Buying a Backup Generator System: What to do Before you Buy

em4000sx_pe_imglg_1This winter has served as a constant reminder that having a backup generator system in place isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Of particular concern are extended power outages which can run for days or even weeks before power is restored.  Under these circumstances it makes sense, particularly in areas where severe weather is common, to consider some form of backup power system.

The time to start doing the required homework before buying a backup generator system is before the lights go out. Here are some of the considerations to take into account selecting, buying and installing a system.

The more expensive standby generator systems can power an entire energy-efficient house. Here doing the calculations to determine the right standby generator is fairly straightforward and can be done by looking at the electrical bill for the total of wattage used during the months when use is at its highest level. The number can be padded somewhat to provide a cushion. Then it’s simply a matter of buying a standby generator system that can meet demand at its highest level of use.

If a whole house generating system isn’t an option, a determination of what is essential to be kept running in the event of a power outage must be made. A good starting point is to define the critical loads of essential appliances and equipment. An option here is to check whether or not there are non-electrical solutions when power goes out.

One of these alternatives could be a properly vented space heater. The heater could use wood, oil, natural gas or propane, which could help keep the house warm while the heater is off. The caveat here is to never burn fuel in an unvented situation as the gases produced by burning can be toxic and/or lethal.

Energy efficiency can play a large role in the level of power a generator will have to deliver. Proper home insulation as well as energy saving appliances and heating equipment can reduce the demand load dramatically, which could reduce the cost of the generator by a material amount.

Once the required wattage of the lights, appliances, and other necessities is determined, pad the amount by 20% to 25% to ensure that the standby generator can easily cover all electrical requirements.

Once the right generator system has been determined, have an electrician or electrical contractor do the installation to make sure it’s done properly. After installation, be sure to run the generator periodically to test that it can power the  designated circuits and keep them running when an outage occurs.

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