Losing power as a kid can be fun. As an adult? Not so much. Navigating by flashlight is a mild inconvenience — but flushing the toilet with a bucket of water gets old really fast.
Whether you’re dealing with a power interruption or a brownout, electric backup generators can keep your lights on, keep your appliances running, save perishable food and power essential equipment (like your well pump!) and electronics during a power outage.
But the downside is that backup generators can also be expensive, noisy and can pose safety hazards. Should you get one? If so, how will you choose? And how to operate it safely?
Read on for important backup generator tips and considerations.
Here’s what you need to consider when deciding whether you should invest in a backup generator.
Do you own certain devices or equipment that need to keep functioning in the event of a loss of power? How crucial is it for you to have power during an extended outage? This is especially important if you are dependent on life-support equipment or require special heating or cooling needs for a medical condition.
If you rely on electric or battery-dependent medical technologies such as assistive technology, breathing machines, a power wheelchair or scooter, and home oxygen or dialysis, it is critical that you have a plan in place for an extended power outage.
Are there community ordinances where you live or work that restrict or limit the decibel level allowance for outdoor equipment?
Backup generators can cost up to thousands of dollars — can you afford the investment? Take your other immediate needs into consideration as you examine which generator option may be the best choice for you.
If you decide to purchase a backup generator, explore what will work for you. Factors to consider include:
Generators can produce enough electricity to power your phone and laptop or power your whole home. Your first step should be selecting a model that meets the power needs for all devices you want the generator to support. This is measured in wattage, with more devices requiring a higher wattage output.
Start with creating a worksheet listing the power requirements for each device you want to support with the backup generator. These values can be found easily on most appliances and electronics. Add these values up, and select a generator that exceeds that resulting number.
A majority of homeowners can get by with a 3,000 to 6,500-watt portable generator during a power outage to power necessities like HVAC, lights, refrigerators and other small appliances.
If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, consider a home standby generator with wattage ranging from 6,000 to 150,000. These generators, which require professional installation away from openings in your home, are hard-wired directly into your home’s electrical system, and can be installed to power-select appliances or to provide whole house coverage.
While most portable generators run on gasoline, there are more options on the market now. Propane, natural gas, and even solar power, are all choices available for reasonable costs. Consider which type of fuel will work best for your individual needs and select accordingly.
Your preference may be determined by environmental concerns, accessibility, affordability and available space for secure generator storage. For example, it might be hard to find a safe space to store gasoline if you live in an apartment or condo.
Portable generators now come with many added features that can make operation simpler and more efficient. These include things like automatic and electric start, mufflers, and integrated fuel gauges. Know which extras you need and can afford and make sure your selection has them.
Connecting one or more appliances or devices to a portable generator is usually a simple matter. Any device that has a cord can be plugged into the sockets located on the generator itself. It is usually best to plug it in directly, since an extension cord can affect the powered devices’ performance.
Since most portable generators are placed outside, however, it may be necessary to use an extension cord. Since running multiple cords from the devices to the generator can be hazardous, pick one that has multiple outlets. This allows you to keep things neat and tidy and reduce the possibility of tripping or an unsightly appearance. Make sure the cord has thick insulation; otherwise it could overheat and start a fire.
If you don’t understand how to use your backup generator, you risk damaging your property, endangering your life and endangering the lives of utility employees who may be working on power lines in your community.
You’ll notice that some backup generators are listed as CARB compliant. CARB stands for California Air Resource Board, a state agency that is responsible for keeping a lid on air sanitation, as well as pollution from cars. While the designation would seem to refer to only California, other states also use the CARB standards. Make sure you choose a generator that meets your state’s requirements.
For your safety, you need to understand and follow all safety instructions provided by the manufacturer. Never connect any generator to another power source, including your power lines.
Having a portable backup generator when the power goes out can be a blessing, one well worth the time and expense it takes to acquire it. Understanding these basic considerations should easily lead you to a positive experience.
Want to know if you are in a high-fire threat district? Check out the CPUC FireMap.