Top-Rated Powerplants: Portable & Standby Generators (cont.)

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STATIC ELECTRICITY. Power-management capability, which is handled by a transfer switch, is widespread on today’s permanent standby generators. Two manufacturers—Cummins and General Electric—make that a standard feature on models that generate more than 8,000 watts; other manufacturers make you pay $200–$500 extra for the transfer switch. Power-management operation means that a homeowner could get by with using a less powerful, less expensive generator as long as he/she doesn’t want to run all of his/her home’s appliances simultaneously.

At the time of installation, you can decide which appliances the generator will “shed,” and in which order, to prevent a power overload. For example, you could run a kitchen exhaust fan while you cook dinner and watch TV in an air-conditioned home during a power outage. The power-management system might turn the water heater off for 20 minutes until, say, the oven and exhaust fan are turned off. That isn’t long enough for the home’s hot water to go cold, so your family wouldn’t notice that the generator temporarily stopped supplying electricity to the water heater. “It’s as if nothing happened to the consumer,” says Horacio Muslera, who owns Plus Electric, which installs permanent standby generators.

In central New Jersey, builder Hallmark Homes is installing 13,000-watt generators that have power-management systems into houses that otherwise would require a 20,000-watt generator. “We deemed that to be enough for the critical areas of the home to function in the event of a power outage,” construction supervisor Jonathan Hove says about the 13,000-watt generators. According to the five manufacturers that distribute permanent standby generators nationally, a generator that’s capable of producing 20,000 watts typically is required to run all of the appliances that are in a typical home simultaneously. These models start at about $4,000, excluding installation, which adds at least $1,000 regardless of generator size, depending on where you live.

Further, manufacturers estimate that new features that are on today’s permanent standby generators can save you hundreds of dollars in installation costs. These models, which are at all prices, are more compatible with a home’s wiring. Generac, for example, now has prewired transfer switches and dual-rated lugs that can accept aluminum wire. The latter means that you don’t have to upgrade to copper wire from aluminum as you had to before to be compatible with the switch.

That’s disaster relief that goes straight to your wallet.

Sharon O’Malley is a freelancer who specializes in reporting on home construction, home improvement and building products.

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