Advances in design and housing make permanent residential standby generators much smarter, smaller, and quieter than older models. With no lights, no heat, and no appliances, homeowners in a blackout are plunged into the Dark Ages. Power outages can cause frozen pipes, mold growth, spoiled food, and loss of heat or running water. So in storm zones, where vicious weather knocks out power with grim regularity, the comfort of a standby power system is worth the price. Permanent backup generators are increasingly common in coastal states from the Carolinas to Florida and in New England where powerful storms and shared power grids can threaten local power throughout the year.
Portable generators can replace part of a household load during an electrical outage, but these devices are typically loud, hard to move, run on gasoline, and limit the number of appliances that can run at any one time. A permanent backup power system can run off the home’s propane or natural gas supply and can be directly wired into the household circuit panel. These systems provide a seamless switch from utility service to backup power.
Permanent generators can be set up to power the whole house during an outage or just the essential loads like the furnace, security systems, and various appliances. Whole house distribution naturally requires a more powerful generator, and a transfer switch that carries the same rating as the home’s main distribution panel. Transfer switches, which are essentially special electrical panels, come in automatic and manual models. Automatic systems are more expensive, but they provide ongoing protection and reassurance for homeowners. A manual transfer switch is less expensive and requires the homeowner to power up the generator and manually switch the load to the backup system.
Permanent generators are rated by their maximum electric output, measured in kilowatts. Generators with higher the wattage ratings cost more, but can power more appliances when the electrical grid goes down. Determining what size generator is appropriate for the home’s backup power supply comes down to listing the appliances and items that will be run during a power outage and totaling the required wattage. It is important to account for an appliance’s start-up or surge requirements, which is higher than normal running wattage needs. A local generator dealer/installer or electrician can help determine a home’s electrical load and recommend the appropriate size for a backup power system.
Common household appliances range from a light bulb that requires 50 watts to run, to a water heater that can require as much as 4000 watts. A refrigerator needs 1200 watts, but it consumes 3000 watts at startup. When adding up the appliance list, use an appliance’s start-up wattage. It will be listed in the appliance manual or on the appliance itself.
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