The recent hurricanes created interest in backup generators for homes and businesses. Usually, by the time you realize you need one, it is too late, and many manufacturers run low on inventory during storm season.
You never want to be without power, it leaves your home and family vulnerable. You also stand the chance of losing all the food in your refrigerator and freezer. If it is extremely cold, you may end up with frozen water pipes, which can cause extensive damage to your home.
The first thing to do, when considering a generator purchase, is determine how much power is needed. To accomplish this, add up the wattage of the appliances you want to operate. Keep in mind some appliances have higher wattage needs during start-up, so this should be taken into consideration. Always size slightly larger, since you may want to add appliances later. Some people are happy having a few lights and their refrigerator functioning, while others want their whole home in full operation. A licensed electrician can easily help you determine the correct kilowatt output for your home.
There are two basic types of generators: portable and stationary. Stationary generators are permanently installed in your home and portable ones are hooked up when needed.
Minimal appliances can be operated on portable generators, as their output is small. These units typically run on gasoline and usually are for short-term usage. Portable generators must be manually hooked up to your home’s electrical panel.
Generally, stationary generators are of a higher quality and made to run trouble free for longer periods of time. When the electricity from your utility company is interrupted, the stationary generator automatically starts within seconds and the transfer switch connects it to your home’s power wiring.
Another option is to have a professional electrical contracting company permanently install a generator that ties into your electrical panel and runs on your natural gas or propane supply. These units can run for days at a time and can power an entire house.
Transfer switches need to be installed so a generator can be connected to a home’s power lines without the chance of electricity being back-fed onto the power grid. The more desirable transfer switches can turn off or shed certain appliances in your home when the capacity of the generator is exceeded. These switches help decide how to distribute the amps you generate and what appliances your generator can safely operate. They also perform load shedding if the draw of your home exceeds the capacity of your generator.
Since emergency generators can sit idle for long periods of time without being used, it is important to test and service them on a regular basis. The generator automatically starts itself periodically to make sure the battery stays charged and the unit is ready to go when needed. An approved service dealer needs to change the oil and perform full preventive maintenance on a generator on a semiannual basis.
By Dan Jape, contributing writer and owner of Reliable Heating & Air.