GIMME SHELTER- Back-up power! Home generators good in outages
Q: It seems like every time there's a storm, the power goes out! We're thinking about buying a generator for our house, but we don't know much about it. Can you help?
A: Unfortunately, power companies don't keep their lines as clean as they used to. As a result, particularly if there's some wind or ice, all those trees and limbs not trimmed back fall on the lines and cause outages. In addition, the power infrastructure in this area was built around the middle of the last century and has never been properly upgraded. Meanwhile, that infrastructure has been asked to serve an ever-increasing number of new homes.
As a consequence, installing back-up generators has become common. Although many City dwellers choose them, they are more common in rural areas, where the power is apt to be out longer, as power companies focus first on the more populated City grid. Rural homes also tend to have more outbuildings that need power for animals and livestock or storage. Rural homes also depend on well water transfered to the house by an electric pump. Without power in the winter for more than 24 hours– and this goes for both the City and rural areas– pipes can freeze and burst.
One customer of mine who was a hunter had a big meat freezer, and his power went out when he left town for a few months. The food thawed and went bad. But before he came back the power returned and refroze the bad food. It wasn't until months after his return, when he went to thaw some venison steaks, that he realized all the food in the freezer was ruined.
Generally, though, people choose generators so they don't have to worry about losing essentials like heat, cooling, water, and lights during an outage.
Generators come in a range of sizes, anywhere from 7kw (30 amps) to 150kw (600 amps). When choosing a generator, think about what your priorities are. Do you want the whole house powered during an outage, or just essentials like heat and water? One of our customers was willing to give up her hot water so her dog kennel would have power. Others don't want to give up anything!
Generators run on propane or natural gas, so you'll need to have those systems in place or installed. A typical 16kw generator will use between 1.75 and 2 gallons an hour, depending on what it's powering. That works out to about $4.50 to $5 an hour. Generator systems run from anywhere between a few thousand to $13,000. A company like ours can install a generator for you, help set up the gas or propane system, and program it to run your chosen essentials, but you can also buy and install a generator on your own.
Surprisingly, many people don't realize that generator systems are now automatic, meaning they take over seamlessly when the power goes out and shut off when it comes back on. They also power up in a delayed fashion, so they don't turn off and on if your power goes off and on. They also perform self-maintenance, automatically turning on for about 10 minutes every week.
In addition, via a panel just like your fuse box, you can choose what systems you want it to back up by priority. Perhaps you're going away and only want the fridge backed up. Or maybe you have guests for Christmas and want to keep everything running. Simply set the switches.
How seamless are these new automatic generators? One customer called to complain that his generator came on and wouldn't shut off. He hadn't even realized that his power went out!