April showers bring May flowers…and sometimes those showers are strong enough to knock out power to your home. April’s sometimes volatile weather heralds what’s to come during the summer in the Capital District, like intense rain and severe thunderstorms that can cause electrical outages. Now is the time to prepare your home for wild weather with an emergency generator.
Home Backup Generators vs. Portable Generators
What is the difference between a backup generator and portable generator?
A home backup (or standby) generator delivers power directly to your home’s electrical system in the event of an outage, to backup your entire home or just the most essential items. These generators run on liquid propane fuel or natural gas, and sit outside your home (similar to a central air conditioning unit).
This type of emergency generator requires proper installation performed by a qualified technician. (Interested? A. Johnson can help.) They also come with a hefty price tag given the sheer amount of power they are capable of providing. Finally, if you choose to install a standby generator to provide backup power to your home, you must be sure to notify your local utility company.
A portable generator, on the other hand, offers a more affordable option to restore power – but that power will only be concentrated on a few vital electrical items needed during an outage. A portable generators can be wheeled right out of the garage, or wherever it is being stored, when it is needed. Extension cords can be connected to the portable generator. Then, run it inside to smaller appliances like refrigerators, sump pumps, computers, lamps, and the TV.
Whether you should opt for a standby generator or a portable generator depends on the climate where you live. Additionally, your individual energy needs impact the type of generator required. For example, if you reside somewhere with frequent freezing temperatures in the winter, invest in a standby generator. This type of generator helps ensure there is always a heat source to keep the pipes from freezing. Plus, it helps keep the air conditioning on during those poor air quality days of summer.
As far as determining your home’s energy needs – State Farm recommends determining which electrical items are crucial to your family during a blackout, and then tallying both the running and starting watts to keep those appliances going during an outage. This tally will help you determine whether it makes sense to invest in a standby generator or if a portable generator will meet your needs.
What to Know Before Buying an Emergency Generator
It is important to make an informed decision when purchasing an emergency generator. As Consumer Reports points out, people often buy generators when they know a major storm is coming – meaning they may be in a rush and desperate to make a quick decision, without a plan for how to use it properly once they get home and the storm hits.
Instead, take this time to research emergency generators before you head to the store. That way you can have it properly set up (or, in the case of a standby generator, installed by a professional) well before any major storm is forecast to hit your hometown.
Here are some features to consider in any type of emergency generator before making a purchase, according to Consumer Reports:
This allows the generator to turn on as the power turns off. This is perfect for people who travel or work far from home and may not be home in time to deal with an outage immediately.
For portable generators, a removable console allows you to plug in appliances without having to run extension cords from inside to the backyard, or wherever your generator is placed during the storm.
This feature will automatically shut off the generator when oil falls below minimum levels to prevent engine damage.
Having four or more outlets on a portable generator allows you to best use the wattage by more evenly spreading the load.
Helpful during an extended blackout so you can easily keep an eye on the amount of fuel left in your portable generator.
And don’t forget the transfer switch. Whether you decide on a standby generator or a portable generator, you need one. The transfer switch safely connects your emergency generator to your home’s circuit panel with one cable. You will need to hire a qualified electrician to install it and walk you through the process.
Emergency Generator Safety
Upon selecting and purchasing the type of emergency generator that best meets your needs, familiarize yourself with it. For example, the following safety tips help ensure your family can ride out the next power outage without issue.
The U.S. Department of Energy, Consumer Reports, and the Family Handyman compiled the following tips for safe use of emergency generators (particularly portable generators).
Never run a portable generator indoors or in an enclosed space
Portable generators are powered by gasoline, and thus emit carbon monoxide. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by positioning your generator outside – at least 20 feet away from the house, when in use –as well as away from any other structures that could cause carbon monoxide to build up to dangerous levels.
Keep a portable generator dry
Operate the generator on a dry, level surface beneath a canopy-like structure to keep it shielded from the elements. Make sure your hands are dry before touching the generator.
Stock up on gasoline
Stock up on gasoline to power your generator through extended blackouts, and make sure you are keeping an eye on the fuel levels. Store fuel in a cool, well-ventilated place.
Disconnect your normal source of power before using the generator
This is where the transfer switch comes in handy. You want to make sure you have turned off your home’s normal source of power before switching over to the generator, otherwise the generator’s power may be sent back to the utility company lines, creating a hazardous situation for utility workers attempting to restore power after a storm.
Plug equipment directly into a portable generator
Use heavy-duty extension cords to plug vital appliances directly into the generator (or the generator’s removable console). However, make sure you limit the cord length to prevent appliance damage.
Do not “backfeed” power into your home
“Backfeeding” power is illegal and unsafe, and can hurt or even kill members of the household or utility workers. Invest in a transfer switch instead and have an electrician install it properly.
Turn the generator off and let it cool before refueling
Make sure the generator is turned off and cooled down before refueling – you don’t want to spill gasoline onto the engine of a hot, active generator.
Finally, make sure you inspect both your portable and standby generator regularly to make sure it is in working condition. If you have opted to use a standby generator for your emergency generator needs, A. Johnson offers repair, maintenance, and installation services, so contact us today!