A short power outage can be inconvenient, but a big storm that takes your home off the power grid for days or even longer can cause real problems. The right portable generator can help keep you and your family safe, comfortable, and also keep all the food in your fridge from spoiling if there's a long power outage.
Sizing the generator right is the key. Your generator should have more watts than everything you want to run simultaneously. Check the labels on your appliances, owner's manuals, or visit the manufacturer website to find out their wattage. Let's look at these examples: a TV might use 200 watts; a microwave oven 1,500 watts and central AC 5,000 or more. Don't forget - each lightbulb counts - just add up the watts of each one you'll want to turn on. Want to dry your hair after a shower? That hair dryer might use 1,800 watts!
Another thing to consider is your refrigerator and air conditioner, once they are running may only be 600 watts each, but when they first cycle on - they eat up those watts at the tune of maybe 1,200 of them apiece, and these all need to be added together to find out the max watts you may be using. It's very important to consider both the generator's max output for peaks and rated output for running power.
Most portable generators use gas or diesel. That means having enough fuel on hand to get started when you need it. But most people buy gasoline for their cars, and use it over the next week or two, so they don't realize: gasoline has a short shelf life - it breaks down. And for safety's sake, you want to limit both the amount of fuel you store and the length of time you store it. Never store gasoline in the house - the garage is better if you can, with the container about 95% full, with a little "breathing room." Keep the temperature under 85° Fahrenheit. You can also add a fuel stabilizer when you first purchase the fuel - it can extend its useful life. If you want to avoid these concerns all together a good solution to all this is to wait until a storm threatens, and then buy your fuel.
Once running, keep your gasoline or diesel powered generator outside while running - at least 10 feet away from your house to avoid the fumes from the running motor. Never run a generator indoors or in partly enclosed areas such as garages. Only use outdoors and away from windows, doors, vents, crawl spaces and in an area where adequate ventilation is available. Using a fan or opening doors and windows will not provide sufficient ventilation. There are propane generators, too. This means easier fuel storage, and only one hose to hook up to get everything going.
Also, be careful running extension cord or cords to the generator. Don't hook them up while wet - it's best if you have a canopy over the generator in case of rain - because electricity and water do not mix! Other nice options include a low oil sensor, an electric start backup, and a fuel shutoff which allows you to run the generator dry in preparation for storage. Don't forget to use quality outdoor-rated extension cords and consider the number of AC outlets to run the power.
You may even want to get an electrician to install a power transfer switch inside your home or garage. This is like a special breaker box that isolates the circuits for the things you want to power. You can run only one extension between the generator and the breaker box, and power everything linked to it.
An important factor that is ignored by many is the recommended upkeep of your generator. The worst mistake is to wait until a storm has hit, hook up the generator only to find out it doesn't work.
Maintenance is key and should be done ideally on a monthly basis, although quarterly will do. Just put in at least one half-gallon of fresh fuel and run a small item (a lamp, or small electric tool) will do, just to make sure it's operating correctly. Now is the time to find out if there is a problem, not when the storm is approaching. Once a year a full tune up should be completed.
While the unit is running, check for loose wires or connections. And don't forget to check the batteries. Oil should be checked and changed annually.
Propane generators are also popular and fuel in the tank won't be a problem, but electrical parts can become corroded if not started periodically as well.
Spark plugs should be changed, just like in your automobile.
It's also a good idea for more than one adult to know how to power the generator off and on.
Find out what other essentials you need to complete your storm kit here: http://www.brandsmartusa.com/stormkit