Dear Cecil: Generators power up solutions for power outages

Written by Cecil Messer. Posted in Home & Garden

Published on July 27, 2011 with No Comments

By Cecil Messer

In the past 10 months, we have several times lost power after severe weather.

First it was snow, then the summer downpours. Compounding the problem is the lost food in the deep freezer.

We also have two teenaged daughters who depended on using their laptops for school. A friend suggested I buy a backup generator. I had heard they were huge, loud and expensive. My girls and I are pretty handy, so I was sure we wouldn’t experience any problems with operating it. I just don’t know which one to buy

What do you recommend?


Dear Barbie: The type of generator I use in my business can run most homes by providing auxiliary power. If you purchase a conventional generator for your home, I recommend unit with at least 2,800 up to 4,000 watts. It also needs to have at least four outlets.

There will be plenty of power for a refrigerator, heater or air-conditioner, with enough wattage left for lights. One tank of gas is enough for four hours’ output.

As you have heard, these units are very heavy and very loud. Neighbors may be inconvenienced by the sound of it, especially at night. The sound would be equal to two lawnmowers running constantly.

But there may be another solution. I read an article by Joe Provey detailing the advantages of the inverter generator. As they are new, the downside is the cost is more than a traditional generator. But, as you investigate the comparisons, you likely would buy the inverter.

They are smaller, quieter, run on less gas and are more efficient.

This is how they work: Normal generators convert mechanical energy to power (electricity) using magnetic induction. Generators run on internal combustion, gas-fueled engines. This engine runs approximately 3,600 Rotations Per Minute (the familiar RPM). It will run the same regardless of the use.

The inverter is designed to produce more indirectly per RPM. This is alternating current (AC), converted to 120-volt direct current (DC). It runs so much quieter. It also adjust its RPMs to the requested voltage use. Thus, it is much safer for sensitive items such as laptops, cell phone chargers and the like.

Campers seem to like the inverters when powering their portable sites. Small inverters can power microwaves, coffee pots, TVs and lights. Mid-size and larger units can power up a house, depending on the load needed.

Inverters are gaining in popularity with contractors as well. They can power up as early as 6 a.m. without disturbing neighborhoods. The noise level is comparable to a household vacuum.

And, next time you are at a sporting event, check out the tailgaters. There are an increasing number of inverters in those parking lots.

Still another option can be to get an electrician to install a manual transfer system. That will allow you to connect a generator to the power inlet box.

Remember, the weight on the unit increases with the size of the unit. Some units have two handles, so make sure you know how many folks you need to life or move it. The small-to-medium units usually have one handle, which implies it is a one-person job.

A model with wheels will allow faster access. In times of need, this is more important than you might anticipate.

Make sure your generator matches your needs with plug outlets. A 30-amp breaker is a good idea, for instance, if you plan to run an air conditioner.

If short surges are needed, consider a power automatic device that can change to boost mode as needed.

Of course, generators need periodic maintenance. Read the manual. You don’t want to be reading by flashlight when the need arrives. Make sure the oil reservoir has an easy access. Make sure it has a digital display so you can monitor the hours it is in use, voltage output and overload warnings.

Above all, make sure the gas tank has a large enough opening for refills. A generous capacity is also a good idea.

This will be as costly as any other large appliance. Do not let sticker shock dissuade you. Expect to pay up to $1,400 for an inverter for your home, $400 less for the conventional generator. As time goes by, the inverter makes up the difference with the attributes already discussed.

As always, shop around. Compare models and prices.

Let’s all cheer for no more outages for a while.

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About Cecil Messer

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Cecil Messer started general contracting in 1986 and has been a full-time general contractor since 1993. He is a window and door design specialist as well as an interior and exterior home consultant. He has lectured at Indiana University about business sociology and received the only award given by the Better Business Bureau to a home consultant. Cecil is the owner of Midwest Remodeling Windows and Doors located in Portage. You may write to him at 208 Elm Street, Valparaiso, IN 46383 or e-mail him at

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