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December 5, 2017 > DonÕt get left out in the cold Ð Invest in an emergency generator

DonÕt get left out in the cold Ð Invest in an emergency generator

By David R. Newman

Oh, the weather outside is frightfulÉ Yes, itÕs that time of year again when winter storms can reek havoc on communities, often leaving many without power. And while we here in temperate California are currently not affected by hurricanes or tornados, we all know that the next big earthquake is right around the corner. To prepare, you might want to invest in an emergency generator, which will keep your household running should a major catastrophe strike.

There are two types of generators Ð portable and permanent (standby). Many of us are familiar with the portable generator. Says Art Aiello, Senior Marketing Communications Manager at Generac Power Systems, Inc., ÒPortable generators are most peopleÕs introduction to emergency power, because theyÕre usually easy to lay your hands on in an emergency. TheyÕre available at home centers and hardware stores, usually sitting next to other power equipment, so people are generally familiar with them.Ó

Most portable generators run on gasoline, although there are some that run on liquid propane (LP) or diesel. They have engines that start by pulling a cord, much like a lawnmower. Some can be activated with the push of a button. They convert DC power (think batteries) into AC power (think wall outlets) Ð just plug in your extension cords and youÕre good to go.

Portable generators, as the name implies, can be moved around, but are very heavy. Many people attach wheel kits, rolling them out of storage when needed, then rolling them back when done. They can also be used while tailgating, or on camping or fishing trips to provide power for those seeking a more civilized experience.

While portable generators can help power home essentials in an emergency, like your refrigerator and lights, there are some drawbacks. For one, theyÕre loud. The engine must run at a constant speed of 3,600 rpm to produce the standard 120-volt, 60-Hz electricity commonly used in the U.S., regardless of the load, or how much electrical power you ask of it. They also emit carbon monoxide, so keeping them outside and away from your home is important. And to use one here in California, it needs to comply with stringent California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards, so be sure it is CARB certified.

A quieter, safer breed of portable generator exists called an inverter. While these are generally more expensive than traditional portable generators, they are lighter (about the size of a small suitcase) and provide cleaner power, which is especially important for your sensitive electronics such as plasma televisions, cell phones, computers, and medical devices. The measurement for this safe electricity is called Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) and should be below six percent. Most inverters comply with this number, whereas traditional portables are commonly gauged at nine percent or higher.

When deciding on a generator, you should have a general idea of how youÕre going to use it. Says Aiello, ÒThe first question a homeowner should ask them themselves is, do you want to back up up your entire home, or just the important things in your home. Maybe you want your hard-wired appliances to run, like your furnace, or the lighting in certain rooms.Ó Companies like Generac provide free in-home assessments to determine the amount of power you will need, which is measured in kilowatts (kW).

To back up just a few essentials you may only need a smaller generator providing around 10kW. To back up your entire home, then a standby generator will be your best bet, providing 16kW and more. A standby generator is permanent, sits on a concrete pad next to your home, and is hard-wired into the electrical system. It can be connected to your homeÕs natural gas line, providing a limitless amount of fuel, or to a large LP tank. Standby generators need to be installed by licensed professionals.

Says Aiello, ÒA standby generator senses when the power goes out, turns on automatically, and will come up to speed to deliver consistent electricity. An automatic transfer switch will then transfer the source of electric power from the utility to the generator. And this all happens in a matter of seconds. When the utility power returns, the generator senses that as well, so it will transfer electricity back to the utility, will cool off and then shut down.Ó

The cost of generators can range from around $200 Ð $3,000 for portables, to $2,000 Ð $5,000 for standbys. In general, the higher the cost, the greater the power. There are also additional costs for installation, permits, and fuel. Some standbys are Wi-Fi enabled, allowing you to monitor them remotely. Generators require occasional maintenance, much like a car engine, to keep them running smoothly.

There are an incredible number of generator models out there, each with their own set of features. Do your research, know your power needs, and be prepared for the next emergency.

For more information, contact Generac Power Systems, Inc. at (800) 723-4745 or visit

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