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 12-28-2008, 17:27 Post: 158890
kwschumm



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

With all the snow over the last two weeks we've lost power seven or eight times for as long as 16 hours. The generator has been a lifesaver, but after eight years and 300 hours it's electrical controls are becoming very flakey.

It should be startable from the basement transfer switch, but that stopped working reliably a few years ago. As a result, half the time power was lost I'd go out and start it from the panel on the generator. Last time the power went out the generator panel didn't work either, so I had to jumper across the starter solenoid to get it running.

My guess is that the switches and terminals are becoming oxidized from being housed in an uninsulated shed. Even though dry it's exposed to humidity and wide temperature swings. Sometimes if you operate a switch a bunch of times it will start to work but not this last time.

So it's probably time to rework the panel and I'm thinking it would be a good idea to replace all the switches and terminals with marine grade components and coat each connection with dialectric grease.

Are there any marine electrical guys here who could offer advice on reliable brands of switches and terminals to buy and good suppliers? I know the crimps have to be oxygen-free and am willing to spend the bucks on a good ratcheting double-crimp tool. Any favorite crimpers?






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 12-29-2008, 10:55 Post: 158899
AnnBrush



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Something's wrong if your switches are failing after only three or so years in a protected environment. Also what are you referring to: Switches - as in breakers or terminals as in terminations (bolted crimped or otherwise). Be careful as many crimped terminations are not permitted if our installation has to pass code. Electrical supply wires are usually screwed down or bolted and whatever device you use has to be UL listed as such. Gobs of dielectric grease may not be your answer either. Your post indicates some other problems (water entry being the most common problem).






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 12-29-2008, 11:04 Post: 158901
candoarms



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Kwschumm,

You're on the right track. It sounds to me as though you have a good handle on the problem, as well as the solution.

I'm not sure that it's necessary to go with marine grade components, but doing so will provide you with many good years of service. Cost is the biggest factor here.

Levitron is a very good make. They provide electrical components and devices for thousands of applications. I've have nothing but good things to say about Levitron's top-line products.

Like every manufacturer, Levitron offers different grades of products. They make products that meet home-building code requirements, as well as commercial code devices. The "Professional" line is high quality stuff.

If I were in your shoes, I'd make a visit to your local electrical jobber/distributor........the place the electricians go when they need supplies. It will be a wholesale outfit. They offer all grades of supplies, and can help you choose the best components and tools for your project.

Joel






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 12-29-2008, 11:14 Post: 158902
kwschumm



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

There is no water entry, it is bone dry. I can't say there is never condensation but it's an uninsulated well ventilated building. One switch that is suspect is the Local/Remote toggle that switches between remote and local control panels. That one is most likely bad since sometimes I can switch it back and forth a few times and then the other controls start working.

The problems are all in the low voltage control circuit leading up to the small spade terminal on the starter solenoid. All connections are made with terminals crimped from the factory. They look to be made of aluminum and seem to be coated with that whitish oxidation that makes for bad connections. Removing, burnishing and reinstalling the connectors usually starts things working again only to fail a few weeks or months later. It's a real PIA to open up and work in the panel so I only want to do that work one more time.

For a long time I thought the remote panel flakiness was caused by a voltage drop due to a long wire run at the limit of specs, but that doesn't explain why the local panel wouldn't work.






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 12-29-2008, 12:24 Post: 158903
candoarms



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Kwschumm,

If your problems relate only to the low voltage control circuits, you can probably take care of this problem with very little expense.

Purchase yourself some good low voltage switches....the ones with copper plated terminals. Shy away from the .99 cent jobbies. After getting yourself some good low voltage switches, hard solder all of the connections, rather than using those cheap, crimped-on terminal ends.

Slip a piece of properly sized shrink tubing over each wire end, prior to completing the solder joints. You can then use a heat gun, or even a wood match to shrink the tubing down to complete a weather-tight seal.

Some helpful hints........

Use rosin core solder, designed for electrical work. Acid core solders will attack and destroy the electrical connections.

Use a good solder paste designed for electrical work. This will help your solder flow properly, making for a very neat, clean, and professional connection.

Clean all terminal ends with a small steel brush (Dremel tool wire brush works great) prior to connecting the wires to the switches. This will help the solder paste do its job, as well as provide a clean surface for the solder to attach to.

Switch terminals often oxidize. You can purchase a spray cleaner to spray inside the switch to clean those terminals. It won't hurt the switch, nor harm the plastic housing. Look for a product called "LPS PSC". This is a Plastic-Safe-Cleaner, designed for use on small electrical switches, printed circuit boards, kids toys, etc.

See the link below.

You'll never have to fix this stuff again.

Joel






Link:   LPS PSC Part # O4620 

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 12-29-2008, 14:12 Post: 158911
Murf



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Ken, before you spend $$$ replacing stuff, make sure you've nipped the problem in the bud first.

The simplest, most straight-forward solution (read cheapest) is not to worry about 'wet approved' hardware, just put the regular stuff into a sealed box.

You can buy over-sized plastic boxes that have rubber gaskets around the doors or panels that open. Then just use electrical putty to seal around the holes you made to feed in the wires. This method works VERY well for the type of situation you have.

If the switches are serviceable you can probably clean up the contacts, if not just replace them and then encapsulate the whole thing.

Best of luck.






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 12-29-2008, 17:36 Post: 158919
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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Joel, I've soldered electronics for forty years but didn't think about soldering this stuff. All the terminals are aluminum! I'll have to replace the switches and terminal blocks with good ones that have tinned copper. A *good* crimp terminal is as good or better than a soldered connection. They don't have the wire fatigue issues at the solder joint, they are oxygen free and corrosion resistant and have been FAA approved for many years. The problem is that it's difficult for consumers to buy the good stuff. A crimp tool that is guaranteed to crimp to specification costs ~$200. I will reconsider soldering with heat shrink as a strain relief.

Murf, you're right, once this panel is rebuilt it's getting dessicant, a gasket around the panel, and sealer in all other openings. The panel is welded to the genset skid so it's a bit hard to just put it in a plastic box.

But I'm still gonna buy the best switches I can find.






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 01-15-2009, 22:36 Post: 159498
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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

One method that worked for me on old aircraft with loads of corroded connectors;
Spray connections with WD40 and make/break (slip connector on/of), this will scrape/displace any corosion and the oily film wil coat the cleaned surface contacts.
As well you often can get some of the spray to infiltrate the switches and clean contacts that way.
Also make sure that grounds are true metal to metal bonds.
As a preventative measure I even do this routinely to my vehicle and tractor.
I also have 'cured' many power tool switches with this method.






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 01-16-2009, 01:13 Post: 159500
JD-855-in-WI



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Reliable switches; the best are industrial magnetic reed switched by Rockwell or Cutler Hammer. These actually have the contacts sealed in a glass tube and use a moving magnet to close or open the contacts. Not cheap but very reliable in dust, dirt and corrosive environments, bonus is they are XP rated. They are used on industrial bailers that operate in very dirty environments. Same applies if you need control relays, reed relays canít be beat. As far as those little ľĒ quick slide connectors, the stainless steel crimp on ones are the best on the market, but put a little Nolox anti-corrosion type grease on the copper wire before you insert and crimp it on. Slip a 2Ē piece of heat shrink on the wire before crimping down the lug and then slide it down and shrink it over the lug and wire, not so much for the seal, but as a vibration isolator to help keep the wire from breaking off at the lug. The stainless terminals are used to make connections to heating elements and controllers, so they might be available at a local appliance repair parts store. Also put a small amount of Nolox on the connections before pushing on the quick slide connector. If you solder, use a good 60/40 rosin core solder and a low watt pencil. Also make sure there is a weep hole at the bottom of the enclosure, water will get in and needs an opening to get out. Hope this advice isnít too over the top, the better the repair the longer it will last.






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 01-16-2009, 10:25 Post: 159513
kwschumm



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 Reliable electrical connections for outdoor generator

Thanks for the info.

Your weep hole idea gave me an idea.

A small, low power heater in the box would keep condensation at bay, like a goldenrod heater in a gun safe.

The small trickle charger/conditioner used to keep the battery charged might fit in the box and put out enough heat to do that job.






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