Uncle Bobs Tips: Generator Guide

Home Generators

Home generators produce either single or three phase power.

Generators are at work providing power around the world - from equatorial jungles and research-posts to local hospitals and homes. As power demand continues to exceed available power resources, and with growing concern about blackouts resulting from natural disasters in the wake of international floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, backup electric power is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. Many homeowners are turning to home generators to provide temporary power in and around their home environments.

If you have decided to purchase a home generator, there are several considerations to keep in mind when choosing which home generator set to buy, and where and how to install it. Choosing the right home generator is not difficult if you take the time to analyze your requirements carefully. Most home generator dealers will assist you with all steps of the selection and sizing process.

You will first need to determine if you will require a stand-by or prime power (portable) home generator. Simply stated, prime or portable power is required when you have no other source of power. A stand-by set is a backup to normal utility power. Today, many homeowners are investing in small portable generators for recreational and other uses and increasingly using portable generators to supply power to their homes during a power outage, just like the larger standby home generators. However, unlike standby generators, portable generators are designed to be used for only short periods of time, i.e. a few hours at a stretch. As a result, they tend to be much smaller and less expensive.

Home standby generators are used as a backup to normal utility power. Home standby generators are permanently hardwired into your home’s electrical system and get fuel from city gas or propane lines. Proper installation of your home generator by a professional is critical. Shoddy installation work can cause the home generator to fail, overheat, or damage existing wiring and equipment. Improper connection of a home standby generator could also void your homeowner's insurance in case of accident or injury. Dealers usually come to evaluate your system’s needs and depending on your location, may offer delivery, installation, and maintenance services directly. If they don't, they will put you in touch with qualified electricians and plumbers to help install your home generator system.

In the case of home portable generators, a manual transfer switch is the key to safe operation of portable generators for emergency power. A transfer switch is installed at your breaker box and by connecting a portable generator to the transfer switch, you can run selected circuits for appliances such as a furnace, well pump, refrigerator, television, computer or lighting circuit during a power outage, depending on the capacity of your home generator. By isolating those circuits using generator power, a transfer switch eliminates the risk of back feeding the electrical utility, which can cause injury to workers and property damage.

Typically, portable generators over 2000 watts can be used to power microwave ovens, toaster ovens, and other 120V electrical cooking devices for meal preparation. Mastering the art of "power management" will allow you to discover that a small portable home generator can safely provide power for many of the conveniences you count on everyday.

What size home generator you need depends on what you need to power. Remember that during power outages the main concern is for powering sufficiently for the safety of your family. If power is out for several hours you will want to ensure adequate wattage to cover heat and lighting and to power the refrigerator and freezer in order to avoid food spoilage.

Home generators produce either single or three phase power. Most homeowners will require single-phase home generators whereas industrial or commercial applications usually require three phase power. Three phase models are set up to produce 120/208 or 277/480 volts. Single-phase sets are 120 or 120/240. Use the low voltage to run domestic appliances and the high voltage for your motors, heaters, stoves and dryers.

Once you have selected the right home generator for your power needs, here are some safety tips to keep in mind whenever you use your generator.

1. Always observe the generator manufacturer's instructions for safe operation.
2. Always run your generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area.
3. Maintain your generator engine according to the maintenance schedule for peak performance and safety.
4. Do not operate the engine near combustible materials.
5. Keep gas fresh. If you do not plan to use your generator for up to 30 days, stabilize the gas with a gas stabilizer.
6. Place generator on level ground to operate.
7. When using extension cords, be sure they are grounded, and are a sufficient wire gauge for the application. Heavy Duty outdoor rated cords will handle household appliance loads.
8. Never plug your generator directly into your house circuit.
9. If connecting a generator into your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a manual power transfer system.

Follow these guidelines, and your home generator will not only 'light up your life', but will provide an indispensable source of safety, security and peace of mind for you, your home and your family.

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