Consumer Help, Winter Weather Generators

Weathering Storms with a Generator

The Hersam Acorn Newspaper talks about Northeast Generator company located in Ct offering Preventive Maintenance Agreement.

“Irene. Alfred. Sandy… shorthand names of storms that had devastating effects, including massive and long-lasting power outages, on Fairfield County and beyond in a span of 14 months. After experiencing the inconveniences of power outages of these and several lesser storms during the same period, and fearing such storms may become more frequent, many homeowners have already purchased or are considering purchasing home generators. For those contemplating a generator purchase, there two primary decisions to make: The first is whether to purchase a standby — a permanent installation that runs on propane or natural gas, and comes on and shuts off automatically — or a portable generator, which has to be moved into position either during a storm or after it passes, manually started and stopped, and runs on gasoline. The second is how many systems, either whole house or partial, a homeowner wants the generator to run. In either case, a transfer panel or switch, an electrical device that transfers power from your generator to your home, is required by the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70). The switch eliminates the risk of backfeeding into the electric utility when power is restored, which can cause injury or death to utility workers and property damage; for portables, it also eliminates the need to run extension cords around your home or office. Economics, age and lifestyle tend to drive those decisions, with portable purchase and proper electric panel installation generally beginning at around $2,000, and standbys at $5,500, but averaging closer to $10,000- $15,000. For most homes, 8 kW is basic, and going up to 20 kW for homes with 200 amp service. While standbys are more expensive, they are also automatic (including self-testing weekly), much quieter, and the fuel is delivered. In addition to requiring manual testing on a regular basis and being quite noisy, gasoline has to kept on hand for portables, and is generally good for only a couple months before it begins to break down (it can, however, be safely added to your vehicle gas tank). And you need passable roads to find a gas station with power to replenish your supply. Standbys are considered an accessory building in most communities, requiring a permit subject to setback regulations, as well as licensed electricians and heating/plumbing professions for installation, and an inspection upon completion.

Learning Curve
There are four options for transfer panel installation, depending on home configuration and needs, according to Jason Aletto of Aletto Electric, with recommendations made depending on how a house was built and the homeowners’ requirements. • Interlock, mounted on electric panel, prevents generator feedback • General panel, provides six to 20 circuits that can be feed power • Transfer switch, whole circuit panel, runs everything • A meter socket transfer switch behind the electric meter As for fuel use, standbys go through about 1.5 gallons of propane an hour, which, depending on demand, could go through 200-300 gallons a week, while portables use about three-quarters of a gallon an hour and generally need to be refilled every seven hours. “A generator is an engine,” Jason reminds users, “Make sure you have a maintenance program to check fuel and oil levels regularly. If you have a standby, it is a good idea to have a service contract.” Sarah Scott of Ridgefield Hardware agrees. “Whether a portable or a standby, many people looking to purchase a generator are often surprised to learn of the maintenance involved. Generators have electrical and mechanical components that need to be exercised and maintained on a regular basis,” she says. “Especially with the portable generators, people often put them away and forget about them, then discover they don’t work when needed.” Homeowners interested in a standby need an onsite evaluation to determine size of equipment needed and location options. Installation costs vary depending on location and trenching required for electric and gas pipes.

Case Studies
Lynn and Kevin have lived in their 3,000- square-foot Redding home for 17 years, and until Tropical Storm Irene in late August 2011, “I could count on one hand the number of times we lost power for more than a day, and we never lost trees,” said Kevin. “When Irene struck, we lost power for a week and we thought ‘never again.’ When you lose power here, you lose everything, including water.” The couple ordered a two-cylinder, 10 kW unit that runs everything except the dishwasher, washer and dryer, hot tub and air conditioner, and replaced their electric water heater with a propane one. “We got the wheels in motion, pulled the permits and wrote checks all within two weeks, but two months later we were still waiting; everything else was done, but the generator was on back order – then the October snowstorm hit and we lost trees and power for another eight days. The generator finally arrived right after we finished the tree cleanup and the installation was completed a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.” Less than a year later Superstorm Sandy struck, and their neighborhood was without power for another week, but their generator kicked in within a minute. “I cannot tell you how glad we were to have the generator,” Kevin said. “With my charged laptop and an air card, I was able to work from my home. That generator was worth every dime we spent on it, and when we eventually sell our home, I know it will make our home more attractive to perspective buyers.” Tropical Storm Irene was also the turning point in the decision to get a generator for Sally and Jack of Ridgefield. Having lived in their 250-year-old, 2,000-square-foot home for some 40 years, “we remember the ice storm in 1973, which knocked out power for a week and temperatures were below freezing; we’d been discussing that if we are going to stay here, maybe we should get a generator — just in case,” said Sally. They decided to get a standby generator as their Christmas present to each other, but were in no rush. “We talked to Jerry Rabin, owner of Ridgefield Hardware, and he came out to do an assessment to determine how large of a generator we needed — we do have municipal water, but wanted it to run everything else – and where to best place it. “We placed our order, for a 10 kW, and were told it would take at least a month for the generator to arrive, and arranged to get the transfer panel installed, as well as propane through Casey Oil. Then the October snowstorm hit and we were without power for another eight days,” said Sally. “But we used a portable generator; having the refrigerator and lights seemed like such a luxury. With all the new damage and backups, everything got delayed and it was the end of December before everything was ready. We tested the generator New Year’s Day (2012)… it was the best sound. When Sandy hit, we were all prepared; the power went out, there was a pause and the power came back on. It is very comforting to have during the last storm.”

Power Hungry
In contrast to many others, Reddingites Nancy and Charles consider themselves something of generator veterans, having done their installation nearly a decade ago, after living in their all-electric, 4,000-square-foot home since 1997. “Home generators were not that common then,” noted Charles, “and there weren’t that many places to get them.” Their decision to install one was driven by the fact that Charles works from home and his business is computer and Internet dependent, and power outages, whether for a half hour or six to eight hours, were frequent enough to be disruptive. After consulting with a contractor, Steve, and calculating a “Murphy’s Law scenario of all of the draws in an all-electric home,” the two went to Home Depot and ordered the largest residential generator available at the time — 45 kW. Steve poured a heavy-duty concrete slab to support it and dug the hole for a 500-gallon propane tank, then brought in a licensed electrician to install the transfer panel and a licensed plumber to do the gas hook-up.” “We have a service contract with Northeast Generators; they come twice a year to review everything, change the oil, check the battery, be sure it is outputting as it should. To us, the generator was worth its weight in gold.”

Northeast Generator stands apart from their competition with their 23-Point Service Contract. This maintenance agreement ensures the units are in proper working order around the clock. Maintenance is provided by the best technicians in the field-technically qualified, licensed and factory trained. Northeast also stocks a vast variety of parts, so if replacement is necessary, it won’t mean downtime.

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