Almost everyone experiences temporary power outages from time to time. In most cases, dealing with the situation entails little more than grabbing a phone and putting in a call to the power company. This simple gesture reassures us that the power company is aware of the outage and attempting to fix it. It also gives us an estimated timeframe for when the power will come back on which, for the most part, ranges from about an hour to four hours or so. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s easily manageable with a little patience and willingness to rough it for a short time.
That being said, not all power outages are so short-lived. If you’ve ever forged through an extended outage, you know just how upsetting it can be. Aside from that, such a scenario can even be costly and dangerous. For those who live in an area where prolonged outages are common or who simply want to be prepared in case something like this happens, portable or standby generators could be the solution. Of course, finding the right generator to cover your specific needs is crucial. Otherwise, you won’t be much better off than you would with no backup plan at all.
Understanding the Severity of Prolonged Power Outages
Those who have never been through an extended power outage generally believe that living without electricity is just a minor frustration. People on the other side of the fence might beg to differ, though. Without electricity, you can’t cook or heat food. You have no hot water for bathing or cleaning and no way to charge electronic devices.
Since the refrigerator isn’t getting power, you could lose hundreds of dollars worth of food. Having no heating and air conditioning and being unable to clean can lead to serious illnesses. On top of all that, power surges associated with outages can severely damage appliances and electronics, bringing about thousands of dollars in repair and replacement costs.
Looking at the Ongoing Increase in Power Outages
Not very long ago, extended power outages were fairly uncommon. That’s no longer the case. In fact, they’re becoming more common every year. According to a recent report, this is largely due to America’s aging power grid. This report states that a significant portion of the grid was put into place during the 1950s and ’60s, and it was designed to last about 50 years. That means most of the grid should have been upgraded anywhere from 10 to 20 years ago.
Due to a continually growing population and localized electricity issues, though, the power companies are struggling to keep up with the more widespread demands. They’re essentially having to ignore the bigger problem to deal with the smaller ones. This is only going to get worse moving forward, and it’s only part of the problem.
Another write-up points out that the number of power outages caused by severe weather has surged over the last several years. Climate change has brought about monumental changes in Earth’s weather patterns. Severe storms almost doubled from 1980 to 1999, and they increased by nearly as much from 2000 to the present. Those storms are placing even more strain on the nation’s power grid while causing an ever-growing number of widespread and prolonged power outages.
Choosing a Backup Generator to Mitigate the Problem
With all this in mind, more people than ever before are looking for backup generators for their homes. Numerous types of generators are on the market, so deciding which one is best suited to your needs can be difficult, to say the least. Considering a few key factors can help you determine which generator is best for your home and your unique needs.
Portable or Stationary?
In general, you have two basic categories of generators to choose from: portable and stationary. As the name indicates, portable generators can be moved around your property as needed during an outage. For example, you can place them in a certain spot to power the refrigerator, move them to another area to run the washing machine and dryer, and wheel them back around to connect to the refrigerator again.
For the most part, portable generators are less expensive than stationary models. Of course, the price difference is attributed to their lower power ranges and limited features. While larger portable generators are available that can power multiple lights and appliances, most of them are designed to run only a few electrical items. You’ll also need heavy-duty drop cords to connect those generators to your home and appliances.
On the other hand, stationary generators are permanently connected to your home via the electrical panel. In some cases, they even have their own electrical panels to prevent them from overloading the panel your home usually uses. Stationary generators, also known as standby generators, automatically take over when your home’s normal electrical supply is interrupted. You don’t have to manually plug appliances into these generators because they’re already connected.
Standby generators are generally more costly than portable ones. They also come with greater power capacities and more features. You’ll find standby generators that are meant to only power the basic essentials, such as a few lights and a couple of appliances, or models that can keep your entire house running. With these, there’s no need for drop cords or excess time and effort. That said, you’ll need to have them installed by a professional.
Your next major consideration is power capacity, or the amount of power generators are capable of producing. This entails considering your family’s needs and your expectations of the generator. Are you looking to keep the refrigerator, living room lights, and water heater going during an outage, or do you want to have all the conveniences you’d normally have?
Once you decide which appliances and fixtures you want the generator to power, it’s time to figure out how much wattage it needs to cover. Everything in your home draws watts from a power supply. When they’re drawing from the grid, they have all the electricity they could possibly need, and you simply get charged each month for how much they use. With a generator, you have to be sure it’ll be able to provide adequate amounts of power.
If you happen to have all the owner’s manuals for your appliances, they’ll tell you how much power is required to run them. You might also find this information on stickers on the appliances. Don’t overlook all the lights and other items you want the generator to operate. Having an electrician provide a professional assessment of your home’s power consumption is recommended. Otherwise, you might find that the generator you choose falls short of your expectations. Remember, if you want the generator to power your entire home during an outage, you’ll most likely need a standby model rather than a portable one.
Fuel or Solar
Generators need their own power supplies to do their jobs. Until fairly recently, gas-powered generators were the only option. Today, though, solar-powered generators are also available. Gas-powered generators can be connected to separate fuel tanks or your home’s natural gas line. If your home is already connected to a natural gas line for heat or to power some of your appliances, tapping into that connection for a standby generator may be the best alternative. It’ll give you a constant supply of fuel, and you won’t have to worry about refilling the generator’s gas tanks.
If you’re considering a portable generator or a standby model that uses a separate fuel tank, you’ll need to be able to refill the tank when the fuel runs low. That’s an extra expense that can really add up if you’re powering your entire home or using the generator for extended periods of time. Keep in mind, the more powerful the generator is and the more appliances and fixtures it’s connected to, the more fuel it’ll use. if you’re facing a prolonged power outage that’s affecting a large area, additional fuel may be difficult to come by.
That brings us to solar-powered generators. Right now, solar generators are more expensive to purchase than their fuel-powered counterparts. Solar standby generators come with additional material and installation costs as well. Since they draw their power from the sun, though, you won’t have the extra cost of fuel to contend with. They have much smaller environmental impacts than gas-powered models as well. Still, for a solar-powered generator to be effective and reliable, you’ll need to be in an area where it’ll receive ample sunlight.
All Things Considered
In light of the growing number of power outages, having a generator to fall back on is certainly a good idea. Small-scale, fuel-powered portable units are the least expensive up front, but they’re less powerful and more labor-intensive to use. They also require an ongoing supply of fuel that you’ll have to provide. If you want to continue on with life as usual during an outage, a whole-house standby generator that’s powered by solar or connected to a natural gas line would be the way to go.
You also have several options to choose from that fall in between the extreme ends of the spectrum. Consider your budget as well as your needs and expectations before making a final decision. Regardless of the model you choose, having a generator can save you a great deal of money and hassle in the long run.