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Standby Emergency Generator Basics

Coping in a Natural Disaster Isolated From the National Power Grid

© 2009 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

A standby emergency generator provides electricity during a power outage

A standby emergency generator provides electricity during a power outage

This article was last updated on 07/11/20.

When a natural disaster occurs, an emergency backup generator is as important as a disaster preparedness kit. Rolling blackouts in California, hurricanes in the southland, and ice storms across the prairies of the US and Canada! Be ready with an alternate power supply and an automatic transfer switch.

The question: When is the prime time to purchase, hook up, and function test a backup power supply?

The answer: Before a natural disaster has a chance to occur. Have you ever waited to make a trip to the home improvement store for plywood to board up windows, batteries for the flashlight, and a disaster emergency kit? It’s frustrating and often futile.

Disaster Preparation: Make a Plan Now

Certainly human safety, water supplies, and canned goods are critical, but creature comforts are also high on your list of priorities. A hurricane making landfall doesn’t always spell out evacuation, but it ensures that your and your family’s lives is going to be disrupted. Not an enviable situation.

Frozen as well as fresh food trumps beans and Spam out of the can any day of the week. An ice storm accompanied by a power blackout spells misery when your home relies of electricity-generated heat. An emergency backup generator of the right capacity will solve all these problems.

It’s important to make your insurance company aware of a new generator and update your homeowners insurance policy.

How to Perform an Electrical Equipment Load Analysis

Performing an electrical load assessment on your home is key to determining the power output a new generator needs to provide. First, calculate the running load and the surge wattage.

Surge wattage is what happens when there is a sudden additional power need. A good example is when your central air conditioner system cycles. To a slightly lesser degree, when a refrigerator compressor kicks in.

Calculate the surge wattage by figuring the greatest demand and then multiply that by a factor of three. Then, the running load may be found by adding the cumulative wattages of all the appliances that will be included on the home “power grid”.

Where Should the the Back-Up Generator be Set Up?

The main danger associated with this appliance is obviously carbon monoxide which kills many people each year. This is the same invisible deadly gas that your car exhausts. A second and minor annoyance is of course the loud noise it makes. Ideally, the generator should be situated outside of your home with sufficient air circulation. Never place it in an unvented garage or beneath a backyard deck or porch.

Also keep in mind, it’s a good idea to have it elevated above grade on a sturdy platform to guard against flooding. It is also recommended to erect a shelter for it, like a small roof that’s strong enough to keep ice, rain, and small branches from striking it.

Optionally, Have a Professional Install an Automatic Transfer Switch

The easiest way to transfer electricity from the standby generator to your home’s electrical circuits and critical appliances is with a special heavy-duty extension cord, but is this really the optimal solution? Don’t count on it, and it might be dangerous as well.

A superior solution is to contract a licensed electrician to install an automatic transfer switch. A quality switch will sense when the electricity drops off and transfers the power source from the external electrical grid to the generator. After all, you don't want to be fumbling around in the dark.

The switch is so fast that your digital clocks won’t reset and flash zeros and your HVAC will not cut off.

On the other hand, a manual switch is thrown by hand. The switch also makes sure that electricity won’t unintentionally flow from the generator back onto the grid, which poses a serious danger to any lineman who might be working on the system.

Research and Obey Local Electrical Building Codes

It can’t be too strongly pointed out to have the installation completed professionally by a professional licensed electrician. In many cases, the local electrical building code requires pulling a building permit and a visit by the electrical inspector.

Hopefully this information on standby emergency generator basics has helped you, especially if you live in a disaster-prone area. If it has, I would appreciate if you would forward it to a friend or co-worker who could benefit as well.

Visit Kelly's profile on Pinterest.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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