We all know what happens when a storm is approaching. The media drives us into a frenzy, we run out to purchase groceries, salt, shovels, and/or sandbags. What about a generator? Food and water is always a good idea that requires little thought, however the purchase of a generator requires deeper consideration.

For those who have experienced power loss during a storm comes the sober realization that electricity is essential to your family’s comfort and well being. What happens when your kids can’t charge their phones or iPads? Not fun. What if it’s cold outside? No heat. Hot outside? No a/c. And all of that delicious food that you bought to hunker down with? It can spoil. How will you warm up leftovers? Or make popcorn and watch Netflix?

When you lose power, a generator can provide your home with an alternative source of electricity. There are two options available to homeowners: portable generators, and permanent stand-by generators.

Portable generators provide enough critical backup power for a few lights, a refrigerator, sump pump or heater (depending on the size and rating). These portable sources of electricity can be moved to wherever the power is needed, and are therefore great for campsites, work sites, tailgating, or other mobile applications. Portable generators are not well suited to run an entire home, and are best used to power a few appliances. They can generally range from roughly 3,000 – 8,500 watts, and run on gas or propane that you may need to store (f you do not store the fuel, imagine having to run to the gas station with the proper container to fill your generator before a storm hits). They cannot be used in an enclosed space, must be at least 15 feet away from your home or a window, and must be covered if it is raining.

Permanent stand-by generators are best used as a backup power source for the home. They are permanently installed outside of the home, run on natural gas or propane using your existing gas lines, and can generally range from roughly 5,000 to 20,000 watts. These stand-by generators will sense an outage and automatically turn on – no one needs to be present to start or refuel it. This generator can power critical systems and appliances such as air conditioning units, heating systems, appliances, home security systems, lights, life support equipment, and more.

Each type of generator requires some careful consideration, and an understanding of your priorities. For the purpose of this article, the following basic information applies to stand-by or permanent home backup generators.

There are a few important things to consider before heading out to make that purchase. It will also prove beneficial to hire licensed professionals to install and maintain the generator on your behalf.

For the system to work properly you will need to buy the correct size (not physical size, but capacity), the correct type of transfer switch to control it, and have it properly installed so that the system will work with your electric panel.  

Here are just a few questions to get you started. In most cases there will be additional considerations that will require the direction of an experienced professional:

  1. What size generator do you need for your size home?
  2. How much electricity will the generator need to supply in order to keep your refrigerator, heating system, air conditioning, sump pump, lighting, garage door opener, etc. working for as long as the utility power is out?
  3. Do you have the correct type of transfer switch for proper control and operation?
  4. Do you have enough natural gas pressure and volume coming into your house to run the generator while your gas fueled heating system is on?
  5. Will the township (and your neighbors) let you put the generator where you want it to go?
  6. What type of, and how often does a generator need maintenance?
  7. What can your existing electrical panel handle?

Getting your generator installed is a process, but once all is said and done, a fully automatic generator can power up your home within seconds of a power failure. Guess what else? Remodeling magazine estimates that you can recoup up to 68% of the cost if you sell your home.

Choosing and installing the right generator takes skill and a great deal of experience and knowledge. It should only be done by someone who’s been trained, and has experience. You will need a licensed electrician (to run wires) and a licensed plumber (to run the gas piping) to install a generator correctly. The work will also need to pass inspection by your local authorities! Working with licensed and experienced professionals is highly recommended, especially if you want it to work the next time the power goes out.

Just like any other machine, your generator will need regular maintenance once it is installed. You wouldn’t drive your car for 30,000 miles without changing the oil, air filter, or windshield wipers, would you? Stand-by generators have basic systems: fuel, coolant, lubrication, air, starter… you get the picture. If the oil falls below minimum levels, the generator will shut down to prevent damage. The last thing you want is to have your generator fail when you need it most.

Do you have other questions about installing a generator in your home, or maintaining your existing generator? Reach out to us here. Homeowners Hub has helped several Hubsters with generator installation and maintenance, and we are ready to help you too!

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