Generator Safety During Winter Storm Power Outages

Snow and Ice prediction by NWS for Georgia and Atlantic Coast

Ice and Snow Blanket the SE in a February Storm

As the United States records 2014 as one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory, the number of winter-weather-related power outages may also be one for the records. Major ice storms have plunged large portions of the southern half of the country into darkness, while the East Coast and Midwest have been pummeled regularly with snow and ice.

The most recent storm cut power to nearly one million utility customers, and some waited days for restoration. Lack of heat was the cause of at least one death this winter. Damage to homes from outage-related flooding or freezing is always a problem during winter outages.

Note: Anyone using a generator for emergency home power should install carbon monoxide detectors in the home’s living areas.

Backup Generator Use

The most common solution to a power outage regardless of the season is a generator. The safest, easiest option is a standby unit. Permanently installed and connected, standby systems continuously monitor the utility power and automatically start and run within seconds after detecting an outage. The automatic transfer switch that connects the generator to the home transfers the power source from the utility lines to the generator while simultaneously isolating the system from the utility. When power is restored, the process is reversed and the generator shuts down.

Standby generators usually run on either propane or natural gas, but some diesel models are also available.

Another option is the portable generator. Portables are not automatic and require a human to connect them, start them, and refuel them, each of which carries its own safety risks. Portable generators can connect directly to appliances with extension cords, or to the home via a dedicated cord, inlet box, and manual transfer switch.

Standby Safety

Most safety issues for standby generator systems are addressed during installation. There’s no connections to make in the rain or snow, positioning is taken care of, and fuel storage and supply are eliminated for natural gas or LP systems.

Keep the generator vents and exhaust clear of snow and ice. Do not allow snow and ice to build up on the generator enclosure.

During extended outages, the generator may require service. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance intervals.

Stock up on maintenance supplies such as oil and filters. Shut the generator down for maintenance and follow the manufacturer’s safety steps to ensure it won’t start or attempt to start during servicing.

Never allow children to play on or around the generator.

Diesel standby units require refueling at regular intervals. Shut the unit down for refueling and follow all safety precautions.

Portable Safety

Portable generator users are at risk for a number for safety hazards and special precautions are required, especially in wet, icy, or snowy winter conditions.

Never connect a generator to an appliance outlet. Back feeding is extremely dangerous.

Never operate a portable generator indoors or inside an enclosed space. Even if the doors and windows are open, the deadly exhaust fumes can kill within minutes.

Keep the generator 10 feet away from the house and away from vents, windows and doors. Even a small opening can allow carbon monoxide to enter the home.

Shut the engine off and allow it to cool before refueling. Follow maintenance schedules and keep maintenance supplies on hand.

Store fuel in containers made for fuel storage. Storage locations should be well ventilated and local laws for fuel storage followed.

Make all electrical connections with the generator off and the circuit breaker in the off position. After connections are made, start the generator and then turn the breaker to the on position after it warms up.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper grounding.

Photo by National Weather Service

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Winter Storm Impacts South and Northeast States

Map showing ice accumulations in the south.

Expected Ice Accumulation in Georgia

By 9am Wednesday, the winter storm impacting the south had already accumulated more than 1/2 inch of ice in some areas. Ice accumulation rates of 0.1 inches per hour were expected to add even more ice, and the storm isn’t in a hurry to leave.

Road travel is extremely hazardous, and six people have been killed in Texas and Mississippi highway accidents attributed to the slick conditions.

Map showing snowfall prediction for the NE

Heavy Snowfall Predictions for the Northeast

Power outages had topped 100,000 customers by mid morning and increased to more than 200,000 homes and businesses by early Wednesday evening. Ice has damaged local distribution lines and long-distance transmission equipment.

Update: Friday February 14, 2014. The number of electric utility customers without power due to the storm peaked at nearly 1 million by late Thursday afternoon. Efforts were expected to restore most customers by Friday Evening, but some will remain without power into next week.

Overnight, more than a foot of snow is expected in parts of Georgia, but the ice accumulation along with 30 MPH gusts of wind will have greatest impact. As the storm moves up the coast, heavy snow is expected all the way to Maine.

Besides highway accidents, two deaths due to hypothermia are blamed on the storm. In once case, a 68 year-old woman was found dead in her unheated home. In another, a man was unable to make it back indoors, possibly due to a medical emergency, and was found dead Wednesday morning by his wife.

Update: Friday February 14, 2014. The storm is now being blamed for the deaths of more than 20 people.

Ice Storms

Three layers of air are necessary for an ice storm. The clouds make up the first layer where snow forms and begins falling toward the earth. The flakes reach a layer of warm air and melt into rain. The rain falls further and enters a sub-freezing layer of air close to the earth. The drops of water are already close to or at the freezing point.

When the water touches a surface below freezing, it quickly turns to ice and coats everything it touches.

A single electric wire between two poles can gather more than 500 pounds of weight from 1/2 inch of ice, and utility poles commonly support three electric utility wires in addition to cable distribution, and telephone. Combined with strong winds, the heavy weight can snap lines and poles.

Trees gather ice easily, and as the ice builds, large trees are burdened with thousands of pounds of ice, and branches snap and fall, damaging homes and power lines.

Surviving the Storm

Ice storms are dangerous, and despite widespread warnings, they often claim lives unnecessarily.

Don’t travel. Stay home and stay indoors. Don’t let children play outside under trees or power lines. Bring your pets indoors too. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

If you lose power, keep the refrigerator closed and it will maintain it’s cold temperature for about four hours. Freezers will keep food frozen for about two days if they remain shut.

Generators can supply power, but use them safely. Position portable generators away from the home and use approved outdoor extension cords to power appliances. Never run a portable generator indoors or inside a garage. Carbon monoxide in the fumes can kill within minutes. Make sure that the vents on standby generators remain clear of ice and snow.

Fortunately, the impact of this storm on the south will likely only last a few days as the weather warms quickly into the 40s on Thursday, and the 50s on Friday. Ice on the lines and branches will melt, road crews will clear away the ice and snow, and children will return to school. Although a foot or more of snow is nothing new to the Northeast, the impact of power outages is still a risk because some areas expect a wintry mix before the snow.

This storm will pass and we can begin to get ready for the next one.

Images by National Weather Service

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Standby Generator Options from Briggs & Stratton

NEW! 20kW Briggs & Stratton Home Standby Generator

Briggs & Stratton 20kW standby generators provide backup electricity for your air conditioner, appliances, lights, TVs or computers and give you the peace of mind to take charge.

Norwall PowerSystems offers Briggs & Stratton residential standby generators in both air-cooled and liquid-cooled models. All models run on either LP (propane) or natural gas and have a number of transfer switch options to suit the needs of almost any home. The factory ships their generators to run on natural gas, but conversion to LP during installation is easy.

These backup generator systems are permanently installed appliances that operate automatically during a power outage to keep your home supplied with electrical power. They offer peace of mind and keep essentials and conveniences alike up and running when the rest of the neighborhood is dark.

Air-cooled generators are powered by Briggs & Stratton’s highly reliable and well-known engines that pair a long and reliable service life with good fuel economy. Liquid-cooled GM Vortec engines similar to those found in automobiles provide the power needed for their larger standby units.

16kW & 20kW

With up to 16 or 20 kilowatts of power, these standby systems have enough power to keep two air conditioners running along with other essential and convenient circuits. You can choose between Managed Whole-House Power with a Load Control Center to provide your entire home with access to energy, or the Essential Power Plus system to supply only pre-selected essential circuits with power.

Briggs & Stratton 16kW and 20kW generators meet National Fire Protection Codes that allow placement as close as 18 inches to your home’s exterior, which makes them perfect for small lots and narrow spaces. These generators carry the Briggs & Stratton 4-year limited consumer warranty and are powered by commercial-grade Vanguard engines.

8kW & 10kW Home Generator System

8kW and 10kW Briggs & Stratton Standby Generator

8kW and 10kW Briggs & Stratton Standby Generator

A compact design and strict adherence to National Fire Protection Association codes allow placement as close as 18 inches to your home.

Choose the 8kW unit for powering essential circuits and maximizing fuel economy and pair it with a 50-amp, 10-circuit automatic transfer switch or a pre-wired, 50 amp 10 circuit automatic transfer switch. Powered by Briggs & Stratton’s redesigned premium engine.

Add more power with the 10kW system and choose either Managed Whole House Power with a 100-amp, 150-amp, or 200-amp automatic transfer switch, or the 16-circuit, 100-amp Essential Power Plus ATS. Vanguard V-twin commercial-grade engine.

The 8kW and 10kW standby generators carry a limited 3-year parts and labor warranty.

12kW Standby Generators

12kW Briggs & Stratton Standby Generator

12kW Briggs & Stratton Standby Generator

In keeping with the space saving design, the 12-kilowatt standby generators by Briggs & Stratton fit into small spaces along tight lot lines and allow placement as close as 20 inches to the home.

Package options include Managed Whole House Power with service-entranced-rated 100, 150, and 200-amp automatic transfer switches. Also available is the 100-amp, 16-circuit ATS to operate selected circuits.

The 12kW systems are powered by Vanguard engines and carry the Briggs & Stratton 3-year limited parts and labor warranty.

Liquid-Cooled Power

Briggs & Stratton liquid-cooled standby generator

Briggs & Stratton 35, 45, and 60-kilowatt liquid-cooled standby generator

For larger homes, the liquid-cooled Briggs & Stratton standby systems provide enough power to keep homes supplied with power for all of life’s necessities and luxuries. The four-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines operate at half the speed of air-cooled engines for minimal noise, maximum longevity, and good fuel economy.

Available models include the 35 kilowatt, 45 kilowatt, or 60 kilowatt generators—all carry a 4-year warranty.

Pair these standby generators with a 200-amp service-entrance-rated automatic transfer switch for Managed Whole House Power, or configure with a separate load center to power a limited number of essential and convenient circuits. Also available to serve 400-amp, split service homes is the 2x200A, a dual 200-amp ATS. Transfer switches for liquid-cooled generators are sold separately.

Briggs & Stratton generators from Norwall PowerSystems keep your lights on and your family safe.

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Portable Generator Facts to Consider Before Making a Purchase

Generac portable inverter generator in the orange case with carry handle.

Generac’s ix Series provides clean and stable power, for computers and other sensitive electronic devices.

Recently, a local store advertised an off-brand portable generator as the tool to have ready when the next power outage strikes or the world falls into chaos. It was also perfect for tailgating, picnics, outdoor festivals, and sporting events. The bright, flashy packaging showed the smiling faces of happy people running power tools, partying under festive lights, and charging cell phones.

It didn’t take long for the store to sell all the units they had on hand. At $199.99, the price was very tempting.

Instead of making an impulse purchase, the buyers of this unit probably should have done their homework. They might have saved themselves a couple of hundred dollars to put toward a portable generator that was more reliable and offered some useful features.

Power Capability

Briggs & Stratton engine, generator, control panel and gas tank mounted on a tubular steel frame.

Briggs & Stratton 1700 Watt Power Boss with 2000 watt surge capacity.

A common but misleading practice overstates a generator’s ability to provide power. The generator mentioned in the opening paragraph boasted 2000 watts. Careful inspection of the labeling revealed that unit was capable of 1550 watts of continuous power, and 2000 watts of surge power. Portable Generator Basics


By comparison, the average home convenience receptacle can provide 1800 watts of continuous power. That’s about the same amount of power used by many blow dryers or a little more than a good circular saw. It’s not going to light up your entire home while it keeps your refrigerator cold and your sump pump running.

Surge power is an extra boost that allows electric motors to start. A generator draws on reserve power to handle that extra boost, but it can’t handle it for long before the built-in circuit breaker trips.

When comparing generators, look for the continuous rating and the surge rating. Both are important, but continuous power is available all the time.

Run Time

Westinghouse Portable 6000 watt generator pictured with included 25 foot power cord.

Westinghouse 6000 watt portable and included 25 foot power cord.

It might seem that the fuel tank capacity determines how often refueling is required, but that is only part of the story. Most manufacturers list run time at half load and full load. This will provide a good picture of how much fuel the generator uses.

Fuel consumption is determined first by engine size. The bigger the engine, the more fuel it uses just to keep itself running. Additional fuel is required to power the electrical load placed on the generator. Higher electrical loads increase the fuel consumed.

Look for a run-time specification that meets your needs. Refueling requires shutting off the generator and waiting 15 to 20 minutes for it to cool off before adding the fuel—which could translate into a real downer for that party you’re planning.


Automatic Home Standby Generators

Looking for backup home power? Consider an automatic standby generator that can power your essentials and conveniences.

The engines in most generators run continuously at a constant speed in order to produce the correct frequency—60 hertz in North America. When manufacturers skimp on engine size, it runs at its limit and uses all available power to keep running. This makes voltage and frequency regulation difficult to maintain while operating near maximum load.

Other features lacking in inexpensive engines are low-oil shutdown, low oil capacity, poor speed control, and a shorter maintenance interval.

Inverter Generators save fuel by changing engine speed to meet the requirements of the load and produce the 60 hertz output voltage electronically.


A short warranty period doesn’t speak well of the manufacturer’s confidence in it’s product. When a consumer buys a generator for backup power, they may not even get to use it during a short warranty period. By the time the generator is used for any extended period, the warranty is long since expired and there is little recourse for the purchaser.

Good generators from name-brand manufacturers come with a warranty that backs up the brand. One year is good starting point, and some manufacturers offer as much as three years on portable units.

The bottom line: Don’t be fooled by discount prices on off-brand products. Buy a name-brand generator from Norwall Power Systems. You might be surprised how affordable a good portable generator really is.

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Kohler Power Systems—Residential and Commercial Standby Generators

Kohler Power Systems broke into manufacturing generators right after World War I to address a growing need for power in rural areas where power lines were scarce, but electricity was needed. Previously, most generators provided enough current to charge a battery bank, but the Kohler Automatic Power & Light power plant supplied 110 volts of electricity and could start automatically when when power was needed and shut itself down when it was not.

Today, Norwall Power Systems sells modern Kohler standby generators for homes and businesses. Their standard 5-year limited warranty is applicable for grid-connected systems, or an 18-month limited warranty for off-grid systems.

RESA Air-Cooled Standby

Automatic Home Standby Generator

Automatic Home Standby Generator

The 14RESAL was rated by consumer reports in their Best Emergency Gear report for providing ample and especially smooth power. It provides up to 14 kilowatts (12 kW running on natural gas) of continuous power while running on propane. A larger 20kW model is also available. The standby generator units are available with or without an automatic transfer switch. With the optional OnCue Remote Monitoring System, you can monitor the generator from any Internet-enabled PC or laptop.

Need to power essentials in an emergency? Check out the 8.5RES with quiet operation and superior power quality.

RESA and RES generators from Kohler meet US EPA and California emissions requirements.

RESA Liquid-Cooled Generators

A 30 Kilowatt liquid-cooled Kohler standby generator

30RESA Liquid Cooled

If air-cooled standby isn’t quite enough, the 30kW RESA liquid-cooled standby generators can provide up to 10 kilowatts more power than their air-cooled siblings. These standby generators use GM 4-cylinder, 1.6 liter engines similar to those found in automobiles with a radiator and fan cooling system. They can run on either propane or natural gas.

These generators have a sound attenuating enclosure that helps keep noise levels near 68dB. The isochronous governor and digital voltage regulation allow the unit to provide exceptionally clean power.

38 Kilowatt and 48 Kilowatt RCL

A Kohler 48 kilowatt standby generator

Kohler 48kW Standby Generator

The RCL standby generators provide power for large residential homes and small businesses with 38 and 48 kilowatts of power. The 4-cylinder, 4.3 liter (38RCL) or 5.0 liter (48RCL) GM engines operate at just 1800 RPMs to extend engine life and reduce noise levels. Both models provide maximum power using either propane or natural gas.

These Kohler standby generators are among the quietest in the industry at 61dB while running at full speed, and 58dB while in exercise mode. That’s the level a normal conversation.


80 kilowatt ERESD liquid cooled standby generator.

80ERESD by Kohler

The next step in available standby power, the liquid-cooled 60 ERESB and 80 ERESD supply 60 kilowatts and 80 kilowatts respectively for large residential homes and small businesses. The GM 5.7 liter Vortec engines (turbocharged in the 80kW) can run on either propane or natural gas and provide full power using either fuel.

Noise levels run at about 64dB and 71dB at 23 feet for friendly operation that won’t keep the neighborhood awake—central air conditioning units make about 70dB of noise.

Kohler 100 ERESD and 125 or 150ERESC

Kohler 150 kilowatt standby generator.

Kohler 150ERESC Standby Generator

For liquid-cooled standby power to meet the needs of the largest luxury homes or larger small business operations, these 100kW, 125kW and 150kW standby generators from Kohler can supply plenty of power for the most demanding circumstances.

The GM engines run on either natural gas or LP gas—the 100kW uses a 5.7 liter engine, the 125 and 150 kilowatt models have 8.8 liter engines. Differences in power for the two fuels are significant: 80kW(NG) versus 100kW(LP) for the 100ERESD and 105kW(LP) versus 125kW(NG) for the 125ERESC. Expect the 150 ERESD to provide 134kW on LP gas, and 144kW on Natural gas.

Variable Speed DC Standby

VSG series generator in 24, 36, and48 volt models.

The VSG series for Off-Grid Applications

Alternative power systems need backup power too. The VSG series generators provide DC current to charge battery banks when power production drops from solar panels or wind turbines. They operate solely on propane (LP gas) and were designed specifically for off-grid homes, telecommunications, and other remote systems where grid power is unavailable.

Different models produce 24, 36, or 48 volts of electricity depending on the voltage requirements of the battery bank and can charge it directly or even supply power directly to the system. When batteries run low or cannot meet demand, the generator starts and runs automatically. The variable engine speed conserves fuel and only produces the current required at any given moment.

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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 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 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.


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.


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.


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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