Spring is a great time of rebirth. The birds are chirping, the grass greens up and the flowers bloom. But for all that beauty, spring rains, wind and hail can leave you wet and without power. With last year’s severe weather in the U.S., there was a huge increase in people buying generators to use as backup power for their homes. Manufacturers continue to work around the clock to meet the demand. But finding the right unit for your home, then using it safely, raises many questions for most homeowners. "Today" contributor Lou Manfredini was invited on the "Today" show to discuss the ins and outs of home generators.
If you live in a home with a basement and have a sump pump, which most of us have, you need to ensure that your primary pump is working correctly and that you have some type of backup pump. Most insurance companies cap the amount they will pay if your basement floods due to a power outage. A simple unit like the Basement Watch-Dog (basementwatchdog.com) can ensure that when the power goes out the water will still get pumped away from your home. Units like these can run for up to three days when cycling on and off. They cost about $600, with battery, and you can install them yourself. It is the cheapest form of insurance you can buy to keep your home safe from flooding when the power goes out.
While backup pumps will keep your basement dry, they will not keep the lights on or the fridge running. Portable generators, when sized correctly, may be the answer for you. There are many different makers out there: Generac, Coleman, and Honda, as well as others. Sizing these based on what you want them to do is the key. Portable generators are sized according to their wattage of output. A 1,000 watt generator is small and can run a TV, a lamp, and maybe one other small appliance. A 2,000 watt generator could run your main sump pump, a couple of lights and a small power tool. Move up to 3,500 to 5,000 watts and you can run the pump, some lighting, maybe a small refrigerator, a microwave and some tools.
All are protected by fuses, so if you overload them the fuses will trip to protect the unit. Portable units are great because they are lightweight and easy to start. Prices are wide-ranging, depending on the quality of the units, but you can expect to pay from about $500 to $3,500 for better quality portable units in the sizes I mentioned earlier. Safety considerations must be adhered to when using these units. Always use portable generators outdoors, never in the garage or in a closed space, as the fumes contain carbon monoxide. Ensure that you place the unit in an area that allows air to flow freely around it to keep it cool when running, and use good quality outdoor extension cords (#12 gauge heavy-duty cords are preferred, and it's best not to run them longer than 50 feet). To learn more go to: hondapowerequipment.com
While portable units can service your emergency needs there are some drawbacks: They run on gasoline, you need to be around to set them up, and they can only power so much. Whole house permanent backup systems have become increasingly popular. These units are installed next to your home, much like the air conditioning condensing unit that’s outside your home now. These units run on either natural gas or propane. If sized correctly they can run your entire home, all the lighting, the pump, furnace, air-conditioning and even the refrigerator. These units are automatic. An electrician will install an automatic transfer switch next to your electrical panel, or if you are building a new home, it can be integrated into one unit. When power is lost, the transfer switch detects the loss within a few seconds, and tells the generator to kick on. In a matter of 30 seconds or so your home can have full power and run indefinitely, as long as natural gas or propane is available. When the power comes back the transfer switch will sense that the power grid is back online, shut the unit off and connect your home back onto the power grid. These units self test themselves each week to make sure everything is operating and ready to go when you need it. The cost is $7,500 to $50,000, depending on the size. To learn more go to: kohlerpower.com
Finally, I cannot stress enough that you need to be prepared for Mother Nature. Make sure you have some type of emergency kit available to you and your family. There are many kits out there, but I found an affordable option at: americanfamilysafety.com. They have taken all of the recommendations of the Department of Homeland Security and put a home kit together for under $70. I hope you never need it, but there is comfort in having one.
E-mail Lou Manfredini at