The Fourth Time is the Charm: Centerville Greenhouses’ Generator Story

What’s that old saying, “Measure twice, cut once?”

Well, there’s unmistakably a “buy-twice” pattern for many consumers when it comes to buying a generator for home or business standby power. In the home, it’s often a portable generator first, then later a robust standby generator with automatic transfer and no need for re-fueling. In a larger setting, it’s a smaller, less expensive generator first, but then later as power needs grow, a powerhouse that can handle the full load, exercise itself, and keep on humming along for years and years.

In both cases, there’s a tendency to underestimate how much backup power is really needed to power a home or business through an extended outage. So, better to measure what you need twice. Consider the lessons learned by Centerville Greenhouses & Nursery as owner Rob Lind tells his “buy-four-times” story.

“Centerville Greenhouses started back in 1972. My Mom and Dad needed to support a big family — eight kids — so they bought a rundown greenhouse in southern Iowa. Back then terrariums were a big trend; it seemed like every college dorm room had one. We saw a specialty niche and grew plants for them — a million, a million and a half of them a year. All this out of a 15,000 sq. ft. greenhouse!

“But we lived in fear of an ice storm that could knock out our power — all we had for backup at the time was an old 4 or 5 kW army surplus generator. It was hooked up where it ran just a few things, including the burner for what at the time was a boiler. But you had to be there to make all the transfers, and then you had to babysit it.”

As the business expanded through the 80s and 90s to a resilient year-round mix of annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, trees and shrubs, the greenhouse grew to 25,000 sq. ft. More standby power was needed and Centerville Greenhouses upgraded to a 7.5 kW generator.

“No, generator number two wasn’t a Kohler,” says Lind, “and we had our headaches with that one, too. We had an ice storm and a 14-hour outage and we had to do the transfers, shut it down to add oil and start it again. We realized then how important it is to have a generator that runs the entire place.”

Then Y2K (remember that?) loomed. “We were expanding during the winter of 1999, especially with new trucks as we extended our distribution, plus the Federal government and our local bank were lending money to companies for better backup power in case the grid went down, so I got to thinking: I don’t want to mess around with another little generator. A friend of mine up in Des Moines had a larger greenhouse and they were going with a Kohler generator, and I thought we should do the same thing, and probably a 60 kW.

“Kohler has always meant quality to us — whenever we replaced anything like a faucet, we’d always go with Kohler. I don’t want the hassle of replacing it in five or ten years. I want it to be good. Same with engines like the Kohler Command we have on our Toro Dingo.”

But long story short, the local electric utility stepped in and suggested a non-Kohler generator but with local support. And Lind ended up going with what was recommended — a 45 kW generator with auto transfer. Lind felt comfortable hearing the weekly Sunday morning generator exercises, though he was quite unhappy when the utility later went back on the service agreement.

“What happened finally with generator number three was we switched it to come on in the afternoons when all our fans were running and our power usage was maxed out, and it really struggled to keep up. So we realized we could no longer count on it to take care of the whole place.”

Lind knew that this time he was “going to settle this once and for all: go big and go Kohler!” Lind donated the 45 kW generator to the city, and now generator number four is an 80 kW Kohler “with a good 20% of headroom” that just sings while carrying a full load.

“Nothing makes you sleep better at night than to know that in a business like this, you’re not going to walk in the next day and find out everything froze the night before. Now, we’ve made it known that if there’s an outage, there’s going to be a party here at the greenhouse until the line power comes back on,” says Lind.

 

Buying a generator doesn’t have to be difficult. Save yourself the headaches by starting off with a smart, reliable backup system that can support your business’ needs. Work with your local Kohler Generator authorized dealer or distributor to evaluate your power needs and find the generator that will work best for you.

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