5 questions for backup home generators

5 questions for backup home generators

Submitted by Paul Hampton, owner of A-1 Electric Co. Inc. in Warren, N.J.

If the power goes out, do you worry about your heat, sump pump, water and other needs?  Installing a generator can provide power for your house when you need it.

Portable generators can help parts of a house with temporary extension cords, but the extension cords don’t work with furnaces or well pumps that are not connected with a plug.  Even some refrigerators have hard to reach plugs. A key-start option is good to allow anyone to start the generator.

Fully automatic generators can provide power to part or all of a house even when no one is home.  This can be important for sump pumps and freezers.

Before you purchase a generator backup system, you have to consider a few elements when deciding what you want:

1. What appliances are the most important to run in the event of an emergency?

We find that sump pumps, well pumps, furnaces, refrigerators and lights are the vital circuits to keep powered.

2. Should the generator start manually or automatically?

Portable, manual generators are simpler to operate and less expensive. They typically start by turning a key and feature a backup pull-cord starter.

You either connect cords and/or use a transfer switch device to power selected circuits. This approach can cost $3,000 to $7,000 depending on the installation site requirements, and the generator's size and style.

Automatic generators detect power outages and start themselves within about 30 seconds. The important circuits are powered as soon as the generator is ready. Once the power company restores power, the unit shuts itself off again. Automatic generators can also perform periodic self-testing and exercise automatically.

This option can cost between $8,000 and $12,000 and more depending on the size of the generator and what it's being connected to. Installing plumbing to supply the generator with natural gas or propane will be required.

3. What's the right generator size?

A portable generator that provides 7,500 watts while running, which typically peak or surge up to around 8000 watts is a good comfortable size. Smaller portable generators that provide 5,000 watts will do, but as you reduce the wattage, the generator will provide less power and have to work harder.

4. Should the generator be stationary, or on wheels?  In most cases, a portable generator is stored in the garage and wheeled into place when and where needed. Sometimes, it is permanently secured.

5. What type of fuel will the generator use?

Basic manual generators use normal unleaded gasoline. For these, you have to refill them occasionally just like a lawn mower. To use less fuel and reduce the number of times you refuel, you should plan your usage: perhaps 1 to 2 hours in the morning, 1 one 2 hours in the afternoon, and 1 to 2 hours in the evening.

In winter, before turning off the generator in the evening, heat the house to higher than usual temperature and let the house ‘coast’ overnight, and restart the generator and furnace in the morning. If your house uses natural gas or propane, you can have a permanently installed automatic generator with natural gas feeding it.

Paul Hampton, owner of highly rated A-1 Electric Co. Inc. in Warren, N.J., started doing electrical work as a summer job while getting his business degrees. He left the corporate world to do what he likes most: solving problems, getting the job done and feedback from customers. A-1 Electric has won the Angie's List Super Service Award every year since 2007.

As of Nov. 29, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.


Charles Polance

Subject: Fuel Shut-off switch

When I turn on the fuel switch, the fuel flows out the carburetor and onto the ground before I can get the generator running? Once it finally starts going, everything is fine.
Is there something wrong here?

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