The need for a backup generator is something that may be on the forefront of everyone’s minds these days. Many people realize that they can come in handy in the case of a power outage, but with the recent occurrence of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, the importance of having one of these devices is really hitting home. When a storm occurs, it is usually too late to run out and buy a generator. Inclement weather as well as the demand for generators during this time can make it difficult or even impossible to purchase one at such short notice, making it seem like a good idea to have one on hand. But when you consider the fact that these machines are costly, (especially when you factor in installation costs), and also quite large, it makes many people think twice about whether they are wise investments. Here, we will look at the functions of a generator, what it does and whether it is wise to purchase one for your emergency needs.
What is a Backup Generator?
Unlike portable generators, backup generators are permanently installed in your home, usually on a concrete pad in the yard. They are directly connected to the home’s electrical panel and powered by an external fuel supply like natural gas, liquid propane or diesel. Because of this, they can provide backup power for days. You can get a smaller, air-cooled, essential circuit unit which is only slightly larger than a portable generator, but this will energize just a few circuits at a time. Larger, liquid cooled, whole house systems will work to power the entire home.
How Does a Backup Generator Work?
When a backup generator detects an interruption in service, it disconnects the house from its utility with an automatic transfer switch. The switch then starts up the generator and transfers its power to the home’s electrical panel. The system contains an internal combustion engine which is fueled by the local gas supply. If the gas supply is not available, it can also source its energy from liquid propane or diesel that is stored in a large nearby tank. Be warned that this alternate energy can run dry due to storm damage as well as increased demand.
When power resumes, the switch will shut down the generator and your house will be connected to the grid again. This seamless operation makes the generators ideal for anyone running a business and also works well to provide uninterrupted service in the home. The transfer switch works as a safety mechanism preventing back feeding electricity to the grid, which can lead to fires and cause harm to utility workers who may be in the area trying to restore electricity.
Disadvantages of Backup Generators
Installation: When you are installing your generator, there are several rules and regulations you must follow. Because the generators are noisy, there are noise ordinances that make urban installations tricky. Building codes require generators to be at least 5 feet from a house opening and flammable materials.
Hiring a Professional is Recommended: Installation is not the only tricky part of installing a generator. You must assess load needs and possibly connect to your local natural gas system which requires a high pressure, high volume line. Also, most generators require gas supplied at 5 to 7 inches of water-column pressure which is not available in all towns. I f this is the case, you may have to pay your utility company a fee to safely access it.
Installation also requires advanced electrical and plumbing skills as well as a knowledge of local building codes. Because of all of these complications and requirements, it is best to get in a skilled worker to install it. This can drive up the related costs considerably.
Size and Cost: As stated earlier in the article, a larger generator will be able to comfortably power your whole house. However, a larger machine will be more expensive and will also take up more space in your home. Before purchasing, try and determine how much power you will need. In the case of a total power outage, it may not be necessary to have every appliance and gadget functioning. A professional will be able to provide you with an accurate load analysis based on the load of the devices you tend to run simultaneously as well as the wattage of motor-driven appliances in the home.
While many homeowners tend to purchase a device they can afford, they do not consider costs of fuel and installation. A unit typically starts at around $3000 and gas can be about $2.23 per hour and will be even more expensive with a higher kilowatt unit. On the bright side, a generator can add value to the home.
Maintenance: Generators also require maintenance to function properly, and the bigger they are, the more maintenance they will need. After 24 to 48 hours or continuous use, service is recommended. The oil and filter should be changed approximately every 10 days. It should also be run at no more that 75% of its rated capacity. Deformed motor brushes should be replaced and the machine should not be used until this is done. Also, avoid starting and stopping the load when possible.
A backup generator can be a major purchasing decision. Consider maintenance, costs and whether you are located in an area that is at high risk for disaster before coming to a conclusion that is right for you. Generators can be valuable in the case of an emergency, but they also come with a number of drawbacks, so think carefully about whether you should buy one for your home.