Home Backup Generators

BACKUP POWER WHEN YOU NEED IT

By James Pratt – Oklahoma Living – www.ok-living.coop

Oklahoma is known for severe weather, and when storms roll in, nature can wreak havoc on a co-op’s ability to deliver reliable electricity to its members. Tornadoes, ice, and high winds can bring down even the most well-constructed power lines, leaving homeowners without power for wHat could be extended periods of time. When an outage occurs, your co-op staff works diligently to restore power; often going around the clock for several days to get the lights on as safely and as quickly as possible.


But, every now and then, the storm damage is so widespread it can take days before every member has power restored. To make matters worse, today’s modem homes require more power than ever, and high-tech appli­ances can easily be damaged by what could be referred to as “unclean” power.

Luckily, standby generator manufacturers have all the bases covered. Newer generators, both portable and fixed, offer more power and features than ever before at lower prices than in the past. Buyers can choose either a portable generator that can be used for camping or work around the farm, or a permanently installed standby home power generator that can turn on automatically in case of an outage.

SIZING:

“The two most common questions potential buyers ask are ‘How big of a generator do I need?’ and ‘How much will it cost?'” says Vincent Aiello, co-owner of Metroplex Electric in Oklahoma City and a Kohler dealer. Both portable and standby generators are rated by their kilowatt output. To get a general idea of the size of generator needed, homeowners can add up the wattage needed by the appliances in their home. Special attention should be given to appliances with higher startup wattage, like a refrigerator, which can often require two to three times the wattage to start as is required to run.

To help consumers with the sizing process, manufacturers such as Generac, Kohler and GE feature sizing tools on their websites. Buyers can enter the square footage of their home and check off a list of typical appli­ances; the web sites will output an approximate size needed to power their home.

Of course, the best way to size a generator is to contact a licensed and trained generator dealer. Dealers are trained by the manufacturers on prop­er sizing for both residential and industrial generators, as well as installation requirements and electrical codes.
“Some customers will oversize the generator to power 100 percent of their current needs, while being able to accommodate future needs as well,” explains Josh Morphew, general manager of Baxter Electric in Edmond, Okla.; and a member of Central Rural Electric Cooperative. “Others, who are designing a system on a budget, may only wish to power crucial systems, such as the refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner, furnace, etc.”

INSTALLATION:

Any generator should be installed by a licensed and trained electrician. For short-term needs some homeowners run extension cords to critical appliances such as refrigerators, but this is not a good long-term solution and is not the safest way to power a home during a power outage. The wrong sized extension cord can cause a fire hazard, and frayed or worn cords can electrocute an innocent bystander.

A better solution is to connect the generator to the home’s electrical system. This requires a disconnect switch to remove the home from the electric power grid while it is powered by the generator. If the home is not disconnected from the power grid, your generator can run back through the electrical utility lines and reverse through the transformer, sending high voltage upstream along the power line, endangering linemen trying to restore the power.
“Linemen are trained to take precautions,” says Kenny Guffey, director of safety and loss control for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC). “They ground both ends of any line they are working on, but if that fails a lineman can be at risk from high voltage coming along what is supposed to be a dead line.”

ADVANCED FEATURES:

Generators have advanced significantly over the past 10 years to keep pace with innovations in the technology industry. Modem electronics are sensitive to the power used to run them. When powered by the electrical grid, these expensive electronics run just fine. But all generators produce something called harmonic distortion, which can cause issues with electronics such as flat panel displays, computers, video monitoring systems and electronic thermostats. Total harmonic distortion (THD) is the measure of how much distortion a generator creates. Manufacturers strive to design generators with lower THD, which creates fewer problems for homeowners.

Another feature in some advanced standby generators is the ability to notify the homeowner of a power loss via text message. These generators sense a power loss, start the generator, and send a text message via cell phone directly to the homeowner, bypassing normal telephone lines, which can be affected by a power outage.
“Kohler offers a controller that monitors power usage of the home and can turn off specific appliances as the load on the generator increases,” Aiello says. “This allows homeowners to purchase a slightly smaller generator with-out the worry of overloading and damaging the unit.”

PORTABLE vs PERMANENT:

Homeowners can choose either portable or permanent generators to power their home, depending on their need. Portable generators are convenient and can be used for a variety of other purposes, but require effort to connect to the home in case of a power outage. In all cases, a portable generator should be connected to the home via a transfer switch to protect both the generator and linemen working on the electric lines. Portable generators must be moved into position, started, and then kept fueled during an outage. In addition, portable units are normally limited in size and become quite heavy to move as the kilowatt output increases.

Permanent generators are installed to detect a power failure and turn on automatically. They are fueled by propane or natural gas, although some larger generators are powered by diesel. Such generators offer higher wattage output and cleaner power than portable generators. They are simple to operate and work with little, if any, intervention needed from the homeowner. Power is usually restored within one to three minutes without the need to track down the portable generator, get it started, and connect it to the house system.
“Many people are running businesses from their homes and require full¬time power. They are out of business if they have no power,” Aiello says. “Other families are taking care of elderly parents who require oxygen, medical monitoring equipment, and full-time air conditioning. Many of these families purchase a standby generator as a necessity.”

Permanent standby generators put out much “cleaner” power than portable generators and are not as likely to surge or cause brownouts in delivered power. Today’s sensitive electronics in appliances are susceptible to “dirty” power and easily fail after running on portable generator power with a high THD.
“I get several calls a year from individuals who have lost some or most of their electronics from running a portable generator and they are looking for what they did wrong in setting it up and operating it,” explains Robert Robb with Oklahoma Generator and Electric in Norman, Okla. “The truth is, you can set up about 95 percent of portables perfectly, and they will still eventually damage microchips in appliances.”

“Anyone installing a generator for their home should contact a licensed and trained electrician,” cautions Guffey with OAEC. “It is dangerous and potentially fatal to connect a generator yourself. Homeowners should also notify their local electrical utility provider and get them in touch with their electrician. Some utilities may want to send out a technician to discuss the installation and make sure everyone is on the same page in regards to the installation.”