Q: It’s inconvenient when the electric goes off during storms. I want to get a generator. Is it expensive to operate a whole-house generator during outages? If not, why not always use one?
A: Many homeowners install large whole-house emergency backup generators because most activities require electricity. The problem is not from just storms. During the summertime, with high air-conditioning loads, there sometimes are brownouts on hot afternoons.
Whenever there is an electricity outage or a brownout, a standby backup generator automatically starts producing electricity as soon as its engine gets started. The delay period is short. It might run for several minutes or several days until electricity is restored.
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Even using inexpensive natural gas, the cost to operate a generator is more than your current electric rate. Because it runs for a short time, the operating cost is not significant. Running one continuously would wear it out because it isn’t designed for that, and there are maintenance costs.
When selecting a whole-house backup generator, determine what “whole-house” means to you. This affects how large (output capacity) a unit you need. Having enough power for cooking, refrigeration, lighting, television and operating a furnace blower are typical essential needs.
Electricity output from a generator is rated in kilowatts. For a family of four, a 12-KW backup generator is adequate for most activities. By doing without some appliances and not trying to use many simultaneously, you might get by with a smaller, less expensive unit.
To size your generator, make a list of the electric items you want to keep running. Check the wattage on each one and total them. Electric motors use more wattage briefly at startup, so add a little extra. Installing one is not a do-it-yourself project, so contact an installer for sizing advice.
Definitely install an automatic transfer switch with your generator. This is more convenient for you and safer for the utility company repair workers. When the switch senses a power outage or brownout, it disconnects your house from the electric grid and starts the generator.
Another advantage of having a switch is that it starts and runs the generator periodically to make sure everything is functioning properly.
Natural gas is the least expensive and cleanest fuel to power a generator. The small engine requires little maintenance. Propane is another clean-burning fuel. Propane is more expensive than natural gas, and a propane storage tank is needed.
A diesel-powered generator requires more maintenance and a tank. A big advantage is if the electricity outage is long, you can easily dump more diesel fuel into the tank to keep it running.
The following companies offer backup standby generators:
Q: The back of our house is built into a small grade. Several side windows are in window wells, and they don’t let in much light. What can we do so we don’t have to turn on so many lamps?
A: One method is to paint the inside of the window well with white or silver paint. Taping reinforced foil in the window well is even more effective. Cover the bottom of the window well with crushed white rock.
This reflects much more of the natural light into your windows. Cover the window well with a inexpensive domed clear plastic cover. This keeps out dirt and leaves.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, Lexington Herald-Leader, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or go to Dulley.com.