Power Outage Protection at the TOH 2018 Idea House
When the lights go out, a generator is your first line of defense. Here’s how to choose the right type for your home.
There Are Two Main Types of Generators to Choose From
The less expensive option for temporary backup electrical service, portable generators range from just $500 to $2,000, and they can play an important role in getting you through an outage by powering just a few essential appliances. They are manually operated and powered by gasoline or propane. You need to be at home at the time of the power loss to pull the generator out of the garage, fill it with gas, and turn it on. Portable generators can consume significant amounts of fuel if run continuously, so you'll need to keep fuel on hand and be prepared to periodically replenish the tank, which could be problematic if a storm prevents you from reaching the nearest service station.
WARNING: Never run a portable generator in an enclosed space like a garage or basement. Place it at least 15 feet away from the house and face the exhaust away from windows and doors to reduce the risk of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you live in an area prone to prolonged power outages, or if you simply don't feel comfortable operating a portable generator, it makes sense to invest in a standby generator. Prices can range from $3,000 to $8,000 with installation, but unlike a manually-operated generator, a standby generator continuously monitors utility power and starts automatically the moment power goes out. When power is restored, it returns to standby mode. Some models are powerful enough to operate your whole home, for extended periods of time, and they do not require refueling.
The TOH 2018 Idea House opted for the . Designed to operate from sub-zero temperatures (from -22 degrees F) to extreme heat (up to 104 degrees F), this unit is well suited to a four-season coastal town like Narragansett, Rhode Island. Says electrician Ben Giles of , "Being in such close proximity to the ocean, this house is likely to experience adverse weather events, such as coastal winter storms, that result in power outages. And since this is a seasonal town, many homeowners tend to be out of town for a good portion of the year. This system offers peace of mind, as it will operate even if no one is home to activate it."
How it Works
A standby generator is permanently installed outside the home by a professional, and is connected to your natural gas or propane supply and electrical panel.
An automatic transfer switch recognizes when there is an electrical service disruption. As soon as power stops coming into the house, the switch turns on the standby generator, which sends power to the panel in just a few seconds. This allows you to operate select appliances and devices (or your entire home, depending on the size of the unit) just as if the power was on. As soon as grid power is restored, the automatic transfer switch allows the grid power to flow to the panel again, and it turns off the generator. This works whether you are home or not, and you do not have to do anything to initiate it.
Why it Pays to Call a Pro Before You Buy
If you’re considering a standby generator, arrange for a site survey and have an installer come to your house and walk around the property with you to evaluate your needs. Here are some of the issues a pro can help you assess to make sure you get the best standby generator for your home.
System Size and Whole- vs. Partial-House Power
The size (or load) of the system you choose will depend on the square footage of your house, your home’s Amp service, what you want it to power, and for how long. Too small, and the generator will shut down. Too big, and you’ll pay more than you need. Your installer will talk to you about your home’s daily energy use and what’s most important to keep running during an outage.
Of the 14KW generator chosen for the Idea House, electrician Ben Giles explains, “The Idea House is electrically fully loaded; to supply full power to this whole house would require quite a large—and expensive—system. We decided to go with a more modest system designed for emergency load. This unit is a happy medium in that it supplies enough power to run the essentials in the house (like heat, appliances, refrigeration, some lights and power) while still being economical to maintain and run.”
Natural Gas or Propane
The Champion unit comes ready to run on either natural gas or propane. There are pros and cons to both fuel types; and just because your home may have a natural gas hookup doesn’t necessarily mean this is the best choice for you. Natural gas is quicker to install; propane requires large tanks that you may want to bury. Propane will need to be replenished after a long run while natural gas supply is unlimited (though it may become unavailable in a natural disaster such as an earthquake). And while propane is more expensive per cubic foot, it burns more than twice as efficiently, making propane generators more economical to run.
Where to Locate the Generator and Transfer Switch
The right place to install a standby generator can vary based on local codes and proper safety precautions. Location of the electrical panel, gas supply, and windows will also affect the decision on where to place the generator. The installer will work with you to find ways to minimize the amount of additional piping and wiring that needs to be run, and make the total installation as cost-effective as possible.
What Type of Pad You’ll Need
Depending on local codes, your site’s drainage needs, and your preferences, your generator may be installed on a poured concrete pad, pea gravel, or landscape rock.
How You Can Save Money
Your dealer may recommend adding a load control module. This device can intelligently manage power to prioritized appliances and systems while allowing less essential loads to run only as power becomes available. This not only cuts down on fuel consumption but also allows you to purchase a smaller, less expensive generator.
How to Get the Best Return on Your Investment
Few enhancements to the home actually offer a high return on investment. According to data from the nearly 60% of the money you spend on a standby generator will be added directly to your home’s resale value. To make sure your investment in a generator has staying power, you’ll also want to research the brands’ warranties. Most brands offer two- to five-year warranties with the option of buying extended coverage at additional cost. Champion offers a 10-year warranty at no extra cost on all Champion Home Standby Generators—the longest standard warranty on the market.
To learn more about Champion state-of-the-art power equipment or to find a local dealer, visit