Electrician Greg Wells is often called to the rescue when the lights go out. "That's usually my first question when I walk up to a homeowner is: how do you want to live if your lights go off?"
Once that question is answered, Wells says he can quickly determine whether you need a standby generator to power everything in your house or if a less expensive, portable generator will do the job. "With an 8-kw generator, we can power up two refrigerators, a gas furnace, several outlets and a microwave, if you need."
Angie Hicks, Angie's List Founder, says its all about the cost. "A portable generator costs around a thousand dollars and might help you get the bare necessities, so maybe your furnace running; making sure you've got your sump pump going, which are important during a storm, but if you're looking for full-house functionality during a storm, you might want to consider a full-house generator, which is going to cost anywhere from five to ten times that much."
Installing a standby generator requires a licensed electrician who will locate the unit near a power source just a few feet from your home. He'll also install a transfer switch that automatically detects when the main power goes out and triggers the generator to turn on. "When the power comes back on to your home, the transfer switch will sense that and it will automatically switch back to the utility mode, which comes off your power lines. The generator will run for ten more seconds on a cool down mode and then everything will go back to normal."
Portable generators are more commonly used for emergency power and can easily be stored in a garage or shed. Angie says to keep in mind that they need to be refueled regularly to operate usually with regular gasoline and that they should never be used in a garage or an enclosed area because of the carbon monoxide that's given off. If you have a home medical device, be sure to let your utility company know because they will prioritize getting the power back on for you.