Do You Need A Generator?
A report by the US Department of Energy site weather-related power outages as the leading cause of power outages in the United States. Also, a Pew report indicates that power outages are on the rise in the United States and an average of 100 major outages occur annually due to weather-related issues as well as an aging electrical grid. They also state that the US experiences more outages than any other developed nation. So the question to ask yourself is “do you need a home generator”?
A typical American household will experience a three-hour power loss twice a year on average. Some outages caused by extreme weather can last for days. These power losses can cause small and large inconveniences such as shut down of water, spoiled food or frozen pipes which burst and cause water damage and mold.
If you desire to keep the lights on during these outages a generator is your solution. Generators come in many sizes and wattages. The question that many ask is “how do I determine my need?” “Buy the smallest generator that will meet your power needs,” advises Consumer Reports test engineer Dave Trezza. “That will minimize the amount of fuel you need to keep on hand to run it.”
Answer these questions to help determine your home generator need:
Do you experience frequent power outages?
Outages can be prolonged especially for areas prone to hurricanes and blizzards. A standby unit (20,000 watts) would give a home enough power for your entire home and can be connected directly to the electrical box so you can control what appliances are to run.
Do you have occasional outages?
Your power outages are not usually lengthy and you don’t really want to spend thousands of dollars on a generator. It is recommended to choose a large inverter (up to 7500 watts) or a portable unit that can be pulled out of the garage and hooked up during an outage.
Do you rarely lose power?
There is not a desperate need but you don’t want the inconvenience of being without power for lights and powering up electronic devices or you want the refrigerator to keep running. A mid-size inverter is lightweight, quiet and can keep the lights on for 8-18 hours using only 2-3 gallons of gas. These units typically only power up 110-volt items with a standard two or three-prong plug.
(To calculate the size generator you need for your home add up the wattage of everything you desire to keep powered up. Remember that certain appliances cycle on like air conditions, refrigerators, and sump pumps and create a power surge that needs to be considered in the calculations.)
Safety Tips for Home Generators
Portable generators can have a built-in sensor that will trigger the unit to automatically shut off if carbon monoxide builds up. Consumer Reports recommends this type of generator for safety. The distance of a portable generator to your home is 20 feet and the exhaust needs to be directed away from any windows, doors and other structures.
If choosing a standby generator hardwired into your electrical box it is important to hire a licensed electrician. An electrician can also help you decide the size of the generator to meet your need. Generators need to be maintained like cars and the larger the unit the more care is required. Some experts recommend having your generator serviced after 48 hours of continuous running. A homeowner can check the engine oil daily while in use and remember to run it at no more than 75 percent of its rated capacity.
Keep in mind that some cities have sound ordinances that prohibit the use of generators. If a machine is rated at 62 decibles this unit could sound like a Harley when running and would not be acceptable in an urban environment whereas it may be fine in a rural setting. Fuel tanks need to be stored so be aware that this can also cause violations in some communities.
Finally, there are two basic engine systems to choose from air-cooled and liquid-cooled. The first is a smaller unit and costs less but can sound much louder. The second is quieter but due to size can take up more space.
A generator can be a significant investment but each homeowner needs to weigh this against the convenience of keeping your home powered during an outage. With the aging electrical grid in our country, we could see more brownouts and blackouts in years to come so perhaps this is the best time to consider a home generator.