If you were among the thousands of unlucky Southlanders who lost power during the current heat wave, the thought of a backup generator probably sounds pretty appealing right about now. (See reader comments on power outages.)
As far as I can tell, we’re heading into a time of radical weather changes, and so many events can cause a stop to the steady flow of electrical power to our homes: overloaded circuits, earthquakes, wind storms that topple trees and thus power lines. Heck, maybe ice storms are in our future.
Backup generators don’t have to be the noisy, fuming machines you may be thinking of. A new generation of generators are efficient and operate at neighborhood-friendly sound levels of 65 dBA, a rating similar to that of a typical vacuum cleaner and within or below common community noise ordinances.
Here’s how a fully outfitted standby generator works: a transfer switch hooked up to your electrical system determines when power goes out and automatically starts up the generator, which runs on natural gas or propane. The propane can be stored in canisters like you use for your barbecue. This gives you more protection in case the natural gas also stops flowing. The generator can be sized to run only the refrigerator and lights, or can include the air conditioner and other appliances. Kohler offers a sizing calculator to determine the model you need. A 12-kilowatt generator, for instance, will power a 2,000-square-foot home with a refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, TV, computer, central air conditioner, washer, garage door opener and security system.
When the power is restored, the switch shuts down the generator. If your transfer switch is not automatic, you will have to switch the power over manually.
Ideally, the generator is integrated seamlessly into your electrical system. But for emergencies, Kohler offers a backup generator that can be used as a stand-alone unit and then later installed permanently.
In addition to Kohler, which got top ratings from Consumer Reports, other manufacturers of stationary standby generators include: Coleman, Briggs & Stratton and Guardian. Full-house generators like these cost around $5,000 to $10,000 installed.