Gen­er­a­tor gives you power to keep house run­ning

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Front Page -

Ques­tion: It’s in­con­ve­nient when the elec­tric goes off dur­ing storms. I want to get a gen­er­a­tor. Is it ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate a whole-house gen­er­a­tor dur­ing out­ages? If not, why not al­ways use one?

An­swer: Many home­own­ers in­stall large whole-house emer­gency backup gen­er­a­tors be­cause most ac­tiv­i­ties re­quire elec­tric­ity to­day. The prob­lem is not from just storms. Dur­ing the sum­mer­time with high air-con­di­tion­ing loads, there some­times also are brownout on hot af­ter­noons.

When­ever there is an elec­tric­ity out­age or a brownout, a standby backup gen­er­a­tor au­to­mat­i­cally starts pro­duc­ing elec­tric­ity as soon as its en­gine gets started. The de­lay pe­riod is very short. It may run for sev­eral min­utes to sev­eral days un­til the elec­tric­ity power is re­stored.

Even us­ing in­ex­pen­sive nat­u­ral gas, the cost to op­er­ate a gen­er­a­tor is more than your cur­rent elec­tric rate. Since it runs for a rel­a­tively short time, the op­er­at­ing cost is not sig­nif­i­cant. Run­ning one con­tin­u­ously would wear it out be­cause it is not de­signed for that and there are main­te­nance costs.

When se­lect­ing a whole-house backup gen­er­a­tor, de­ter­mine what “whole­house” means to you. This im­pacts how large (out­put ca­pac­ity) a unit you need. Hav­ing enough power for cook­ing, re­frig­er­a­tion, light­ing, tele­vi­sion, and op­er­at­ing a fur­nace blower are typ­i­cal es­sen­tial needs.

Elec­tric­ity out­put from a gen­er­a­tor is rated in KW (kilo­watts). For a typ­i­cal fam­ily of four, a 12-KW backup gen­er­a­tor is ad­e­quate for most ac­tiv­i­ties. By do­ing with­out some ap­pli­ances and not try­ing to do use many si­mul­ta­ne­ously, you may get by with a smaller, less ex­pen­sive unit.

To size your gen­er­a­tor, make a list of the elec­tric items you want to keep run­ning. Check the wattage on each one and to­tal them. Elec­tric mo­tors use more wattage briefly at startup, so add in a lit­tle ex­tra. Since in­stalling one is not a do-it-your­self pro­ject, con­tact an in­staller for siz­ing ad­vice.

Def­i­nitely in­stall an ATS (au­to­matic trans­fer switch) with your gen­er­a­tor. This is more con­ve­nient for you and safe for the util­ity com­pany re­pair work­ers. When the ATS senses a power out­age or brownout (low volt­age), it dis­con­nects your house from the elec­tric grid and starts the gen­er­a­tor.

An­other ad­van­tage of hav­ing an ATS is it starts and runs the gen­er­a­tor pe­ri­od­i­cally just to make sure ev­ery­thing is func­tion­ing prop­erly for when it is needed. This is called ex­er­cis­ing the sys­tem.

Nat­u­ral gas is the least ex­pen­sive and clean­est fuel to power a backup gen­er­a­tor. The small en­gine re­quires lit­tle reg­u­lar main­te­nance. Propane is an­other clean burn­ing fuel. Propane is con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive than nat­u­ral gas and a propane stor­age tank is needed.

A diesel-pow­ered gen­er­a­tor re­quires more main­te­nance and a tank. A big ad­van­tage is if the elec­tric­ity out­age is very long, you can eas­ily dump more diesel fuel into the tank to keep it run­ning.

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