In Jackson County, we ran into a summertime power outage a few years back, I believe summer of 2021. During this outage, we were all fortunate that temperatures stayed warm since it was the summer. Living in the country and going without power for 6 days like we did is bound to teach some lessons. We, like many other rural home owners were on well water. When you lose power, you also lose your ability to use the water. When on City Water and sewer, you still have that supply and basic plumbing functionality. Additionally, with many people choosing to cut the phone land line and go to just cellular, you needed to keep your phone battery in mind as well. As I write this, many have their power back on from our current storm. We are down to less than 5% or 35k people without power according to Consumers, and of course we are still in that group as we are now into our fifth day without power. We are very glad that we prepared ourselves with a generator this time, and here is what I learned along the way.
Generators- The different types
Generators can either be automatic, or portable. With an automatic system, when the power goes out, the generator will automatically kick on. It is tied into your natural gas or propane and you don’t miss much without the main power from your energy provider. These systems are quite costly, but they are the easiest to use.
With a portable generator, you have to go turn it on when it is needed, and make sure you add your fuel source to it. You will also need to connect it to what needs power whenever that situation arises. These are far less expensive than an automatic generator.
Generators- Ways to connect
When it comes to connecting your generator to your items that need power, there are multiple ways. The most basic way is that generators have outlets on the side of them. So, if you buy a generator, you can plug extension cords in and connect those outlets to whatever you want to plug into them in your home. This is the cheapest method, but not necessarily the most impactful way to use your generators power. You can not run your furnace this way, so you will be looking at space heaters or using a fireplace for heat.
The next way to connect is to purchase a manual transfer switch. A manual transfer switch mounts next to your main electric panel in your home. This transfer switch will have different circuits that it can run. It will be wired into your main panel and you will select the number of circuits that the transfer switch can run. If you have a transfer switch, you may select eight different circuits for example from your main panel (number is determined by the number of circuits in the transfer switch you buy) that you want to have power when the generator is running. You will need to make sure you have them sat up properly as circuits like a well may require a replacement, larger breaker, and you may need to make sure that your energy load is balanced. Outside of your home you will have an outlet. This outlet will have a large extension that can connect to it and the other end will go to a bigger outlet on your generator. Now when power goes out, you go start your generator, plug in your cord to your home, and flip the switches in your manual transfer switch. Now you have your furnace, refrigerator, well, and other main essentials running. A transfer switch will help to protect line workers from being injured due to back feeding electricity into the main lines that lead to your home. This is very important. They are also reasonably priced by comparison to the automatic generator, though they do require more work.
The third method of connecting is what you may see with newer construction. When a newer home is built, when asked to install a backup generator outlet, the builders can put a breaker in your main electrical panel that is for your generator. This will have a lock on it. In order to turn on the generator, you would have to manually switch off the main power to the home from your energy provider, then slide the lock to keep that from being turned back on, and that in turn unlocks your generator breaker. You would make sure that you still started your generator, and then connected it to your outlet on the side of your home (also installed like the manual transfer switch) installed by the builders in this case. Now when you do it this way, the lock is in place to prevent back feeding. You can now switch whichever breakers on in your panel that you want power to. Understand that you must make sure your generator can handle the load. Selecting your essentials is most important obviously. This can be installed by a professional electrician on an existing panel and home as well. The cost here should be pretty manageable.
Connecting a generator to an outlet wired in to the home and not having a lock or transfer switch could seriously injure a line worker, or someone else. It is very important that safety is a top priority when considering these systems. Do not install a system this way.
Generators- Types of fuel supply
Generators most commonly and most affordably run on gasoline. In this scenario, you would obviously need to keep a good amount of gasoline on hand and need to be refilling the system regularly. Gasoline left in the system can also gum up the generator if left for an extended period of time causing the system to not work when needed a year or two later. There are extra maintenance steps needed to insure this does not happen.
The next fuel type is propane. Many different generators can run off of propane as well. You could have this connected to your homes propane tank if you are on propane heat for your home, or you could have a portable tank available for use when an emergency occurs.
The last fuel type is natural gas. This option is much less common. The most popular option I have seen that uses this is a Champion Tri Fuel generator. This generator can use any of the three fuel sources and gives added flexibility in tough times. This can be connected right to your homes natural gas supply and use a quick connect cable if needed.
Generators- Safety and side notes
It is very important when looking at generators that you are thinking about safety. They do use an engine and have an exhaust. It is very important that the exhaust fumes are very far from your home. I have seen online that they say they need to be at least 25 feet from windows, doors, or air intakes for the home. Be sure you are using 25 ft or longer connection lines to protect you and your family.
When purchasing a generator, fuel type and quality are important. Even more important is knowing your load requirements for your generator. Wells use a lot of energy when they are in use, refrigerators, freezers, toasters, hair dryers, space heaters, and dryers are also very energy heavy. Do plenty of research and understand the right unit you will need, and make sure that you have a professional install your system with safety in mind. A locking breaker, transfer switch, or automatic backup generator installed by a professional are the safest options and the only ones you should consider.