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I have a very old Niagara by Generac 4000 watt generator (briggs engine & orange alternator).  It works great still.  There is not much info out there about this device. I do not know if 4000 watts is it max, or running watts. Or if it can handle spikes beyond 4000? I do not want to burn it out.
I also have a GE30M6A 30 Gal electric hot water heater.  It is a dual element (but uses only one at a time), and pulls 4500 watts.  
 The electric water heater is hooked up to a Reliance generator transfer switch.  
Would it be possible to briefly run (10-15 min per day) the hot water heater off this generator?  It is only 500 watts more, and since it is operating a heating element and not a motor (with no start up) I was hoping it would be safe to operate. My thought was that the water heater would just be a little slower to heat because it was recieving 4000 watts vs 4500.  
What do you think?  
Other info - I did try what I am asking for about 10 scary minutes. The Generator sounded like it was working hard, but kept going strong.  The Reliance Transfer switch registered 4000 watts being used (2000 on each side). There was no smoke, and the hot water heater heated up nicely.  Was I just lucky I did not burn either device out, or is this likely to be an okay use for the generator & hot water heater(if I do it only 10-15 min per day)?     
  Because this generator is sooo old, and no one can tell me about it (Neither Generac nor Briggs has a record of its existance) I also do not know if it has any overload or safety controls.
Thank you

Answer
Ken,

4000 watts is probably the "continuous" rating and these generators can handle only brief overloads or spikes of a few seconds so I would say you are running the risk of damaging the generator. Also this generator is probably not computer or TV friendly or any electronic device for that matter so bear that in mind also.

Bob

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PV Electric Bob Mossman

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Master Electrician licensed (29 years) 6165B Contractor in Closter New Jersey with 38 years total experience in Residential - Commercial - Industrial work. Emergency Service - General trouble shooting and repair work - Paddle fans - Kitchen & Bath exhaust fans - AC lines - Smoke detectors - Telephone lines - Cable TV lines - Computer network cabling - Exterior lighting - Recessed lighting - Security lighting - (200 - 150 - 100 amp service up grades) - Electric Heat - New circuits - New appliance hook ups - Back up generators - and more ! FREE ESTIMATES Fully insured 201-358-1552

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