Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Choosing the Right Generator Before the Power Goes Out - Avoid the Pitfalls Experienced During Seattle Winter Storm 2012

A January 2012 winter storm in the Seattle area knocked out power for more than 250,000 electric customers, and many homes were without electricity for 4-5 days.  This storm caused many homeowners to consider installing home electrical generators.  The reasons are obvious.  Power outages can cause damage or injury.  Home generators power appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, keeping food from spoiling.  Alarm systems run without interruption to maintain home security.  Medical devices can be operated without serious interruption.  Home electrical heating can be maintained.  Unfortunately, when permanent power is restored to the home and life returns to normal, most homeowners forget about installing home generators.  That's unfortunate because installing a home electrical generator is a relatively simple process that ensures peace of mind when the next electrical emergency occurs.

Homeowners need to understand, however, that there is a difference between portable and standby generators.  Portable generators supply power to appliances and other devices with extension cords and are kept outside and away from the house to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup in the home.  If installed correctly, portable generators can also be tied into a home's electrical configuration.  This requires a licensed electrician to install safely measures to protect the home.  Proper, professional installation also ensures that electric company workers who come into a homeowner's neighborhood to restore power can do so safely.  Portable home generators are generally a less expensive option than standby generators but also require proper installation and use.

Standby home generators are more efficient than portable generators, as these are installed directly into the house's electrical structure.  The generator detects a power loss and starts up to restore power to the house without any action by the homeowner.  Fuel choices include natural gas or propane, and fuel supplies can be easily replenished during long-term outages.  Either portable or standby generators will work during a power outage but standby home generators are a superior option for instant power restoration during interruptions.

There are a variety of home generators available that provide increasing wattage levels to deliver power to homes of varying sizes.  The most important thing for a homeowner to consider when choosing a backup power system is to determine how much wattage is needed in an emergency by actually measuring the power required.  First, decide what lights and equipment, such as heating systems, refrigerators, fans, alarm system, etc., are needed to operate simultaneously during a power outage.  Then have an electrician measure the electric consumption when all these loads are running.  This will determine the continuous (running) watts that are needed to power the home during an outage.  For example, motor driven appliances such as refrigerators and furnace fans require larger amounts of current for initial start-up, then lesser amounts of power when running.  This is called peak (startup) power, and a licensed electrician can determine the startup power requirements for your home.

As with all mechanical devices, there are several brands of residential power generators and each is manufactured in a unique manner.  Homeowners should be aware that some less expensive generators may not last as long, while more expensive ones can last indefinitely. A licensed electrician can help a homeowner make an informed decision concerning which device to choose for a particular home and how much to spend.  Once a decision is made, the electrician will insure that the generator is installed correctly to ensure safe operation.  Improperly installed power generators can create many dangerous situations in the home ranging from fire to electrocution or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Home generators provide safety and security when power outages occur.  They can also add resale value to the home.  A home with a generator can stand out to potential home buyers as a well-equipped home, ready for power outages and stormy weather.