You’ve just went through a major storm that knocked your electrical power out for days. You can’t even recharge your smartphone let alone stay warm or do any cooking. You’ve seen people in your neighborhood with a generator here and there and you think it’s time to have a backup plan that includes alternative power.
The terms backup portable generator and standby generator are often mentioned and there’s the matter of getting the right size generator. So, how do you know which generator to purchase especially since these terms are often used interchangeably by people who are not experts about such things.
First, there is a big difference between portable and standby generators. Obviously, a portable generator is a piece of equipment that can be easily moved from place to place. The type most people see are the ones that builders use when power is not yet established at the build site. Portable generators are really not designed to power a whole house. It is engineered for you to run a couple of extension cords so that a few key devices or appliances can be operational. You might have to choose between a short power run to your refrigerator and then your window air conditioner and few smaller items and then alternate as needed. If you try to power all of your equipment needs, it simply will not work. These generators are simply not built for such use.
However, standby generators are substantially larger pieces of equipment built for an expanded purpose. It sometimes looks like your outside air conditioning unit. These units are able to power many more electrical devices at the same time or you could invest in a whole home unit that could power all your lighting and appliances.
These standby generators should not be installed by yourself unless you are an experienced and certified electrician. Also, you will need to check with your local building codes enforcement to determine the manner of installation they may require. This type or generator has to be connected to a substantial fuel supply such as propane or natural gas. Then there is the matter of hard wiring it into your home’s electrical system. A transfer switch needs to be installed with its own electrical panel which comes on when the generator is turned on. All of this is complex and should be handled by professionals who know what they’re doing.
Perhaps the single most distinction between standby and portable generators is that a standby generator will automatically come on when it senses that your home has lost power. This occurs because of the aforementioned transfer switch and you could have your lights back on in about ten seconds. When the utility workers who are sent to restore power to your home and neighborhood are finally able to do so, your generator will switch you back to the grid.
A great advantage to using a standby generator is the fact that you won’t have to drag extension cords from the outside to the inside of your home. Instead, everything remains plugged into your household outlets as usual. A normal question that arises when trying to determine which standby generator to purchase is, “What size unit should I purchase?”
Make an appointment with an experienced electrician and discuss what your electrical priorities are. Do you want to power just a few key pieces of equipment or would you prefer to power your entire home during a complete electrical loss? The answer to that question will determine the size of the unit to purchase as well as the complexity of the installation.
Then there is the cost of installation. Obviously, the more you wish to accomplish, the more of an investment you will need to make. If your budget is too limited for a whole-home approach, you will need to assess which devices or key pieces of equipment are absolutely essential. If the power loss in your area occurs for a long period of time, it is probably essential to power your refrigerator and freezer so as to not suffer hundreds of dollars of loss due to food spoilage.
Standby generators have evolved to the point that they sometimes come with software that affords you the ability to check the status of your generator onsite or by remote. It can even communicate with a specific company that offers maintenance for your unit such that if there is a problem with your generator, repairs can begin immediately and you won’t be in the dark during a complete loss of power.
In order to determine how to buy the right generator for your home, you must have some sort of plan of what you want to do and if your budget can support the investment. If a standby generator is a must for your situation, start educating yourself on the types and brands that will serve you well. Make friends with a qualified electrician who will be a wealth of information. Check with your local power company as well to get their input and see if they offer any energy credits or special financing to help you with your installation.
You’ll want a large storage tank for propane gas if that is the best fuel for you. Some people bury their storage tank out of sight. Check with local ordinances and the fuel supply company for recommendations. Standby generators need to be regularly maintained because they feature engines which actuate the generator.
A lot of this maintenance you can do but service companies are more than happy to assist. Just factor this as an ongoing cost as well.