Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cheap Insurance

The tri-state monsoon season was the source of real anxiety for me. It was not only the incessant gray sky or the water levels in my front yard measured in feet that made me uneasy. I was really concerned that I could hear the two sump pumps in my basement cycling on almost every five or ten minutes. They were doing their job and our basement was as dry as the Sahara. My concern centered on the frequent power outages that we experience and how long would it take for the water level to rise if the pumps lost power. Since spring is also a time for storms and wind, I figured that it was only matter of time until Duke’s lines would fail.

Other than moving to Arizona, there are other solutions to my dilemma. There are battery powered sump pumps available. And there is always the bucket method of emptying the sump. The first is expensive and the second messy. I decided that I would solve the problem with the installation of a small back up generator. I had been thinking about this for years every time the lights fail, which if you have lived in my neighborhood you know is quite often. I remember in January that I found my self reading from my Kindle using a kerosene lamp. Abe Lincoln has nothing on me.

You can purchase large systems that will power your entire home in the event of a power outage. They cycle on automatically and can handle all of the appliances in your house including the furnace and AC. These must be installed by a qualified professional and are very expensive. I did not want to spend a lot of money; I wanted only to have enough power to handle the sump pumps, our fridge and some lights and perhaps TV.

I found a small gasoline generator at a local store. I placed it in a space outside under my deck away from all windows so that the sound of the engine or more important, the carbon monoxide, would not enter the house. Rather than wiring the generator into the existing wiring in my house which requires expensive switching gear, I ran some dedicated lines to specific areas of my house so I could easily plug in certain devices when the regular power failed. In essence I have a separate electrical system, albeit with much less capacity but enough for our needs.

In order to figure out what size generator you need, you must add up all the wattage required by the devices that will be connected to it. This is basic arithmetic. Be sure that you remember that devices with motors like sump pumps and refrigerators need extra wattage when they cycle on so you have to make sure that you factor that “surge” requirement into the required capacity. Generators usually have two ratings. One for continuous output and one for “surge” peaks. Once you come up with a number, add 15% to cover what you forgot or will add later.

This solution is not for everyone, but if you are handy and just want to have some lights, a cold drink and a dry basement when the power fails, you might want to consider it. It cost us about $300 for the entire installation. According to my wife, that is cheap insurance.

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