“We Have Power!”
Craig, my husband
How precious those words were when we regained utility services. Our family, among many, endured a multi-day outage caused by Hurricane Isaias. It is truly one of the more disruptive events that can happen. Typically, you don’t get a lot of warnings when outages occur. The best you can do is be patient and go with the flow (pardon the pun!). Then hope your electric utility company is on the ball.
The benefits of a generator are significant when outages impact your home. With two houses in different locations, I thought we would finally reap the benefit of having two locations despite having dual outages. We quickly relocated our family to the rented house, which had a standby generator. Little did we know that the owners’ generator wasn’t working. It only sputtered out error messages. At least the rented house had water but nothing else. I soon realized that we would have to empty our two stuffed refrigerators filled with fresh and frozen food, including meals I always prepare ahead of time. What an unfortunate waste! Suddenly buying things on sales didn’t feel like a bargain anymore.
Power Outages Are Pains In The A** But Keep Your Perspective.
Yes, we had candles, flashlights, and other supplies. It was our first outage, not counting brownouts. I was proud of our teens as they handled themselves quite well in the initial days. However, by the fourth day, they were getting anxious about being out of touch with friends and schoolwork. Having a puppy made things a bit harder for us, especially feeding time when we didn’t have yogurt for him.
However, it was essential to keep our perspective. Falling trees hurt no one. People go through a lot more worse conditions as a result of emergencies. We were safe with temporary inconveniences like no toilets or showers, no wifi, TV, or lights. However, I wanted to understand what we can do about this in the future as we did have some costs to bear. Both Craig and I work from home with deadlines to meet, but the power outage silenced our computers.
We received a modest amount of recovery from our respective utility companies. Our budget took a hit as we had to spend more money dining out for all our meals, bought water and jugs to flush our waste, and gas for the generator we borrowed. The banks were closed during the first few days of the outage though we had cash on hand. An emergency fund is particularly important to have for events like this. We suffered no damages to windows or the house from falling trees.
Aging Electric Infrastructure Means More Outages Are Likely
When a power outage occurs, whole communities as retailers as well as businesses overall get impacted. No one cannot operate without electricity. Experiencing a power outage has become far more common in the US in the past decade due to our aging infrastructure. The US electricity grid was built in the 1890s and updated piecemeal as new technologies became available. However, electricity is still our primary power source.
According to the Department of Energy, 70% of our transmission infrastructure is over 25 years old. Gretchen Bakke, who wrote The Grid, said in a 2016 NPR Interview said that our electricity grid has become increasingly unstable and underfunded. Significant power outages averaged fewer than 5 per year from the 1950s to the 1980s. Since 2010, there have been more than 100 major outages annually. Bakke pointed out that renewable power sources have grown dramatically, but our aging infrastructure cannot integrate them into energy sources.
Our electric grid cannot be fixed quickly and will require significant capital expenditures. Yet, not doing so will guarantee that outages will become more commonplace. Moreover, the modernization of the grid is key to the future of our economy. If we don’t update our grid, we will lose efficiencies, cost savings, the ability to fully integrate wind and solar technologies, and provide better broadband internet to rural and poor areas. On the latter point, the pandemic has highlighted the digital divide that has existed for years.
Severe Weather Causes Outages
While hackers can impact our power systems, severe weather conditions such as hurricanes cause a significant percentage of power outages. As if the year 2020 wasn’t challenging enough with the coronavirus pandemic and a severe economic downturn, the hurricane season was historic. On June 9, 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane “..draws to an end.” The NOAA predicts an active 2021 hurricane season in the likely range of 13 to 20 named storms, of which six to ten could become hurricanes—just saying.
Should We Get A Generator?
The sad state of our infrastructure is a big problem that needs fixing on a broad scale. Unfortunately, Biden has not yet signed the infrastructure bill.l So besides using our voice and vote to get our grid in better shape, what can our family do to better prepare for more outages?
Towards the end of the ordeal, our friends, who had their power restored faster than ours, lent us their portable generator. It provided some relief. The wifi allowed us to communicate again and we had one of our refrigerators turned back on. Of course, Tyler made sure that he could use one of the large screen TVs for his video games. Having some power back got us thinking about getting our generator for our rural home.
Was this power interruption a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or could it happen more often? If the latter, does getting a generator make sense for us? We had to throw out a lot of food in two refrigerators and freezers that we had recently acquired and supplies and dining out the whole week for a family of four. Suddenly a $750 portable generator starts to make sense. It fits into our budget and may give us peace of mind.
Related Post: Steps To Buying A Home Through Closing
Benefits Of A Getting A Generator
1. Staying Comfortable And Safe During Emergencies
Having a generator would restore some of our daily routine activities quickly and potentially automatically. You can remain in your home rather than having to pay for a hotel. Determine the size and type of generator and what are your basic needs assuming you can’t have it all.
For example, there are tradeoffs you need to consider. For us, we want to keep the heater or AC working, power for the bathrooms (this is the hardest to lose), TV and cable connections, security systems, refrigerator, a few lights, and being able to use your computer.
A generator is essential for families with health problems that may require the use of medical equipment. Simple things like opening your garage door and having a coffee are tiny benefits are pleasant but not vital. In addition, having a backup generator provides some peace of mind. When you are without power, it is very stressful for you and your family, including your pets.
2. Maintain High Indoor Air Quality
Without a generator, the indoor air quality deteriorates as open doors and windows will let in pollen, dust, dirt, and such. A generator is beneficial to keep your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system running. HVAC systems bring in fresh air from the outside to provide better indoor air quality. Fresh air is an essential comfort for those with asthma or severe allergies. Within 48 hours, your food spoils and smells up your home. Also, high humidity can cause mold in your home.
3. Preventing Damage To Your Home
A generator allows your sump pump to keep working. This helps to prevent possible flooding in your home when there are heavy downpours or snowstorms. It can prevent pipes from bursting by maintaining power to your boiler to heat the house. When power comes back on after a few days, clean your refrigerator of its spoiled food. It is a lot of work, and you may feel like you need to buy a new refrigerator. It keeps the water flowing for homes with private wells. In rural areas, generators are more commonplace to maintain electrical farm appliances and gardening.
4. Add Value To Your Home
Depending on the type of generator you get, it can add value to your home and help you rent it out. Typically, you will receive the most significant benefit from a system that provides coverage for your whole house and is a standby generator rather than a portable generator. In addition, some insurance companies may give discounts on the homeowner’s premium if you have an automatic standby system.
Portable Generators versus Standby Generators
In 2020, less than 3% of American homes had standby generators, while 12% had portable generators. Generac has 70% of the residential generator market, although several other providers of these units.
The cost for portable generators is significantly less than the standby generators, likely accounting for the higher percentage in US homes. The national average cost is $750 (ranging $200-$2,000) for the gas-powered with about 5500 wattages. These units vary by wattage, with gas being the most common fuel type over natural gas, liquid propane, and diesel. The portable unit requires manual hookups using several extension cords that may add cost. An electrician can provide a transfer or switch to connect your appliances to the generator for $500-$800. There is no other installation as your unit should operate 20 feet outside of your home.
It is a manual system, easy to operate as our son, Tyler, actually put it together for us.
Some portables have automatic shutoff features if it detects too much carbon monoxide.
How Many Watts Do You Need?
Power output is measured by wattage. The amount of wattage you should get is determined by how much coverage of your home and the respective appliances you need. Consumer Reports says that 5K watts will cover the basics of a typical home though it really should be based on your family’s needs. Some units go to 10,000 watts or more. The most significant portable I saw was 17,500 watts. To give you an idea of respective wattage, here is the required wattage:
- Refrigerator – 600 watts
- Sump Pump – 750-1500 watts
- Portable Heater – 1500 watts
- Window air conditioner – 1000 watts
- Lights vary from 60 – 600 watts
- Computers 60-300 watts
A portable generator can do the trick for some, but likely not for all of your needs.
You need to refill the smaller units that hold 3-6 gallons of gas often. According to Motley Fool, it takes about 34 gallons of gas for an average portable generator size for two days use. A gallon of gas price of a gallon is higher in 2021 at about $3 now (versus $2 a year ago). When the unit runs out of gas, it stops working. Running out of gas could be a problem as you don’t want your refrigerator to stop working.
The Drawbacks of A Portable Generator
While we find the portable generator is probably the way to go for our family, you should know a few negatives. First, as mentioned, portable generators will not restore every inconvenience, so you need to figure what is most important to you. Second, your mobile unit may use many extension cords all over the house unless you have a transfer or switch. Third, these lines may be unsightly for some people and pose a danger if you aren’t careful walking around.
You need to monitor the system periodically to run out of gas and stop running your appliances. The portable unit is not a good choice if you travel a lot. You don’t want to leave it running outside your home unattended. As it is noisy, your neighbors probably won’t appreciate you leaving it on either.
These units are far more comprehensive in their coverage of your entire home during an outage. They are automatic and will turn on upon the outage and off when power is back on. That means there should be no power interruption. The automatic feature eliminates the need for fuel storage as it is hooked up to an existing gas line. It has the potential to increase your home’s value and possibly to get discounts on homeowner insurance. On a personal note, the fact that the standby generator did not work as hoped in our rented home makes me a little biased against this kind of unit.
The Drawbacks For Standby Generators
For these reasons, standby generators are more expensive, ranging from $7,000 to $9,000 for an installed 10,000-watt generator. According to Remodeling magazine, comparing cost versus value, a $12,860 standby generator increases the value of your home by $6,940. That is a 54% recovery of your generator’s cost. The unit may take up significant outdoor space, require regular maintenance, and an inspection after installation. Like the portable unit, it is noisy when operating as well. You will have to run it periodically.
Our first major power outage last summer that lasted a week was a drag on our family, as it has been for many others. Unfortunately, we will likely see more power outages in the future. The benefits of a generator when outages impact your family are significant. As a result of our experience, we prepared our home to purchase a portable generator as insurance. Losing food, dining out for every meal, and inconveniences were annoying in this challenging year. The more significant issue is the aging infrastructure plaguing our country. It is partially the cause for outages and inefficiencies and the lack of broadband internet for many Americans. That has been part of the lesson learned I wanted to share in this article.
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With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.