Any homeowner who’s been hit by a lengthy power outage knows the inconvenience of being in the dark. Luckily, the right residential generator can meet both budget and power requirements to provide temporary electricity during emergencies.
The number of homeowners installing generators is rising, says Lucrecia Gomez, research analyst for global market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Valued at $210 million in 2005, the North American residential generator market is expected to reach $640.1 million by 2012.
Home-based businesses are helping to drive the growth. “Unsaved data can be lost, and depending on the size of the company and type of business, there is potential for serious loss of revenues,” says Gomez.
So how do you choose a generator?
There are two basic types. Portable generators, the less expensive of the two, have built-in fuel tanks and run on either gasoline or propane, which must be purchased and stored safely. Gasoline must be stored away from children and pets in a well-ventilated area; it loses its effectiveness if left unused.
Consumers plug appliances directly into the generator. “The average portable will only run the basic needs, such as a TV, room air conditioning, and limited lighting via an extension cord that must be run through a door or window,” says Jennifer Wilson, spokeswoman for home improvement retailer Lowe’s.
Unlike portable units, standby generators are hardwired into the home’s electrical system. They run on propane or natural gas that comes directly from the local utility, making personal fuel storage unnecessary. Electricians take care of the installation, and the generators typically start automatically when power is lost.
The next thing to consider is how much power you’ll need. The more the generator can support, the more it will cost, so plan to power up only necessary areas of the home, such as the kitchen and office. In addition, some devices require more watts of electricity to start up than to run; if so, go with the higher number. Or you can consult an electrician to determine how much electricity various appliances and devices use.
Another consideration is cost. “The average portable costs around $600 to $700 for about 5,000 watts of power,” says Wilson. “Standby generators start at around $2,000 for a basic 7,000-watt unit and as much as $15,000 for 45,000 watts of backup power.”
There are also important safety factors to consider when using generators, particularly portable generators, which involve greater risk, says Mark W. Earley, assistant vice president at the National Fire Protection Association.
Generators emit carbon monoxide, so keep them outside and away from doors, windows, and vent openings.
Don’t overload the unit. And plug in the largest appliance first, advises Wilson. Earley suggests plugging in the most important appliance. Plug in others one at a time.
Never add fuel while the generator is running. “That could cause an explosion,” warns Earley.
Although power outages are out of everyone’s control, generators can offer some peace of mind. Investing in a generator is “about being prepared for a storm, rather than reacting after the storm,” says Gomez.
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