If you live in the Southeast, as I do, you can count on experiencing severe weather several times a year: thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and snowstorms are all a part of life here. And if you also happen to live in an older city filled with thousands of mature trees and vulnerable above-ground power lines, as I do, you’re almost certain to be out of power multiple times per year.
Spend enough time without power, and you’ll realize the value of having a generator. At the least, a generator can help you save the food in your refrigerator or freezer. You may also be able to power a toaster oven, microwave, small furnace, or window air conditioning unit. For some, this might be enough to make the other inconvenience bearable; for others, being able to power their entire home during an outage is worth the investment.
So what do you need to power a home? Some homeowners opt for standby generators. These heavy-duty models are built-in, and always connected to your home. If power goes out, you’ll notice it only momentarily; the standby generator will almost instantly replace the power line as your home’s source of power. Generally speaking, these generators will be able to power anything and everything you need in your home.
This kind of backup power requires an investment. Standby generators start at around $4000, and can easily cost more than that. In addition to the cost of the generator, you’ll also need an experienced electrician to safely and correctly connect the generator to your home’s electrical panel. You may already be wondering: What about backup power for someone with a smaller budget? Another option is to connect a portable generator to your home.
Connecting a portable generator to your home probably won’t allow you to power everything in it. But it can allow you to power devices using your home’s electrical system. This means that you won’t need to connect devices directly to the generator, and that you will be able to use your power outlets. Depending on the power of your generator, you’ll also be able to use devices such as your water heater or your dishwasher.
Connecting your generator to your home isn’t as simple as connecting devices to your generator. Here’s why: Your home’s electrical system and the power lines connected to your home should have only one source of power at all times. Usually, this is the power from your utility company; in the event of an outage, this source could be your generator. To avoid dangerous power overloads and back-feeds, your generator will need to shut off the second that utility power is restored; you’ll need a manual transfer switch or an interlock kit.
Both manual transfer switches and interlock kits perform the same role: they are designed to ensure that the utility and generator breakers cannot be turned on at the same time; this isolates the household and utility systems so that power from one system cannot enter the other system. Both manual transfer switches and interlock kits should be installed by a professional electrician. While a visit from a professional will add to the cost, you won’t be able to safely connect your generator to your home without one.