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Should I Get a Standby Generator?

Having your power go out is never a good time. It causes you inconvenience and can ultimately cause a financial loss as well. I live a ways outside of the Kansas City area and when our power goes out in winter it is not too big of a deal. We get cold winters here along with blizzards and ice storms. I remember a few years back where we had the power go out for three whole days due to a bad blizzard. Over a foot of snow dropped within a day.

The good thing was that it was quite cold this entire time. We started our living room fireplace up and the surrounding area warmed up nicely. After that we went to our porch and dug a good sized hole in the snow. When we were done we got most of our refrigerator and freezer contents and set them in the hole outside. The temperature was cold enough that the contents stayed plenty cold. This was still a hassle, but we didn’t end up losing any food.

In the summertime though this can be an entirely different story. Kansas summers can be quite brutal. Weeks of one-hundred degree weather and high humidity. Having a power loss during these summer months can be rough. When these do occur it is typically due to a severe thunderstorm or even a passing tornado. After the power goes out the house will begin to warm up fast. If you do not have a generator the best you can do is hope the power comes back on before your produce spoils.

If you live in an area that has a lot of power failures either due to storms or just a poorly operated power grid then it may be time to consider generator options. Generators can provide your home with a short term power supply. Depending on the size of the generator you could have your entire home powered back on or just a select few appliances such as your refrigerator or freezer. It really depends on what you are looking for and what kind of investment you wish to make.

Standby VS Portable Generators

There are a couple types of generators out there on the market today. The most common type which you have most likely already heard of are known as portable generators. These units can be used to power your home but also your recreational vehicle or even during a camping trip. They can be hauled around with you and used as needed. The downsides of these units is that when a power loss does occur you have to haul out the generator, fill it up with fuel, then connect all the necessary extension cords to regain your power. In some cases this can be eased if you have a transfer switch installed on your circuit board but it can still be a hassle.

Portable generators are a great option if you wish to only power a few things in your home. They are cheaper then the standby models that we are going to get into next. They are also versatile and can be used in a variety of fashions. Their biggest downfall is that you have to constantly refuel them and they have to be setup with extension cords each and every time. You are also limited with their power supply. In many instances you will not be able to power your entire home with a portable unit.

The other alternative option here to provide your home with power are standby generators. While portable generators are just that, portable, a standby generator is a permanently fixed generator that is professionally installed at your home. They cannot be moved or changed. Standby generators are capable of providing power to your entire home including your hardwired appliances such as your furnace, air conditioner, and water heater. They also have sensors installed on your circuit board that can detect when a power loss occurs. If your power does go out your standby generator will sense this and automatically kick on a few seconds later. In most cases you will only notice a flicker in the lights as the power switches away from the grid and over to your generator.

Standby generators also do not need to be refueled. Well, let me rephrase that, they do not need to be refueled as often. Depending on your install your standby generator is either connected directly to your natural gas line or to large liquid propane tanks. If the generator is connected to your gas line then you will never need to refuel as it continuously pulls from the gas line. Just expect a larger then normal gas bill if you go a few days without power.

The other option is for it to be fed from a liquid propane tank. If you are out in the country chances are you already have a propane tank that is used to power your water heater, furnace, and even your oven. A few years back I had a farm on twenty acres and we had our eight-hundred gallon propane tank that we filled up once a year at the end of summer. Your standby generator could leverage this existing tank or if you wanted to you could have your own separate tank installed.

Should you Get a Standby Generator?

Alright folks now that we understand what a standby generator is the question we need to determine if you really need one or not. The first question I am going to ask you is how often do you expect to lose power? Is it one or two times a year? When you do lose power how long does it typically last? A few years back I lived on a farm out in the country on twenty plus acres. It was as peaceful as could be but we were a ways out from any town. We didn’t lose power often but when we did it could last four three or four days. I was almost to the point of purchasing a standby generator for our home when we decided to sell the farm and move back to town.

This would be an example where a standby could be necessary. Power losses can occur without warning and can last for an unknown amount of time. If you do live out in the country then a standby generator can give you reassurance. Even if you are in suburbia but in an area with turbulent weather it may make sense to look at standby generator options. As we discussed earlier, portable generators are a legitimate option as well. So, the question becomes which one do you choose?

In nearly every case it is going to be dependent on money. How much are you willing to invest into a generator system? A portable generator can cost anywhere between a couple-hundred dollars all the way up to a few thousand. It depends on what size you want and how much you want to power. Standby generators can range in cost significantly more. As an example a twenty-two kilowatt standby unit can cost anywhere between four to five-thousand dollars for the machine. You then have to pay for the install service by a certified electrician or technician at the generator dealership. Install costs are nearly the same as the initial purchase. So, all in you could be looking at a total price of eight to ten-thousand dollars for a fully installed standby system.

While that investment may seem like a lot you are able to recoup some of it as installing a standby system in your home can raise your home’s property value. From my research I found that these generators can increase your home’s value but by only about fifty percent of what you paid for the system. Using the same example from above on the ten-thousand dollar system/install your home could see its value raise by five-thousand dollars.

If you are serious about purchasing a standby system then you next need to determine what size of generator that your home needs. Ideally your generator will be able to power everything in your home without issue. Generator sizes are measured in the amount of watts they can produce. Portable units can start at only a hundred watts and go up to twelve-thousand. Standby systems typically start at around seven thousand watts and can range up to forty-eight thousand watts. Other common sizes are twelve thousand and twenty-two thousand watts.

Now a standard twenty-five hundred square feet home can normally get by on a twenty-two thousand watt standby system. I also recommend checking out this interactive generator sizing tool from Champion Power Equipment. It can be found by clicking here. This tool allows you to select common appliances and provides you with an estimate at the end of it. This estimate will give you a good idea of how many watts you need for your generator system. That being said, estimating can give you an idea of what you need but you should not purchase based on an estimate. It is always the best approach to go through your home and determine the true wattage needs of each and every appliance and electronic. This will allow you to properly gauge the exact size generator that you need.

One point to be aware of folks is what’s known as starting watts and running watts. If you follow the link above and went through the steps then you saw at the end of the tool there was a number for running watts and starting watts. These are very important to understand and know. Larger appliances need an extra kick of power when they are being turned on. An example of this is an air conditioner. To start an air conditioner the compressor needs to be kicked on. Starting the compressor can take an initial surge of power also known as starting watts. This is why you are determining the wattage needs in your home you may find that your AC has a starting watts number and a running watts number. After the AC has been turned on the starting watts amount goes away and shrinks back down to running watts. Here is the important part. If you do NOT have enough starting watts in your generator then you will not be able to turn on your air conditioner. Simple as that.

Another factor to consider here before purchasing a standby generator is the noise level. Now, if you are out in the country then chances are noise isn’t going to matter much to you. But, if you are in suburbia and have close neighbors then you could get a complaint about the noise level. A standby generator can be about as loud as a lawn mower running nearby. Remember that this is an engine that is producing mechanical power that is being converted to electricity. It is not going to be quiet.

If noise is a problem for you then you could look at what’s known as portable inverter generators. These inverter generators are very quiet, about as loud as dishwasher running nearby. The problem with these is that the amount of watts they produce are significantly smaller then what most homes need. Inverter systems are typically used for camping or powering an RV. You would be hard pressed to find an inverter that can power most of your home. If you are in a situation where noise is a problem though then perhaps purchase an inverter generator and just power your refrigerator/freezer so no food goes to waste.

The last point here to make is on maintenance. I said it before but standby generators are engines. They are machines. They need maintenance to have a long life. The good news is that once installed the maintenance on standby systems is not too extensive. Most of the time this includes just checking the oil level and topping it off if needed. You should be changing the oil after ten days of use as well. Lastly, replacing the filter a few times a year is recommended. If you are not comfortable with doing these yourself it is recommended to hire a professional. The dealer where you bought your generator should have a maintenance program where their technicians can come to your home to maintenance your unit.

Conclusion

As you can see from the content above there is a lot to consider before purchasing a standby generator. If after reading this article you have decided to look into purchasing a standby generator then let us first look at the most common brand names out there today. There are five main brands out there but the most popular is Generac. Generac generators carry nearly seventy percent market share when it comes to twenty-two thousand watt standby generators. They have twenty-four hour seven days a week customer service and are located out of Wisconsin. If I was to purchase a generator Generac would be the name I go with. Their website can be found by clicking here.

Another reputable brand within the industry is Briggs and Stratton. I am sure you have heard of them before. Chances are you or your neighbor have a tool or appliances that uses a Briggs and Stratton engine. (My old zero turn lawn mower did.) Like Generac, Briggs & Stratton is based out of Wisconsin and offers US based customer service. Cummins is yet another brand out there. They are known for their various engine designs and applications but they also have their own line of generators that range from thirteen to twenty kilowatts. Their generators are also known for operating in cold temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit.

For those of you who have purchased portable generators you will recognize this next brand known as Champion. Champion offers a variety of portable generators such as this one here found on Amazon. They have sold over two million generators throughout the United States. As you can surmise, they also offer a line of standby generator models. They come with a unrivaled ten year warranty and can run in temperatures as cold as negative twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit.

The last brand I want to bring to your attention is Kohler. Kohler is seen by many as a rival to Generac. The other brands I mentioned above are all great but Kohler is seen as one of the top. They are seen as directly competing with Generac. They offer a fourteen kilowatt model as well as a twenty kilowatt. Their units also operate at a relatively low volume at around sixty-nine decibels. That is much lower then some other models that can be as high as one-hundred decibels.

Ok folks, so now I believe you have an idea of if you should get a standby generator and what kind of brand names to look out for. The last bit of advice I am going to leave with you is to consult an electrician or a dealer of one of the generator brand names I mentioned above. I say this because purchasing and installing a standby system is a lot of work and requires a certain skill set. You do not want to guess your way through this. Get the help from a professional and make your purchase decision with their aid. If you feel you are being overcharged then check out a different dealer or brand name that we mentioned above.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

ToughAssTools.com

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