Emergency Backup Generators: Which Kind is Right for You?

A power outage in Minnesota, especially in the winter, can have a devastating effect. However, there is another option to being left in the dark and cold: An automatic backup generator system: When the grid is down in the Twin Cities because of freezing temperatures, storms, equipment failure, or other disasters, you never know how long power will be out. Especially in the days of “automatic responses” from power companies such as Xcel Energy, Connexus Energy, Wright Hennepin Electric, Dakota Electric, and more, you are never given an exact, or even sometimes very accurate time the power will be back on. This leaves many Homeowners in the Twin Cities and Metro area frustrated, and legitimately worried about their home and livelihood. To stay prepared, having an emergency automatic backup generator in place will provide your home power during an such emergency.

Permanent or portable?

There are primarily a couple types of generators: permanent standby (typically automatic) and portable. Each carries benefits and drawbacks, so make an informed decision based on an evaluation of your home, and specific needs. This will determine how much power you may need, if the power is out.

Permanent standby generators

These remain permanently outside the home and on standby. They run on an existing fuel source—either liquid propane or natural gas—and are capable of generating enough wattage to re-energize your home only seconds after it loses power. That’s because the permanent generator works in conjunction with a transfer switch to monitor incoming utility voltage. When your home’s power goes out, the transfer switch will automatically connect from the generator to restore power within seconds.

Due to amount of power and the automatic features that permanent standby generators are capable of, they can carry a larger price tag. However, the cost has come down during the past few years, making them more affordable. A company such as Midwest Electric and Generator must size and install generators like this. However, if you live in an area that consistently sees power outages, if you are away from home, travel often, or just want ultimate peace of mind, this type of generator may be a good option and the best possible preparation money can buy. In a climate such as ours in Minnesota and surrounding areas, where  it is consistently very cold and plagued with ice storms, this generator may prove worthwhile to power your furnace and hot water heater, to keep your home warm and your pipes from freezing in the event of a prolonged power outage.

Portable generators

These offer a more affordable option, when only a few vital electrical items are needed during a power outage. These generators are smaller and can be wheeled out of the garage. Their primary fuel is gasoline, so they should never be run inside the home or any enclosed area, where deadly carbon monoxide gas can accumulate.

It is recommended that you install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors indoors according to manufacturer’s instructions. Take care when fueling a gasoline-powered portable generator; never add fuel while the unit is running or hot. If the tank is overfilled, fuel can overflow onto a hot engine and cause a fire or explosion. Always start or stop the generator only when no electrical loads are connected.

Extension cords can be connected to portable generators and run inside to power smaller appliances like the refrigerator, sump pump, furnace, hot water heater, lamps, TVs, and computers.

In order to select the best backup generator for yourself and your family, determine just how much power you would need in the event of a blackout. What could you do without for a few days? Hot water? Cold food? Check with Midwest Electric and Generator to find out the wattage of your necessary appliances, they even offer a free site evaluation. A portable generator may be your best option if you stay aware of your energy consumption, and hold to using the wattage limit of the generator. Depending on the model, portables can generate between 2,500-4,500 watts. By using energy wisely, you’ll still be able to comfortably endure a blackout.

Remember, connecting a portable generator directly to your household wiring can be deadly to you and others. A generator that is directly connected to your home’s wiring can ‘back feed’ onto the power lines connected to your home and injure neighbors or utility workers. By working with Midwest Electric and Generator, they will install a manual transfer switch to safely tie into selected circuits of your main electrical panel. If a portable generator is running and power is restored, the power company’s electricity cannot get to those isolated circuits until the generator is turned off and the manual transfer switch is reset to the non-backup position.

Before you buy

  • Determine what will need electricity during an outage. Our advice is having a need list, nice to have list, and do not need list. This will help with the sizing of any generator system.
  • It is important to remember, that homes here in Minnesota have freezing temperatures, it is important to have your heating source on a generator system
  • Food in the refrigerator, and also any freezers will be important to have on backup power.
  • Homes outside of the Twin Cities area that have sewer systems or wells, must have this on backup power also. This will provide water for drinking, showers, livestock and more. If you have a sewer system with a pump, backup power to that pump will make sure the toilets will work.
  • When sizing a generator, you need to consider both running and starting watts. Here at Midwest Electric and Generator, we can help make this determination, so the generator is not under or oversized.  Many do not see an oversized generator as a problem, however, you must consider fuel consumption of the generator, especially if fuel supply is limited (such as power out at a gas station). Oversized generators, could pose a substantial challenge, especially during long term outages.
  • Determine your budget, check with a company such as Midwest Electric and Generator in regards to financing or other terms that may be available.
  • Talk to your insurance agent or other organizations. Typically they will have installers they work with, or can refer, for sizing and installation.
  • Determine if you want a system that is automatic, or manual will get you by. Many people that travel to cabins or lake homes on the weekend, or travel for work, or long vacations, do not want to worry about is driving home during a storm, or needing to rely on someone to go over to their house, to start a manual generator system.