STILLWATER, Okla. — When storms hit, emergency generators sell out faster than Ohio State-Michigan football tickets.
If you think you need a generator, carefully think over the issues before the weather gets bad.
“Sometimes we don’t appreciate something until it’s gone, and this can be the case with electric power,” said Scott Frazier, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension biosystems and agricultural engineering renewable energy engineer.
Utility systems are reliable, but nothing’s foolproof and service can be disrupted by heavy winds or ice storms. And rural areas can experience longer outages due to remote power lines.
There are two main categories for backup generators: standby and portable.
Standby generators are typically large, automated systems wired directly into the house’s main electrical panel.
“Standby generators will automatically start after a power outage and will typically power most, if not all the home,” Frazier said. “They are expensive but the end result is the homeowner is almost unaffected by short outages.”
Portable generators are much smaller, simpler devices and will typically not power the entire home.
Frazier said these generators are usually manually started and some are electric start.
“Depending on the size of the portable generator, it may only be able to power a few appliances at once,” he said.
“Small, portable generators cannot power central air conditioning systems, electric ranges, electric resistance furnaces, electric clothes dryers or electric water heaters because of the high power requirements of these appliances.”
Portable generators can be sized to operate critical appliances long enough to get through a rough stretch.
What do you need?
The key to buying a portable generator for emergency power is to properly size the generator to power the devices you really want to keep running, like the refrigerator.
The capacity of a generator is usually in watts. For example, a 2,000-watt generator is the same as a two-kilowatt generator because 1,000 watts is equal to one kilowatt.
Watts is an electrical term determined by multiplying volts times amps.
“If an appliance requires 120 volts and uses 10 amps, this appliance requires 1,200 watts,” Frazier said. “By using this formula, you can determine what you can run on your generator. An appliance that requires 1,200 watts and one requiring 600 watts might be run on a 2,000-watt generator, however, appliances with electric motors require more current to start than they do after they are running.
“The starting current for electric motor devices can be four times higher than the running amps.”
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