Portable generators for winter outages?...

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-ryan-

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Historically when there is a winter power outage here I have to first hope that the outage will not last long enough for the house temperature to drop too low, and second make sure I have enough boxes around so that if it drops too low I can bring the reptiles into the room with the wood-burning stove (which provides a very dry heat and is not very good for them). Luckily I have only had to resort to that once when we had a 4 day outage during an ice storm, but I was thinking about the possibility of getting a generator for these situations.

Obviously the best scenario would be a standby natural gas generator that would operate the appropriate circuits, but who can afford that? I was doing some research on portable generators (in the $500-600 range) and it seems as though it would be easy enough to plug one into the house and turn off all of the breakers except the fridge and the thermostat (and other circuits necessary to run a natural gas furnace), and just fire it up when the temperature in the house goes below 60, and turn it off when it reaches about 68. I could also close all of the registers except those in rooms with reptiles (the basement and two bedrooms).

Does anyone else do this? I know that you can usually plug the generator directly into a clothes dryer outlet, and I have also seen some people install an outlet on the outside of their house specifically for the generator.

The hope is that we would very rarely need to use it. I mean, in the summer we would likely only ever need it to run the fridge (because the fact that the heat lamps and the air conditioner are both off usually cancels each other out), and in the winter it would only be necessary when the power is out for more than 12 hours, and at that point it would probably only be necessary to run it for 30 minutes every once in a while. It definitely seems like the more economical option than installing a standby generator.

Darn my climate.
 

GBtortoises

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Ryan,

Darn my climate is right, I feel your pain fellow New Yorker!

I have a portable gasoline powered generator that I use on jobs and also for back up when the power goes out here. Amazingly that has only happened once this winter!
Standby generators are the "less fuss" way to go over portable generators but an installation costs about $3,000-$3,500 around here. The beauty of having one permanently set up is there is very little to do expect check the fuel. They will power an entire average use home, as if the power never went out at all. They trip on and off automatically by sensing the load of the incoming power, as in when their is a power outage. But again, you pay for that convienence. I will be paying for that convienence this summer! I've had it with power outages here. This winter happened to be a lucky one!
With a portable generator you can plug it into a 220 volt dryer outlet or any other prewired 220v receptacle. Or mount a seperate one outside the house that is wired into the panel box. You can then select what you want powered by turning selected breakers on or off. You can also plug into the 110v outlets on the generator and use a couple of regular lead cords to plug into individual 110v receptacles.
In either case you absolutely must remember to first turn off the main breaker in the panel box or when the power comes back on you'll fry appliances and possibly the generator too. Extreme fire hazard.
Electric companies frown on this type of hook up because there is lots of potential for human error and it could in the worse case scenario damage the transformer on the pole. They fix it and charge the homeowner dearly for it.
You can also purchase a sub panel box and have it prewired to the circuits that you want to run on the portable generator. When the power goes out you flip the main panel breaker off. Flip the sub panel breaker on and go start the generator. Once the generator is running you flip the transfer switch on the generator and go back inside to sit down under your favorite reading light to continue your book.
With a standby generator that is hard wired in when the power goes out you place your finger on the spot you were reading, wait 10 seconds and the lights come back on.
That's the biggest difference!
 

-ryan-

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Thanks a lot for the info Gary!

Yeah, a standby generator would definitely be the best option, especially if I could get a natural gas one (assuming my next house has natural gas), but money is always a factor, and for the small amount of times that I hope to have to use one I think it would make more fiscal sense to get a portable one. Who knows... I don't think I'll be getting one right now, but in the future I think it's definitely a good idea considering the risks of our winters.

I think if I eventually go the portable generator route I will just have to laminate a step-by-step list and attach it to the generator so that I never forget the important things like switching off the main breaker. Definitely not a scenario I would want to screw up.

But man, some of those standby units are pretty slick. They seem incredibly user-friendly and a bit more reliable, but then again I think that the reliability of a generator is the same as any gas powered outdoor equipment. If you maintain it and fire it up regularly it will work when you need it to.
 
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