Should Every Home Have Its Own Standby Generator?
By Bill Primavera
The Home Guru
Should everybody have a generator to guarantee the supply of electrical power to their homes? I never really considered that question because in my neighborhood, for years, there had never been a real issue with losing power for any extended period of time.
But more recently with some of the wind and snow storms we’ve been experiencing, related or not to climate change, the power service in many communities in Westchester and particularly Putnam County has been less reliable.
Just in the past couple of years we’ve heard nightmare stories about outages that last many hours, even days. And during that amount of time, a lot of damage can be done. Basements can be flooded when sump pumps are not operable and pipes can freeze if the heat is off, not to mention the inconvenience of having no light, refrigeration or cooking capabilities.
The first person with whom I ever discussed power generators was Kathleen Cruz, an agent in my office, who is one of the most independently resourceful women I know. I wasn’t really surprised to learn that at her former job as a sales associate at Sears, she had sold heavy equipment, including portable generators. “I could just read the instruction manuals and I knew how everything in my department worked,” she told me.
I wish I had that kind of brain, but I don’t. Instruction manuals baffle me. I always need someone to show me or explain to me how something works.
When I asked how important it is to have a generator, she said very important for people with either a sump pump that must be kept running or for those who have medical equipment that runs on electricity.
To know the most vital information about generators, I called Butch Gilbert, owner of Effective Electric in Cortlandt. I had met him at a networking meeting and, considering how young he looks, was very impressed with the great log of experience he’s racked up before starting his own company, working on big projects like the Cortlandt Town Center and restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Legal Seafood.
“Now I get more satisfaction with smaller jobs for homeowners who appreciate the quality of my work,” he said. “With big commercial jobs, it’s all just about getting the job done.”
Butch said it is important for people to know more about generators, especially at this time of year when the weather is about to turn cold and, without electrical power, a host of problems can develop for a homeowner. “Unfortunately, most people avoid the subject until they have a crisis and their basement is flooded or their pipes have frozen. Then they call and say, help!”
From Butch, I learned more about the two types of generators. The first is a portable generator, the kind sold by my friend Kathleen at Sears, which is for temporary emergency power and uses extension cords or a cable plugged into a manual switch. While less expensive, this type of generator requires frequent refueling with gasoline and is therefore less reliable. If it is battery started, it will also require that the battery be kept charged at all times. This would not be a good application, therefore, for a country home in the woods which might be occupied only on weekends.
The better, more reliable choice is a standby generator which is hard-wired to an electrical system using a transfer switch and is permanently connected to an external fuel source such as natural gas or liquid propane.
Emergency power doesn’t come cheap, and the cost depends on the size generator that is needed. “I tell customers to make two lists: one of their ‘needs’ and one of their ‘wants,’” Butch said. The needs would include the very basics, like assuring that the sump pump will work, the heater, the line to the telephone supply, some light and a refrigerator and freezer.
“I had one customer tell me that he had to continue to cook if there were a blackout, but when he said that he uses an electric range, I told him that changed the whole picture of what he needed, considering that the typical range top is like 40 amps,” he said. “I just ask people what their budget is, and then I tell them how much they can cover for that amount of money. Probably the cheapest standby backup would be about $1,500, but typically it can be $7,000 to $10,000 or even run up to $20,000 to $50,000 depending on the size of the house and what’s in it.”
After I was able to close my mouth upon hearing those figures, Butch said, “But if you think about the risks of a flooded basement or burst pipes, depending on your situation, it pays to take preventative measures, and again, for those on a budget, just go for the absolute necessities to keep the house safe.”
An interesting side note from Butch is that generators are now more sophisticated in providing “clean” sine waves required by today’s computers and appliances with digital panels. “If you buy an inexpensive generator and it’s not supplying the correct hertz you need,” he warned, “it can affect the quality of the power and damage computers and other equipment.”
And for the technically challenged like me, each purchase of a quality generator comes with the provision that, after installation, an authorized representative of the manufacturer will provide startup and make sure that it’s operating properly.
If you want expert advice on products and installation, visit Butch Gilbert’s website at www.effectiveelectric.net or call him directly at 914-737-2651.
Butch Gilbert, owner of Effective Electric, knows a thing or two about generators.
Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner (PrimaveraPR.com). Anyone considering selling or buying a home can reach him directly at 914-522-2076.