With hurricane season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll power your home in the event of a storm. While flashlights and candles might seem like logical first steps for staying safe during a weather emergency, it’s important not to overlook the critical role generators can play in protecting your family and property. Choosing the right generator is essential – having too little or too much power can be damaging.
So what exactly should Florida homeowners look for when shopping around?
In this blog post, we’ll break down the key factors to consider when selecting a generator that’s perfect for your specific needs during any storms that may come our way this season…
Oh, the idea of a whole house generator! It’s the epitome of luxury and convenience. Imagine it: When the power goes out, the generator automatically clicks on and everything is still powered up. No more fumbling for candles and flashlights, no more spoiled food, and no more sweltering heat or freezing cold.
But, before you start planning for this magic machine in your Florida home, think twice.
The Ugly Truth About Whole House Generators
Whole-House Generator Cost
Buying a whole house generator sounds like a dream come true. But the reality is that it comes with a hefty price tag. It requires a significant upfront cost for the generator itself, as well as installation and maintenance fees. You’ll also have to factor in fuel costs since whole house generators require regular refuels.
When you break down the cost of installation, maintenance, fuel, and all other related expenses, you might be shocked at the final amount.
Installation is No Easy Task
You’re going to have to pay professionals to install it. There’s simply no way around it.
The installation itself is quite complicated, and unless you’re an electrician or experienced in construction projects, it’s not something you can DIY.
You’re also probably going to need a concrete pad installed. The generator is basically a gas engine in a box, and it needs to be anchored to a solid base. If you don’t have a level, sturdy area that’s at least 3 feet wide by 5 feet long and 4 inches deep, you have to build one. That’s just the beginning.
It Requires (A Lot) of Gas
You also need either a natural gas line to your house or a propane tank. Since we don’t have natural gas lines to our houses in Southwest Florida, that leaves us with the need to have a propane tank to power the generator.
If you want to power the whole house with this kind of generator, the right size propane tank would probably be the 250 gallon tank.
Some places had power back after a few days after hurricanes Irma and Ian, while other places it took almost 2 weeks.
A standard generator uses around 36 gallons of propane per day, so a 250 gallon tank (which holds 200 gallons max) can provide enough fuel for the generator to run continuously for about 5.5 days, almost a week.
Just bear in mind 250 gallon tank isn’t exactly tiny. According to AmeriGas, a 250 gallon tank is almost 8 feet long and 2.5 feet in diameter.
You’re going to need an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS). The ATS is an essential part of the whole house generator system and connects your house’s electrical system to the generator. It has to be professionally installed, and it’s not cheap. The cost of an ATS alone ranges from $500 to $3,000 depending on the size, brand, and complexity. You may need additional materials and equipment, such as cables, conduits, and enclosures, too.
Also, it all has to be wired correctly. Proper wiring is the key to the whole house generator system, and any mistake or error can lead to severe injuries, accidents, or fire. The generator has to be connected directly to your house’s electrical panel, and only a licensed electrician should perform this task.
The wiring has to be done according to the National Electrical Code (NEC), and any deviation may invalidate your warranty and insurance coverage.
A whole house generator is an investment, like buying a car. You have to keep it maintained to ensure that it works properly. You’ll have to regularly change the oil, filters, and spark plugs. Also, if your generator hasn’t run in a while, you’ll need to periodically run the device as a form of preventative maintenance. The maintenance for your generator can be just as complicated as for your car engine.
For home standby generators, regular maintenance includes changing air filters, oil and oil filters, spark plugs, checking battery charge, sediment traps, valve clearance, and cleaning the generator from dirt and debris inside the enclosure and outside around the unit. The use of your generator determines maintenance intervals. Your generator will need oil replenished, fuel and oil line inspection, and inspection of enclosure louvers for dirt and debris if the unit is running daily, such as in a prolonged utility outage. When changing your oil, use only Generac 5W-20 GEO Full Synthetic engine oil to protect your engine. Otherwise, maintenance intervals happen between 200 hours and 400 hours of operation, or every two to four years – whichever happens first.The Generac Website
We’ve heard stories about creature infestations in generators; especially ants. Think about what happens to your car if you let it sit for an extended period of time: You can expect the same with a whole house generator.
Not for the Typical Homeowner
Right about now, you might be thinking twice about purchasing a whole house generator…
And you’d be RIGHT!
It’s not for the typical homeowner who wants to have a simple backup power solution. It’s an investment that requires a lot of resources, time and energy.
These types of generators are usually for businesses that require constant power, like IT solutions that use computer servers that need continual uptime and they’re a luxury for homeowners.
However, for those who do decide to make the leap, it’s important to do your research and consult with professionals who can help you choose the right generator and install it correctly.
Portable Gas-Powered Generators
For 99% of homeowners, a portable gas or propane generator is going to suffice.
Let’s take a look at why.
The Right Generator for the Bare Necessities
First and foremost, a portable gas generator is going to save your food.
After a hurricane, your fridge and freezer are at risk of losing power for days, ruining your perishables. A portable generator can power these appliances, ensuring that you don’t have to throw out all of your food. It’s especially important if you have medication that requires refrigeration.
And let’s be honest, you can make do without your TV or gaming console for a few days.
When it comes to powering your refrigerator, all you really need is at least a 1500-watt generator.
It’s that simple.
Conventional refrigerators, with their starting wattage of 800-1200 watt-hours/day and a running wattage of around 150-watt hours/day, are easily manageable with a generator of this size.
If you want to go with a portable generator with a little more output, something that has a 5,000 to 8,000 or even a 9,000 Watt output, you should do fine after a hurricane.
Cost: The Right Generator?
Next up, cost. A portable generator is much more affordable than a whole-house generator, typically running anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. That may still seem like a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the alternatives.
Enough Power For Other Tools
When a hurricane hits, it’s essential to have a reliable source of power to keep your necessary appliances and tools running.
That’s where a portable gas-powered generator comes in handy.
Not only can it keep your refrigerator running, but it can also power any power tools you may need to cut downed trees or debris. And let’s not forget about the scorching Florida summer heat. An electric fan can be a lifesaver, and with a generator, you won’t have to suffer.
But most importantly, a generator can keep your phone charged, allowing you to stay connected with loved ones and make emergency calls if needed.
Downsides to Portable Generators
The downsides to a portable generator include having to store it, likely in your garage. It’s not the cutest addition to your home decor, but it’s a necessity.
You’ll also have to maintain it, like a lawnmower. That means changing the oil and running it every few months to keep it in working order.
The generator also won’t power your air conditioner, but you can run fans to keep cool. It’s a trade-off, but again, it’s much more affordable than a whole-house generator.
Portable Generator Safety
One of the most important aspects of a portable generator is ensuring that you’re using it safely. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real risk, so it’s crucial that you use the generator outside, away from doors and windows. You’ll also need to use a heavy-duty extension cord that’s rated for outdoor use.
And never, ever, try to power your entire house with a portable generator. This is a recipe for disaster. Stick to powering your essential appliances.
What About Solar Power Backup?
Sure, you can go solar if you’ve got the money.
For most Florida homeowners, solar powered battery backup just simply isn’t within their budget reach.
What About Babcock Ranch? That’s Solar!
You’ll see stories about how Babcock Ranch never lost power during or after hurricane Ian and that’s great and all, but you should realize that you’re just a homeowner.
You’re not a small-town municipality created by a private corporation with state funding in a public/private partnership with FPL to build the required infrastructure of 1.5 square miles of solar panels to maintain power for the tiny 6 square miles of developed Babcock Ranch.
Babcock Ranch was also farther inland and didn’t receive the flooding or as harsh winds like the coast did.
The Cost of Solar Power Backups
It’s not as simple as installing solar panels on your roof and you’re good to go.
This is probably because we grew up with those solar-powered calculators in school.
Do you remember how you would cover the solar panel on the calculator with your finger and the screen would dim to blank?
Think about it: if your house worked that way, you wouldn’t have any power at night, or on a cloudy day, or when it rains.
To have reliable solar power that your house can use, you have to store the solar energy, which means that you need a battery backup system.
If you’ve ever looked into solar power backup for a whole house, you may have been shocked by the price tag.
The cost of a battery backup for a whole house is at least $40,000 by itself, not including the solar panels, installation, and everything else it requires.
This solution is not for the typical homeowner. If you can afford that, then go ahead and go wild, but your typical household probably wouldn’t even be able to finance such a thing.
Of course, there are tax incentives to getting solar panels themselves, but buying and maintaining the battery backups are a whole other issue.
Again, for power after a hurricane, a portable gas-powered generator will do fine for 99% of people.
In conclusion, when it comes to powering your home during a hurricane or other emergency situation, the most practical and economical choice is usually going to be a portable gas-powered generator.
While these generators may require some maintenance and storage space, they are much more affordable than solar power backup or a permanent whole-house generator, making them the right generator for the vast majority of Florida homeowners, in our opinion.
While you’re here, check out some of our other blog posts about how to prepare for hurricane season.
Furthermore, you can use them to safely provide essential appliances with electricity while avoiding potential hazards like carbon monoxide poisoning.
If done correctly and responsibly, using a portable generator will ensure that you have all of your basic needs met should disaster strike without breaking the bank in the process.