Peace of mind is priceless, although we all have budget limitations so we have to prioritize. Many homeowners though, are moving a home generator to the top of their list of home improvements … for peace of mind. Why?
Weather patterns have shifted significantly over the last few years. We're getting flooding, lots of wind storms, ice and snow storms with increasing regularity … and the reverse too, droughts where farmers need water. The question is whether you want to wait for one of these emergencies to leave you without power for several days, or do you want to plan ahead by installing a generator so you know you're prepared for almost anything.
What Does a Home Generator Do?
While not an expert on generators, I recognize how critical they are for homeowners during power outages. We've had several outages in New England recently so it was time to do some research, learn a bit more, and then share what I've learned. My advice is also based on using a generator for 2 days when we lost power due to hurricane force winds hitting the NH seacoast. The wind blew out utility equipment which started a fire and an entire city block went up in flames … so my inconvenience wasn't bad in comparison. It was an adventure after borrowing the generator from a peer handyman owner, and I was able to hook up refrigerators for several neighbors to save their frozen food.
Here are some tips for safe use of a home emergency generator (from a woman's perspective). If your home looses power every year, i.e. you live or have a vacation home in a remote location prone to power outages, you need to design a more permanent emergency backup system (not addressed here).
- Buy a heavy duty generator that's reliable and be sure to get a generator that has wheels on one side so you don't need to worry about lifting it.
- When you buy the generator, also get some heavy duty extension cords (they also have ones that split and support multiple extensions) that are safe to use outside and powerful enough to run a refrigerator, hot water heater or whatever you decide to power up.
- You must run the generator outside as the fumes given off can be deadly. Even when running it outside, be sure the fumes are coming into your home through the open door/window where you're running the power cords and if you must, then make sure you have enough ventilation.
- When you have your generator on the ground level, it's a good idea to chain the generator to your home. Lots of generators are stolen as the outages continue and nerves get frayed, and there aren't any more supplies to buy in the store.
- Your generator will run off gasoline. Keep 5 gallon cans to pick up the gasoline when you need it but don't keep large amounts of gasoline in your home
- Your first priority is the safety of your family. Keep an easy to find supply of flashlights and/or battery powered lanterns and please don't rely on candles for your only lighting.
After safety, you'll want to power up your refrigerator to save the food in your freezer. You cannot re-freeze food once it's thawed so unless you want to do a lot of cooking, it's better to save this food which is worth quite a bit. My next and favorite, was powering up the hot water heater long enough to take my morning shower. You don't realize how nice a hot shower is until you go a day without power. Our home never got really cold as we heat with gas and were able to get the fireplace started without the electric ignition.
When writing my newsletter that covers the annual home improvement “Cost versus Value” report, I was surprised to see that generators were added to the list of top 25 home improvements in 2009. Maybe you'll be more comfortable investing in this new home feature once you realize that on resale, you can expect to recoup more than 50% of the cost?
Here is the the description of the Back-Up Power Generator, in Remodeling Magazine's 2008 Cost vs Value Report.
“Install Guardian or similar electrical back-up system with capacity for providing 70 amps of emergency power in two 240-volt circuits and six 120-volt circuits. Assume existing LP gas supply. Include generator mounted on 2×4 concrete or composite pad; automatic transfer switch, load center; exterior disconnect, and grounding rod. Include 30 feet of conduit and electrical cable for generator connections; grounded cable for circuits; 5 feet of flexible fuel line for connection to existing rigid gas supply line; and automotive-type storage battery.”