Inverters: Electrical Power From Your Vehicle

A 750 watt inverter made by Generac.

750 Watt Generac Inverter

We drive around in vehicles that produce quite a bit of power. Most of the power is mechanical and is used to propel the vehicle in whatever direction we want to go. This is true on cars, RVs, boats, trucks, and more.

Some of the power produced in a vehicle is electrical, but even though a 12-volt battery can start a car, it won’t turn on your TV or let you plug in your laptop without a special adapter.

The current from a battery is 12-volts DC. The current in your home is 110 to 125 volts AC.

The two power types and voltages are not compatible. Adapters can lower voltage and convert AC to DC. We plug them into our wall sockets to charge cell phones and laptop batteries. An inverter is just the opposite—it plugs into a vehicle battery and converts DC to AC while increasing the voltage to 115 volts.

Battery Power

A fully charged 12-volt automobile battery has an output of about 12.7 volts. The amount of current it can produce in amperes varies by the battery and is largely dependent on the power requirements of the vehicle’s starter. The power from a vehicle battery is in constant use. It provides energy to make the spark that fires the spark plugs and powers lights, radios, and any other accessories in use. Without a means of recharging, the battery is gradually depleted until it can no longer produce enough electrical current to start the car or turn on the lights.

This is an important factor to remember: batteries have a limited amount of power available. Use too much without recharging and you will deplete the battery.

Generac Inverters

The inverters by Generac Power Systems include models that produce 100, 200, 400, and 750 watts of continuous power. Their peak, or surge rating, is the amount of power they can produce momentarily to help start a motor such as an air pump or electric fan. Surge watts are about double the continuous watts, but the inverter will only produce that power for a moment.

Turn your vehicle power into household power

Turn your vehicle power into household power

The power available from a 12-volt outlet such as a cigarette lighter or convenience outlet is limited. The 100-watt units can plug into it, larger units connect directly to the battery with a supplied battery cable. The battery connections make it possible to connect the inverter directly to a non-vehicle battery or group of batteries connected in parallel to use as a temporary power source.

Two important features (not available on 100-watt inverters) are a low battery alarm and low battery shutdown. They help prevent discharging the battery until it is dead—helpful for keeping your vehicle ready to go.

Available Power

How do you determine what size power inverter you need?

How do you determine what size power inverter you need? Sizing power inverters is relatively easy. Check out this Sample

Add up the power requirements (in watts) of the items you’d like to power with an inverter. Then choose the model that exceeds your maximum requirements. If you need 600 watts, then select the 750- watt inverter. Most electrical or electronic devices have a tag that will give the power required. Some supply a volt and amp rating—just multiply volts by amps to calculate watts.

Approximate power requirements:

  • Laptop – 90 watts
  • Desktop and LCD Monitor 600 watts
  • 75-watt light 100 watts
  • 32-inch LCD television 150 watts
  • 12-volt tool charger 250 watts
  • cell phone charger – 25 watts
  • slow cooker – 250 watts
  • Tablet computer – 30 watts

Battery Use

Remember that the battery has a limited supply of power. The bigger the battery (rated in amps,) the longer it can produce power. Several batteries connected in parallel can supply power much longer than a single battery. Eventually, the battery or batteries will require charging. You can do this by driving your vehicle or by connecting the batteries to a battery charger.

Inverters are useful for powering small appliances that you normally could not use without a house outlet to plug into or without purchasing a special adapter. You can take power on the road or use it at home in an emergency. If you need more power, consider a standby or portable generator.

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Generac Standby Generators for Homes and Businesses

Generac Power Systems began building generators in 1959 and over the last 55 years, they have become the largest manufacturer of residential standby generators in the world. The Generac standby product line at Norwall Power Systems includes models ranging from 7 kilowatts to power home essentials to 150 kilowatt units to handle the needs of many commercial buildings.

Guardian

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

Guardian 20kW Home Backup Generator

The popular Guardian Series of standby generators includes models from 8kW to 20kW. The air-cooled line of generators run on either LP or Natural Gas. These generators feature an engine specifically designed to meet the rugged requirements of a residential standby unit. Optional packages include an automatic transfer switch. The popular Mobile Link option allows web-based access to the generator controller from computers, tablets, and smartphones, along with text message updates on regular cell phones.

CorePower

CorePower generator shown with 50-AMP ATS

The Generac CorePower Standby Generator

The 7kW CorePower standby generator system includes a 50-amp, eight-circuit ATS and was designed for easy maintenance with a compact design. The CorePower is designed to supply essential circuits and a few conveniences with electrical power during an outage. The fuel efficient 432cc OHVI engine uses just one gallon of LP Gas or 83 cubic feet of Natural Gas while running at half load.

Complete with digital controller, flexible fuel line connector, composite mounting pad, and two-year consumer warranty.

QuietSource

Quiet Source standby generator

Generac Quiet Source

Designed for larger homes and small businesses, QuietSource standby generators includes 22, 27, 36, and 48 kilowatts of power in single-phase 240-volt, and 208-volt or 240-volt three-phase models. 480-volt three-phase models are also available as 36 and 48 kilowatt generators. The Quiet Source line features liquid-cooled four and eight cylinder engines that run on Natural or LP Gas. California Emission compliant versions of the 48 kilowatt models are also available.

Commercial

A Generac Commercial Standby Generator

Generac Power Systems Commercial

These premium-grade commercial-duty standby generators feature liquid-cooled engines similar to those found in automobiles. The 25 and 30 kilowatt models are available as 240-volt single phase or three-phase 208-volt or 240-volt configurations and have steel enclosures. The 45kw model also includes a 480-volt three phase configuration. These three models run on either LP or Natural Gas.

Larger capacity units include 60, 70, 80, 100, 130, and 150 kilowatt units. Different models use Natural or LP Gas. Factory configurations include single-phase 240-volt and three-phase configurations of 208 volts, 240, volts, or 480 volts. California emission compliance is standard on the 100, 130, and 150 kilowatt units and as an option on 45, 60, and 70 kilowatt models.

Protector

The Generac Protector with integrated base tank.

Liquid Cooled Diesel Powered for Reliability and Efficiency

The Protector Series are standby diesel generators suitable for home or small business use. Models available are 15, 20, 30, 48, and 50 kilowatts and include a fuel tank integrated into the base of the unit. The 48kW unit comes only as a single-phase, 240 volt model, but the other models are available in configurations for 240V single phase, and three-phase options of 208, and 240 volts. The 50kW unit can also be purchased in a 480-volt configuration.

This series of generators all use liquid-cooled diesel engines that operate at 1800 RPM. Generac’s Code Ready system simplifies compliance with local building codes for diesel-powered standby generators. Options are easily added during installation which eliminates the need for customization. Fuel tanks are double walled to contain leaks and include a leak detection system with alarm. Code-Ready options include spill containment and recovery, emergency stop, fuel cut-off, tank fill tube risers, and drop tubes.

Whatever your residential or commercial standby generator needs, Norwall PowerSystems has the Generac generator to fit your business and home requirements. The next time the power goes out, relax in the knowledge that you’ll have power during outages that last a few hours or a few weeks.

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Standby Generators Provide Utility Quality Power

Image of a Generact Automatic Residential Standby Generator installed outside a home.

Automatic Home Standby Generators Deliver Utility-Quality Power

Read just about any product specification for a standby generator and more than likely you’ll run across words and phrases like “Total Harmonic Distortion,” “Frequency Variation,” “Harmonics,” “Sine Waves,” “Smooth Waveform,” and “Voltage Regulation.” Almost certainly you’ll find the phrase “Utility Grade” or “Utility Quality” power.

Specifications like these mean a lot to electrical engineers, generator salespeople, and music aficionados, but they mean a lot less to the average electric utility customer. They are all related to the type of electrical power used in homes, businesses, on farms, and in industry― Alternating Current, or AC.

 

Alternating Current

The electricity from a battery only flows in one direction and for the purpose of discussion, has a constant voltage level. When the electricity is turned on, the voltage rises immediately to the output voltage and stays there until turned off, or the battery is depleted. This form of electricity is called Direct Current, or DC.

A sine wave illustrating how current direction changes 60 times per second in AC current..

AC current alternates direction 60 times a second in a waveform called a sine wave.

Alternating Current (AC) is much different. When turned on, it flows in one direction while the voltage gradually rises to a peak, then the voltage gradually subsides back to zero. At the zero point, the direction the electricity is flowing reverses to flow in the opposite direction; again the voltage gradually rises to a peak and then subsides toward zero. The direction reverses again and the cycle repeats.

In North America, the entire cycle repeats 60 times every second. In other words, the Frequency of the cycle is 60 Hertz. A steady, reliable frequency is important to motors and electronics including televisions, radios, and computers.

Frequency variations can cause problems with electronics, which is why standby generator manufacturers advertise their product’s ability to maintain the frequency at 60 hertz.

Clean Power

Unvarying frequency is not the only issue that can plague electrical power. Distortion or variation of the waveform produced by the power supply can alter the actual voltage delivered. Electronic circuits react differently when the waveform isn’t perfect. Other problems include voltage sags, drops, surges, and spikes.

Sags are a momentary dip in the voltage level and can be caused by the sudden application of a heavy load. Drops occur when power consumption increases. A surge is the exact opposite of a drop, but is typically short lived. Spikes are momentary instances of high voltage.

Signal distortion―when the sine wave is warped by noisy appliances, large motors, or even solar interference―causes the power level to vary unpredictably.

Power from the utility isn’t perfect. Throughout the day, voltage levels change as consumers use more or less electricity. Before dawn, when power use at the lowest, voltage is at the highest level of the day. By late afternoon, voltage might be eight to ten volts lower. Problems with the distribution lines, such as a branch hitting a wire, can cause spikes or drops, or even outages.

Even though the utility voltage isn’t perfectly clean, the frequency remains constant at 60 hertz and the voltage level stays within an acceptable range that meets consumer needs.

Standby Generator Power

The power output from a standby generator is clean, with a near perfect sine wave and frequency. The engine spins the generating unit at a constant speed―usually 3600 or 1800 RPM―which maintains the frequency of the power supply. Voltage is regulated at a specific level. Both factors are continuously monitored by the generator controller and adjustments made in a fraction of a second.

Free of the vagaries of distribution lines, spikes and surges are nearly nonexistent unless introduced by an appliance within the home or business. The generator’s controller reacts to changes in power requirements which minimizes drops and eliminates sags.

Utility Grade – Utility Quality

Standby generators supply power to homes and businesses when the utility cannot. The quality of power they deliver has to meet the same rigid standards that apply to the electric utility company. In most cases, because the generator isn’t subject to the outside influences of the power grid and distribution system, the generator power may be cleaner and have less noise than that delivered by the utility.

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Christmas: Leaving Home for the Holidays

Highway 50 in Nevada appears to end at the base of snow-capped mountains.

Traveling Over the Christmas Holiday

The week between Christmas and New Years is a perfect time for traveling and vacations. Kids have the week off, college students are home, and the holidays are a fun chance to use up your vacation time. Traveling away from home during the holiday week isn’t anything new and it’s just one more way people celebrate and take the time to spend some quality time doing just about anything.

Advance planning can make the difference between a relaxing and enjoyable trip, or one filled with the stress of last-minute travel arrangements.

Travel Tips

Winter travel in the northern part of the country can be hazardous, and despite great advances, winter weather can descend on virtually any part of the country when you least expect it. Pay attention to weather reports and remember that finding a motel or hotel to escape a winter storm can be difficult during the Christmas holidays.

If you’re traveling by RV and don’t usually use it in the winter, remember that cold temperatures can freeze the plumbing. Fill your propane tanks and perform required maintenance on your RV generator before you leave to ensure electric and gas heaters keep running.

Class A Motorhome Slideout Onan Diesel

Class A Motorhome Slideout Onan Diesel

Keep warm blankets, extra caps, and mittens in your vehicle. A three-wick candle can supply a surprising amount of heat and raise the temperature in the car in case of emergency. If you become stranded, conserve fuel by only running the car as necessary to warm up―keep two windows open an inch while running the engine. Pack a kit that includes your candles, matches, a lighter, and chocolate bars in advance, and keep it easily accessible.

Airports are busy places for any holiday, and Christmas is one of the busiest. Verify flight information and itineraries, and plan for additional time in busy airports. If you have to travel with a lot of luggage or packages, consider advance shipping. It can save money and time, and eliminates the hassle of checking bags and retrieving luggage―not to mention worries over lost baggage.

Home Preparation

Anytime you’re leaving for an extended period like a Christmas vacation, take steps to avoid disasters that can happen at any time, but might be much worse if you’re not home.

Turn off the faucets connected to your washing machine. A burst hose could flood your home in no time at all. Set the hot water heater to vacation mode at the same time you turn your thermostat down. Stop the mail and any newspapers.

Let a neighbor know you’re going to be gone for the week; if they might notice suspicious activity they can call the police. Ask a friend or relative to drive by your house occasionally. Use timers to turn lights on and off.

Home Standby Maintenance

Home Standby Maintenance

A dried out Christmas Tree is an invitation for fire. Use a continuous watering system that will keep your tree watered for a week or more. Outdoor lights set on timers are another deterrent against thieves because they keep the outside of the house lit.

Before you leave, have your standby generator serviced. When you’re away for vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is your pipes are freezing or basement flooding because an ice storm downed power lines and cut off the power for days. With remote access, you can monitor the generator and know your home is safe and secure, even though you’re enjoying a warm ocean beach or navigating a mogul field on the ski slopes.

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On Vacation: Winter Road Travel

New York City streets clogged with cars and drivers after a snowstorm.

Clogged Streets After a Winter Snowstorm

Winter. Cold, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. And while these characteristics might seem counter-intuitive to fun and good times, the opposite is often true. Skiing or snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and even camping are all just part of the winter fun to be had across America.

And if you really don’t like outdoor winter sports, there are always the ocean beaches to enjoy in warmer places the Gulf of Mexico, California, and the Southern Atlantic states.

Wherever you are, you still have to travel to your destination and arrive safely, and make provisions to keep your home safe while you are gone.

Winter Roads

Turn on the news after any winter storm and you’ll see video of stranded motorists, multiple-car accidents, and roads covered with ice and snow. If you travel regularly in the winter, sooner or later you’ll encounter a winter storm that turns normally safe roads into hazardous arenas of black ice and snow.

A park with several inches of snow on the ground and the trees covered with frost and snow.

Winter can be one of the most beautiful seasons of the year

When you find yourself in the middle of a wintry mix that turns into a mess, it’s time to slow down and take it easy. The best advice is to leave the road and spend a few hours in a truck stop restaurant or maybe a shopping mall. If you have to drive, try to remember the two-second rule and triple it. Put at least six seconds between you and the car in front of you. If someone tailgates, slow down and let them pass.

Don’t let become overconfident because your vehicle has all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Those options do offer additional safety and security, but they will slip and slide on ice very easily. Large vehicles like RVs have weight in their favor―provided they are equipped with winter tires. Like any other vehicle, they quickly lose traction on ice.

Special Hazards

A ski resort in winter showing skiers, lifts, and various buildings at the base of the slope.

Mountain Ski Resorts are Popular Destinations

Mountain ski resorts are favorite destinations, but mountain travel in the winter is often unpredictable and the roads can change from clear, to snow covered, to icy, and back to clear in the space of a few miles. In some mountain states, conditions may require the use of tire chains for certain vehicles. Other vehicles may be required to have tires with the M/S (mud/snow) designation on the sidewall. Be sure to check ahead.

It’s easy to forgo winter clothing when the temperature is in the 70s and the sun is shining. But travel just a few hours from any warm location and you may find yourself in much colder weather. Carry winter clothing in your car and always keep a winter kit with candles, matches, blankets, and warm caps and mittens in the car for emergencies.

If you live where snow and ice are common, you probably take winter in stride and your home and car are ready for winter weather. Traveling to an area that rarely receives snow after a few flurries or even when a few inches have fallen will put you in a different world with drivers who lack experience driving in snow and don’t understand its hazards.

Winter RVing

Depending on the make and model of your RV and how it is outfitted, it may or may not be well suited for winter use. Keeping it on the road is addressed by having the right tires and taking it easy on snowy or icy roads.

Other factors to consider are topping off the propane tanks and making sure the generator is ready for use. Many people use electric heaters to supplement the furnaces. Winterizing the plumbing is necessary and you may not have the use of your ice maker. Heaters that keep water tanks and lines from freezing are available.

Winter is great time for vacations and getaways. Some extra preparation makes the trip safer and more fun for everyone.

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Portable Generator Use During Winter Storm Power Outages

polemanThis is only the first week of December, but already crews in southern states are working to repair the damage left behind by the ice storm that paralyzed travelers and left hundreds of thousands without power. The storm has headed northeast with snow, sleet, and freezing rain from the Lower Mississippi Valley to New England.

Winter storms that carry ice, freezing rain, and sleet followed by subfreezing temperatures like this storm are also the most likely to leave residents and businesses without power. Freezing temperatures and ice-laden trees hinder work crews as they travel to and from areas with outages and encounter ice crusted equipment and fallen trees or limbs, which only serves to prolong outages.

Portable Generators for Emergency Power

A Generac Portable Generator Showing Safe Use and Operation

Choose a Safe Location to Run Portable Generators.

People without power often turn to portable generators when the power goes out, and that certainly makes sense. Portables are less expensive than standby units that operate automatically, but their portability  makes them prone to certain risks when misused or when adequate caution is not taken. Used properly, portable generators provide a safe supply of electrical power.

Carbon Monoxide

If you use any kind of generator—portable or standby—to supply emergency power, install carbon monoxide detectors in main living and sleeping areas in your home. Locate portables at least 10 feet away from the home and never near a door, window, or vent. Be especially cautious of extension cords that enter the home through a window―the difference in air temperature can cause exhaust fumes to enter the home undetected. Position the unit so the exhaust is moved away from the home instead of toward it. Remember that your generator’s exhaust can affect your neighbors as well; take care that exhaust won’t enter their home.Image 706

Never operate a generator or other internal combustion engine inside your home, basement, garage or any enclosed space. Carbon monoxide from the exhaust can sicken or kill within a very short time.

Shock Hazards

Electrical_Outlet_And_Plug_clip_art_smallWorking with electrical cords in the rain or freezing rain is dangerous. If you have to run your portable generator while it is raining, place the unit under a canopy without sides. Position the generator where it won’t stand in pooling water. Make a few patio blocks part of your setup and use them to keep the generator off the ground.

Plug extension cords or dedicated power cables into the generator when it is turned off. Then start your generator and turn the main breaker on after you have made all the connections.

Read the owners manual and make sure your generator is properly grounded when used as a source of emergency power for your home.

Transfer Switch

You can eliminate the need for extension cords by having a manual transfer switch and inlet box installed by a qualified electrician. The transfer switch will allow you to run the essential circuits you need along with a few lights or small television and it is permanently wired to the inlet box. All you need is the dedicated power cable to connect the generator to the inlet box.

An inlet box with a manual transfer switch allows your furnace to operate to keep the house warm and pipes from freezing in below-freezing temperatures. At the same time, it isolates your home’s electrical system from the electric utility. This protects utility workers from electric shock and prevents damage to your generator when the power is restored.

Standby generators are often packaged with an ATS that includes power management to control appliances that draw large amounts of power.

Generators protect families and property from the effects of winter power outages by keeping the heat on and essentials operating.

A portable generator can literally be a lifesaver when used properly. Take the time to plan for its use in an emergency; install a transfer switch and inlet box, have an easy-to-erect canopy to protect the generator, and store at least a few days worth of fuel to keep it running along with enough oil and maintenance supplies to last several weeks..

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Major Ice Storm Kills Power – Locks Down Central USA

Ice-covered trees and lamp from the freezing rain and sleet by Christopher Waits

Ice-covered trees and lamp from the freezing rain and sleet. Photo by Christopher Waits

A major ice storm is paralyzing a wide swath from Northern Texas through Kentucky and Tennessee and has made travel extremely hazardous. The blast of frigid air moving in behind the storm will only add to the difficulties with school and government agency shutdowns. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has declared a state of emergency in order to assist utility crews with cleanup and repair operations. Southern Mississippi is under a winter storm watch and expecting up to eight inches of snow.

More than 200,000 are without power and that number is expected to increase as the storm pushes northeast and heads for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast where it will bring sleet, freezing rain, and snow by Sunday. More power outages are expected and travel will become hazardous.

Another blast of sub-zero frigid air will move in behind the current storm and bring snow and hazardous travel to Arizona.

Power Outage Problems

One of the biggest worries when the power is out and temperatures drop below freezing is frozen water pipes that burst and then flood a home, often after the homeowner has left for warmer accommodations. Without electricity, heating systems won’t work. If you are forced to leave your home, turn off the main water valve and drain the pipes before you leave. The main line coming into the home could still freeze however, but a plumbing company can usually turn it off.

Sump pumps are another source of concern as water levels rise and the pump does not operate. Basements can flood and cause damage to finished areas and ruin belongings. A battery backup pump can help for a few hours, but if your basement gets wet easily, the only way to prevent flooding for a long period of time is with a portable or standby generator.

Safe Use of Portable Generators

A Generac Portable Generator Showing Safe Use and Operation

Choose a Safe Location to Run Portable Generators.

A portable generator is a great asset during a power outage, but it can also be a source of dangerous carbon monoxide if not used properly. Safe placement of the unit means keeping it away from the home. Never place a portable generator near a wall or roof vent, under a window, or close to a door.

Even if a window is closed or open just a crack (perhaps to allow room for an extension cord,) the difference in air temperature will draw carbon monoxide into the home. During Hurricane Sandy, users of portable generators were sickened and some died for exactly this same reason.

Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, or shed.

Don’t backfeed the home’s electrical system by plugging it into an appliance outlet. This could energize the lines leading out of the home and injure or kill a utility worker. Use extension cords adequate for the job.

Standby Generators

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

Keep Ice, Snow and Other Debris from Accumulating Around Standby Units

An ice storm is a particularly hazardous event. It coats everything with a layer of ice and that includes the standby generator unit outside your home. If your standby generator is operating, make sure it is clear of snow and debris that may be blocking the vents. Clear away built up ice if necessary.

Monitor the generator alerts and status frequently to ensure it is operating correctly. Some generators need maintenance after just four days of operation. Check the oil daily and top it off as necessary, but don’t overfill. The middle of a power outage isn’t the best time to be looking for maintenance supplies, but if you have to go out, add oil for the generator to your shopping list.

Portable Generators

Fuel for portable units is a concern because you can only stock a limited amount of gasoline. Just like standby units, you need a stock of maintenance supplies on hand. If you go out to buy more fuel, be sure to add oil to the list. Check the oil level daily and top it off as necessary.

If your generator is connected via a manual transfer switch, it most likely plugs into a dedicated inlet box. Make sure the power cable remains clear of ice and be prepared to occasionally clean it off.

Generators are difficult to find during a widespread power outage. Instead of waiting for the next storm, contact Norwall Power Systems and find out how a standby or portable unit can protect your home from the next blast of frigid air or tropical storm.

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2013 Hurricane Season Ends but Awareness Still Important

Image by NASA of Hurricane Ingrid

Hurricane Ingrid Forms in the Western Caribbean Sea

The June through November hurricane season has ended for 2013. Even though the season runs from June 1st through November 30th, hurricanes and other tropical cyclones can still form and affect the United States and the rest of North America.

Weather prediction is a difficult and imprecise science, and long term prediction of tropical cyclones is no different. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters had predicted an above average tropical storm season for 2013 with 13 to 18 named storms, seven to eleven hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher).

Off-Season Storms

The end of the official hurricane season does not mean that people living in coastal areas subject to storms can let their guard down. Since 1851, sixty-one tropical cyclones have formed in the Atlantic Basin and 2012′s Tropical Storm Beryl was the most recent. Most storms during the off season form in the month of May, but other months have seen some strong storms, including category two and three hurricanes.

Beryl began as a depression in the Caribbean Sea and heavy rain caused flooding and landslides in Cuba where two people died. Later it formed into a tropical storm with 65 MPH winds and caused flooding and power outages in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina before moving offshore to the northeast as a subtropical depression. Before it left, it spawned a tornado responsible for at least one death.

2014 Storms

While the 2013 season didn’t produce as many strong storms as predicted, the opposite could have just as easily been the case.

The six months until the start of the 2014 hurricane season is a good time to prepare and plan for next year. Power outages are common when tropical storms and hurricanes make landfall, and can affect large areas and tens of thousands or even millions of power-company customers. A standby or portable generator and the correct installation can keep your home livable after the storm passes.

Making a comprehensive plan ahead of time and being prepared will help your home and family weather a storm and give you some peace of mind when a storm does threaten. Even if you are not in the direct path of a storm, it’s widespread effects can leave you without electricity or cut off from evacuation or rescue efforts by flooding. Prepare now and a few days or even a week without utility power or the ability to buy food and water will make life that much easier.

Atlantic Storm Season 2013

Manhattan without power after Sandy

A Mostly Dark Manhattan in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in November of 2012

This year was the first since 1994 that the season didn’t end with a major hurricane. In fact, 2013 saw just two hurricanes develop out of the 13 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the lowest number of hurricanes since 1983. The United States and Caribbean can count itself lucky this year. Mexico wasn’t quite so fortunate and experienced one hurricane, three tropical storms, and one tropical depression. A total of 46 people died as a result of the storms.

And while Colorado State University weather scientists have called their pre-season tropical storm forecast a bust, it really only highlights the difficulty in making long-term weather forecasts. Those who have lived along the coast for any length of time know that regardless of what forecasters say, eventually a storm will come ashore and cause havoc, power outages, flooding, and widespread damage.

Photo of Hurricane Ingrid courtesy of NASA

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Make Sure Your Generator is Ready for Winter

Home Standby Maintenance

Fall Maintenance Ensures Winter Readiness.

Winter brings colder temperatures and everything from ice storms to blizzards. Your standby or portable generator has to operate when you need it. In winter, that means starting and running reliably in sub-freezing temperatures.

Most engines do not start as easily when it is cold, and the engine in your generator is no different. In addition to parts that don’t move as easily and oil that is thicker in colder temperatures, it is also harder to make the fuel burn efficiently and keep the engine running. Modern engines have seen great improvements in last few decades that help them start and keep running, but making sure your generator is in top condition will help ensure it’s ready when you need it.

Maintenance

Standby generators automatically start and run themselves for a short period even when they are not required. These ‘exercise ‘ cycles typically last less than ten minutes, but that run time helps keep the engine lubricated and maintains the engine’s seals.

While a weekly exercise period isn’t necessary for a portable generator, it is important to run the engine on occasion to move gasoline out of the carburetor and replace it with fresh gasoline. This reduces residue buildup that can block tiny ports in the carburetor or gum up moving parts.

Fall is a good time to schedule generator maintenance. Fresh oil, new filters and plugs, and other maintenance are no less important on your home generator than they are on the family car. They help insure the generator engine will start reliably when you need it most, and that time is often in the middle of the night in the worst kind of weather.

Clearance

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

Keep the area around your standby generator clear of leaves and debris. It is especially important that the air vents on the cabinet are not blocked by leaves or snow. When you clear snow after storm, make sure you also clear a path to the generator and clean the snow away from cabinet. Keep blowing snow from accumulating in drifts against the generator.

A Generac Portable Generator Showing Safe Use and Operation

Choose a Safe Location to Run Portable Generators.

If you’ve prepared properly, your portable generator connects to an inlet plug on the outside of your home, and you have chosen a location to place the unit when it is in use. Don’t forget to clear a path from the chosen location to the inlet plug when moving snow, and also keep a clear path to the location for the portable generator from your garage or shed.

Cold Weather Operation

The vast majority of the country experiences weather that falls below freezing. Cold weather kits and accessories help your generator engine start and warm up faster. Some cold weather accessories are easy to install, others are better left to a professional installer. In either case, planning ahead now can thwart a problem from occurring when you least expect it.

Cold lowers the ability of a battery to produce energy. By keeping the battery warm with a battery warmer, the battery is able to produce more energy and thus provide more reliable engine starting.

Engine block heaters and oil heaters also provide more reliable starting in cold weather. Some manufacturers have other accessories such as alternator warmers that prevent frost buildup, and shields that keep ice from clogging air intakes.

Fuel

Most portable generators run on gasoline, and stale gas makes an engine hard to start, especially in cold weather. You can extend the life of your fuel by adding stabilizers. Follow the directions on the bottle, but remember that you still have to use the fuel within a year.

Rotate stored fuel supplies by using them in your car, snowblower, lawn mower, or other engine-powered machine. One good way is to empty a five-gallon can into your car, then take the can to the gas station with you and fill up both the car and the can.

By rotating one can of fuel every month, you can completely replace a 30-gallon fuel supply every six months.

Your generator is an important part of keeping your family and home safe during a power outage, and even more so in winter. Make sure your generator is ready to run when you need it most.

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You Ordered a Standby Generator – What Comes Next?

The last time you went without power you promised yourself it would never happen again. The decision was made and now you’ve taken action by ordering a new standby generator from Norwall Power Systems. What happens next?

Delivery

Your delivery driver will drive up to your driveway entrance and unload the standby generator. He’s not going to move it any further than that. Drivers have schedules to meet and transport companies have liabilities to worry about. Even if you have a long driveway, curbside delivery means at the curb or entrance. Often this is close to your mailbox. Don’t count on the driver to help you move the unit, you’ll need other arrangements for that.

Plan to be at home when the delivery is scheduled and inspect the unit before signing off and accepting the delivery. If the packaging or unit has damage, do not accept delivery.

Moving the Generator

You will need some help moving the generator unless you happen to own a truck with a crane on it. Standby generators are heavy and air-cooled units can ship weighing more than 500 pounds. Most standby generators have carry holes what allow you to insert two lengths of iron pipe through them to give four or more people to carry the unit. Get it off your driveway entrance and move it near the final installation location. Cover it with a tarp until it is installed.

Site Selection and Preparation

You should already have spoken to your homeowners association and the local building code enforcement department about your installation requirements and understand their rules. The local building code department is usually the Authority Having Jurisdiction and their rules regarding placement may conflict with manufacturer requirements. The AHJ always takes precedence over manufacturer minimum requirements. Either have assurance in writing that a building permit will be issued, or have the permit before you order.

Ideally, choose a site close to the electric utility meter and transfer switch, which is the utility service entrance for your home. Other placement options are less ideal, but still possible. Horizontal clearance includes 36 inches in front of, and to either side of the generator. Check the installation manual for minimum distance to the home siding, then check your building code rules. Have the installation manual in hand while speaking to the inspector about your installation so you can point out what the manufacturer requires if there is a conflict. Inspectors are sometimes flexible if there is a good reason or safety is not compromised.

No windows, doors or vents within five feet horizontally of either generator end. There must be 60 inches between the top of the generator and the eaves of the home. Don’t install where water accumulates, comes off the roof, or otherwise affects the generator. Plan on a windbreak to keep leaves and other flammables, or blowing snow, from accumulating next to or on the generator.

Gravel beds start with a five-inch-deep rectangle dugout that is six inches longer and wider than the standby generator footprint. Cover the soil with weed-blocking landscape cloth and fill with pea gravel or crushed stone. Level the filler and compact it. Instead of stone, a concrete pad at least four inches deep is also a good installation base. Again, check your local codes for requirements.

Installation

The building’s natural gas or LP gas supply will require extension to the installation site, and some natural gas meters will require an upgrade. There is also some fairly extensive wiring for the transfer switch and generator. Unless you’re a qualified DIY plumber and electrician, installation is a job for an experienced professional. If you plan to do the job yourself, your building inspector will want assurance that you know what you’re doing―plan to answer questions and submit a detailed installation plan before they will issue a permit.

Ordering a standby generator is just the beginning. Getting it from the curb to your home and then having it installed is the real work. Do your homework, be prepared, and the entire process will happen smoothly.

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