Ed the Plumber: Answers to questions about using generators for backup power during power outages.
Q: You recently ran an article on standby power systems. While I remember the topic, I did not take notes. Well, I wish I had, because mine was one of the thousands of homes that lost power during and after the recent hurricane. Can you please give us another lesson on backup power for a home?
— Bob, Rhode Island
A: Since Hurricane Irene, I’ve received many questions about backup electrical power. So let’s revisit the topic. Here are the three most popular questions I generally get about standby generators:
Q: What is a standby generator?
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A: Standby power is not a portable generator. It’s a permanently mounted piece of equipment, directly wired into the home’s electrical system. Standby generators also run on natural or propane gas, so there’s no need to store gasoline for refueling, as you would with a portable generator.
Q: How do these generators work?
A: Basically it’s a system, in the way your air-conditioning unit is considered a system. Standby systems include an “intelligent transfer switch”that is often called the “brains”behind the generator. This switch monitors utility power, and if the street power goes out, it will switch circuits and automatically start the generator. When utility power comes back on, the transfer switch shuts down the generator system. Now that’s one smart switch.
Q: Is this a do-it-yourself project?
A: No. Because of electrical and gas-pipe work, standby generators need to be professionally installed by licensed contractors. The price will vary from home to home, but they’re now an affordable option for many homeowners — especially if you find a generator dealer that accepts “charge”cards.
Ed Del Grande, master contractor/plumber and LEED green associate, is the author of “Ed Del Grande’s House Call”and host of TV shows on Scripps Networks and HGTVPro.com. Visit eddelgrande.comor write firstname.lastname@example.org. Always consult local contractors and codes.