Prepare Your Home and Auto for Holiday Travel

Winter road during a snowstorm. Image via Pixabay.com

Winter Weather can Make Holiday Travel Hazardous

Ahead of the 2014 Christmas Week, weather forecasters are warning of the potential for at least two storms that could impact the Lower 48. While forecasts beyond three days carry a degree of uncertainty, there’s a good chance weather will impact holiday travel this year.

Preparing the home, family, and car for winter trips is something many of us don’t think much about. The hectic season often finds people loading the family car or van at the last minute and stopping at the gas station on the way out of town. There are a few things you can do to make sure both your home and your family are safe while you travel.

Are you ready for winter storm power outages?

Before you leave, check the weather and be aware of the potential for storms that might increase the potential for hazardous driving conditions. Consider adjusting travel to account for changing weather conditions. Continue reading “Prepare Your Home and Auto for Holiday Travel” »

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Six Portable Generator Features to Consider Before Purchase

The Generac XG8000E portable generator.

Generac Portable XG Series XG8000E Electric Start

A portable generator might be a convenience, a necessity, or a lifesaver, depending on the situation. Very often, they serve multiple purposes on job sites, camping trips, and around the home.

Their portability brings electrical power wherever it is needed and isn’t easily available. They show up at tailgate parties, farmer’s markets, community events, and picnics. Continue reading “Six Portable Generator Features to Consider Before Purchase” »

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Generac PowerPact Replaces CorePower for Essential Emergency Power

Generac PowerPact 6518 showing automatic transfer switch with wiring whips for installation.

PowerPact 6518 Standby Generator System Includes ATS and Installation Wiring

Generac discontinued the CorePower standby generator system. The CorePower system was a 7000-watt, standby generator that ran on either natural gas or propane and included an automatic transfer switch with built-in priority load center.

The new PowerPact Standby Generator is a seven-kilowatt addition to the Guardian lineup of generators. It incorporates the latest Evolution Controller, which makes it compatible with several options including the Wireless Local Monitor and Generac’s remote monitoring system, Mobile Link.

This latest standby generator in the Guardian lineup is an affordable option for supplying power during long and short-term power outages. Continue reading “Generac PowerPact Replaces CorePower for Essential Emergency Power” »

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Standby Generators Protect Your Home During Winter Power Outages

The New York State Thruway South of Buffalo, NY with more than two feet of snow on an impassible road.

Big snowstorms always threaten local power distribution grids. How long until your power goes out?

The winter of 2013-2014 was brutal for much of the United States. Several ice storms locked down the South and the East Coast, while the northern tier east of the Rockies was battered with one snow storm after another and record breaking cold. A new term was introduced to many—polar vortex.

A polar vortex is probably nothing new, but the term definitely made you feel cold just hearing it. Along with the cold and snow and ice, utility power lines and other equipment suffered right along with the people, and often left them without power. The southern ice storms were especially hard on utility crews who sometimes struggled to keep up with the outages. Continue reading “Standby Generators Protect Your Home During Winter Power Outages” »

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Quiet 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Gives USA a Break

Hurricane Arthur impacts the USA Coast over the Noth Carolina Outer Banks.

Hurricane Arthur Takes Aim on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season ended on November 30. As predicted by several agencies including The National Hurricane Center, The University of Colorado, and Tropical Storm Risk, the Atlantic Hurricane Season was a quiet one with just eight named storms and one additional tropical depression that did not develop further. Storms are not named until they reach tropical storm satus.

Although the seasonal Atlantic storms in 2014 had minimal impact on the United States, they serve as a reminder that residents along the East and Gulf Coasts must remain vigilant and stay prepared. Continue reading “Quiet 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Gives USA a Break” »

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5 Things to Know About Standby Generators For Emergency Power

A standby generator with the top lifted and front panel removed to show the interal components such as engine and alternator.

Residential Standby Generator with Enclosure Open to Show Engine and Alternator.

Standby generators supply power when the utility distribution system is unable to provide electricity. Disruptions caused by storms or by equipment failures are the most common, but other causes include traffic accidents, damage caused by animals, or even deliberate sabotage.

Off grid users experience periods when the wind or sun cannot supply enough power to keep the batteries charged.

Regardless of the outage cause, electricity is still necessary to keep essential electrical circuits operating.

Automatic Operation

Generac 200-Amp Service-Entrance-Rated Automatic Transfer Switch

Generac 200-Amp Service-Entrance-Rated Automatic Transfer Switch

Unlike portable generators, standby generator systems are permanently installed much like a furnace or a hot water heater. Just as a furnace only turns on when heat is required, a standby generator turns on automatically when the power goes out.

The generator system detects a power outage immediately and waits a few seconds for the power to return. If it does not, it starts the generator engine. The automatic transfer switch disconnects the building from the utility lines and connects it to the generator supply. It all happens just seconds after the power goes out.

When the utility power is restored, the system reconnects the utility lines and shuts the generator down.

Essential Power

A side-by-side refrigerator-freezer with the refrigerator door open.

Without Power, Refrigerators Can’t Keep Food Cold.

Today more than ever before, we have become reliant on electrical power at home and at work.

Houses rely on electrical power for sump pumps to keep basements dry, refrigerators and freezers to keep food safe, and furnaces and air conditioners to keep a home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Without the furnace, the pipes can freeze and burst in cold weather and then flood the house when the temperature rises. Within hours after an outage, the temperature inside a refrigerator can begin to rise.

With a commercial standby generator, stores and restaurants can keep the doors open while office buildings keep the lights on and computers running. Many phone systems need a source of power beyond that supplied by the telephone utility.

Standby generators for emergency power keep our homes safe and our businesses open.

Fuel Supplies

Natural Gas Meter

Natural Gas Meter and Pressure Regulator Supplied by Municipal Gas Utility

Although diesel generators are available for residential and commercial use, the most common fuels are liquefied petroleum gas (propane) and natural gas. Natural gas from a municipal supply can keep a generator running for weeks. Propane tanks need refilling, but a propane-powered generator can also keep the lights on for extended periods, depending on the size of the tank and the requirements of the generator.

Standard residential natural gas meters might not have the capacity to supply the larger standby generators. Before installation, check with the gas utility to ensure your meter can supply enough gas. You may need to upgrade the meter. Your LP gas supplier can help you determine if the regulator on your storage tank is sufficient.

Power Capacity

Five days after Isaac, New Orleans waits for power

A tire store in Kenner, United States, has a banner in its window stating no power in the suburb post Isaac disaster.

All generators have two ratings. The continuous rating is the amount of power in watts or kilowatts that a generator can supply continuously. The surge rating or maximum rating is limited to a short duration and allows the unit to start electric motors which require as much as six times the power during startup. Some generators provide more power while operating on LP Gas than they do on natural gas. The generator will have different continuous and maximum power ratings for each type of fuel.

The amount of fuel used is also dependent on the amount of power used. As the power draw changes, the fuel use changes at the same time. Since power use often varies continuously, the amount of fuel used will also vary. Higher power levels use more fuel.

Maintenance

Generac Standby Generator showing snow cleared from around the unit and all vents cleared of snow.

Keep Snow and other Debris from Accumulating Around Standby Units

All engines need periodic maintenance and generator engines are no exception. During extended outages, a standby generator may run for days or even a month or more. It is important to service the generator according to the maintenance schedule. Standby units need service as often as every 200 hours, or about once a week. Maintenance includes changing the oil and oil filter, replacing spark plugs, and changing the air filter. Keep supplies on hand for long outages.

Also important to smooth, uninterrupted operation is keeping the generator clear of wind-blown debris or ice and snow. The vents on the generator provide air flow to keep it cool and to supply the engine. Clear away leaves, grass clippings, and other debris, and remove snow or ice that may cover the vents or the top of the unit.

 

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Is Your Portable Generator Ready for Winter Storms?

The New York State Thruway South of Buffalo, NY with more than two feet of snow on an impassible road.

Big snowstorms always threaten local power distribution grids. How long until your power goes out?

Winter storms have already begun to bury parts of the Northeast. This week alone, Buffalo, New York had already received about five and half feet of snow, with another two to three feet expected today.

Heavy snow, ice, and wind can wreak havoc on the power grid and leave homeowners without power for days. In Buffalo and surrounding areas, storm related outages have been affecting customers all week and at this writing, more than 1000 are without power.

Backup power for many homes is a portable generator purchased for other purposes: on the job, camping, tailgating, or outdoor events. Portables might be a viable alternative to standby units, but they need a little more TLC to keep them ready and running during an extended outage.

Get a Transfer Switch

Generac Pre-Wired Manual Transfer Switch Kit

Generac Pre-Wired Manual Transfer Switch Kit

A manual transfer switch is by far the best way to use a portable for emergency use. It allows the generator to connect directly to the home’s electrical system to power furnaces, refrigerators, pumps, and much more.

When engaged, the manual transfer switch isolates the generator power from the incoming utility lines. Important since you don’t want to endanger utility line workers or overload the generator. A dedicated cable connects the generator the transfer switch through an inlet box. This method protects the integrity of your home’s electrical wiring, safeguards the generator, and eliminates running multiple extension cords from the generator into the house.

Perform Maintenance

Shop for Preventative Maintenance Kits

Shop for Preventative Maintenance Kits

Don’t wait until it is zero degrees and a power outage hits. Do your maintenance ahead of time. Your owner’s manual has the maintenance intervals. Count on changing the oil, air and oil filters, and the spark plug. Keep enough supplies on hand to keep your generator running through long outages.

Add fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank and run the generator for a few minutes to replace the fuel in the system with stabilized fuel.

This is a good time to rotate your fuel supply. Pour the gas from your stored fuel into the car and then fill up the gas cans with fresh fuel. Be sure to add fuel stabilizer according to the directions on the bottle.

Start your generator about once a month and let it run until it is warm. It’s not necessary to connect a load. Just start, let it run about five minutes until warm, and shut it down.

Electric Start

candle

A power outage can leave you with this for your only source of light and warmth.

Electric start portable generator batteries often go long periods without use. It’s a good idea to hook up the battery charger once a month to top off the charge. Use the ‘trickle’ setting. A charger with an automatic shutoff is a good investment as it won’t overcharge the battery.

Check the battery date. Is it near time for replacement? Even if you haven’t used the generator much, batteries do age. The last thing you need is a battery that fails in the middle of a storm when you’re snowed in and need power now.

Clean terminals and make sure all connections are tight.

Placement

Gen-Tran Power Inlet Box

Gen-Tran Power Inlet Box

Know where you will place your generator ahead of time and keep that area clear of snow. Also shovel a path from the generator location to the inlet box. Connecting the generator will be so much easier if you plan for it in advance.

Safe Placement For Portable Generators

Place generators at least ten feet away from the house and never near an open window, vent, door, or other opening. Differences in air temperature can pull exhaust fumes through a small opening—such as that created by an extension cord through a window—and cause sickness or even death.

Never run a generator or any internal combustion engine within an enclosed space such as a garage or shed, or inside your home. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide and can accumulate to deadly levels in just minutes. Always run generators out of doors.

Upgrade

A standby generator installed outside the house, ready to keep the power on within seconds of an outage.

Standby Generators Offer 24/7/365 Protection Against Outages.

Portables can be a lifesaver in a pinch, but they have their downsides. They need a constant supply of fresh fuel. In general they are loud and noisy. If you’re not home to start and connect it, they won’t run. Depending on the unit, the power quality may not be suitable for electronics.

Consider a permanently installed standby generator system. They run automatically, whether you are home or not. The natural gas or propane fuel supply can keep them running for days without refueling. They offer peace of mind whether you’re on vacation, at the store, or at home. You’ll never worry about the pipes freezing, the basement flooding, or the food spoiling in the refrigerator ever again. With utility-quality power, they can supply even the most sensitive of electronics.

Are your ready for the next winter storm power outage?

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The Quiet Cummins Keeps Life Peaceful for New Orleans Family

The Cummins RS30 Mounted on a custom made pedestal and aluminum frame.

Cyril Laan’s new Cummins RS30 Mounted on its Pedestal.

Imagine walking through peaceful backyards. The birds are singing. A gentle breeze riffles through the trees. The neighborhood is quieter than usual because just minutes before, power to the homes was interrupted and most residents are without power.

A quiet, barely noticeable hum draws your attention and you walk around the side of a home to investigate. The noise isn’t loud. In fact, from the sidewalk you probably won’t even hear it. On the side of a house is a Cummins standby generator and as you stand next to it, you can still hear the birds singing and the crunch of gravel under foot.

Life After Katrina

The custom frame and pedestal build by Cyril Laan to keep the generator unit off thre ground and out of flood waters.

Custom Pedestal and Frame Designed to Keep the Generator Out of Flood Waters

Just like most parts of the country, residents of New Orleans experience power outages every year. They may last for a few minutes or a few hours and like people everywhere, residents call the electric utility to find out when power will be restored.

As Hurricane Katrina neared land in 2005, the storm began to knock out power before it even made landfall. Cyril Laan had evacuated his family, but he stayed behind to take care of his house and property. His power went out hours before Katrina made landfall and stayed out for six long days.

Hurricane Katrina, the threat of other storms, and the possibility that the power could go out at anytime prompted Cyril to carefully research and then purchase a standby generator for emergency power.

I talked with Mr. Laan recently about his experience during Hurricane Katrina and the days that followed, and his decision to purchase a Cummins Liquid-Cooled Generator.

Super Quiet Cummins

Asked how important generator noise level was when making a purchase decision, Mr. Laan had this to say. “Sound level was at the very top of my list of selection points.” He went to say that the life of the generator was also important, which meant purchasing a liquid-cooled machine that ran at half the speed of an air-cooled model.

Watch this 55-second video and notice the birds singing and gravel crunching underfoot.

The low noise level of the RS30 generator from Cummins Power Systems hasn’t just impressed the Laan Family. Others from the neighborhood are also impressed. In the video, you can see the house adjacent to the Laan home and feel confident they are undisturbed by the generator.

Is normal conversation possible within feet of the generator? Laan says, “…the video I shared proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, one can even hear birds chirping in the background…not something possible with other brands and models I investigated.”

Other Benefits

Mr. Laan cites the loss of refrigeration as a major problem during an outage. In advance of Katrina, he purchased hundreds of pounds of dry ice and regular ice. Even so, it was not enough to keep all their food safe and quite a bit ended up in garbage bags. Without air conditioning, staying cool and comfortable was also a problem.

The RS30 standby generator from Cummins changes everything. “The unit runs the entire household with every electrical appliance turned on, which includes three central air conditioners, two convection ovens, three dishwashers, three microwaves, clothes dryer, washing machine and every other device with an on/off switch turned on. The system is designed to handle the full household load requirement.”

Mr. Laan points out that anyone purchasing a standby generator should consider load management during their selection process. It wasn’t a feature he thought about and so far hasn’t needed it, but it could be an important consideration for others.

How Norwall PowerSystems Helped

Moving the Generator with the help of friends and a forklift.

Unloading and Mounting the Generator on the New Pedestal

After rejecting all inclusive bids from local contractors as too expensive, Mr. Laan decided to serve as his own general contractor and hire others to do the work he could not.

He talked to the sales staff at Norwall PowerSystems and found them extremely helpful and knowledgeable. After the generator was purchased and delivered, the electrician was hooking up the air conditioners and ran into a snag. A call to Norwall PowerSystems straightened it out.

“The included generator cost was just one-third of the total in the contractor quotes. I found Norwall PowerSystems and realized I could save a lot of money by doing it myself.”

Doing it himself meant renting a fork truck, getting friends to help unload the unit and position it on a pedestal he made out of concrete and rebar and a custom mounting frame of aluminum I-beam. He secured the necessary building permits and hired separate contractors for the plumbing and electrical work.

Now when the power goes out, Cyril Laan and his family don’t worry about food spoiling or living in heat and humidity. They can enjoy the deck with the generator running and have a conversation without having to shout or even talk louder than usual. And of course, they can still enjoy the birds singing and the breeze.

Images and Video Courtesy of Cyril Laan 2014

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Core Power Standby Generator vs Portable for Emergency Backup Power

Five days after Isaac, New Orleans waits for power

A tire store in Kenner, United States, has a banner in its window stating no power in the suburb post Isaac disaster.

Residential consumers considering a generator for backup power have two main choices—a standby generator or a portable.

The first stop at this point is an Internet search for backup generators. Choices run from one extreme to the other, with tiny units that can barely run a home computer, to liquid-cooled models capable of supplying half a block in the average suburban neighborhood.

A look at the prices and it seems that portables win the battle for cost. But prices at the home center or the online shopping mall are deceiving and there are other costs to consider, and other factors that make a big difference in value.

Comparing a standby system like the Generac Core Power and a portable like the GP6500E isn’t exactly comparing apples to apples, but it’s probably as close as you can get.

Obvious Differences

The Core Power System shown with Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS)

Generac 7-Kilowatt Core Power with ATS

The Core Power is a 7-kilowatt standby generator system. It is permanently installed and operates automatically. Outages are sensed immediately and the generator starts.

Within seconds, the standby system is safely supplying electrical power to the home’s essential appliances and circuits. It runs quietly at about 67dB off the home’s existing natural or LP gas supply.

The all-weather enclosure allows for operation at any time.

 

Generac Portable GP6500E generator

The Electric Start GP6500E from Generac

Generac’s GP6500E is a 6.5 kilowatt portable generator with electric start. During a power outage, it sits in the garage or storage shed until the rain stops, then you wheel it onto the driveway, fill it with gasoline, connect the power cord to the house, and start it.

The noise level compares to similar units in the industry which places it at 75 to 80dB. Every 5 to 10 hours it must be shut off, allowed to cool, and refilled with up to seven gallons of gasoline which may be hard to purchase during a power outage.

The GP6500E, like most portables, is not recommended for use in the rain.

Installation

If you want to power your furnace or well pump, or other permanently installed appliance, you’ll need a transfer switch. The Core Power comes with a 50-ampere, prewired automatic transfer switch. The GP6500E requires a separately purchased manual transfer switch which (for a comparable model) will run an additional 480 to 580 dollars.

The Core Power will likely install just a few feet from your home. It is designed for that purpose and meets all the necessary codes for a safe installation. The installer will connect it to your natural or propane gas supply and it will run for days or even weeks without the need to refuel.

You’ll need a secure place to keep the GP6500E until you need it, and room for about 25 gallons of gasoline to run it for approximately 32 hours at half load. For safe operation, it must be at least 10 feet from the house and you’ll need a way to secure the unit to prevent theft.

Cost

The difference in cost comes down to a few hundred dollars. The portable with a good manual transfer switch will cost less out of the box. However, it can’t hook itself up and and it won’t start automatically in the pouring rain or when an ice storm has you stranded away from home.

The Generac Core Power will cost a little more out of the box and needs a natural gas or propane connection, but it starts and runs automatically to keep your pipes from freezing, the refrigerator and freezer cold, and the sump pump running. You won’t have to invest in numerous gasoline containers or store and rotate large supplies of gasoline.

Bottom Line

If you’re considering a portable for home backup power, consider all the factors and not just out-of-the-box cost. When it comes to keeping your home and family safe, even when you’re not there, the benefits of a standby generator system like the Core Power are obvious, and the cost differences negligible.

Portables are great for power in places without utility service or when you have to rely on an external supply of power. But when it comes to a reliable source of power that keeps your home essentials operating, they can’t compete with the standby system.

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Choose the Right Automatic Transfer Switch for Standby Generators

Guardian Standby Generator shown with Generac's Smart Switch ATS

Guardian Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS)

The automatic transfer switch—or ATS—is what makes a standby generator system a fully automatic appliance.

They are to a standby generator what a thermostat is to a furnace. Just as a thermostat turns the furnace on and off as needed to regulate temperature, the ATS controls the generator to supply power when needed and manage power to ensure that essential appliances are able to run as needed.

Not all automatic switches are the same and selecting one that works best for your needs is just as important as correctly sizing your generator.

Transfer Switch Overview

A transfer switch controls the power source. When one power source is selected, the other power source is isolated from the system. This is important because it prevents one source from feeding the other. In a residential or commercial system, it prevents a generator from endangering utility workers by unexpectedly energizing the utility lines. It also protects the generator from damage when power is restored by the utility.

As the name implies, automatic transfer switches work automatically. When the power goes out, they can switch between utility power and generator power as required. A manual transfer switch requires someone to physically move the switch from one position to the other.

Automatic Transfer Switches come in two main types. One contains only the transfer switch and the included options. It manages the power source for a panel of circuit breakers which may serve an entire building or just a few essential circuits. The other contains both the transfer switch and the circuit breakers the switch serves.

Managed Power

Most circuits in a home or business are 120-volt circuits limited to 15 or 20 amperes. A few appliances require 240 volts and as much as 50 amperes.

Managing the 240-volt circuits prevents overloading a generator. Because a 20-kilowatt standby generator supplies 80 to 85 amperes at 240 volts, adding one or two high-voltage appliances to the demand can create an overload condition.

An ATS with managed power can prevent the overload by allowing the appliances to run only when power is available. If one central air unit is already running, and another wants to start, the managed power option forces the second unit to wait until the first stops.

Other loads that include electric water heaters, well pumps, electric ranges, or electric dryers are also managed, often in tiered system that prioritizes their importance.

Service Entrance Rating

According to the National Electrical Code, a service entrance must incorporate a main disconnect. The service-panel’s main circuit breaker performs this function in many homes. A separate main disconnect in its own panel is incorporated in temporary buildings or in some jurisdictions.

The main disconnect has requirements that exceed the capability of common circuit breakers. In order to serve as service entrance equipment, a transfer switch must incorporate these requirements into its design. The Service Entrance (SE) rating allows a transfer switch to replace the existing equipment already performing this function, which simplifies installation and operation.

Current Rating

Automatic transfer switches must safely carry their maximum rated current whether the current is coming from a generator or from the electric utility.

Understanding Watts, Volts, and Amps

Even if the generator installed can only supply 80 amperes of current during an outage, an ATS installed as a service entrance in a home with 200 ampere utility service must safely handle 200 amps of current, even if the home never uses that much.

Conversely, if an ATS will only serve a limited number of circuits and operates as a sub-panel, it only requires a rating that will handle the maximum current possible. A 50-ampere circuit breaker in the main panel can feed a 50-ampere ATS during normal operation as long as the generator’s main breaker is also 50 amperes or lower—neither the utility or the generator can supply the switch with more than 50 amperes.

ATS Choices

Most manufacturers supply automatic transfer switches designed to work with their standby generators. Each incorporates design features specific to the generators they manufacture. Choosing a transfer switch that was manufactured for use with a specific generator brand is usually the best way to go.

Package deals bundle a generator and ATS together. If you plan to purchase a 20-kilowatt standby generator for a home with 200-ampere service, selecting a package with a 200-ampere SE-rated transfer switch and 20 kilowatt standby generator is probably your best option. The features provided by the generator and by the transfer switch will govern your decision.

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