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Do It Yourself: The pros, cons of propane generators

Q. We are considering a propane generator with 20-gallon tank to run our sump pump and refrigerator during power blackouts. We feel gasoline gets stale too quickly. What size generator do you recommend and how long would the tank of propane last?

A. Some homeowners like propane generators because of the ability to store a sizable amount of fuel, and because they often get steady, reliable performance, but propane has never achieved the popularity of gasoline-powered generators. It’s impossible to say how long 20 gallons of propane would last, since it would depend on the size and running time of the generator, but if you equip the tank with a fuel gauge you should be able to tell at a glance.

If you want to run only a sump pump and refrigerator, you should not need more than 3,000 watts, plus enough surge watts to start the motors, which requires extra power. This is a relatively small generator, but even so it should also be able to power some lights, a television set and other low-watt devices. You can find propane generators in many sizes on the Internet, and dealers should be able to answer your questions.

Homeowners who prefer gasoline generators say propane machines lack portability, since they must be attached to the fuel tank, are sometimes hard to start on very cold days, and that there is a lack of trained maintenance people. Also, it is not necessarily true that gasoline generators must have problems with stale fuel. If a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-Bil is added to the tank when you fill it, the fuel should stay fresh enough for easy starts for six months to a year.

There are other strategies that can prevent stale gasoline problems. After the power is restored following a blackout, you can use a hand pump to almost drain the generator gas tank into a container, start the machine, and run it completely out of gas to clear the carburetor. Keep spare gasoline in safe two-and-one-half gallon containers, each can treated with stabilizer. Store the containers in a safe place away from fire or sparks, such as a shed or a plastic outdoor storage box, sold at many home centers and on the Internet.

When you feel stored gasoline might be getting too old, transfer it to your car (the car should have at least half a tank of fresh gas), refill the storage cans, and treat them with stabilizer. If you can’t find a hand pump at a local hardware store or home center, you can buy one on the Internet by searching for Hand Pumps (less than $15).

Q. We have concrete steps on our front and back porches, and they get very slippery when wet. The steps have railings, but the kids and some adults don’t always use them and we worry about accidents. How can we make the steps safer?

A. Probably the simplest solution is to apply an anti-slip coating. These coatings generally contain grit that improves traction, and they are often used around swimming pools, on patios and any other concrete surface that can get slippery. Some paint stores and home centers sell pre-mixed anti-slip coatings, or you can buy additives that can be mixed with any good concrete paint. One additive that often gets good reviews is SharkGrip; for more information, visit

One of the most important steps is to properly prepare the steps for the anti-slip coating. You should read the directions on both the paint or sealer and the additive, if you use one. At minimum, the steps will need to be thoroughly cleaned before you apply the coating.

In some cases, if the concrete is very smooth, which is sometimes the case when it is slippery, the surface might need to be etched to roughen it slightly and provide a good grip for the coating.

Concrete etchers are often powerful chemicals and must be used with extreme care.

If the surface is already painted and the paint is adhering well, I’d use another coat of the same paint plus anti-slip additive. Make sure any coating you choose is intended for concrete floors; ordinary paints are not suitable for this use. Additives can usually be mixed with latex or oil-based paints or with extra-tough epoxy paint.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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