How to buy a portable generator

How to buy a portable generator

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Best advice for buying a home generator: Don’t wait for the lights to go out. Whether you live somewhere at the mercy of blizzards, hurricanes, heat waves, or an outdated electrical grid, blackouts can range from a nuisance to a life threat.

Gasoline-powered portable generators, which cost anywhere from $400 to $1,500 depending on their production and features, are not only readily available at home improvement stores, but they are easy to use. “If you can run a lawn mower, you can run a generator,” says Art Aiello, a spokesperson for Generac, one of the largest manufacturers of portable generators. “In the winter, it doesn’t take much snow or ice to shut down a power line in certain neighborhoods. If you have the ability to tow it, add fuel, and attach extension cords, a portable device is a sound solution.”

The trick, as any good scout would say, is to be prepared. However, some homeowners hold off.

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After more than four years of multiple outages for several days each winter, attorney Rebecca Neal and her husband, Thom, installed an electrician for a manual transfer switch (more on that later) in their Bedford, Massachusetts, home, and pony. for portable generator. Now, they use it to supply power to the oven, refrigerator, sewage pump and select electrical outlets. “I’ve waited so long because I’m cheap,” admits Neal. “But I’m sick of interrupting our lives or worrying about pipes freezing. I’m kicking myself because I didn’t get one sooner.”

Carrie Torstenson, a Charlotte-based publicist, tells a similar story. Her home has lost electricity four times since she and her husband, Thor, moved in. However, it wasn’t until the couple welcomed a baby, and Hurricane Florence was expected to hit the North Carolina coast that Molde moved to the top of their need. -We have a list. “While we were inside for several hours, we knew the hurricane would bring enough wind and rain to knock the oaks down the power lines,” she says.

They bought a $725 portable generator in less than 24 hours before Florence hit the beach. Without electricity for five days, the family can keep the fridge to store milk and use the microwave to heat up their daughter’s bottles, as well as charge their phones and laptops. “It was a big expense, but it’s useful,” says Torstenson. “There was no way of knowing when the power would be restored, but that way I was less worried. The following month, we gave the generator to my brother and sister-in-law when the power went out during Hurricane Michael.”

Here’s what you need to know about buying a portable generator.

How often do you suffer from a power outage? Are they a few hours or overnight? (Most outages usually last only three hours, says Paul Hope, senior home editor at Consumer Reports.) Is your house habitable without electricity? Can you make it for more than a few hours without heating or air conditioning? How much food do you usually eat in the fridge and freezer? What is the level of your mind when there is no power? If it makes you anxious, miserable, or just nuts without electricity, a generator might be better than Xanax.

Calculate how much energy you need

Generators are sized based on the power they supply to the average home. Go to your home and select the lights, electronics, and appliances you want to turn on and the watts you’re consuming. This is simple enough to figure out with a lamp or light unit that accommodates a 60-watt bulb, and hard to identify with your refrigerator. Aiello says to search for the dashboard found on most devices. It should tell you in volts and amperes. Then calculate: volts multiplied by amperes equals watts. Or go online and look up the specs. Generac also has an online portable generator sizing calculator that you can use as a guide.

Keep in mind that the extension cords running from the alternator can power anything plugged into a wall outlet, but not hard-wired appliances such as a furnace, sump pump, or central air conditioner. If you want to operate any of these during a power outage, you will need to have a licensed electrician install a manual transfer switch (looks like a small circuit breaker) next to the main electrical panel. A heavy-duty wire from the alternator is attached to the switch and allows you to run specific circuits in your home. Prices vary depending on your market. In Neal’s case, I paid about $1,200 for the transformer and installation, more than the generator, which cost about $550.

(There is no portable generator that can power an entire house; so you’ll need a different class of generator, called a standby home generator or whole house generator, which will cost $2,500 to $4,500, plus installation, something that can run in the thousands, depending on where you live .)

Models come with either a rebound knob (similar to a lawn mower) or electric “push-button” start, and one or more outlets for connecting extension cords. Some include covered outlets, illuminated control panels, or an automatic shutdown in case of low oil. Moveable items can weigh anywhere from 100 to 250 pounds, so you’ll want to purchase a set of wheels. With the wheels installed, the generator can be rolled like a wheelbarrow in place.

Although you can store a portable generator in a garage or shed, it should be at least 20 feet from your home when running because it produces carbon monoxide. You might be glad it’s 20 feet away, because portable generators can be really noisy. (But this may not satisfy your neighbors.)

Most contain approximately six to 10 gallons of fuel, which is enough fuel to run eight to 16 hours before needing to be refilled. This means that you also need a convenient place to safely store 25 to 30 gallons of gasoline. You can only keep a few gallons on hand and plan to refuel, but remember that gas stations require electricity to run their pumps. If your entire community is offline or the roads are impassable, you won’t be able to get gas.

Hope says the generator is more convenient than a cost-effective purchase. He and Aiello agree that the smart consumer will buy with a thoughtful, off-season. Find a local dealer or home improvement store and compare models. Try the starter yourself (if this intake wire is too hard, look for electronic ignition). Some retailers will allow you to turn it on and check the noise level. Once you have your generator, practice putting it in place and getting it started. Then, I hope you don’t have to.

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