the manufacturer. Other helpful features include a fuel gauge, low-oil shutoff, hour meter and plenty of covered outlets: four ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), 120V household outlets plus one 120/240V, 30A locking outlet for connecting to a transfer switch.

Remote generator monitoring
The generator’s claim to fame, however, requires the StatStation app, which runs on a minimum iPhone 6 running iOS 9 or a Samsung Galaxy S6 running Android 6.0.1. With that app on your phone, you can check fuel levels (and Briggs & Stratton StatStation app / Credit: Briggs & Strattonavailable runtime given the load), see how much of the available power the generator is supplying and also check when to replace your spark plug, oil and air filter. It won’t tell you that your oil is running low—the low-oil shutoff will protect the generator from that—but you should check that once before starting the machine anyway.

As with apps we’ve seen for lawn equipment, the StatStation app also gives you ready access to the owner’s manual, the Quick Start-Up/Shutdown Guide, FAQs and how-to videos. If those aren’t enough, the same app will connect you to nearby servicing dealers. The 36-month residential warranty should feel as protective as the generator.

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