Do You Need a Backup Power Generator for Your Home? Pittsburgh Electricians Philips Heating & Air Conditioning

Why you need a backup generator.

Homeowners in the Pittsburgh region with backup power generators know the sense of relief when a power outage occurs and their lights and appliances stay on. However, being the only family in the neighborhood with the A/C running isn’t the only advantage of having a backup power source. A home power generator can keep your family safe when powerful storms knock out the electricity.

Perhaps the same can be said of those who reside in more rural areas. If you’re one of these persons who prefer open spaces, you’ve probably discovered that city dwellers usually get priority treatment when restoring electricity since the utilities and private contractors can service more people at once.

A study on power resilience among often-overlooked residential customers in rural and suburban communities uncovered that “most rural and suburban communities tend to be more vulnerable in long-duration outages.” This was the conclusion asserted by Angeline Bohman, lead author and Ph.D. candidate in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Most rural and suburban areas encompass overhead power lines, which can be taken down by high wind events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Ice storms and heavy snow can also weigh down and snap overhead lines. “The more spread-out communities are, the harder it is for residents to access support in an emergency due to destroyed or blocked roads and limited fuel to access,” says Bohman. “They are also likely to have to wait longer for power to be restored as other critical infrastructures and urban communities typically get priority.”

What causes power outages?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency, nearly half of large power outages are due to severe weather. The report found that equipment failure is the second highest cause of these types of outages (nearly 30 percent).

No matter the cause, large power outages affect millions of homeowners and can wreak havoc on you and your home.

Okay, what exactly is a backup (or emergency) power generator?

In the event of a blackout or brownout, a backup power generator offers an alternative source of electric power for your home. Contingent to the type of generator and your specific needs, a backup generator can power certain parts of your home, such as your refrigerator or sump pump, or can power your entire house.

The main types of generators are portable and standby (or whole-house) generators.

Standby or portable, an emergency generator is an insurance policy of sorts against the effects of a power outage. Think of it like an independent electrical system completely off the grid that powers your home, with the degree of power offered ranging from just keeping the lights on to powering your entire home at full force, depending on what type and size of unit you buy.

Portable generators

A portable generator is most often powered by fuel (either gas or diesel). Portable generators can put out quite a bit of power and can be used to run large appliances like televisions and refrigerators, but only as a temporary fix. You’ll need a more powerful generator to keep up for prolonged power outages.

Standby generators

A standby or whole-house generator can power whatever your family needs when your lights go out. You will have guaranteed power for all your major appliances, including your heating and air conditioning system, water heater, refrigerator/freezer, sump pump, garage door opener, and more. A standby generator can function off liquid propane or natural gas and, by design, will automatically shift command during a power loss.

Standby generators need to be permanently installed and located outdoors, just like many of a home’s other utility hookups. The generator is connected to a home’s main utility panel and needs to be wired into the present electrical system – hence the prerequisite for professional installation.
Since standby generators can’t be powered by electricity themselves (for obvious reasons), they operate on gasoline, propane, or natural gas, depending on the setup.

Portable generator vs. standby generator for your home

Which is better for backup power: a portable or a standby generator?

As the name implies, portable generators are great because you can take them anywhere. You can easily take them with you to power an RV on a quick getaway or bring them onto your boat for a fun day. They also carry enough of a charge to energize your home for a while, if needed.

However, a standby generator is best for you if you think your home needs power for more than a few hours.

Don’t want an emergency generator that runs on fuel? Consider a portable power station, which is a type of portable generator that operates via a rechargeable battery or an included solar panel. They’re typically a bit more expensive than standard portable generators and can’t run for as long or provide as much power, but you won’t have to worry about storing gasoline.

How do I choose the size of my backup generator?

Generators are sized consistently with the number of watts of electrical power they provide. In addition to the power a generator delivers while constantly running, a generator should also furnish a short burst of “surge” power, often needed for a few seconds to power up a large appliance, for instance, a refrigerator or clothes dryer.

A small generator produces 3,000 to 4,000 watts – sufficient to supply a medium-sized refrigerator, a couple of appliances, a TV, and a few lights. If you want a more “refined” life, boost the wattage to 5,000 to 6,000 watts, and you can add a window air conditioner or two, a freezer, and several more appliances. Large generators that provide 7,000 to 10,000 watts make it possible for you to run just about everything in a medium-sized house, excluding a central air conditioning system.

To ensure you purchase the best backup generator for your home and needs, contact your local electric company to speak with a professional

Safety concerns?

All generators (except portable power stations) must be run outdoors for safety reasons. Standby generators are permanently installed outside, so you won’t have to worry about this consideration. However, you will have to make sure to have a designated outdoor spot for running your portable generator if the occasion arises. That’s because portable generators release carbon monoxide when in use, which is incredibly dangerous to breathe in. So, while you can store your portable generator inside, you’ll have to move it outside when you want to run it.

Why should you buy an emergency generator?

Here are some of the situations when you might need a home backup generator:

  • Some locations are prone to storms and heavy snowfall that cause frequent power outages. Some outages can last for days and, in these locations, cause severe disruptions, emotional stress, and financial cost. While not as prone to these disruptions as the Midwest, our region has experienced its fair share of such weather.
  • Your house may rely on an electric pump to pump water for a well. If the power fails, you’ll have no water for drinking, washing, and flushing. Most people can’t go for days on end carrying buckets of water from a surface well into their home. Nor can they devote the time to splitting, stacking, and hauling enough firewood to keep the stove lit for days straight in the winter. Purchasing a standby generator makes even more sense to run lights, a water pump, the furnace, outlets, TVs, refrigerator, freezer, stove, and more.
  • In areas where flooding is an issue, basements often contain sump pumps that pump away unwelcome water before it can build up and cause damage. Heavy rains are the worst possible times for sump pumps to stop functioning, and regrettably, power outages often take place during thunderstorms. When you plug the sump pump into a portable generator, you achieve peace of mind realizing your basement will remain dry even though the power is out.
  • A power outage could be problematic if you have a large refrigerator or freezer. A power outage will cause any stored food to spoil quickly and go to waste. Not only have you lost the money the food cost, but you also lost your stock of food when you most need it.
  • If you work from home and there is a power outage with a backup generator, you will at least be able to email and video conference. This could save you from losing valuable income.
  • If you’re away from home for a significant part of the year, particularly during the colder months, a home backup generator will help protect the house and maintain a security system while you’re away.
  • Perhaps most importantly, a power outage could be dangerous, even life-threatening, if someone in your home relies on electrically-powered medical equipment. It’s one thing to feel put out by losing your Wi-Fi, but it’s a whole other matter to lose access to necessary durable medical equipment such as ventilators and oxygen generators. Many such devices feature an additional power supply through a battery pack, but those are normally limited in their use. For example, an oxygen generator may only last two to four hours. If you live in a home where someone relies on medical equipment powered by electricity, an emergency generator will ensure that if your power goes out, he/she will still receive the care they require.

So, should I buy an emergency generator or not?

An emergency generator is always a sensible thing to have, but it can be somewhat costly, so it’s worth performing a cost-benefit analysis to find out if you truly need one and, if so, whether a standby or portable unit will be best.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to foresee if you’ll face a blackout, but if the probabilities are high because of where you live or if your home demands that your power always be on, an emergency generator is a smart purchase. Consider the amount of power you’ll need in addition to the cost of the unit. If you don’t have particular concerns but simply want to be sure you have backup power, a portable generator could fit the bill.

Be aware that if you do purchase an emergency generator, it will be sitting idle most of the time. To make sure it stays up and running and that it’ll be ready in an emergency, you’ll need to have it tested and serviced on a routine basis. That said, when you purchase your generator, ask about scheduled maintenance requirements.

Everything from your dishwasher to your cell phone requires electricity. And while it’s easy to take power for granted, it’s not always guaranteed. Consider your home and your budget and determine if an emergency generator is essential for you.

Buy now or buy later?

One problem is that it’s been documented that people are inclined to purchase backup power generators just prior to or in the weeks following a major storm. Unfortunately, that can lead to a rushed decision and a generator that’s the wrong size for your home.

The electrical professionals at Phillips Heating & Cooling are of the opinion that you should consider your options before a storm strikes to make sure you purchase a generator that’s right for your needs.

Talk to a Phillips Heating & Cooling professional to learn more about the type and size generator that will be the best fit. We carry a full range of top-notch Kohler brand power generators.