When you lose power, what will you plug into?
When extreme weather hits, often one of the first luxuries lost is electrical power. Being without power for even a few hours can be inconvenient. Go without it longer, though, and it could also be very costly and even dangerous — from replacing spoiled food, to the potential for your home flooding without an active sump pump, to losing pets or even human lives if life-sustaining equipment can’t work.
Adding a power generator to your home can provide you with a backup power source that allows you to keep your appliances and electronics running, giving you security and comfort even in the face of severe weather conditions.
“Here in south Florida, the power can be knocked out for a substantially long period of time,” said Brenda Burtch, vice president of Elcon Electric, Inc. in Pompano Beach, Fla. “A couple of years ago, there were several people without power for more than three weeks. With a standby generator, when the power goes out, within 15 seconds the generator kicks on and you’re able to power your home. When everybody else has no power, you can (still) live comfortably. For people with medical issues — a lot of people on oxygen or breathing machines, things like that — it is vital to their existence to be able to have that power.”
Investing in a generator is not something that you can do quickly, so if you live in a power-outage prone area, you need to plan ahead. Standby generators — which automatically kick on when the power goes out — often take weeks to install and include local regulatory steps. If you head to your local hardware store after a heavy storm to buy an emergency portable generator, chances are good you’ll only find empty shelves.
“A lot of times, (customers) don’t realize we can’t just put a generator in the next week,” Burtch said. “We have to go through a permitting process, as well as have everything inspected. So, you’re looking normally at about a six- to eight-week turnaround from the time you sign the contract to when we get it in.”
Standby generators range in size — the more kilowatts they have, the more they can power — and are designed to be installed as a permanent part of the home. Automatic standby generators are costly — ranging in price from $7,000 to $14,000 depending on where they’re being installed, the size of the generator, and other factors. In Miami, for example, permitting can cost close to $2,000 alone, whereas in other areas of the country, a permit could run less than $100.
Standby generators offer a homeowner peace of mind, said Andy Badertscher of J.B. Electric in Auburn, Calif.
“We have had customers with pets or with fish tanks that need to make sure their animals are safe and healthy regardless of power outages, so they have chosen the standby units with automatic start up,” Badertscher said. “Even if you are thousands of miles away, you know your home will have power in the worst of conditions. Refrigerators, freezers, basement sump pumps, wells and HVAC (equipment) will still be running. No frozen pipes, no flooded basements and no spoiled food. “
Portable generators cost significantly less — you can purchase one for less than $1,000 and they don’t require permits and inspections. However, they are designed to run for only a short period of time, they provide less power to the home and have to be manually started.
“Most portable generators currently on the market have push-button starts, but still require someone to be home, start it up and plug it into the generator receptacle,” Badertscher said. “This is a good option for renters or for someone who wants to be able to take the generator with them if they move.”
It’s important that homeowners who invest in a standby generator hire a contractor who is properly licensed and is certified by the product manufacturer. Having an unqualified contractor install a generator could be a costly mistake if he or she doesn’t follow the proper building codes.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.