Before the storm: How to maintain your generator
Never run your generator in a garage, carport, crawl space, shed or porch. Place outdoors but under cover to prevent electrocution if unit gets wet. Be sure the generator isn’t positioned outside an open window, which can allow fumes into the home.
Use a carbon-monoxide alarm that’s battery-operated or has battery backup.
Never feed power from a portable generator into a wall outlet. This can kill linemen working to restore power or your neighbors who are served by the same transformer. It also can damage your generator.
Don’t use power cords that are frayed, torn or cut. This can cause a fire or shock. Be sure all three prongs are intact and the cord is outdoor-rated. The cord’s wattage or amps must not be smaller than the sum of the connected appliance loads.
Store fuel and generator in a ventilated area and away from natural-gas water heaters. Vapors can escape from closed cans and tanks, travel to the pilot light and ignite.
Never have wet hands when operating a generator. Never let water come in contact with the generator.
Make sure you have the right cords and connectors.
You should not use an auxiliary tank.
Most starters use rope pulls. If yours uses a battery, keep it charged.
Always turn the engine off before refueling and let the generator cool.
Don’t spill fuel. It can ignite.
Even in the off-season, your portable generator can become just that, at the hands of a thief. Permanently bolt it down or at least secure it with a strong chain and lock.
More information: Consumer Product Safety Commission
Need more power? Many homeowners opt for large standby generators
Large, permanent generators — also known as automatic standby generators — are more powerful and quieter then their portable counterparts. And newer models are better and less intrusive than older versions.
Most are powered by propane or natural gas stored in large underground tanks or are fed by service lines. That means no shuttling to service stations to fill gasoline cans.
They’re directly wired into the home’s circuit panel. When power goes out, just fire it up and flip a switch.
Some units have a “brain” that detects outages, automatically starts the generator, and switches circuits in seconds. When power resumes, the system flips back to the house circuit and powers down the generator.
Standby generators can range in power up to 45,000 watts — enough to power an entire large home.
Determining if you need a standby generator
List the appliances you’ll want operating in an outage and total the required wattage.
Most units range in price from $10,000-$30,000. You’ll also have to pay for a concrete slab, installation and wiring.
You’ll be subject to the laborious, and costly, permitting process used for new driveways, fences, shutters and roofs. You’ll also need to meet the rules of your local homeowners association.
You’ll need to be familiar with the manufacturer’s guidelines for placement and operation. Some homes will not have room outside to place generators and still have the required space for proper ventilation and to meet fire codes and zoning.
Finding a reputable company
Consumer groups and even the police in the past have dealt with complaints that generator sales and installation outfits took money and either delivered the generators but never installed them, or never delivered them at all.
Some companies poured just the concrete slab. Some delivered units but never pulled permits.
Make sure the company shows its license. Check for complaints. Get referrals.
Sources: Palm Beach Post archives, bobvila.com, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Florida Power & Light Co.