If you should lose power at your home, how would you respond? Do you have a stockpile of flashlights and candles, just in case? How will you prepare meals or run water when the electricity has gone out?
Although the typical power outage in Maryland does not last for very long, it is possible for the power to go out for several days in a row. Should that happen, it pays to be prepared.
What Is a Standby Generator?
A standby generator is connected to your electrical system, and it is designed to switch on and provide power to your home once the main source of electricity is cut off. A standby generator is different from other types of generators in that it is permanently installed and is usually connected to either a natural gas line or a propane tank. If you have a standby generator, it will power on automatically whenever your home loses power. You will not have to go out and fill it up with fuel or switch on the motor yourself.
Standby generators are just one type of generator or backup power source. Other power options include portable generators and inverters. Inverters and portable generators typically provide less power than home standby generators. A large portable generator might be able to power up to 7,500 watts, which would keep many, but not all, of the appliances in a typical home going. A standby generator can usually supply around 20,000 watts of power — more than enough to keep all of the appliances in a modern home operating.
A portable generator can be a good option if power outages are few and far between or if there are times when you need electricity at an outdoor event. However, a standby generator is ideal if you are looking for an always-ready backup source of power for your entire home. For example, if someone in your home uses medical equipment that always needs to be on, a generator ensures the power to that equipment will not be cut. Additionally, if you have young children or older adults in your home, they tend to be more sensitive to excessively hot and cold temperatures. A generator can help them stay comfortable by keeping a heater or an air conditioning unit operating. If you live in an area that has been affected by extreme weather events in the past, such as hurricanes or blizzards, a generator can provide you with added peace of mind.
Home standby generators are available in a range of sizes. The size that is right for your home depends on how many appliances you will need to keep operating in the event of a power outage, not the square footage of your home. Standby generators are measured in kilowatts (kW). The size of the generator refers to how many kilowatts of power it produces. A 6kW generator can provide 6 kilowatts (or 6,000 watts) of power. A massive, 150kW generator will provide 150 kilowatts of power (or 150,000 watts).
How a Standby Generator Works
True to its name, once installed on your property, a standby generator is standing by, waiting for its moment to shine. The generator is connected to the existing wiring in your home and to an automatic transfer switch. Under normal conditions, the automatic transfer switch keeps power flowing through the home from the primary power supply.
If power stops coming from the primary source, the automatic transfer switch springs into action. It switches the power supply from the utility company to the standby generator. The generator powers on and starts delivering electricity to your home. The entire process takes just a few seconds, meaning you might be in the dark for less than 10 seconds, and then everything will be back up and running quickly. Once power starts flowing from the utility company again, the automatic transfer switch senses it and once again changes the source of power, this time away from the generator and back to the utility lines.
Once the standby generator is no longer needed, it powers down and goes back into standby mode, waiting for the next time it will be needed.
For the most part, you do not need to worry about refueling your home’s standby generator. If you use natural gas to heat your home or power your water heater or stove, you can connect your standby generator to the gas line. The generator will always have fuel and be ready to go, as long as the gas line remains connected.
Another option is to connect your generator to a supply of propane. If you use propane to heat your home and water and to power other appliances, it can make sense to have it power your standby generator, as well. Signing up for automatic propane delivery will help to ensure your generator and other home appliances always have an adequate supply of fuel.
Five Reasons to Buy a Standby Generator
Is a generator necessary? If you have ever experienced a power outage that lasted more than a few hours, the answer is yes. A standby generator offers many benefits, which can help to offset its upfront cost.
1. Offers Comfort and Protection During Power Outages
For the first little while, a power outage at home can seem like a fun adventure. You and your family might race around the house looking for flashlights, candles and lanterns. If the power does not come on after an hour or two, however, that adventure can quickly turn into an inconvenience:
- Depending on the type of stove and oven you have, you will not be able to cook or even boil water when the power is out.
- You do not want to open the refrigerator or freezer doors, as you want to keep as much cold air inside them as possible.
- In some homes, you may not be able to flush the toilet or have access to hot water during a power outage.
- You cannot watch TV or use a desktop computer without a source of electricity.
- You will eventually need to charge devices such as a laptop and smartphone.
With a standby generator in place, you do not need to put your life on hold during a power outage. Since the automatic transfer switch immediately diverts the power supply from the utility line to your generator, you will be able to continue with your regular activities, basically without interruption.
Installing a standby generator at your home can also help you and your family members stay comfortable during a loss of power. If you lose power in the middle of a summer storm, the generator will keep your air conditioner running. Should a power outage happen during the colder months, the generator will provide electricity to keep your heat pump or other types of heating systems going.
Finally, a generator can help to protect your home by keeping the necessary equipment operating during a storm. If you have a sump pump, for example, the generator can continue to supply power to it, so that your basement does not flood. The generator will also keep your well pump going so that you have a source of clean water.
2. Provides Peace of Mind During Hurricanes and Storms
Gearing up for hurricanes, tropical storms and other extreme weather events can be stressful. You not only want to make sure you have an adequate supply of food, water and other necessities, but you also want to make sure your home will be able to withstand any damage from the storm.
Having a generator that is ready to go in the event of an emergency or power loss helps to give you peace of mind. You no longer need to worry about preparing for a potential loss of power, as you know that your generator will be there to pick up the slack should the supply from the utility company get cut off. With a standby generator on your property, you have one less thing to worry about during hurricane season.
3. Is Always Ready to Go
If you are wondering whether you should buy a portable generator or a standby generator, it helps to consider how they are powered. While a portable generator can provide a convenient source of power for special events or outdoor activities, it might not be the best option if you are looking for a reliable backup in the event of a power outage. While you can connect a portable generator to an automatic transfer switch, it is usually very costly to do so. You also need to manually flip the switch yourself when you use a portable generator. Portable generators typically run on gasoline as well, so they will need regular refueling.
A standby generator is hooked up to your home and is ready to spring into action the second the supply from the utility lines gets cut off. You do not need to flip the switch, as it senses the loss of power and makes the conversion for you. When power is restored to your home, the transfer switch changes back to the primary power source automatically.
Another benefit of a standby generator is that you typically do not need to keep an eye on the fuel level. If it is connected to a natural gas line, the source of fuel will be provided automatically by your local gas company. If your generator is powered by propane, keeping your home’s propane tank full will ensure the generator always has enough fuel.
4. Helps You Avoid Financial Loss from Power Outages
The average home in the U.S. experiences 1.3 power outages annually, and the average duration of a power outage is around four hours. Even a power outage that lasts for just a few hours can end up costing a homeowner a significant amount of money. If you lose power and have a refrigerator full of food, for instance, the odds are likely that the food will spoil if the outage lasts for several hours or for days. You will need to replace the spoiled food, increasing your grocery bill for the month.
An ongoing power outage has additional costs, too. When you do not have electricity, your home might be uninhabitable until the power comes back. Unless you have friends or family members nearby who can open their homes to you, you will most likely need to pay for a hotel or other accommodations until power returns. Depending on the type of hotel you stay in, the time of year and the length of your stay, you can end up paying several hundred dollars or more.
A power outage can also increase the risk of damage to your home, from pipes that burst to flooding that occurs when the sump pump stops working. It does not take much water for significant damage to occur. Just an inch of water can cause up to $25,000 worth of damage.
Having a standby generator on your property will ensure your sump pump keeps pumping, the heat keeps flowing and your refrigerator remains operational, reducing the cost and risk of financial loss after a power outage.
5. Can Reduce Your Homeowner’s Insurance Premiums
A standby generator can provide another financial benefit: Installing one can mean your insurance company is willing to lower your homeowner’s insurance premium. Your homeowner’s insurance will likely need to pay some amount to cover the cost of damage associated with a storm and a loss of power. Having a generator permanently installed on your property reduces the risk of expensive damage, potentially reducing the cost to the insurance provider. Many insurance companies are happy to pass on some of that cost savings to you, in the form of lower premiums.
Contact your homeowner’s insurance company to see if it offers a discount or premium reduction to people who have a standby generator. Before you buy and install the generator, it is a good idea to verify your insurance company’s requirements. The insurer will most likely require you to show proof that the generator is permanent and that it has been installed by a professional. If a discount is available, it might reduce your premiums by as much as 10%.
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