Generators-A Starting Place

On the tail end of our first official hurricane, New Englanders are left to ponder the pros and cons of purchasing a generator.  Custom Care Inc. has helped the families of the south shore prepare for the worst mother nature can throw at us by ensuring a seamless operation of electrical systems during storms. Based on years of experience, we are pleased to provide a brief buying guide to the process of choosing the system that will work best. 

Did you know that 20,000 homes lost power in our most recent tropical storm?  This was the second such weather event this year, and we are just entering what is delineated as hurricane season. Last year a wind storm knocked out power to various homes along the south shore for over 24 hours, and that was in April! 

Often people associate power loss with our blizzards, belovedly called “NorEasters” by locals, but regular storms can do significant damage as well.  According to nonprofit Climate Central,in the last decade power outages nationwide have increased 69% as reported by government and utility companies.  There are several reasons for this, including intensifying weather events as well as the aging of infrastructure.

In addition to these broad impacts on our energy sources, the South Shore presents unique issues.  The beautiful old growth trees that line many of our streets and communities have not yet been converted to underground power lines, setting up significant risk for power outages from branches and fully downed trees resulting from wind, rain and snow.

Our proximity to the ocean causes much of our snowfall to be of the heavy, wet variety. We also at times have dropping temperatures quickly turning a fall or spring rainstorm into black iced treacherous roads, increasing motor vehicle accidents involving telephone poles and transformers. 

  Despite our advances in forecasting and collective resource sharing from nearby states sending their crews to assist in restoring power, we can sometimes experience significant time before power is restored.  

Many residents may be blocking out the memories of Feb 2015, during which we had significant snowfall over the month.  I remember living in Quincy and running out of places to put the snow we shoveled out of our parking spaces, and ended up having to shovel the snow from the front yard into the side yard to make room for more snow from the parking area!  As inconvenient as that was, being in an urban/suburban setting, our power flickered once or twice but we never fully lost service. 

Not so for my parents, longtime residents of Duxbury.  During one storm they lost power along with all of their neighbors. And it stayed out.  

Over the course of several days, they watched the temperature slowly drop in their home.  Although they were able to put on layers and run the gas fireplace, by the third day they had to pack up to stay temporarily at a relative’s home. My father returned to the home daily, worried as the temperature dropped to 40 degrees inside the house, he was rightfully concerned that the pipes would freeze causing extensive damage to their home.  

Luckily this crisis was averted, and they had power back on by day four.  The only loss was the food in the fridge and freezer, far less of a challenge than burst pipes without a doubt!  But after 40 years of living on the south shore, this became a wake up call; they needed a generator, and would go on to get one installed before the next winter set in.  

In purchasing a generator, they had to consider a number of factors. Many types are available which is best for your family depends on these factors.  For example, how many and what type of appliances do you wish to keep running during a storm?  Some factors, like electric heat and sump pumps may be essential to remaining in your home safely through a power outage. On the opposite end of the spectrum, should a wind storm happen in the summer, air conditioning may be essential for the comfort and wellbeing of various family members.  Most folks do not want to lose the groceries on hand as well, so a fridge will likely be a consideration in evaluating energy needs.  

Then we move onto more nuanced decisions, will you want lights?  Also power for devices, computers, charging cell phones, ipads to keep the kids engaged?  

Generators are priced and produced based on two major factors: wattage and delivery of power. As with most electronics, the overall performance is only as strong as the weakest link. Choosing a lower watt generator and overtaxing it by running more electronics can lead to circuit overload, while choosing a higher watt generator not only costs more up front but requires more fuel to run and can be more complicated than the average homeowner needs. 

Your options tend to fall into four broad categories.  Portable power stations (some are even solar!), inverter generators, portable generators and home standby generators. Most homeowners going through the process of choosing a generator typically chose the last for  ease of use; it is as close to “fix it and forget it” as a generator can be.    

The reasons for this are:

  • wattage starting at 5,000 and going up to 20,000.  
  • can be hooked up to existing propane or natural gas, ensuring fuel for the length of the outage. 
  • units kick on automatically when a power outage is detected.
  • when maintenance is required, customers can receive an email or even a text. 

The other three options main features are portability and generally lower cost. The downsides are the fuel used (gasoline in inverter and portable generators) is toxic and must be used under close supervision and well away from the home. Additionally there is a finite amount of gasoline stored in the generator, which can run out depending on the length of the outage, effectively disabling the system, or alternatively storing reserves of gasoline on hand, which presents safety hazards.  

Although inverter generators are more efficient than traditional portable generators and create less emissions, most top out at a maximum wattage of 6500.  They are also less loud than traditional generators.  

Portable power stations are a little different as they require charging, either via your electricity or solar as previously mentioned. In essence these are large battery cells, hence they have no emissions which is a plus.  They are, however, new to the market and more expensive as such.  Although the capacity likely will improve over time, as of now the technology maxes out at 1500 watts. This type of system is also vulnerable to user error; if it is not charged, it will not work!  

Investing in a generator is a big step in ensuring your family is safe though whatever mother nature throws at you.  Custom Care Inc. is pleased to offer installation services for home standby generators, which must be installed by a professional to operate properly.  We can assess your family’s unique needs and advise you on brands, service contracts and model numbers to ensure your choice will work for you now and over time. Contact us today for more information!