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Stand Up Generators vs Portable Generators

Our blog here at Eric Krise Electrical Contractors has often discussed the advantages and care and maintenance of installing portable generators at your home or business. Recent storms such as this year’s blizzard or even Superstorm Sandy in 2011 have shown just how vulnerable our electrical distribution network can be.

And as you might expect, sales of portable generators spiked after Sandy.

Generators, however, come in two basic types—portable generators and the more permanently installed standby generators. For many homeowners, the purchase and installation of a full standby generator can seem to be an expensive option. For small business owner, however, protecting your electrical system from extended power outages may make installing a standby generator a better option.

It all depends ultimately on your electrical load and how much energy you need to use. Portable generators can provide basic emergency power to keep lights on and the refrigerator is running, but may not have the full power you’ll need for major systems such as air conditioning and heat. In a light industrial setting for a small business, keeping your business machinery and equipment running may require the strength of a full standby generator.

We can help you determine just how much generator you need and the best course of action for your situation.

If you think you may need an upgrade to a standby generator, call us for analysis, In the meantime here’s some things to consider about standby generators as compiled by Popular Mechanics.

What They Are

Standby generators offer a steadfast solution to extended outages. Unlike portable generators, they’re installed permanently on a concrete pad in your yard and will provide uninterrupted backup for days. That’s because they’re connected directly to your home’s electrical panel and powered by an external fuel supply, such as natural gas, liquid propane, or diesel. Smaller, air-cooled essential-circuit units are slightly larger than portable generators and can energize just a few circuits at a time. Larger, liquid-cooled whole-house systems will comfortably power an entire home.

How They Work

Generators run on an automatic transfer switch that disconnects you from your utility after detecting an interruption in service. Once your home is safely off the grid, the switch starts up the generator before transferring its power to the home’s electrical panel. At the heart of the system is an internal combustion engine, which is usually fueled by the local natural gas supply. Where natural gas isn’t available, liquid propane or diesel stored in a large tank nearby can be used.

When municipal power resumes, the switch shuts down the generator and reconnects your house to the grid. The transfer switch acts as a safety mechanism too: It prevents back-feeding electricity to the grid, a potentially lethal practice that can start fires and harm utility workers attempting to restore your neighborhood’s power.

Installation Drawbacks

Cities often have noise ordinances restricting the installation of generators. Additionally, most building codes require generators to be at least 5 feet from a house opening and 5 feet from flammable materials, making urban installations tricky. Fuel-tank placement is almost always restricted, especially near parking lots and schools.

They’re Not For Rookies

Hire a professional to assess not only your load needs but also the logistics of installing a generator in your home. If you’re planning on connecting to your local natural gas system, you’ll need a high-pressure, high-volume line. Most generators require gas supplied at 5 to 7 inches of water-column pressure, which isn’t available in some towns. If it is, you’ll probably have to pay your utility a fee to access it.

Installing a standby generator is no DIY project, either. It requires advanced electrical and plumbing skills, as well as knowledge of local building codes. You’ll also need permits before you start and inspections when you’re done. Because of these complexities, professional installations can sometimes triple the cost of a generator.

Cost

The higher the generator’s capacity, the more circuits it can power at once. However, the size of your generator should be determined by your needs in an emergency; temporary situation—you’re not looking to power each and every appliance and gadget during desperate times.

Many homeowners choose a generator based on what they can afford, and with good reason. A quality essential-circuit system starts at around $3000, and that’s not including installation. Then there’s the price of fuel: A fully loaded 7-kw unit consumes around 140 cubic feet of natural gas per hour.

Like cars, standby generators run nonstop for many hours, so they have to be maintained as if they were, well, cars. Generally, bigger units require more care.

Do you live in Gloucester County and need help with deciding on a generator? Give us a call at 856.769.3932.

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