Katrina, Gustav, and Isaac showed the importance and luxury of generators to residents of South Louisiana. The lines to buy generators after these storms rivaled those for essentials like food, water, ice, or gasoline. Scott Blount is the owner of GenPro. He sells and services generators in metro Baton Rouge. Since these storms, Scott says his business is staying busy. Scott says, "The market is not going to stop. In Louisiana we're still under 5% of the homes and businesses have generators. So we have a large area for it to grow and to keep moving forward.”
There are two types of generators: portable generators, and stand-alone generators. Most people are familiar with portable generators. Portable generators run off gasoline. They range in power from 1 kilowatt (kw) to 10 kw. That range of power usually allows you to supply power to a few appliances/devices. Scott says, “For a small amount of money … under $1,000 you can put a generator in the back of your truck, a couple of gas cans, go to your home, and power up your refrigerator, freezer, lights, TV, and maybe a box fan to make it through.” You run extension cords from the generator directly to the devices you want to power.
Stand-alone generators connect directly to your house. That means no cords needed. They can range in size but usually are 2 feet by 4 feet. Instead of gasoline they run off natural gas or propane. The power supply can range from 12 kw to as high as needed. Stand-alone generators can often times supply power to the whole house or critical parts like air conditioning and all major appliances. They usually take 10-30 seconds to kick power on in the house.
The convenience of stand-alone generators comes at a cost. But, both types have seen a big change in price from 5 to 10 years ago. Scott says, "All the generators have come down in price. There's more people buying them, more people installing them. So it's like with any market the more the demand the better the pricing comes.” Over the last ten years, portable generator prices have dropped $200. You can now get one with enough power for a few appliances for around $350. f you want to run a few appliances and a one room air conditioner unit expect to pay around $1,000. The stand-alone generators have seen the biggest price drop. Ten years ago a 15 kw unit would cost $11,500. Now you can get a 20 kw unit for $8,700. So now you’re getting more power for an even lower price.
The home stand-alone units have seen the most technological advances. They are 50% quieter than portables. Another feature is load management technology. You no longer have to pick and choose what to hook up to the generator. Scott says, "You have the ability to run all the appliances in your house even though the small generator won't do them all at the same exact time." For instance, let’s say your stand-alone generator is not capable of powering your entire home. You have the air conditioner running taking up the most power consumption. If you wanted to cook from an electric cooktop or do some laundry, you would go start the range or drier and the generator would shut-off the air conditioner automatically to allow for the other devices to run. Some models are also utilizing wireless monitoring. If your home losses power the generator will send you a text or email telling you whether it has turned on or if it is having a mechanical problem.
Your stand-alone generator needs professional installation. The installation can take 4 weeks so don’t wait until a storm is approaching before purchasing your unit. Because it connects directly to your home, it must be anchored with a concrete slab. It also requires electrical and gas meter hook ups. Always use a state licensed contractor. There are several permits that will need to be obtained to begin the installation. Often times a new gas meter will need to be installed with the stand-alone generator. A power breaker transfer switch will also be needed to prevent backfeeds. Backfeeding is when power is coming from you house back out to the power lines. It can severely hurt or kill power company employees tasked with working the power lines in the area. Unlike portable generators, stand-alone generators do not emit carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide poisoning still remains the biggest safety concern with portable generators. Douglas Albertson is a generator safety expert. He says, “The most important is that they got to get it out of the house. They can't start it or run it inside. They need to do it outside.” You should never run a portable generator under a carport or in a garage either. A good rule of thumb is 25 feet distance between the home and generator. It’s also a good idea to have battery powered carbon monoxide detectors in the part of your home nearest to where you put the portable generator. You have to be careful with gasoline and portable generators too. Douglas says, “Don't try and put fuel in while it's running. You can have big fires and explosions even gas cans blow up." To refuel a portable generator, you need to turn off the generator and let it cool down for 15 minutes. The type of extension cord you use is also a safety concern. 12-14 gauge cords are recommended for larger appliances. You never want to plug directly into your home. This can cause backfeeding. Use one cord for one device, or a surge protector strip for smaller electronic devices like radios, tvs, and cell phone charges. Speaking of surge protectors, they are recommended to protect sensitive electronics from power surges that can be cause by generators.
Stand-alone generators still need yearly maintenance service. This is for oil & filter replacement and a power-fail test. Portable generators also need regularly scheduled maintenance. This includes oil & filter replacement, and fresh fuel rotation. Gasoline has a shelf life. There are few products on the market that you can put in the fuel tank to help prolong the life of the gasoline and help prevent mechanical issues. You should test run your generators well in advance of storm entering the Gulf of Mexico. Run your portable generator until the old gasoline is cycled out of the system to ensure it works properly for when you need it.