Generators for Dummies

The most vivid memory of losing power when I was a child was the eerie silence that followed the darkness. It was a chance to use a flashlight and barbecue most of our meals. We were patient and composed and almost somewhat disappointed when life returned to normal. Today the peaceful silence is abruptly disturbed by the sound of neighborhood generators coming to life. The brief interruption of Wi-Fi and air conditioning becomes just a nuisance in our hermetic existence.

The popularity of generators has soared in the past 20 years. What used to be novelty has become a fashionable home accessory offering more than just a way to keep the milk in the refrigerator from spoiling. They are also a source of controversy. Is it fair for your neighbors to listen to them as they lie in bed with the windows open in the middle of the night? Many of us would surely never consider mowing our lawn at 2:00 am for three days straight out of consideration but in the name of Wi- Fi we often ignore these feelings. Even some of the most environmentally conscious of us quickly put aside our values so we can watch Netflix.

Deciding if you need a generator is often the hardest part for most. How big does it need to be and how much does it cost are often the first questions asked. Home generators come in two types: standby and portable. The standby types are often connected to natural gas and have a transfer switch that switches the generator on as soon as the power goes out. The portable types are often gasoline powered and require you to fill them with gas and start it when the power goes out. Both require maintenance to be reliable. To be truly self-sufficient many turn to portable generators since natural gas is also a utility that can be disrupted.

The sizing is also very important. A small 2kw (2000 watts) portable is enough to run your router, a few lights and a small refrigerator while it will take closer to 15kw to run a whole house without limitations. I personally have a portable 5kw Honda that runs on natural gas with a manual transfer switch. This allows me to connect it to my home and use most appliances, but I must set it up and start it myself. Many like the convenience of a standby since it should start up immediately and is completely hands off. Brands also matter: Often as the price goes down the noise goes up. Some of the least expensive options are so noisy they violate noise ordinances while the best models are so quiet you can have a conversation next to them while they are running.

Losing power is certainly an inconvenience in our modern and busy lives and owning a generator is another way we are able to take control over a once uncontrollable situation.