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Power Generators

When power outages strike, home AC power generators provide a convenient backup source for electricity. Model choices for your home depend on these factors:

  • Capacity - are you trying to provide power for the whole house, or just a few appliances?
  • Convenience - will it start automatically, by key start, or pulling a cord, and will it automatically provide power without throwing a transfer switch?
  • Noise - will you be able to keep power to your house without waking the neighbors?
  • Installation requirements - is it portable or permanently mounted on a concrete pad?

Capacity

The first and most important factor is the capacity. Generators are rated in watts (the "load"). You add up the wattage for the lights and appliances you wish to run off the generator to estimate the minimum capacity required. Note: Appliances with electric motors that draw a spike of power when they kick on (such as refrigerators) should be estimated as requiring three times their running load. While a capacity of 2500 watts can handle most refrigerators and a few small appliances and lamps, homeowners will want to look in the 3000-5000 watt range to satisfy most of their electrical needs.

Convenience

Many portable models need to be started by pulling a cord (like a lawnmover), but more expensive models feature key starters -- an important for elderly or infirm homeowners. Some advanced models start up automatically on a monthly basis for testing, or whenever they sense a power outage. -- a handy feature if power goes out frequently in your area.

You also need to plan how you will get the electricity from the generator to your appliances. One option is to unplug your applianes and then plugged them into a heavy-duty extension cord running outside to the generator. Better yet, you might want to install the generator permanently outside and tie it into the entire house electrical system using a manual or automatic transfer switch. However, remember not to exceed the capacity of the generator.

Noise

Most permanently installed generators and almost all portable models run off gasoline. Similar to a lawnmower running, units can be noisy. Look for quieter models if you live in a dense neighborhood, or one that runs on an alternative fuel, such as natural gas.

Installation


Permanent installation needs to be done by a qualified electrician and probably requires a concrete pad and a building permit. Professional installers will observe electrical isolation guidelines involving the use of a transfer switch so that your generator doesn’t backfeed the neighborhood electrical grid and shock someone accidentally.

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