Monday, April 22, 2013

When Storms Come and Power Leaves

While we have been lucky so far this year, it is fairly certain that we will be getting some spring and summer storms.  Often, especially in our area, it takes little more than a cloudy sky and a moderate breeze to disrupt the power.  Most often such outages are short lived.  There have been some extraordinary storms that have left many without commercial electrical service for a week or more. 

There are many options available to keep your lights on and at least some of your appliances working during a black out.  If your pocketbook is deep enough you can invest in an automatic backup generator. Units come in various sizes and models.  Some can power your entire house even the central air conditioning.  Models with this capacity will cost several thousands of dollars and require a certified electrician to install.  This last part is critical.  A system that is incorrectly installed not only can damage your appliances; it can put power company workers miles from your house in serious danger. This is not a do-it-yourself weekend project.

When the power goes out the generator starts and a special transfer switch disconnects your house from the incoming commercial power and connects all or some of your circuits to the generator.  When the commercial power returns the system senses the change and reconnects your house to commercial power and turns off the generator.

Some, like me, have a smaller generator that can keep my sump pumps, refrigerator and lights on during an outage.  Rather than interfacing this generator with my household wiring, I have installed special isolated circuits serving various parts of my house. These are entirely separate from my regular wiring and do not ever come in contact with the regular house wiring.  Using receptacles connected to these special circuits and some extension cords I can power the various small appliances and lighting.  This is not as convenient as a large capacity fully automatic system, but it does the job and can be installed for about $500.  Again, a word of warning - Never connect the generator to your breaker box even if you turn off the main breaker.

There is one more important caution. Most of these generators operate on gasoline.  Some larger ones can be powered by diesel, natural gas or propane.  No matter the type never place the generator in a closed area like garage or screened in porch.  The exhaust can enter the house and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.  Every year we read of families perishing because of misuse of a backup generator.

Generators are like flashlights.  If you have one you most likely won’t need it.  If you don’t have one you will need it.  



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