Keeping the Lights On

Emergency Generators

There's nothing worse than hearing the storm roll in and seeing the lights flicker. You know what happens next, and there's no way of knowing how long the outage will last. Whole-house generators are terrific; they can run on dry fuel, can be equipped with automated controls, and can carry the whole house load at once. That kind of convenience comes at a cost. A typical installation can approach (and sometimes exceed) $15,000.

Portables cost much less and can be just as effective, provided you're able to move them around and hook them up. If you're opposed to have cords running down your hallways, you'll want to have your electric panel wired for a emergency power. Any electrician can handle that work for a moderate fee.

So how much generator do you need? That all depends on what you want to run. It's pretty simple. Write down the appliances you'll want to power and add up their power consumption. You'll want to look for a wattage rating, but since everyone knows volts x amps = watts, we can figure that out even if only amps are known.

Start with the refrigerator, and most people I know have a second one in the garage. An average refrigerator will require around 600 watts to run.

What about air conditioning? You might think you don't need to size a generator for your A/C, but consider the effect of mold as a result of a prolonged outage. A 5-ton central A/C system draws around 35 amps (8,400 watts), however it requires over 100-amps (24,000 watts) to start. That's well beyond the capacity of just about any portable generator. But a 12,000 BTU window unit can run easily on as little as 3,000 watts. You can install a couple and move air around with strategically-placed fans. It won't be totally comfortable, but you'll escape having to perform mold remediation.

Forget about pool pumps, but count your well and septic lift pumps, if you have them. Don't forget ceiling fans and lights, but those typically aren't big deals. Try to avoid using the microwave too much; this is where the barbecue becomes the primary device. In the end, you can probably get away with a good quality 5,000 watt generator to keep your lights on, food cold, and humidity down during a prolonged outage. Keep plenty of fuel stored, and change the oil every 100-hours. Yes, that's only 4 days of constant use, so keep some oil on-hand.