Home Generators: Reliable Power Source in an Emergency

    By Win Henderson (FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain]/Wikimedia Most Americans depend on electricity to keep our houses functioning normally. Electric lighting can be temporarily replaced with battery-powered lamps or candles in an emergency. However, it may be very hard -- and even dangerous -- to live without heat or air conditioning, according to the season of the year and where you are located. As well, more and more homeowners use electricity to power kitchen stoves and water heaters, in addition to refrigerators and freezers. What's more, modern technology in the form of electronic devices has become ever more essential -- to allow telecommuting and to provide security systems to safeguard our homes, for example.

    At the same time, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that electrical power failures are becoming increasingly frequent, due to an upsurge in what they term "extreme weather events."

    Installing a generator in your home as an emergency source of electric power can save you a great deal of discomfort and inconvenience.

    What You Need

    Standby generator installation requires two basic pieces of equipment -- the generator itself plus an automatic transfer switch. These items are normally sold together as a package. The generator is designed to produce electric power by burning a fuel (usually natural gas, diesel, or propane), while the switch works to activate the backup generator when it senses that there is a power failure. When power from the utility company has been restored, the switch will automatically shut off the generator.

    In addition to the generator and switch, it is advisable to install surge protectors. These will prevent harm to costly, sensitive electronics such as computers or washing machines resulting from fluctuations in power.

    Type of Generator

    Home generators come in sizes from 8-48 kilowatts. The size you need depends on how much electricity you will require in the event of a power failure. Running the smallest size that is practical for your family will save you money.

    Automatic transfer switches also come in various sizes, which should correspond to the size of the generator. There are three types of switch: service disconnect for heavy use, load center for light to moderate use, and standard (which is no longer popular as it is more complicated to install).

    Generator Safety

    As a fuel-combustion appliance, a generator should be treated with care. The first rule of safety is to call on a qualified electrician for home generator installation and repair.

    Your standby generator must be outside, not in your house, the basement, or an attached garage, to avoid venting of carbon monoxide into your living space. (Battery-operated CO detectors will sound an alarm if this potentially lethal gas reaches dangerous levels; these are a must in any home which uses fuel-burning appliances.) Place the generator away from the home's air intake vents and windows. Protect it from moisture with a well-ventilated aluminum or steel cover.

    Make sure that your generator is installed in accordance with all local and state electrical and fire codes, as well as the National Electrical Code® (NEC). A stationary model is safer than a portable, which can easily overheat due to electrical overloading. To further reduce fire hazard, shut off the generator and allow it to cool down before refueling. Store extra fuel safely in a locked storage area.

    Never connect the generator to your breaker panel, fuse box, or meter box. This is extremely hazardous to any service personnel (utility employees, tree trimmers, etc) who may come in contact with electric lines while they are working to remedy the power failure. Do not plug the generator into a wall socket, either, as this creates a serious fire and shock risk inside your home. Instead, connect electrical appliances directly to the generator.

    Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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