Heating and Air Conditioning
Choosing a Generator for Power Outages
Until we experience an extended power outage most of us tend to take electricity for granted. A storm can interrupt our power supply for hours or even weeks in some cases. A home generator is more than just a convenience when extended power failures occur. Not only does a generator potentially power basics such as lights, refrigerator, freezer and alarm systems, but they can potentially power air conditioning and heat.
With the increased number of natural disasters and severe weather occurring in the U. S., an increasing number of homeowners are choosing to be prepared for potential power outages with the purchase of a generator.
Once you make the decision to purchase a generator, your decision will include the following factors:
- Your budget for a generator
- The size of generator needed
- Type of generator to be purchased
- The type of fuel that will power the generator
- Generator safety and security
- Size of the fuel tank
Generator sizes vary greatly, from being so small they will only operate a fan to whole house generators that connect to your homes power enabling your home to operate as usual.
There are two types of generators, portable and standby generators, and the differences in the two are large.
The first consideration in choosing a generator is going to be your budget. Many homeowners opt for generators under $1,500. These are portable generators and provide limited but can provide essential service. Cost is directly related to the amount of power output.
When using a portable generator you must plug appliances into a subpanel located on the generator. A portable generator limits the number of appliances that you can plug in, with the majority having only 2-4 power outlets, and requires heavy duty extension cords leading from the appliance to the generator. You will also have to start the generator and refill it with fuel on a regular basis. On the plus side a portable generator doesn’t require an electrician to install the subpanel and costs considerably less than standby generators.
The generator should be located on a level surface outside, at least 12 ft. from the house. Don’t locate it under canopies, porches or carports, or inside the house or garage. It’s absolutely essential that the generator is located outside your home and especially away from doors and windows—your life could depend on it! Every year people die from carbon monoxide poisoning from gas or diesel fueled engines and this is due to improper location.
Most portable generators operate on gasoline or diesel fuel. They are located outside of your home and should not under any circumstances ever be operated within the home. The exhaust contains carbon monoxide and will quickly fill your home with this deadly gas. Operate only outside the home and away from any vents or any other means of the exhaust fumes entering the home. This includes doors or windows left slightly open to accommodate heavy duty extension cords leading to your appliances.
Determining the Size Generator You Need
First, estimate your power needs before shopping for a generator. Look for a label on each appliance that you want to power during an electrical outage. Labels may be located inside of the door on appliances or on the back of the appliance next to the wall.
Write down the item and how much wattage it uses according to the label. Include essential items such as refrigerators, freezers, and a well pump if you depend upon one for water and a sump pump if your basement could flood. Don’t forget to include necessary medical equipment for occupants requiring it such as oxygen concentrators. By using a microwave you can avoid the use of an oven. You can most likely get by without an air conditioner which requires a much bigger generator.
If you have a family member with heart or lung problems having an air conditioner is essential during hot weather and you may want to consider keeping a small window air conditioner for this person’s bedroom in the event of a power outage in the summer.
Once your list is complete, add the wattages of all appliances together, then multiply the number by 1.5. The extra wattage is needed by an appliance to startup. The resulting total will be the minimum wattage your generator will need.
Kohler offers a handy generator sizing calculator for a ball park figure of your generating requirements with the following link. It is important to realize this calculator is not a guarantee of the appropriate size which is best determined by professionals based upon your energy usage and the number, as well as type and age of appliances in the home.
By selecting the appropriate size generator you will avoid system shutdowns due to overloads. Overloads can damage appliances and will ensure the best performance and a longer service life of the generator. One example of an overload is by plugging in an appliance pulling higher wattage than the generator is manufactured to provide. It may result in tripped breakers on the generator and damaged appliances. Extension cords also must be of appropriate gauges; generally a minimum of 14 gauge minimum is required. Consult your generators manual for exact needs. The extension cords tag should list maximum wattage, and like any other overload, a cord that is overloaded can overheat and cause a fire.
The size of the fuel tank will affect how long a portable generator can operate before refueling is needed. Safe operation requires the generator be turned off and allowed to cool down before refueling. Smaller tanks may only run for a few hours, while larger tanks in general allow up to 10 hours of operation before refueling.
Finally, you must consider that a portable generator sitting outside is easily stolen. Chains have no resistance to bolt cutters and determined thieves.
Stand By Generators
Stand by generators start automatically during power outages and are powered by natural gas or propane. They are also often called “whole-house generators”. Prices vary dependent upon your region but can begin as low as $5,000 with installation.
This is the preferred choice if you frequently lose electricity such as in remote locations, extreme winter weather frequency and hurricane prone regions. Most standby generators are powerful enough to run a central air conditioner, kitchen appliances and other appliances simultaneously. They’re operation is quieter than portable generators and doesn’t require running cords or storing fuel in containers.
Propane generators will require a propane tank to be rented or purchased and located within your yard. The size of the tank will determine the length of operation provided before having the tank refilled.
Natural gas generators will run on a supply provided by your community natural gas supplier and is the most interruption free fuel supply to use. With any stand by generator you’ll need to have the generator, transfer switch and subpanel installed by a licensed and certified professional.
Cost of purchase and installation is the reason why many home owners choose a portable generator to operate necessary appliances only. The convenience and the ability of the standby generator to automatically switch to generator power in outages are the most frequent reasons for homeowners to choose the stand by generator when the budget allows.
Cypress Heating and Air Conditioning wants to ensure your family’s comfort and safety and provides this article as a courtesy to those who are considering the purchase of a generator. When you have made your decision to purchase a generator please make your requests to the home center retailer, authorized dealer or manufacturer, to obtain a list of licensed, certified and authorized professional installers of your new generator product in your area.