My 83-year-old father started his portable generator after Hurricane Ike in 2008 knocked out electricity for the majority of Houston and ran extension cables to a few lights, a fan, and the refrigerator through an open kitchen window. He faithfully maintained the generator going for five days, filling the fuel tank every eight hours so he and my mother could live comfortably inside. When the city lost power once more during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, my parents hardly noticed. The entire house, including the air conditioning, had power within two minutes of the outage. The distinction? The previous year, my father erected a 22-kilowatt standby generator.
Consumers are thinking about dependable backup power for their homes due to extreme weather, protracted outages, and rising demand on an aging electric infrastructure. Although households have always preferred portable generators, a shift is occurring due to the ease of a standby, which includes not having to manually refill it every 8 to 12 hours or pick and choose which few outlets to power.
Only 0.63 percent of American households in 2002 had backup generators installed, mostly on hurricane-prone coastlines. According to Randy Sandlin, senior vice president of global product management for generator company Generac, that percentage has increased to 5.77 percent. Jesse Adams, the president of Adams in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, thinks he sold and installed 35 standby generators every year ten years ago. Now, that number exceeds 2,000 per year. “More people are working from home, using electric devices, and even charging their EVs,” Sandlin claims. “A standby generator is for peace of mind, not just for storms.”
Keeping warm and secure during a winter power outage
That’s why Tom Dolan and his wife Christina bought a standby generator soon after settling into their King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, house. Dolan says, “We were worried about a medical equipment Christina uses, food deterioration, frozen pipes, and just being confined in the house for days without power. When lightning struck an electric pole two years ago, the generator started up so rapidly that I didn’t even need to turn the clocks back.
There are several factors to consider before buying a standby generator Here are some things to keep in mind.
How they operate
Your home must have access to either natural gas or liquid propane because backup generators don’t function on electricity. When service is interrupted, a transfer switch that connects the generators to the electrical panel instructs the house to switch from the power grid to the generator. Unlike portable types, a standby connects to your natural gas or liquid propane line, so it doesn’t require refueling.
According to Misha Kollontai, a senior test project leader who evaluates generators for Consumer Reports, standby generators performed well regardless of the brand while portable generators varied in performance during testing. Briggs & Stratton, Generac, Winco, Champion, and Kohler are some well-known brands. According to Kollontai, standby units are not much bigger than a sizable air conditioner, typically measuring three to four square feet.
The system does a self-test each week, so you won’t have to be concerned about losing power in an emergency. Some models feature mobile apps that allow you to remotely control the generator or view maintenance reminders. Additionally, standby generators are quieter than portable ones. When compared to a portable unit, the majority create noise at a level between 75 and 100 decibels, which is comparable to an air conditioner or washing machine.
It’s an investment
Expect to pay for the installation as well as the unit and transfer switch. The average price of a generator is between $5,000 and $7,000, although a small 7.5 kW model starts at around $2,000. The cost of installation varies from $2,500 to $4,000 or more, depending on your location, the proximity of your gas meter or propane tank to your electrical panel and whether they are on the same side of the house or not, whether your yard is level or slopes steeply, the ease of access, and the cost of permits. Installation usually takes a day. Additionally, annual maintenance for generators can cost up to $300.
Dolan bought his generator for $14,000, including installation, and he thinks it was a good investment. “I wanted something to power everything in the house,” he claims. “I love how smooth everything is and how it works whether or not we are at home. This implies that we won’t have to worry about our pipes freezing if we lose electricity while away from home in the winter. It ranks among our better purchases, in our opinion.
Your power determines your size.
The more you can power, the higher the wattage. Generators for the entire home range in power from 7.5 kW to 26 kW. According to Adams, the size of your house is less important than the amount of power you require. You choose whether to power the entire house or simply the circuits needed for items like central air, big appliances, the garage door, and the main bedroom during an outage. To determine how much power is being consumed in your house, an installation will often conduct a walk-through evaluation. Or, advises Kollontai, you may look at the average kilowatts used each day on your energy bills. A home backup sizing calculator is also available online from Generac.
You require a qualified installer.
Standby generator installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Adams suggests hiring a generator installer who does it frequently rather than just once or twice a year. An expert takes care of the entire project from start to end, including determining your needs, ensuring you are in complete compliance with local laws, HOA regulations, and any licenses, installing and connecting to gas meters or propane tanks, and doing any necessary follow-up maintenance.
It’s advisable to shop in advance since you don’t want to be rushing to make a decision during a power outage. Visit a dealer’s physical location to see a variety of items in different makes, models, and sizes. According to Adams, you could even be allowed to test the device so you can determine which features would work best in your home, check out some of the newest ones, and gauge the noise level.
You can inspect the vendor when you go in person. Make sure they have a license, insurance, and factory-trained technicians.
Ask them what they will do if there is a power outage and the generator doesn’t start or function.
“If they can’t answer, they aren’t the right partner,” Adams says. “A generator is a piece of 20-year equipment, so you want a company that’s going to be around for 20 more years.”