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Choosing A Standby Generator

In 2003, the north-eastern power grid collapsed due to a
fuel shortage. Power was out for up to a
week in multiple states and part of Canada, with an estimated 45 million
Americans and 10 million Canadians left without electric lights and heat.


Fortunately, that event has caused many revisions in how our
electrical grid works. There has not
been a repeat occurrence of such a disastrous event since. But even with the increases in cheap and
renewable energy, outages still occur on a fairly regular basis. Most are scheduled, others are localized due
to storms and damage.

Either way, a winter storm is the worst time to be caught
without power. Falling trees,
overburdened power lines, and the potential for a damaged power transformer
from such a high heating demand can lead to hours without power. If you’re home uses electricity for heating
or you have some form of medical equipment (even something as small as a sleep
apnea machine), losing power can be disastrous.
Enter the automatic standby generator!

These generators are capable of running practically
everything in your house. Depending on
the size of the unit, this could be done all at once or for a small set of
important electrical items. The key is that they can be designed to trigger
automatically, substituting for the missing grid power as soon as an emergency
starts. They also shut down once power
is restored to the grid. A few designs
are also installed to deactivate certain dedicated circuits to preserve power.


There are multiple styles and types of generators. The standby generator we’ve mentioned is only
one type. Both manually activated and
standby generators are also defined by the type of fuel they use to generate
electricity. The size, storage, and
measurement of fuel for your generator varies between gasoline and propane
generators. For stationary models (which
is what we’re talking about), getting a generator with a 250-gallon tank can
last you for one to two weeks before it needs to be refilled.

You could also choose to use a portable generator, at which
point your looking at an average of 18-gallons of gasoline per day, or an
average of 6 20-pound propane cylinders.



When we take about size for a standby generator, we aren’t
referring to the physical size of the generator. That matters (because you need the physical
room for it) but we’re more concerned with the power output of the
generator. How heavy of a load can your
generator carry, and how many things can it power at once?

Bear in mind that while you may have a 200-amp electrical
panel at home, you’re virtually never using all 200 amps at once. If you are using all 200 amps, you should
consider upgrading your panel (I’d also be interested in what kind of project
you’re working on that requires that much current regularly). There’s no need to get a generator that can
max out the electrical panel, just one that’s capable of running devices in an

You can find generators with power outputs between 7 and 48
Kw. For comparison, a 7 Kw generator is
enough to power two light circuits, your refrigerator, a furnace blower fan,
and your computer. The more things you
try to run (such as additional lights, cleaning appliances, or heavy-duty air
conditioners), the larger your generator will need to be. The best way to know what kind of generator
you need is to get the help of the professional.


Aside from considering the environmental impact of certain
types of generators, there is a legal restriction on the type and size of
generator you can use at home, and it’s by neighborhood. There are legal limits on how much sustained
noise we are allowed to generate. These
limits are based on decibel rating and distance from the source. Be sure to check your local ordinance before
you buy a new generator.