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What Size Plant To Install

The farmer's wife his partner—Little and big plants—Limiting factors—Fluctuations in water supply—The average plant—The actual plant—Amount of current required for various operations—Standard voltage—A specimen allowance for electric light—Heating and cooking by electricity—Electric power: the electric motor.

The farmer's wife becomes his partner when he has concluded

he preliminary measurements and surveys for building his water-power electric plant. Now the question is, how big a plant is necessary, or how small a plant can he get along with. Electricity may be used for a multitude of purposes on the farm, in its sphere of furnishing portable light, heat and power; but when this multitude of uses has been enumerated, it will be found that the wife shares in the benefits no less than the farmer himself. The greatest dividend of all, whether dividends are counted in dollars or happiness, is that electricity takes the drudgery out of housework. Here, the work of the farmer himself ends when he has brought electricity to the house, just as his share in housework ends when he has brought in the kerosene, and filled the woodbox. Of the light and heat, she will use the lion's share; and for the power, she will discover heretofore undreamed-of uses. So she must be a full partner when it comes to deciding how much electricity they need.

How much electricity, in terms of light, heat, and power, will the farmer and his wife have use for? How big a plant should be installed to meet the needs of keeping house and running the farm?

The answer hangs mainly on how much water-power there is available, through all the seasons of the year, with which to generate electricity. Beyond that, it is merely a question of the farmer's pocketbook. How much money does he care to spend? Electricity is a cumulative "poison." The more one uses it, the more he wants to use it. After a plant has been in operation a year, the family have discovered uses for electricity which they did not think of in the beginning. For this reason, it is well to put in a plant larger than the needs of the moment seem to require. An electrical horsepower or two one way or another will not greatly change the first cost, and you will always find use for any excess.

Once for all, to settle the question of water-power, the water wheel should be twice the normal capacity of the dynamo it drives, in terms of power. This allows for overload, which is bound to occur occasionally; and it also insures smooth running, easy governing, and the highest efficiency. Since the electric current, once the plant is installed, will cost practically nothing, the farmer can afford to ignore the power going to waste, and consider only how to get the best service.

The Two Extremes

The amount of water to be had to be turned into electricity, will vary with location, and with the season. It may be only enough, the greater part of the year, for a "toy" plant—a very practical toy, by the way—one that will keep half a dozen lights burning in the house and barn at one time; under some conditions water may be so scarce that it must be stored for three or four days to get enough power to charge a storage battery for these six or eight lights. A one-quarter, or a one-half kilowatt electrical generator, with a one horsepower (or smaller) wheel, will light a farmstead very satisfactorily—much better than kerosene lamps.

On the other hand, the driving power of your wheel may be sufficient to furnish 50 or 100 lights for the house, barn, and out-buildings, and barn-yard and drives; to provide ample current for irons, toasters, vacuum cleaners, electric fans, etc.; to do all the cooking and baking and keep the kitchen boiler hot; and to heat the house in the coldest weather with a dry clean heat that does not vitiate the air, with no ashes, smoke or dust or woodchopping—nothing but an electric switch to turn on and off; and to provide power for motors ranging from tiny ones to run the sewing machine, to one of 15 horsepower to do the threshing. A plant capable of developing from 30 to 50 kilowatts of electricity, and requiring from 50 to 100 horsepower at the water wheel, would do all this, depending on the size of the farmstead. One hundred horsepower is a very small water project, in a commercial way; and there are thousands of farms possessing streams of this capacity.

Fluctuations in Water Supply

It would be only during the winter months that such a plant would be driven to its full capacity; and since water is normally plentiful during these months, the problem of power would be greatly simplified. The heaviest draft on such a plant in summer would be during harvesting; otherwise it would be confined to light, small power for routine work, and cooking. Thus, a plant capable of meeting all the ordinary requirements of the four dry months of summer, when water is apt to be scarce, doubles or quadruples its capacity during the winter months, to meet the necessities of heat for the house.

A dynamo requires only as much power to drive it, at any given time, as is being used in terms of electricity. There is some small loss through friction, of course, but aside from this the power required of the prime mover (the water wheel) is always in proportion to the amount of current flowing. When water is scarce, and the demands for current for heating are low, it is good practice to close a portion of the buckets of the turbine wheel with wooden blocks provided for this purpose. It is necessary to keep the speed of the dynamo uniform under all water conditions; and where there is a great fluctuation between high and low water periods, it is frequently necessary to have a separate set of pulleys for full gate and for half-gate. The head must remain the same, under all conditions. Changing the gate is in effect choking or opening the nozzle supplying the wheel, to cut down or increase its consumption of water.

The Average Plant

It will be the exceptional plant, however, among the hundreds of thousands to be had on our farms, which will banish not only the oil lamp and kitchen stove, but all coal or wood burning stoves as well—which will heat the house in below-zero weather, and provide power for the heavier operations of the farm. Also, on the other hand, it will be the exceptional plant whose capacity is limited to furnishing a half-dozen lights and no more.

A happy medium between these two conditions is the plant large enough to supply between five and ten electrical horsepower, in all seasons. Such a plant will meet the needs of the average farm, outside of winter heating and large power operations, and will provide an excess on which to draw in emergencies, or to pass round to one's neighbors. It is such a plant that we refer to when we say that (not counting labor) its cost, under ordinary conditions should not greatly exceed the price of one sound young horse for farm work.

Since the plant we described briefly in the first chapter, meets the requirements of this "average plant" let us inquire a little more fully into its installation, maintenance, and cost.

An Actual Plant

In this instance, the water-power was already installed, running to waste, in fact. The wheel consists of the so-called thirty-six inch vertical turbine, using 185 square inches of water, under a 14-foot head. Water is supplied to this wheel by a wooden penstock 33 inches square, inside measurements, and sloping at an angle of 30° from the flume to the wheel.

Details of voltmeter or ammeter

This wheel, under a 14-foot head, takes 2,312 cubic feet of water a minute; and it develops 46.98 actual horsepower (as may be figured by using the formulas of Chapter III). The water supply is provided by a small mountain river. The dam is 10 feet high, and the race, which feeds the flume from the mill pond is 75 yards long. The race has two spillways, one near the dam, and the second at the flume itself, to maintain an even head of water at all times.


Since the water supply varies with the seasons, it has been found practical to run the wheel at half-gate—that is, with the gate only half-open. A set of bevel gears work the main shaft, which runs at approximately 200 revolutions per minute; and the dynamo is worked up to its required speed of 1,500 revolutions per minute through a countershaft.

The dynamo is a modern four-pole machine, compound-wound, with a rated output of 46 amperes, at 125 volts—in other words a dynamo of 5.75 kilowatts capacity, or 7.7 electrical horsepower. At full load this dynamo would require a driving power of 10 horsepower, counting it as 75 per cent efficient; and, to conform to our rule of two water horsepower to one electrical horsepower, the wheel should be capable of developing 20 horsepower. As a matter of fact, in this particular instance, shutting down the wheel to half-gate more than halves the rated power of the wheel, and little more than 15 horsepower is available. This allowance has proved ample, under all conditions met with, in this plant.

A switchboard and its connections: G. Dynamo; A. Shunt field coils; B. Series coils; DD. Fuses; FF. Main switch; F. Field switch; C. Ammeter; V. Voltmeter; E. Lamp; R. Rheostat. Dotted lines show connections on back of board

The dynamo is mounted on a firm floor foundation; and it is belted from the countershaft by an endless belt running diagonally. A horizontal belt drive is the best. Vertical drive should be avoided wherever possible.

The Switchboard

The switchboard originally consisted of a wooden frame on which were screwed ordinary asbestos shingles, and the instruments were mounted on these. Later, a sheet of electric insulating fibre was substituted, for look's sake. The main requisite is something substantial—and fireproof. The switchboard instruments consist of a voltmeter, with a range of from 0 to 150 volts; an ammeter, with a range, 0 to 75 amperes; a field regulating rheostat (which came with the dynamo); a main switch, with cartridge fuses protecting the machine against a draft of current over 60 amperes; and two line switches for the two owners, one fuse at 20 amperes, and the other at 40 amperes. Electric fuses are either cartridges or plugs, enclosing lead wire of a size corresponding to their rating. All the current of the line they protect passes through this lead wire. If the current drawn exceeds the capacity of the lead wire, it melts from the heat, and thus opens the circuit, and cuts off the current.

Items of Cost

This water wheel would cost $250 new. There is a duplicate in the neighborhood bought at second-hand, for $125. The dynamo cost $90, and was picked up second-hand in New York City. New it would cost $150. The voltmeter cost $7, and the ammeter $10; and the switches and fuses could be had for $5. A wheel one-half the size, using one-half the amount of water at full gate, would do the work required, and the cost would be correspondingly less.


This plant supplies two farms with electric light. One farm (that of the owner of the wheel) has 30 lamps, of 16 candlepower each, and two barn-yard lamps of 92 candlepower each. His wife has an electric iron and an electric water heater. Needless to say, all these lamps, and the iron and water heater are not in use at one time.

Carbon Lamps Gem Type (¼ scale)

The partner who owns the electric part of the plant has 30 lamps in his house and barn, many of them being 25 watt tungsten, which give more light for less power, but cost more to buy. They are not all in use at one time, though (since the current costs nothing) the inclination is to turn them on at night and let them burn. In his kitchen he has an electric range, and a water heater for the 40 gallon boiler. In addition to this he has all sorts of appliances,—irons, toasters, grills, a vacuum cleaner, a vibrator, etc. Naturally all these appliances are not in use at one time, else the draft on the plant would be such as to "blow" the fuses. For instance, all the baking is done in daylight; and when the oven is used after dark, they are careful to turn off all lights not needed. An ideal plant, of course, would be a plant big enough to take care of the sum of lamps and handy devices used at one time.

To make this plant ideal, (for, being an actual affair, it has developed some short-comings, with the extension of the use of electricity) it would require a dynamo whose capacity can be figured, from the following:

15 carbon lamps, 16 candlepower, @60 watts each 900
10 tungsten lamps, 20 candlepower, @25 watts each 250
2 tungsten lamps, 92 candlepower, @100 watts each 200
Water heater, continuous service 800
Toaster, occasional service 600
Iron, occasional service 400
Oven-baking, roasting, etc 2,000
2 stove plates @1,000 watts each 2,000
1 stove plate 400
Vacuum cleaner, occasional service 200
Vibrator, occasional service 100
Small water heater, quart capacity 400
Small motor, ¼ horsepower, occasional 250
Motor, ½ hp, pumping water, etc 500
Electric fan, occasional service 100
Total current, one house

30 carbon lamps, 16 candlepower, @60 1,800
2 lamps, 100 watt tungsten 200
Electric iron 400
Small water or milk heater 600
Total current, 2nd house 3,000
1st house 9,100

Thus, in this plant, if every electrical device were turned on at once, the demand on the dynamo would be for 12.1 kilowatts, or an overload of over 100 per cent. The main-switch fuse, being for 60 amperes, would "blow" or melt, and cut off all current for the moment. To repair the damage would be merely the work of a second—and at a cost of a few cents—simply insert a new fuse, of which there must be a supply on hand at all times. Or, if either owner exceeded his capacity, the line fuses (one for 20 amperes, and the other for 40 amperes) would instantly cut off all current from the greedy one.

25 and 40 watt Mazda tungsten lamps (¼ scale)

Lessons From This Plant

The story of this plant illustrates two things which the farmer and his wife must take into account when they are figuring how much electricity they require. First, it illustrates how one uses more and more current, as he finds it so serviceable and labor-saving, and at the same time free. The electric range and the water boiler, in the above instance, were later acquisitions not counted on in figuring the original installation. Second, it illustrates, that while the normal load of this generator is 5.75 kilowatts, one does not have to limit the electrical conveniences in the home to this amount. True, he cannot use more electricity than his plant will produce at any one time,—but it is only by a stretch of the imagination that one may conceive the necessity of using them all at once. Ironing, baking, and the use of small power are usually limited to daylight hours when no lights are burning.

As a matter of fact, this plant has proved satisfactory in every way; and only on one or two occasions have fuses been "blown", and then it was due to carelessness. A modern dynamo is rated liberally. It will stand an overload of as much as 100 per cent for a short time—half an hour or so. The danger from overloading is from heating. When the machine grows too hot for the hand, it is beginning to char its insulation, to continue which, of course would ruin it. The best plant is that which works under one-half or three-quarters load, under normal demands.

Standard Voltage

We are assuming the farmer's plant to be, in 99 cases out of 100, the standard 110-volt, direct current type. Such a plant allows for at least a 10 per cent regulation, in voltage, up or down the scale; supplies for this voltage are to be had without delay in even the more remote parts of the country, and (being sold in greater volume) they are cheaper than those for other voltages.

There are two general exceptions to this rule as to 110-volt plants: (1) If the plant is located at a distance greater than a quarter of a mile from the house, it will be found cheaper (in cost of transmission line, as will be shown later) to adopt the 220-volt plant; (2), If the water supply is so meagre that it must be stored for many hours at a time, and then used for charging storage batteries, it will be found most economical to use a 30-volt plant. A storage battery is made up of cells of approximately 2 volts each; and, since more than 55 such cells would be required for a 110-volt installation, its cost would be prohibitive, with many farmers.

So we will assume that this plant is a 110-volt plant, to be run without storage battery. It will be well to make a chart, dividing the farm requirements into three heads—light, heat, and power.


60 and 100 watt Mazda tungsten lamp. These lamps may be had in sizes from 10 to 500 watts (¼ scale)

The lamp of the future. A 1000 watt Mazda nitrogen lamp, giving 2000 candlepower (¼ scale)

Light is obtained by means of incandescent lamps. There are two styles in common use, the carbon and the tungsten lamp. It requires 3.5 to 4 watts of electricity to produce one candlepower in a carbon lamp. It requires from 1 to 1.25 watt to produce one candlepower in the tungsten lamp. The new nitrogen lamp, not yet in general use, requires only ½ watt to the candlepower. Since tungsten lamps give three times the light of the carbon lamp, they are the most economical to use in the city or town where one is paying for commercial current. But, in the country where water-power furnishes current for nothing, it will be found most economical to use the carbon lamp, since its cost at retail is 16 cents, as compared with 30 cents for a corresponding size in tungsten. A 60 watt carbon lamp, of 16 candlepower; or a 25 watt tungsten lamp, of 20 candlepower, are the sizes to use. In hanging lamps, as over the dining room table, a 100 watt tungsten lamp, costing 70 cents, and giving 92 candlepower light is very desirable; and for lighting the barn-yard, these 100 watt tungsten lamps should be used. For reading lamps, the tungsten style, of 40 or 60 watt capacity, will be found best. Otherwise, in all locations use the cheaper carbon lamp. Both styles have a rated life of 1,000 hours, after which they begin to fall off in efficiency. Here again, the farmer need not worry over lack of highest efficiency, as a lamp giving only 80 per cent of its rated candlepower is still serviceable when he is not paying for the current. With care not to use them at voltages beyond their ratings, lamps will last for years.

A Specimen Light Allowance

Below is a typical table of lights for a large farm house, the barns and barn-yard. It is given merely as a guide, to be varied for each individual case:

Kitchen, 2 lights @60 watts 120
Dining room, 1 light, tungsten 100
Living room, table lamp with 3 tungstens @40 120
Living room, 2 wall fixtures, 4 lamps @60 watts 240
Parlor, same as living room 360
Pantry, 1 hanging lamp 60
Cellar, one portable lamp 60
Woodshed, 1 hanging lamp 60
2 bedrooms, 2 lights each @ 60 240
2 bed rooms, 1 light each @60 120
Bathroom, 1 "turn-down" light, @60 60
Hall, downstairs, 2 lights @60 120
Hall, upstairs, 1 light 60
Attic, 1 light 60
Porch, 1 light 60
Barn and barn-yard:
Barn-yard entrance, 1 tungsten 100
Watering trough, 1 tungsten 100
Front gate, 1 tungsten 100
Horse barn, 4 lights @60 240
Cow barn, 4 lights @60 240
Pig house, 1 light 60
Hay barn, 2 lights, @60 120
Total for farmstead 2,800

This provides for 44 lights, an extremely liberal allowance. How many of these lights will be burning at any one time? Probably not one-half of them; yet the ideal plant is that which permits all fixtures to be in service at one time on the rare occasions when necessary. Thus, for lighting only, 2,800 watts maximum service would require a 4 kilowatt generator, and 10 water horsepower, on the liberal rating of two to one. A 3 kilowatt generator would take care of these lights, with a 30 per cent overload (which is not excessive) for maximum service. The above liberal allowance of lights may be cut in two, or four—or even eight—and still throw a kerosene lamp in shadow. It all depends on the number of lights one wants burning at one time; and the power of the water wheel.

If the 36 carbon lights in the above table were replaced by 25 watt tungsten lights, the saving in power would be 35 watts each, or 1,260 watts, nearly two electrical horsepower; while the added first cost would be 14 cents a light, or $5.04. A generator of 2 kilowatt capacity would take care of all these lights then, with 460 watts to spare.


Electric heating and cooking is in its infancy, due to the prohibitive cost of commercial current in our cities. Here the farmer has the advantage again, with his cheap current.

For heating the house, it is calculated that 2 watts is required for each cubic foot of air space in a room, during ordinary winter weather. Thus, a room 10 × 12, and 8 feet high, would contain 960 cubic feet, and would require 1,820 watts energy to heat it in cold weather. Five such rooms would require 9.1 kilowatts; and 10 such rooms, or their equivalent, would require 18.2 kilowatts.

Electric heating devices are divided into two classes: (1) those which can be used on lamp circuits, and do not draw more than 660 watts each; and (2) those which draw more than 660, therefore require special wiring. The capacity of these devices is approximately as follows:

Lamp circuit devices:

Electric iron 400 to 660
Toaster 350 to 660
Vacuum cleaner 200 to 400
Grill 400 to 660
Small water heater 400 to 660
Hot plates 400 to 660

Lamp circuit devices:

Coffee percolator 400 to 660
Chafing dish 400 to 660
Electric fan 100 to 250

Special circuit devices:

Hot water boiler heater 800 to 1,200
Small ovens 660 to 1,200
Range ovens 1,200 to 3,000
Range, hot plates 400 to 1,300
Radiators (small) 750 to 1,500
Radiators (large) 1,500 to 6,000

The only device in the above list which is connected continuously, is the hot water boiler, and this can be credited with at least one electrical horsepower 24 hours a day. It is a small contrivance, not much bigger than a quart can, attached to the back of the kitchen boiler, and it keeps the water hot throughout the house at all hours. Its cost will vary with the make, ranging from $8 to $15; and since it is one of the real blessings of the farm kitchen and bathroom, it should be included in all installations where power permits. Electric radiators will be used 24 hours a day in winter, and not at all in summer. They are portable, and can be moved from room to room, and only such rooms as are in actual use need be heated. The other devices are for intermittent service, many of them (like the iron) for only a few hours each week.

The grill, chafing dish, coffee percolator, etc., which are used on the dining room table while the family is at meals, each draw an equivalent of from 6 to 10 carbon lights. By keeping this in view and turning off spare lights, one can have the use of them, with even a small plant. Thus, a one kilowatt plant permits the use of any one of these lamp circuit devices at a time, with a few lights in addition.


Electric power is to be had through motors. A direct current dynamo and a direct current motor are identical in construction. That is, a motor becomes a generator if belted to power; and a generator becomes a motor, if connected to electric mains. This is best illustrated by citing the instance of a trans-continental railroad which crosses the Bitter Root Mountains by means of electric power. Running 200 miles up a 2 per cent grade, it is drawn by its motors. Coasting 200 miles down the 2 per cent grade on the other side of the mountains, its motors become generators. They act as brakes, and at the same time they pump the power of the coasting weight of this train back into the wires to help a train coming up the other side of the mountains.

Connections of shunt motor and starting rheostat

Just as there are three types of direct current generators, so there are three types of direct current motors: series, shunt, and compound, with features already explained in the case of generators. Motors are rated by horsepower, and generators are rated by kilowatts. Thus a one kilowatt generator has a capacity of 1,000 watts; as a motor, it would be rated as 1000/746 horsepower, or 1.34 horsepower. Their efficiency varies with their size, ranging from 40 to 60 per cent in very small motors, and up to 95 per cent in very large ones. The following table may be taken as a guide in calculating the power required by motors, on 110-volt circuits:

¼ Horsepower 2½ amperes, or 275 watts
½ hp 4½ amperes, or 500 watts
1 hp 9 amperes, or 990 watts
2 hp 17 amperes, or 1.97 kilowatts
3 hp 26 amperes, or 2.86 kilowatts
5 hp 40 amperes, or 4.40 kilowatts
7½ hp 60 amperes, or 6.60 kilowatts
10 hp 76 amperes, or 8.36 kilowatts
15 hp 112 amperes, or 12.32 kilowatts

An electric motor, in operation, actually generates electricity, which it pushes back into the line as a counter-electromotive-force. The strength of this counter force, in volts, depends on the motor's speed, the same as if it were running as a dynamo. For this reason, when a motor is started, and before it comes up to speed, there would be a rush of current from the line, with nothing to hold it back, and the motor would be burned out unless some means were provided to protect it for the moment. This is done by means of a starting rheostat, similar to the regulating rheostat on the dynamo switchboard. This resistance box is connected in "series" with the armature, in the case of shunt and compound motors; and with the entire motor circuit in the case of a series machine.

A series motor has a powerful starting torque, and adjusts its speed to the load. It is used almost altogether in street cars. It can be used in stump pulling, or derrick work, such as using a hay fork. It must always be operated under load, otherwise, it would increase in speed until it tore itself to pieces through mechanical strain. The ingenious farmer who puts together an electric plow, with the mains following behind on a reel, will use a series motor.

A shunt motor should be used in all situations where a fairly uniform speed under load is required, such as separating, in milking machines, running a lathe, an ensilage cutter, vacuum cleaners, grinders, etc.

The compound motor has the characteristics of the series and shunt motors, giving an increased starting torque, and a more nearly constant speed under varying loads than the shunt motor, since the latter drops off slightly in speed with increasing load.

Flexible Power

An electric motor is an extremely satisfactory form of power because it is so flexible. Thus, one may use a five horsepower motor for a one horsepower task, and the motor will use only one electrical horsepower in current—just enough to overcome the task imposed on it. For this reason, a large-sized motor may be used for any operation, from one requiring small power, up to its full capacity. It will take an overload, the same as a dynamo. In other words it is "eager" for any task imposed on it; therefore it must be protected by fuses, or it will consume itself, if too big an overload is imposed on it.

A one horsepower shunt or compound motor is very serviceable for routine farm operations, such as operating the separator, the churn, the milking machine, grinder, pump, and other small power jobs. Motors of ¼ horsepower are handy in the kitchen, for grinding knives, polishing silver, etc., and can be used also for vacuum cleaners, and running the sewing machine. For the larger operations, motors will vary from three horsepower for cutting ensilage, to fifteen horsepower for threshing. They can be mounted on trucks and conveyed from one point to another, being fed current from the mains by means of suitable wires wound on reels.

Remember, in estimating the size of your plant for light, heat, and power, that it does not have to be big enough to use all the devices at one time. Also remember, that two water horsepower to one electrical horsepower is a very liberal allowance; and that a generator working under one-half or two-thirds capacity at normal loads will require less attention than a machine constantly being worked above its capacity. Therefore, let your generator be of liberal size, because the difference in cost between a 5 and 10 kilowatt machine is not in proportion to their capacity. In fact (especially among second-hand machines), the difference in cost is very small. The mere fact that the generator is of 110 electrical horsepower capacity does not require a turbine of 20 horsepower. The chances are that (unless you wish to heat your house and do large power jobs) you will not use more than 3 to 5 electrical horsepower normally; therefore an allowance of 10 water horsepower, in this case, would be ample. A plant used simply for lighting the house and barn, for irons, and toasters, and one horsepower motors, need not exceed 2 or 2½ kilowatts for the generator, and 5 or 6 horsepower for the turbine wheel. Normally it would not use one-half this capacity.