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Portable vs. installed backup generators—Which is right for me?

Posted by Ken Flournoy on Feb 1, 2018 10:22:27 AM

power outages and backup generatorsEnjoy this guest article from our sister company, Hot Wire Electric, in Greenville, South Carolina.

With all of the unusually cold winter weather going on this year, you may have started thinking about worse-case scenarios. Thankfully we haven’t had widespread power outages, but many of us remember bad ice storms in years past that took down power to neighborhoods for days or weeks.

Some people can wait out a power outage out for a few days—especially if they have gas heating and cooking appliances that don’t rely on electrical power.

But if you don’t have that luxury—or can’t imagine going days without a functioning refrigerator or hot water heater, you may want to consider investing in a backup generator.

Here’s a quick guide to the two major categories of backup generators, and which may be the best fit for you.

Portable Backup Generators

What they are: Smaller generators powered by an alternative fuel source, such as gasoline, propane, or natural gas. They can provide enough power to run one or two vital appliances at a time.

Pros:

  • Smaller and lighter than installed generators
  • More easily stored during the year
  • Less expensive

Cons:

  • Noisy
  • Cannot be used indoors due to risk of carbon monoxide buildup (set up outside and run extension cords into the home)
  • Limited power (for example, you can run your water heater, but you may still need to use flashlights and candles for lighting)
  • Functions only as long as you have a fuel source (so if you’re snowed in for a week and can’t get out to purchase more propane, you may be in trouble)

Who they are best for:

  • People just looking for a way to cook or keep the heat on during a storm
  • Homes with older children and healthy adults
  • Homes on city water (that is, they don’t rely on an electrical well pump to supply water) 

Installed Backup Generators

What they are: Large, permanent generators with a storage tank for propane or diesel. They can also be connected directly to your home’s natural gas line.

Pros:

  • Can keep your entire home powered for days
  • Wired into your home’s electrical panel and turn on automatically, so you don’t have to worry about power going off in the middle of the night.

Cons:

  • Noisy
  • Functions only as long as you have a fuel source (albeit the fuel tanks tend to be larger)
  • More expensive
  • A permanent fixture on your property

Best for:

  • Households with vulnerable family members, such as very young children or elderly adults
  • People who rely on specialized medical equipment or medicines that require refrigeration
  • Homes with electric well pumps (i.e., when the power goes out, water can’t get to the house.)

Note: to set up either kind of generator, it’s vital that you install a transfer switch, or you could seriously injure or even kill yourself or others!

You’ll want to get a qualified electrician to help you set up a generator safely (since a lot can go dangerously wrong if it’s not wired properly!). The technicians at Hot Wire Electric can also help you select the right generator for your needs, and can help you purchase the right one.

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Topics: Electrical