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Lights On, Stress Off: Navigating Home Generators

Did the winter freeze have you thinking about buying a generator? Here are some places to get your motor running.

As winter nears, Austinites begin to consider the reliability of our home's power supply. In recent years, winter freeze conditions have hit Texas hard. If the past few winters have shifted your views on buying a generator from just a thought to something almost essential - this is the guide for you.

A utility worker in a yellow jacket and blue knitted hat stands observing a severe winter scene where ice-covered branches have fallen onto power lines, causing them to sag heavily towards the ground. The setting appears to be a residential area with a sidewalk and grassy verge, indicating the aftermath of an ice storm that has disrupted infrastructure.
Austin American Statesman

Before diving into this investment, there are several crucial factors to consider, especially in a city known for its weather unpredictability.

1. Fuel Type: Propane, Natural Gas, or Others?

Off Grid Express recently published a guide highlighting the various fuel options available for generators, with propane, natural gas, diesel, and gasoline being the most common. The guide points out that propane and natural gas generators are favored for their clean-burning qualities and lower emissions. Propane stands out due to its long shelf life and reliability during power outages, while natural gas generators are noted for their dependability, as natural gas lines are typically unaffected by storms. While diesel and gasoline also offer certain advantages, they may not be as convenient or environmentally friendly compared to propane and natural gas options.

A portable green and black gasoline-powered generator sits on a snowy ground. To the right, there are two fuel cans, one red and one green, likely for storing extra fuel.

2. Cost of Generator vs. Installation Cost

The cost of a generator is not just the price tag on the equipment. Installation can be a significant part of the expense. Typically, standby generators, which are more powerful and permanent, cost more to install compared to portable generators. The installation involves wiring to your breaker box, ensuring safety standards, and possibly constructing a concrete pad. It’s wise to get a few quotes from certified electricians or generator installation specialists to understand the complete financial implication.

A complex electrical panel with an open metal cover reveals an array of wires and circuit breakers. The wires, in a variety of colors including blue, black, white, and red, are organized but densely packed, leading into different sections of the circuit breakers.

3. Auto-Shutoff vs. Manual - Wired into Breaker Box?

Generators come with different start-up mechanisms. The auto-shutoff feature is invaluable, especially for standby generators wired directly into your home’s breaker box. This feature ensures the generator kicks in automatically during a power outage, providing uninterrupted power supply. On the other hand, manual generators require you to start them physically, which might be cumbersome during extreme weather conditions.

4. Noise considerations

Generators aren’t known for being whisper-quiet. Noise level is an important consideration in your generator selection, especially in residential areas. Standby generators are generally quieter than portable ones. Some models are designed with noise-reduction technologies, but they might cost more. It’s crucial to check the decibel levels and possibly listen to a demo before making a decision.

An electrical safety hazard depicted as a black power cord plugged into a white wall outlet, with visible flames engulfing the plug and parts of the cord against a light-colored wall

5. Generator Safety: Ventilation, Outlets, Breakers

Safety is paramount when it comes to operating generators. Improper use can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical shocks, and fire hazards.

Typically, generators are intended for outdoor use due to the emission of harmful gases (there are some indoor-safe options like solar-powered and battery-operated generators. However, these will likely not be optimal choices for home power generation in severe winter storm conditions). Position generators outdoors and well away from any structure, in a well-ventilated area well away from windows and doors.

 

It’s also essential to have the right kind of outlets and breakers to prevent overloading. Regular maintenance and following the manufacturer’s guidelines can prevent most safety issues.

Purchasing a generator is a significant investment and requires careful consideration of various factors. From choosing the right fuel type to considering installation costs, auto-shutoff features, sound levels, and safety measures, each aspect plays a crucial role in ensuring that you make an informed decision. Stay warm and safe this winter! 

– The Giles Group

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