Some considerations when shopping for a generator for your Pioneer Valley home Reply

A display of a standby generator at Valley Generator in Sunderland.

A display of a standby generator at Valley Generators in Sunderland.

Home generators are great to have during a power outage. When the power goes out, we may miss our favorite tv show or an important game, our refrigerated food can spoil, we lose running water when we have a well, and it can get really cold in the house during the winter months. For some, power is essential to their very survival if they have a medical condition that requires electronic medical equipment.  There is no arguing the benefits of owning a generator.

In October 2011, the thousands in the Pioneer Valley and throughout the northeast dealt with a catastrophic Nor’easter that came through when leaves were still on the trees, which weighed them down.  The weight of the snow and ice caused trees and branches to fall on power lines everywhere, making roads impassable and leaving thousands without power for over a week―a week without heat or running water.  The October Nor’easter is still a recent memory.

My friend Drew Gatesman is a licensed electrician who owns Valley Generators in Sunderland. He said that he has seen a lot of interest in generators this year since the first cold night.

When considering the purchase of a generator, Gatesman said that the first consideration should be the homeowner’s budget.

An October Nor'aster left thousands in the Pioneer Valley without power for over a week.

An October Nor’aster left thousands in the Pioneer Valley without power for over a week.

“Because there is a solution for every budget,” he said. Gatesman explained that he doesn’t make a specific recommendation until he visits the home to assess a homeowner’s need based on a homeowner’s budget.

There are two different types of generators―portable generators and standby generators. Portable generators can be stored in the garage and brought outside only when needed and standby generators are permanently attached to the house and go on automatically when there is a power outage.

Most houses have either a 100 amp or a 200 amp circuit breaker to power their home. All generators are rated in Kilawatts (KW). The higher the KW, the more electricity it will provide to your home. For example, Gatesman said that with a 20KW generator, you should be able to power everything in your home, whereas a 8KW generator will provide limited power during a power outage for essentials like keeping the heat, water, a few lights, the tv, and the refrigerator on.  Put another way, Gatesman said that 8KW would power 40 amps worth of circuits.

An example of a power inlet box that is mounted on the exterior of a home.

An example of a power inlet box that is mounted on the exterior of a home.

A transfer switch makes hooking up your portable generator much less labor intensive.  It shuts off power from your main service and allows power to be received from your portable generator.  The portable generator is plugged into the house through a  power inlet box, which is attached to the exterior of you home.  You never want to operate a generator inside as people die of carbon monoxide poisoning every year because they were doing so.

In the case of a portable generator, there is also the option of skipping the transfer switch installation and running extension cords directly from the generator to the desired appliances. But that is more labor intensive.

Gatesman explained that there are disadvantages to a portable generator. It is more labor intensive because you have to hook up the generator every time the power goes out; you have to manually fill the generator with gasoline; and the gas station may not be able to pump gas because they don’t have a generator. Some of us may remember that gas was hard to come by after the Nor’easter in 2011.

However, Gatesman said that a portable generator is great if you are only out of power for a few hours.

“If you are sitting in the dark for 3 or 4 hours and you have no idea what time the power is coming back on, [a portable generator] is priceless,” Gatesman said, adding that it will keep crucial systems powered during that time.

Although more expensive than a portable generator, a standby generator is permanently attached to the house and will go on automatically when the power goes out. They can be fueled through your propane tank or your natural gas line. They can power the whole house or just primary components, depending on the KWs of the generator.

However, it is always a good idea to have a professional visit your home and make a recommendation based on your budget and your electrical needs.

Valley Generators is located at 11 Bridge Street in Sunderland. Their number is 413-397-3380.

If you are planning on buying or selling a home in the Pioneer Valley, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129. Michael Seward is a Certified Residential Specialist, a Certified Buyers Agent, A Certified Loss Mitigation Specialist, a Certified New Homes Specialist, and Green designee of the National Association of REALTORS®.

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