In the event of a weather disaster, a downed power line or a power grid going offline, a home generator is often a good solution for keeping a home powered-up. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), thunderstorms and lightning occur once every 5 to 6 days in Maryland during the months of March through October. Hurricanes, tropical storms or other severe weather with lightning or high winds often result in electric transmission outages. Power outages are more than just an inconvenience. When a home loses power, the family may be exposed to extreme weather, the food in the refrigerator or freezer may spoil, the family may lose access to hot water and in some cases may lose access to all water. A power outage can also damage appliances and electronics, cause flooding within the home and cut off communications. For those with medical equipment that relies on a steady power source, a power loss can be especially dangerous.
Understanding Home Generator Options
A residential power generator can provide temporary power during a power loss emergency. When many people think of a generator, they think of a permanent unit installed outside the home that powers the whole house. This type of unit, called a standby generator, does offer some advantages, but is also very costly and requires special permits. Standby generators can cost $20,000 or more to install.
A more affordable option to consider is a portable generator. These units are generally smaller and less expensive than standby generators, and they do not require special permits. They are fuel-powered and typically run on gasoline. Often those who use portable generators will turn them off for stretches of time to conserve fuel. This type of generator can be moved around fairly easily, and appliances and electronics can plug directly into the unit. For those homeowners who want to be able to run hardwired appliances and devices (e.g. ceiling fans, air conditioning, dishwasher, etc.) during a power outage, an affordable solution is to have a licensed electrician install a transfer switch for the portable generator.
Understanding The Role of a Transfer Switch
A transfer switch is a small board that connects a home’s circuit breaker panel to the generator. A licensed electrician will install the transfer switch inside the main breaker panel. When the main power goes off, the switch changes the power load from utility grid power to the generator. With a transfer switch in place, a residential portable generator can be used to power-up appliances and hardwired devices via the circuit breaker panel. It is very easy to operate.
Additional Considerations for Portable Generators
When selecting a home generator, it is important to be aware of safety considerations. Keep the following in mind when selecting a residential generator.
- Have a licensed electrician assess your home’s electrical load and select a generator that can handle this load safely. An overloaded generator can result in reduced fuel efficiency, fire risk and damaged appliances. It is important to have an expert recommend a generator that properly fits your home.
- Ensure that your generator selection is in compliance with local building codes and noise ordinances.
- Portable generators expel carbon monoxide. It is important to carefully follow all manufacturer and installation instructions and never operate a portable generator indoors. Basements, storage sheds and garages are also off-limits for portable generators.
- Never operate a portable generator near vents, open doors or any places where carbon monoxide emissions could seep into your home. Also, take the time to install carbon monoxide detectors, as a precaution.
- Store generator fuel in a cool and safe place, away from children and pets. Be sure to unplug your generator and allow it to cool off before refueling.
- Be sure to inspect your generator regularly for leaks and damage. Plan to have your generator inspected annually by a professional.