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Backup Generator – Do You Need One?

by B.Annie on September 26, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma that struck Florida in September, 2017, eight elderly patients died when the generator failed at a nursing home in Hollywood, FL. With their health already compromised, these individuals could not withstand the heat in the 90’s and Florida’s typical humidity. A working generator would have probably saved their lives.

In most cases, a generator is not a life and death decision. But during power outages, it can be the difference between doing OK and being miserable.

Be Prepared for a Power Loss

Power outages are to be expected during tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or powerful storms. Yet sometimes, for no apparent reason, your power goes out.  If you are a small business owner, a power outage could keep you out of business.

The individual must answer an important question about generators: permanent or portable. Which is best? That’s like asking which is the right vehicle to own: an F350 Ford pick-up or a Honda Accord sedan? The answer lies in how the equipment will be used.

Permanent or Portable Generator?

Here are some questions that must be answered.   Is this a large home that doubles as a business? Is it a vacation home that remains vacant for months at a time? Is it a normal home that faces potential outages only a couple of times per year?

Based on the answer to these and other questions, the owner must decide what is the best choice for his needs.

The Basics

A portable unit can be wheeled from where it is being stored to be near the electrical panel. Once the portable generator is plugged in, the individual must hit the transfer switch so electricity can flow into the house and power essential units like air conditioning, lights and household appliances. Before that can happen, though, the transfer switch must be installed close to the electrical panel. This is a job for a Maryland-certified electrician.

Once the power is restored by the utility company, the individual simply unplugs the portable generator and wheels it back to its storage space.

During a prolonged power outage, the portable generator must be refueled several times and should be used only to power only essential items.  Overloading the generator is extremely dangerous and can result in a fire.

Permanent Generator

The contrast to this hands-on approach is the permanent emergency generator which is wired into the electrical system. These units generally can power the entire home and can switch over without manually using an external transfer switch. The permanent units can generate more power than the portable units and can run for a much longer time. These units turn on and off when needed and are an excellent choice when the owner is regularly not on the premises or simply wants a seamless system. Of course, the price difference between a manual and portable generator will factor into the buyer’s decision.

Have you made up your mind yet? If a portable generator is the best option for you, select from a dizzying array of quality generators that match your power and price needs. Roll it into place and you are ready for the next power interruption.

Proper Preparation is Key

If the permanent generator is the best choice, you can take several steps before the certified electrician arrives on the scene. You need to prepare the area where the generator will be located; the device needs to at least 18 inches from the house and five feet from any windows (ordinances vary on the specific distance). The generator should not be located next to flammable material.  The pad could be located in an area with loose stone that will absorb the vibrations without causing the connections to work loose. Often the equipment is bolted to a cement pad, then placed on top of the stone.

When the electrician arrives, he will attach the generator to the gas line (could be natural gas or propane). He will then run the cabling from the generator into the transfer switch. Before the job is done, the electrician will cut the power to the house to see if the generator will automatically turn on and begin supplying electricity to the home.

Back-up Battery

Many modern permanent generators have the motor to produce the electricity and a control panel that requires electricity. The electricity for the panel is provided by a car battery located inside the generator. This is the back-up power source.  Many of the machines are connected to a remote location that will instruct the generator to turn on for a few minutes once every two weeks or so to insure the equipment is running correctly.

Permanent and portable generators, when properly installed, will give your family peace of mind knowing that their lives can continue as normal even under abnormal conditions.