Do you know when the best time is to buy a back-up generator? On a bright, sunny day! But when do people buy them? When the power is out, and they are desperate to get the juice flowing again. The problem with the latter is that the selection is poor, so you may buy the wrong one, and you may pay more for it too. Here is some advice on what to buy, and how to use it.
- Identify what it is you need to power if the power goes out: lighting, HVAC systems, refrigerator/freezer, sump pumps, medical equipment, etc.
- Decide on whether you want a portable unit that you set up each time the power goes out, or you want a whole-house system that automatically kicks on after about 30 seconds without power from the utility company. Note – whole-house systems tend to be professionally installed, starting at around $5,000.00. A portable unit that can run a few essential items starts at around $600.00.
- Buy the right size unit. Generators are rated on the wattage they produce. To run a refrigerator, some lights and a pump, you will need a unit that is rated at 5000 watts. If you want to run heating systems, appliances and lighting, then the unit needs to be over 8000 watts. You must determine the load of what you want to run, so you size the unit correctly. As a point of reference, the average refrigerator/freezer draws 700 watts when running, and over 1,000 watts at start up.
- Choose the right fuel. Most portables run on gasoline, but if the power is out, gas pumps may not work. You can find portables that run off of propane tanks like you use on a grill. The best part about those is you can get the tanks at a hardware store, grocery store, or a gas station. They can run up to 6 hours on one 20-lb tank.
- Use common sense when operating these tools. Never operate a fuel-fired generator indoors – even in a garage with the garage door wide open. The carbon monoxide coming from the unit can make you sick, and even cause death. Set the unit up at least 10 feet away from your home, and make sure you have some battery-operated smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Do not leave the unit unattended, and use larger extension cords to feed the appliances and lighting you want to run.
Finally, read all of the instructions on the generator you buy. When storing the unit, make sure you put in a fuel additive, if gas fired, to keep the fuel fresh. And try and start it at least twice a year, running it for about 10 minutes to make sure it’s ready to go when you need it!