It’s usually one of the most common times people think about investing in a backup generator for home or business use; when sitting with a flashlight in the middle of a power outage. The consequences of not having an alternate power source compound exponentially as the outage drags on for hours, days, or in some extreme cases, weeks. Food supplies, surge-vulnerable electronics, sump pumps and critical need medical equipment are some of the biggest concerns during a loss of power.
Standby vs. portable generators
There are two basic categories of generators; portable and standby.
Portable generators are extremely attractive as a backup power option during an outage, especially in areas where outages do not occur often or last very long when they do. Portable generators cost, on average, between $400 and $2,000 and are capable of powering your home’s essential appliances. (If you want to connect it to your circuit box, you’ll need a transfer switch which can cost an additional $500-$900). Still, at this price point, portable generators are popular option for the everyday consumer.
A standby generator is a unit that supplies backup power by way of either natural gas or propane as a fuel source. Standby systems, as opposed to portable generators, are installed in a more permanent way within your home’s infrastructure, similar to a heating and air conditioning system. Turning them on can be as easy as flipping a switch and they don’t require the same amount of storage or maintenance as their portable counterparts. They come in a wide array of sizes, from systems that are capable of powering an entire home, to ones that just keep the lights on or the refrigerator running. The tradeoff comes in the price tag, with standby generators ranging from about $1,500 to $5,000, and some whole house model rising into $10,000 territory or more.
Pros of having backup generator power
The most immediate and obvious answer is that you are not thrust into darkness with everyone else when your area experiences an outage. Whether your system is portable or standby, you have an option to get some degree of juice flowing back into your home or business.
- This regular and reliable power source ensures food doesn’t spoil in refrigerators or freezers and you can continue to use your appliances.
- You can prepare meals using electronic appliances.
- You can still charge your smart phones and a myriad of other communication and entertainment devices (and we all know how critical that can be if you’re waiting out an outage with children.)
- Depending on the size of your portable generator, it can power your heating and air conditioning systems which will keep your family comfortable and, in freezing conditions, can keep pipes from leaking or bursting.
- Any security system that protects your home or business will stay active and on alert.
Before choosing any generator power source, you should do a thorough energy assessment to determine exactly how much electricity you would need during an outage, and the frequency at which your area is impacted by blackouts. This can be tricky math for the average homeowner, which is why On Time Electrical is happy to provide you with a free consultation to ascertain the best generator style, model and power tier for your home or business.
Along with price, there are other notable differences between standby and portable generators.
STANDBY generator benefits
- Seamless switching between the power company grid and your generator eliminates the need to fumble around in the dark looking for fuel and trying to get the portable generator going.
- The continual flow of power is of particular importance for people who depend on life-sustaining home medical equipment or who work from home.
- They continue to work even if you are away during an outage and can last more than a decade when used only for emergencies and maintained properly.
- They can run constantly between one and three years, if needed.
- The transfer switch acts as a surge protector and prevents back-feeding electricity, which can have lethal consequences.
- You may be able to get a discount on your homeowner’s insurance if you install a standby generator.
- If you have the option to hook your standby generator directly into your natural gas line, you won’t have to worry about keeping enough fuel on standby.
- The smooth transition, via transfer switches, between your local grid and your generator means you’ll avoid any voltage variations that occur when power comes back. Once your utility provided electricity is stable, the standby generator shuts down safely. Some switches are designed to automatically engage once a loss of power is indicated, giving you generator driven electricity instantly.
PORTABLE generator benefits
- A portable generator is above all mobile. You can easily take it to the place where you want it and plug in the appliances that you need.
- Power outage insurance aside, portable generators allow you to bring the creature comforts of home into the great outdoors by powering several types of appliances and comfort systems in recreational vehicles and on campsites.
- Some portable generators are designed to run on more than one kind of fuel; gasoline, diesel or propane. While there are cost and environmental considerations between them, the overall plus here is that you can keep your generator running in an outage if you find yourself having to switch between fuel sources.
Special considerations when using PORTABLE generators
As we’ve pointed out, portable models certainly have their benefits in mobility, fuel flexibility and lower cost; however, there are some special considerations when using them.
- Outside use only: NEVER run a portable generator inside a house, garage, or shed. The carbon monoxide in a portable generator’s exhaust can reach lethal levels in a few minutes. An open window is *not* sufficient ventilation.
- Placement: Portable generators must be kept at least 20 feet away from the house. Differences in air pressure and temperature between the inside and outside can create a draft that pulls exhaust fumes into the home. Don’t forget that your generator exhaust could affect your neighbors too. Don’t place the generator where the wind can push the exhaust against windows, vents, doors, or other openings. Use a carbon monoxide detector indoors to alert you of possible poisoning before it happens.
- Weather: Water and electricity are never a good mix. If safe placement can keep your generator protected from rain and the elements, that is the best option. Some companies make specially designed tents made to fit over portable generators. If you opt for coverage, follow all safety rules in our model’s manual.
- Extension Cords: Only purchase and use extension cords rated for outdoor use that match the circuit breaker of the generator outlet. For example, a 20-amp outlet requires a 20-amp extension cord. Accidentally overloading the cord is a serious fire hazard and burn hazard. Always use 3-wire extension cords and never attempt to defeat the ground blade.
- Do Not Backfeed: Backfeeding means plugging your generator into an appliance outlet such as used for your dryer or range. This energizes your entire house and most likely, your generator cannot handle that kind of load. Electricity may travel through your main panel back to the transformer on the utility pole. Distribution lines typically carry up to 50,000 volts. Your transformer will step up your 240-volt generator voltage to distribution voltage and send it down the line. A utility worker who expects a dead line could be injured, or a neighbor who thinks the power is out could also be put in danger by a downed line that is suddenly energized. Bottom line; backfeeding is dangerous and illegal in some jurisdictions.
Special considerations when using STANDBY generators
Unlike most portable generators that can be moved with relative ease by one or two people, standby generators require a permanent installation that brings many factors (and additional expense) into consideration.
- Site preparation: Situate the generator nearest to your current electrical meter and power panel. Depending on your home or business’ current layout, surrounding landscaping or environmental features, this can be challenging and may require special construction to design a proper space.
- Concrete pad: Usually required at an average cost of $75 per yard;
- Fuel tank installation: This is needed to feed the generator throughout use. This must be done by a utility company and can rely on propane or diesel. The tank can be buried or positioned next to equipment and professional connection is required.
- New subpanel: Must be installed near the original electrical panel and an automated transfer switch should be included, as well.
Your neighborhood experts at On Time Electrical can provide a free consultation on the best type of generator for your home or business. Our licensed and experienced professionals will install your system and make sure you know exactly how to use it safely before we consider the job done.
On Time Electrical customer service is available 24/7 at (704) 675-7400.
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