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- Everything You Need to Know About Emergency Power Generators
Everything You Need to Know About Emergency Power Generators
Prepare for unexpected electrical outages with an emergency gas-powered backup generator.
- Photo: wescarverelectric.com
A power outage that lasts a few hours is often nothing more than an inconvenience, requiring some flashlights and a little patience. But when a major storm knocks out electricity for days, life without a generator can become real bleak, real fast. Food spoils, mold grows, and basements prone to flooding are robbed of their working sump pump and begin to take on water. Extended power outages in the winter can be even more dangerous. Plummeting temperatures and a home without heat can be a deadly combination, especially to the oldest and youngest residents in the home. In these situations, a backup power solution can literally be a lifesaver.
Despite the fact that power outages have been taking place in the U.S. since the creation of the power grid, there’s still plenty of confusion among homeowners when it comes to their residential generator options. Whether it’s educating the public on proper use of a portable generator or instructing consumers on how to properly size for a permanent generator solution, the generator industry has its work cut out for it.
To make matters even more challenging, today’s home gobbles up electricity like never before. Also, many home also contain sensitive, high-tech appliances and electronics that can be inoperable or even damaged by “unclean” power from a generator. Fortunately, the generator manufacturers seem to have all of these bases covered. Not only are they making it easier for homeowners to choose the right emergency power solution, the solutions are keeping up with the needs of the modern home.
When looking into a generator purchase, one of the biggest challenges facing the curious consumer is proper sizing. “The two questions people ask are ‘How do I select a product?’ and ‘How much is it going to cost me?’ ” says Mike Betker, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton, an engine manufacturing company headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. Briggs & Stratton recently signed on to manufacturer a line of GE-branded residential standby generators. “Today’s generators can do more with less,” adds Betker. Both standby generators (also known as “permanent” generators) and portable generators are rated by their kilowatt (kW) output. To match a generator to the home’s needs, a homeowner can begin by totaling up the wattage needs of the appliances that will be powered during an outage. Special attention needs to be given to the startup wattage of bigger appliances like refrigerators, which are always going to use more than the running wattage.
To jump-start the sizing process, generator manufacturers like GE, Generac, and Kohler all feature handy sizing tools on their websites. Consumers enter the square footage of the home and check off from a list the appliances, devices or systems,such as the refrigerator, microwave, central air, and TV,that are to be powered by the generator during a power outage. To test Kohler’s Sizing Calculator, an imaginary home measuring 2,000 square feet was inputted. Among the items to be powered during an outage were the refrigerator, microwave oven, range, TV, personal computer, central air, dehumidifier, fan, security system and a few other essentials. The Calculator tallied the total wattage of the selected units as well as the start-up volt-amps and determined that the Kohler 15 kW Residential Generator would be a good fit for the fictitious home. “The selection guide walks consumers down a path,” says Betker. “You don’t have to fret the solution.”
Of course, homeowners who are still uncertain about matching a generator to the home using an online resource or prefer talking to an expert can always consult one. Some manufacturers recommend it, like Jake Thomas, product manager for Generac, who says,The best way to choose a standby generator is to have an electrician size it.
Sensitive New-Age Generator
Electronic items like plasma TVs, computers and the complicated controls often found in today’s HVAC systems can be sensitive to the power used to run them. When powered by grid-supplied electricity, these devices operate without an issue. But generators all produce something called harmonic distortion, which can confuse or even damage the plugged-in sensitive devices. The total harmonic distortion, or THD, of a generator will determine the potential for issues with high-end or sensitive electronics during a power outage.
“Generator power is not utility-grade power,” says Thomas. “A high THD can mean that the controller for the high-end HVAC system doesn’t recognize the power or the plasma TV has a line running through it.” The THD issue has been a hot one in the generator industry and has led to new models of generators that minimize the THD to levels that won’t negatively affect the sensitive electronic items and systems in the home. Homeowners shopping for a backup power generator should consider a generator with a THD of five or six percent or below if sensitive electronic devices are going to be powered.
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