Shedding Light on Generators

Barry Davis

Power failures can occur at any time of year. Extended power failures can be caused by natural disasters such as windstorms, ice storms, wildfires or earthquakes. Grid-disabling natural disasters can cause power interruptions longer than 24 hours for millions of customers.

Extended power failures are not only an inconvenience. They can cause:

  • Spoilage of frozen and refrigerated food.
  • Lack of burglar, fire, low temperature and leak detection alarm coverage when backup batteries become discharged.
  • Lack of sump pump coverage.
  • Safety hazards due to inadequate lighting.
  • Lack of climate control affecting fine art or wine collections.
  • Fire and safety hazards caused by portable generators.
  • Business interruption for home offices.
  • Safety hazards when evacuating due to lack of power during a storm.
  • Lack of availability of portable generators during a widespread natural disaster.

Backup generators can make life easier during a power failure. The two main types of generators are portable and permanently installed.

portable generatorPortable generators are gasoline powered and set up when needed outside of your home. Extension cords are connected to the generator and run to individual appliances, lights, fans, etc. that you want to power. Portable generators are not capable of running all of the electrical devices in your home at the same time and should never be connected directly to your home’s electrical system.

You must add up the total wattage of all devices you wish to power at once and be sure it does not exceed the wattage rating of the generator. Generators have two wattage ratings. The lower number is the operating wattage. This is the operating capacity that the generator can sustain. There will also be a higher “peak” wattage rating. Since devices with electric motors like refrigerators need more power when the motors first start, you must also check the peak wattage on the appliance label to be sure your total wattage needs are within the generator’s peak capacity. The total wattage needed should also not exceed the wattage rating of your extension cords.

Be aware that you must observe certain safety precautions when using a portable generator:

  • Only operate your generator outside at a safe distance from your home. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, never operate your generator in an enclosed area, garage, carport, basement, or near an open window.
  • Do not attach a portable generator directly to the wiring in your home.
  • Gasoline should be stored safely in approved containers. Turn the generator off and allow it to cool before refueling.

permanently installed generatorPermanently installed backup generators can meet a portion or all of a home’s electrical needs. They are connected to a home’s main electrical line using a transfer switch. They start automatically during a power failure and run on a natural or LP gas supply. They offer automatic, reliable protection of property and safety during a power failure. They typically perform weekly self-tests to ensure they are in good working order.

Dealers for the major brands of backup generators can assess a home’s wattage requirements and recommend a generator with the right capacity. Whole-house residential generator capacities start around 15 kilowatts (KW), and range up to 60KW. Prices range from about $10,000 to $18,000, plus installation and peripheral equipment. Very large homes can require commercial-type generators ranging from 70KW to 150KW. Prices range from $18,000 to $43,000, plus installation and peripheral equipment.

Barry Davis is the Client Services Manager for Chubb Personal Risk Services’ Risk Consulting Group.

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