Generating your own power for your home

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Hurricane season is upon us, and an uncertain winter awaits us. These are the two seasons of the year where our homes are susceptible to storms that could bring severe weather and power outages. If you have always gambled that your home will not be among those drastically affected by weather related power outage, maybe your luck is about to run out.

Many homeowners choose to play it safe by buying and sometimes installing emergency power generation equipment. There are two fundamental categories: portable generators or standby power systems. As the name implies, portable generating equipment is stored in a garage, basement or shed until it’s needed, then rolled out and fired up to produce electricity. A standby generator however is ‘standing by’ at the ready on a moment’s notice. They are definitely not portable, but you will barely notice the outage.

Of course, equipment that is portable, versus a solution that is instantly available, means that the first solution is relatively inexpensive, while the second choice is pretty pricey. A few hundred dollars will get you a gas powered generator that produces a few thousand watts of power. That’s enough to keep the refrigerator, a couple of lamps and the TV running. That means you are really equipped to face a short power outage and deal with some inconvenience.

At the other end of the spectrum, a standby generator sits right alongside your house and can be configured to run essential electric powered devices and systems. Or it can be sized to keep your whole dwelling ‘up and running’ for as long as you need it to. So the low-end standby system might run up to $4,000, while a high-end solution that can generate 20 to 48 kW of power and handle everything in your home could require an investment of $14,000.

You might have seen someone tug on a pull cord much like that on a lawnmower, firing up a gas powered engine-generator combination. That’s the basic portable solution, which comes with all that a gas powered motor entails. You have to go buy the gas, keep it on hand, and keep replenishing the gas tank.

From the gas-fired model you can move up to diesel, natural gas or liquid propane fueled systems. Imagine that your home’s natural gas system is feeding your standby generator. If that sounds like long term power supply to you, you’re right. Between the two extremes are solutions that supply increasingly greater amounts of electricity, with more options that make the solution closer to ‘automatic’ temporary power.

When you start talking about more power and more options, you are moving beyond the DIY level short-term, temporary solution. With a low end system, you can plug a few devices right into the generator. When you want less inconvenience, like sending the power through the wall of your home and into your existing circuitry, abandon all thoughts of DIY.

An auto transfer switch is required to automatically transition from power company energy running through your home to that which comes from a permanently installed standby generator. The circuitry is connected to the temporary power source such that the electricity your equipment generates does not feed back through to the power company’s lines. Feedback like that is both illegal and dangerous to the power crews trying to restore service.

The transfer switch can be configured to engage when the power outage occurs, as well as shut down and return to the power company’s service when it has been restored. This is a terrific solution if you need to be sure your home has power while you are away. This solution, however, requires professional installation.

Consider the amount of power  you need, the money you are willing to spend, how long you will want temporary power to last, the type of fuel and its availability, and finally, how much convenience of operation means to you.

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