Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities

Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:22 am

My wife and I had a discussion this morning about installing a whole-house generator. If we were smart, we would have had the discussion a few months ago :D I don't want this to become political/theological, but it does seen that New Jersey is seeing "once in a century" events at least every year. Our climate is presenting events that result in more frequent power outages for longer durations than in the past. So, here's our personal situation:

1. Not much interest in having a portable generator that powers sump pumps and the fridge. Our neighbor had theirs stolen last time.
2. House is paid for, ~5000 SF, valued in low 7 digits. In our relatively affluent community, whole-house generators are not the norm, but I wonder whether they might be commonplace by the time we sell.
3. Near-zero probability of selling in less than 2 years, quite likely after 4 years, and very likely by 6 years.
4. I understand from a neighbor that it cost him $20,000 to install a safe and adequate generator.
5. We have gas service to the house.

I know $20,000 is a fraction of a $1M+ house(1-2%), but I'd hate to install a generator and then get no benefit from it in the eventual sale. That always bugs me about selling a car that has optional equipment that cost $ when I bought, but returns nothing when I sell; I have to assume I'd feel the same way about a house with optional equipment.

We've been told to expect a power loss that could range from 7-10 days, so if I don't respond to your postings, I apologize in advance.

EDITED TO ASK THE QUESTION THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT OF THE THREAD :oops: : How sensible or foolhardy, from a purely financial standpoint, do you think it would be to purchase a whole-house generator?
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby dailybagel » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:31 am

In past weather events involving heavy rain, have you experienced flooding in your neighborhood? In your basement?

I think the answer may depend a bit on whether the generator will operate a sump pump that must be run during heavy rain, or is for the convenience of occupants.
dailybagel
 
Posts: 435
Joined: 15 Feb 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Random Poster » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:32 am

You have to maintain the generator, and that costs money, so figure those ongoing expenses into your "does it make financial sense" calculation.

To me, the answer is "no."
Random Poster
 
Posts: 947
Joined: 3 Feb 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Sidney » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:33 am

If it just the sump pump that is an issue, don't need whole-house gen.
I always wanted to be a procrastinator.
Sidney
 
Posts: 5503
Joined: 8 Mar 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby dm200 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:33 am

Part of the answer, I think, is that you have natural gas service. It is very rare, I think, that natural gas service is interrupted.You do not have to have fuel oil delivered, stored, go bad with age, and so on. The organizations that I know with backup generators have to do a fair amount of work and hassle to test the generators (weekly I think), have the fuel delivered and use it up (power failure or not) before it deteriorates. I do think, even woth natural gas, that you should rund regular testing of the generator. One thing I would check out is how loud (and annoying to neighbors) the generator would be.
User avatar
dm200
 
Posts: 6348
Joined: 26 Feb 2007
Location: Washington DC area

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:44 am

dailybagel wrote:In past weather events involving heavy rain, have you experienced flooding in your neighborhood? In your basement?

I think the answer may depend a bit on whether the generator will operate a sump pump that must be run during heavy rain, or is for the convenience of occupants.

In the past, we've had flooding in our basement (neighbors also). We're on a hill, so it drains pretty quickly, but if the flooding is high enough, it will affect the furnace electronics.

If it were just the sump pumps, we'd probably get a portable generator. But, I don't think we'd want to stay in a hot or cold house using flashlights for a week or two, so it's also for our convenience.
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:50 am

dm200 wrote:Part of the answer, I think, is that you have natural gas service. It is very rare, I think, that natural gas service is interrupted.You do not have to have fuel oil delivered, stored, go bad with age, and so on. The organizations that I know with backup generators have to do a fair amount of work and hassle to test the generators (weekly I think), have the fuel delivered and use it up (power failure or not) before it deteriorates. I do think, even woth natural gas, that you should rund regular testing of the generator. One thing I would check out is how loud (and annoying to neighbors) the generator would be.
I also got the sense that natural gas is a big deal with generators. We live on a street that could possibly be impassable by car for a week; getting additional liquid fuel might be a problem, so I'm pleased to have gas service. As you say, I don't recall losing gas service in some 60 years of having it.

With the topography and trees, I think the noise would bother only us. And, I figure that if we offered the neighbors a place to take a shower, they wouldn't hold a little noise against us in any case :D
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby LadyGeek » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:53 am

FYI - This thread is now in the Personal Consumer Issues forum (home maintenance). I use a portable generator, which is ready and waiting for Sandy. Yes, they are loud. For heating, my fireplace works fine.
To some, the glass is half full. To others, the glass is half empty. To an engineer, it's twice the size it needs to be.
User avatar
LadyGeek
Site Admin
 
Posts: 15954
Joined: 20 Dec 2008
Location: Philadelphia

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Aptenodytes » Mon Oct 29, 2012 10:59 am

You don't give enough information to answer the question.

It seems pretty clear that you cannot expect to recover very much of the cost when you sell. Therefore the decision comes down to the benefit you expect to get in the next five years or so.

But you don't say anything about that. How much would you pay to be able to retain full power for 1-2 weeks when a big storm takes down the neighborhood power? The higher that number, the more it makes sense to install the full system. Because you can't know how often you'll need to use the system, the final answer will come down to an intuitive best guess that factors in your judgments of the risks.

We can't know what that value is for you.

I live in the NY metro area and settled on a portable generator sufficient to run the sump pumps, fridge and freezer. We lost power for about 8 days in last October's storm, before we got the generator. I didn't mind not being able to watch TV or run the washer and dryer, but having to throw out all our perishable food was not fun, and the big pain was having to empty the sumps by hand round-the-clock during the peak rainfall. A portable generator that costs about $800 is plenty for that. I do worry about theft, but locking with a heavy chain helps deter thieves a bit.
User avatar
Aptenodytes
 
Posts: 1756
Joined: 8 Feb 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Leesbro63 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:02 am

My parents in the West Palm (Florida) area don't have nat gas. So they had a propane whole-house generator installed, with a big buried propane tank. There is a company that comes and tops off the propane etc. An added cost, but still a good alternative if you live in a hurricane alley and don't have nat gas.
User avatar
Leesbro63
 
Posts: 3286
Joined: 8 Nov 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Novine » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:05 am

Here's a good write-up from someone who invested in one.
Novine
 
Posts: 619
Joined: 17 Nov 2008

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby donall » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:08 am

A whole house generator may be a bit much, but it depends on the level of comfort one needs. I think what is most important that there is an automatic switch that turns on, so one does not have to be home. Not having heat during cold temps can cause a lot of damage to a house interior. I am looking to a small generator that can power the pump of heating unit/refrigerator that will turn on automatically.
donall
 
Posts: 445
Joined: 13 Mar 2012

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Sam I Am » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:10 am

Message deleted.
Last edited by Sam I Am on Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sam I Am
 
Posts: 2063
Joined: 20 Feb 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby JDCPAEsq » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:18 am

We have a whole house generator in Southwest Florida operated by propane. I understand it cost the former owner of the house about $20,000 and is fueled by a 1,000 gallon propane tank. It is estimated to operate the entire house for ten days. I wouldn't have installed one myself, but I'm pleased to have it. It tests itself once a week for about 10 minutes and has an automatic transfer switch which transfer the house to generator power in about 15 seconds after an outage. It is not particularly noisy and sounds like a car idling outside the house. I shudder a bit at the thought of refilling the propane tank - probably about $3,000 for 1,000 gallons at $3.00 per gallon but if the alternative is a house without power for ten days I might be happy to pay it.
John
JDCPAEsq
 
Posts: 1835
Joined: 5 Mar 2007
Location: Southwest Florida

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby englishgirl » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:24 am

Mostly ignoring the financial aspects...

My neighbors have one, and it sounds like a semi truck is idling right outside my bedroom window. It wakes me up on the occasional time that it goes on by itself (and why does that always seem to happen at night?). It's not just the noise - the deep rumbling is also very disconcerting. I dread to think what it will be like in an actual long term power outage, as I'll probably have to have my windows open in order not to bake. I doubt I'll get ANY sleep. They installed it after a hurricane in 2005, and haven't really had to use it since, so it hasn't exactly had to pay for itself yet. Friends of mine priced one out for their house, and were totally put off by the fuel costs. I don't remember what they were, though.

I have solar panels, and they are set up to provide emergency power (providing they don't blow off the roof). They'll work the fridge, power sockets and ceiling fans/lights. Unfortunately, they won't power the a/c, stove, clothes dryer or hot water heater. But hey, food, light and moving air is a start.
Last edited by englishgirl on Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
Sarah
User avatar
englishgirl
 
Posts: 2061
Joined: 1 Mar 2007
Location: FL

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Leesbro63 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:25 am

Generators seem to be an exercise in risk reduction, but not elimination. My gasoline generator is good for the 80% to 90% (my guess) of the power failures that we have in our area. But a big area-wide failure...or that power-grid thing we had a while back where the whole mid-Atlantic was shut down, would leave me high and dry after my 10 gallons of reserve gasoline is gone. Even nat gas and propane could run out in a big emergency.
User avatar
Leesbro63
 
Posts: 3286
Joined: 8 Nov 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Leesbro63 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:26 am

englishgirl wrote:Mostly ignoring the financial aspects...

My neighbors have one, and it sounds like a semi truck is idling right outside my bedroom window. It wakes me up on the occasional time that it goes on by itself (and why does that always seem to happen at night?). It's not just the noise - the deep rumbling is also very disconcerting. I dread to think what it will be like in an actual long term power outage, as I'll probably have to have my windows open in order not to bake. I doubt I'll get ANY sleep. They installed it after a hurricane in 2005, and haven't really had to use it since, so it hasn't exactly had to pay for itself yet. Friends of mine priced one out for their house, and were totally put off by the fuel costs. I don't remember what they were, though.

I have solar panels, and they are set up to provide emergency power (providing they don't blow off the roof). They'll work the fridge, power sockets and ceiling fans/lights. Unfortunately, they won't power the a/c, stove, clothes dryer or hot water heater. But hey, food, light and moving air is a start.


I gave my next door neighbor a 100 foot extension cord to my generator and they love the noise now! :wink:
User avatar
Leesbro63
 
Posts: 3286
Joined: 8 Nov 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:31 am

Leesbro63 wrote: Even nat gas and propane could run out in a big emergency.

Propane yes, but I've never had natural gas go out. I guess an earthquake could do it, but strong earthquakes are rare in NJ. Nuclear event could do it, but under those circumstances, ...
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby whomever » Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:59 am

"My neighbors have one, and it sounds like a semi truck is idling right outside my bedroom window..."
"No matter what you use, propane, gasoline, or diesel, a whole house generator will be a thirsty beast. "

Not to hijack the thread, but folks should look at the modern inverter generators. We have a Honda EU2000. 2000 watts is enough to drive the furnace fan and fridge simultaneously, but not the electric range, electric hot water heater, and so on - if you want the house to run just like the grid was on, you need a big generator. But, for that limited use, you get a generator that:
-is fuel efficient. It doesn't set there using fuel when, e.g. the furnace or fridge isn't running - it drops back to a low idle. Honda says "up to 8.3 hrs on 0.6 gal of gas" and that seems reasonable to me". This contrasts with gallons per day for the conventional Briggs and Stratton type we had previously. A 5 gallon can of gas lasts a week instead of a day (we don't run the furnace at night even if the power is on, that's what down comforters are for :-)).
-is lightweight - 47 lbs. You can pick it up and move it to e.g. an upper level deck.
-is quiet. Our bigger one was way louder than a gas mower. This one is way quieter than your typical mower - more like electric mower quiet.

The only bad news is that they are expensive - I think $1000 or so. But for us, they are the optimal solution; we don't mind cooking on the coleman, we just want the furnace and fridge to work. The big one was so noisy and fuel hungry we wouldn't use it anyway.


"Not much interest in having a portable generator that powers sump pumps and the fridge. Our neighbor had theirs stolen last time."

That could be a problem depending on the area. Do you have an elevated deck, perhaps? Or build a lockable, vented, enclosure like you'd have for a whole house generator? Just food for thought.
whomever
 
Posts: 153
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby sscritic » Mon Oct 29, 2012 12:13 pm

JDCPAEsq wrote: I shudder a bit at the thought of refilling the propane tank - probably about $3,000 for 1,000 gallons at $3.00 per gallon but if the alternative is a house without power for ten days I might be happy to pay it.
John

Are there any nice $300 a day hotels near you who have generators to keep the power on? It might be fun to ride out a storm in a luxury hotel (if $300 a day is luxury near you).
sscritic
 
Posts: 19511
Joined: 6 Sep 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 12:22 pm

sscritic wrote:
JDCPAEsq wrote: I shudder a bit at the thought of refilling the propane tank - probably about $3,000 for 1,000 gallons at $3.00 per gallon but if the alternative is a house without power for ten days I might be happy to pay it.
John

Are there any nice $300 a day hotels near you who have generators to keep the power on? It might be fun to ride out a storm in a luxury hotel (if $300 a day is luxury near you).
That has always been our fallback position, but from the sounds of it in this particular case, we would have to drive quite far to find a hotel with rooms that also has power. The outage is expected to be extensive and prolonged, but knock wood, maybe it won't happen (still have power now) :sharebeer
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby dratkinson » Mon Oct 29, 2012 12:47 pm

Alternative sump pump ideas.

If you have city water, you can install a backup water-powered sump pump (1 gal city water removes 2 gals of water) and set it to kick on if your electric sump pump fails.

Basepump sump pump: http://www.basepump.com/



I've also seen an episode of This Old House where above idea was manufactured as a small inline pump attached to a garden hose---garden hose to pump, pump lays in the water, garden hose way from pump. I don't remember product name and didn't find it with a quick search. But I'm certain it does exist.
d.r.a, not dr.a.
User avatar
dratkinson
 
Posts: 2206
Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Location: Centennial CO

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby WolfpackFan » Mon Oct 29, 2012 12:49 pm

Sorry to sound insensitive but don't let a once in several decades occurrence cost you $20k. If living without electricity for only a week really bothers you enough to the point you want to drop $20k I would recommend considering cheaper alternatives such as driving to a hotel much further inland.

Good luck, but I think the media is really sensationalizing this cat 1 storm. It'll be a little wind and rain and possibly living a few days by candle light. Try to enjoy it.
User avatar
WolfpackFan
 
Posts: 200
Joined: 8 Mar 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby epilnk » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:15 pm

Whether it is time to install one really depends on your actual needs, which you don't tell us. A small portable generator would be a huge improvement over no generator at all and you don't need to worry about resale value. If you're not interested in that but still want the power, you need to absorb the expense. When your next buyers are shopping for a house the generator will be an item in the plus column, but I can't imagine they would fork over an extra $20K because you have one. The installed generator may be better, but from a purely financial standpoint the portable is much more sensible.

We've been pushing my inlaws on this topic for a while now. They live on two acres of soggy ground covered in young trees with weak roots, and they lose power every time a butterfly flaps its wings. My inlaws are not the self indulgent type and I think they've been a bit in denial about the health impact of aging, but my mother in law should no longer be trying to get by without power. During a major power outage at the beginning of summer I very nearly bought and had amazon deliver a small portable generator to their house - I didn't (MIL's most pressing need is AC), but at least they started taking it seriously. They spent months doing research and finally have a whole house generator ordered and scheduled for installation. Next week. :oops: They are in the direct path of Sandy, and we are 3000 miles away.
epilnk
 
Posts: 2494
Joined: 18 Apr 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Valuethinker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:21 pm

WolfpackFan wrote:Sorry to sound insensitive but don't let a once in several decades occurrence cost you $20k. If living without electricity for only a week really bothers you enough to the point you want to drop $20k I would recommend considering cheaper alternatives such as driving to a hotel much further inland.

Good luck, but I think the media is really sensationalizing this cat 1 storm. It'll be a little wind and rain and possibly living a few days by candle light. Try to enjoy it.


Note your implicit assumption once in several decades. As the OP noted, he seems to lose power on 'unique' events relatively often. If you read Kerry Emmanuel's stuff (he is one of the world's leading experts on hurricanes) then he thinks there are more such maritime events than there used to be (that is debated).

I don't remember (I live on the other side of the Atlantic) a storm where so much of the Eastern Seaboard was shut down (maybe an ice storm or two, but not a hurricane)?

New York effectively closed down and it looks like Philadelphia too? Friends are stranded due to fly into DC, or out of DC.

This seems more extreme a weather event than normal, if the authorities are taking such strong action?

Where I grew up Hurricane Hazel killed 100+ people and literally changed the physicality of the city, forever, (some areas that had been open to construction were closed as spillways, permanently). And that's 1,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

So we tended to treat hurricanes with a certain respect.
Valuethinker
 
Posts: 23712
Joined: 11 May 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:23 pm

WolfpackFan wrote:Sorry to sound insensitive but don't let a once in several decades occurrence cost you $20k. If living without electricity for only a week really bothers you enough to the point you want to drop $20k I would recommend considering cheaper alternatives such as driving to a hotel much further inland.

Good luck, but I think the media is really sensationalizing this cat 1 storm. It'll be a little wind and rain and possibly living a few days by candle light. Try to enjoy it.

I hope you're right about the sensationalism. We'll see if it's going to only be a "little wind and rain." Fingers crossed.

If it were once in several decades, fine. Power was lost for a few days after a Halloween snow storm last year. Much of NJ lost power for a week after Irene. It is predicted to be so again this time. In the past 12 months, we've had quite a few "once in several decade" events.
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Valuethinker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:30 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:
WolfpackFan wrote:Sorry to sound insensitive but don't let a once in several decades occurrence cost you $20k. If living without electricity for only a week really bothers you enough to the point you want to drop $20k I would recommend considering cheaper alternatives such as driving to a hotel much further inland.

Good luck, but I think the media is really sensationalizing this cat 1 storm. It'll be a little wind and rain and possibly living a few days by candle light. Try to enjoy it.

I hope you're right about the sensationalism. We'll see if it's going to only be a "little wind and rain." Fingers crossed.

If it were once in several decades, fine. Power was lost for a few days after a Halloween snow storm last year. Much of NJ lost power for a week after Irene. It is predicted to be so again this time. In the past 12 months, we've had quite a few "once in several decade" events.


Humans tend to assume recent history is 'normal'.

We've been through a period of unusual weather stability. That may be ending.

I have this problem with 'abnormal' droughts in Southern England. There's nothing ordained that Southern England always has enough water, in fact it is drier than parts of Portugal.

Similarly there was that period in California history (around 1000 I think) where it stopped raining, and stayed that way for 300 years (we can see it in the tree rings). If that comes again, and the snowpack is also diminished, then Southern California needs to be a different civilization-- one that just doesn't use water.

Turns out the Colorado River draws were calculated during an unusually damp period-- that's why more water is legally drawn out of the Colorado river than it has.

Australia is another example. Their 'unusual' droughts are not unusual in the last 30,000 years of human inhabitation of Australia. Just unusual since it became a white settlement with millions of people.

On the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean was the breadbasket of Rome, the major source of corn (wheat) to feed the masses of Rome itself. The cities numbered hundreds of thousands of people, the ruins are huge.

And you can see what happened as they dried up and the cities tried to adapt. The larger and larger reservoirs-- huge cisterns under the Forum. Cleverly pitched pavements so all the water drained into underground cisterns-- I have walked through some, they are more than the size of city blocks.

And eventually those cities just dried up and blew away, leaving only dusty ruins.

A related problem is what the power company plans for, of course.
Last edited by Valuethinker on Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Valuethinker
 
Posts: 23712
Joined: 11 May 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby WolfpackFan » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:33 pm

Note your implicit assumption once in several decades. As the OP noted, he seems to lose power on 'unique' events relatively often. If you read Kerry Emmanuel's stuff (he is one of the world's leading experts on hurricanes) then he thinks there are more such maritime events than there used to be (that is debated).


Yes, this storm hitting that far north is a once in several decades occurrence as I said. Now if the fellow is losing electricity at a rate so high that he's got to drop $20,000.00 + gas costs + maintenance to make his own electricity then perhaps he should consider a move. I truly doubt this to be the case, but I don't know the entirety of his circumstance.

So we tended to treat hurricanes with a certain respect.


I've lived in North Carolina for 30 years. Home of the Carolina Hurricanes. I'm very familiar with them and a category 1 storm is a little wind and rain. It's fun to get out in and toss a football around. There is no doubt the media is sensationalizing this storm due to it hitting land further north than typical and it being a more highly populated area. It's kind of like when we get a dusting of snow here on the coast of NC. We shut everything down.
Last edited by WolfpackFan on Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
WolfpackFan
 
Posts: 200
Joined: 8 Mar 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:34 pm

Our "needs" are moderate, but it is an expensive proposition for us to move to a hotel that is far enough away to 1) have power and 2) be willing and able to absorb the 4 of us and our 4 pets.

We could get by with a portable generator to power our pumps and refrigeration, but the more I think about it, I think I should just go ahead and contract for a full house installation. When we did our two remodels, we didn't do so with an eye to what would be marketable in the eventual sale, but focused our attentions on what would make our home most enjoyable and liveable for us. I don't know why, in this thinking about a moderate amount, I've gotten so concerned about it (not that $20k isn't money, but relative to our remodeling costs, it's modest).

Thank you all for helping me see the situation more clearly. 10 days without power, especially if it were to become an annual event, is something that I'm willing to pay to avoid. Now, why didn't I think about this a few months ago????
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:39 pm

WolfpackFan wrote:Now if the fellow is losing electricity at a rate so high that he's got to drop $20,000.00 + gas costs + maintenance to make his own electricity then perhaps he should consider a move. I truly doubt this to be the case, but I don't know the entirety of his circumstance.


"The fellow", as he said in his OP, is unlikely to move for some number of years. The cost of moving would be considerably higher than $20k + gas costs + maintenance. Moving would be penny wise, pound foolish.
:D
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Valuethinker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:41 pm

WolfpackFan wrote:I've lived in North Carolina for 30 years. Home of the Carolina Hurricanes. I'm very familiar with them and a category 1 storm is a little wind and rain. It's fun to get out in and toss a football around. There is no doubt the media is sensationalizing this storm due to it hitting land further north than typical and it being a more highly populated area. It's kind of like when we get a dusting of snow here on the coast of NC. We shut everything down.


The impact of the flooding in a densely packed City could be much greater. The flooding could be really quite serious.

I don't think the analogy is apt. More like if North Carolina got hit by a very bad ice storm. the level of disruption could be that great.

Usually these things aren't as bad as feared, and then Conventional Wisdom says fears were overblown.

Katrina I am reminded was only a Category 4, and people on the Gulf Coast know all about hurricanes.... 1,000 dead people and a city in ruins later, it's gone into the history books.
Valuethinker
 
Posts: 23712
Joined: 11 May 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby likegarden » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:46 pm

I live in upper NY state. In our basement we have 2 regular AC sump pumps and one battery driven DC sump pump as backup. One battery lasts about 16 hours for us, we use marine deep draw batteries. We have a second not wired battery in standby to the one being used, could always buy another charged battery for $100 at Sears. The battery is on a trickle charger and lasts about 5 to 6 years. We do not feel great need to buy a generator, our outages do not last more than a few hours.
likegarden
 
Posts: 1122
Joined: 26 Feb 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby texasdiver » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:49 pm

First of all, a 100-year storm doesn't occur once every 100 years. A 100-year storm is one that has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in a given year. We could have one 3 years in a row then go 500 years without another. Whatever happened last year has no effect on the probability of a storm this year or next.

As for whole house generators. I would be tempted to put one in if I lived in a serious hurricane zone like for example Houston or Tampa. My friends who live in the Houston suburbs are putting them in and they have natural gas. It is something they market as part of the resale value. Although I don't know how much money you'd get back. In Texas the biggest issue would be air conditioning and ventilation. The way houses are built these days they are pretty uninhabitable in the summer without air because there is no natural ventilation. No one has basements around here so sumps are not an issue.

Where I live now on higher ground 200 miles from the coast I don't worry about it. I'd never invest in a whole house generator but have been thinking of getting one of the portable 4-stroke ones that are quiet. As much for camping as emergencies. I have a big Weber propane grill on the patio so I can cook just about anything using propane. I have a pop-up camper sitting beside the house that also has 2 propane cylinders on it and a propane stove and oven. If we had an extended power outage I'd probably just ride it out or go find some friends to stay with. Personally I like the idea of being self-sufficient and mobile (with the camper) rather than self-sufficient and stuck at home.
texasdiver
 
Posts: 744
Joined: 25 Jun 2009

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby WolfpackFan » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:51 pm

"The fellow", as he said in his OP, is unlikely to move for some number of years. The cost of moving would be considerably higher than $20k + gas costs + maintenance. Moving would be penny wise, pound foolish.


Why would the cost of you moving be greater than $20k + gasoline and lifetime maintenance costs? I simply made the suggestion that you take into consideration moving based on your need (not your want) to create your own electricity at such extravagant costs. If there's truly a need to create your own electricity for the entire house it must be pretty bad there with all of these unique events. If you choose not to move then you may need to consider spending extravagantly to obtain an underground bunker, a safe room, and some kind of perimeter defense for your house to protect you from future unique events.

I find it ironic you're trying to tell me about being penny wise/pound foolish when you want to install a $20k generator.
User avatar
WolfpackFan
 
Posts: 200
Joined: 8 Mar 2010

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:02 pm

WolfPackFan wrote:Why would the cost of you moving be greater than $20k + gasoline and lifetime maintenance costs?


It's expensive because my wife's job is in NYC. As a practical matter, switching jobs would be expensive. The kids go to a high school near us that would be difficult to match. If we sold our house and bought a comparable one, we would also be selling when the kids go to college, which would mean two home sales rather than one (and it seems to me that real estate transactions have high friction; there are always costs involved).
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby englishgirl » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:07 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:Our "needs" are moderate, but it is an expensive proposition for us to move to a hotel that is far enough away to 1) have power and 2) be willing and able to absorb the 4 of us and our 4 pets.


The pet situation maybe. But don't be surprised that electric service comes back to different areas at different speeds when it comes back on. I live in an older neighborhood in a hurricane prone area, and one that is at the "end of the line" as far as the power grid goes. I've lost power for 12 and then 10 days in 2 storms in 2004. However, downtown the power was back on within a few hours. It would depend where a hotel is relative to the main grid(s) to the local hospital/city hall/police department/downtown offices. Here's a quote I found after a quick google:

What are the priorities for service restoration?

First, we will work around the clock until service is restored, though daylight hours are needed for most activities. Safety of personnel and the public is our highest priority. The priorities are:

•Assessing the overall system and repairing power plants, major lines and substations that carry power from plants to communities.

•Restoring power to key services essential to community safety, health and welfare—such as hospitals, police, fire, communications, water, sanitation and transportation providers.

•Making repairs to electrical facilities that will return service to the largest number of customers in the shortest period of time, then the next largest number and so on until power is returned to everyone.

•The first responsibility in a major storm is for the power company to restore electricity to hospitals, police stations and other vital public services. At the same time, we must be certain that all real and potential hazards to the public, such as snapped or leaning utility poles, uprooted trees on the electric lines or fallen wires, are cleared. Before we can restore service to your street, we must repair damaged substations, main electric lines and wires that feed power to streets such as yours. Next, we repair any downed or damaged wires between utility poles and individual homes.


So, if you find a hotel that is near to a hospital or other key service, the chances are that it's on the same electricity grid. And will therefore be a priority to restore. If you can hang on at home for a few days then get in a hotel like that, it might be right in your town. Just a thought.
Sarah
User avatar
englishgirl
 
Posts: 2061
Joined: 1 Mar 2007
Location: FL

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Valuethinker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:11 pm

texasdiver wrote:First of all, a 100-year storm doesn't occur once every 100 years. A 100-year storm is one that has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in a given year. We could have one 3 years in a row then go 500 years without another. Whatever happened last year has no effect on the probability of a storm this year or next.


You are correct in that's the way the statistics are quoted and it's a good point to mention re how statistics are misunderstood.

However I think there is quite possibly a correlation between storm intensities, year on year. Ie there are stormy periods in the Atlantic, and less stormy ones.

We seem to have come out of a 100 year or so long less stormy period. Kerry Emmanuel would, I think, say that. Whether there are more storms is I believe hotly disputed, but most experts would say the strength of individual storms is increasing.

As such our statistics on '100 year storms' could well be wrong. The weather may be changing. Whether this is a cyclical or permanent phenomenon we will of course be debating for decades.

I have the same feeling about droughts here in the southern UK. We think we don't get droughts very often. I suspect what is actually happening is our pattern of weather is shifting (when it does rain, it dumps with record intensity, but we get long dry periods, particularly in winter). Of course, having nearly had a drought, but then the wettest summer in 50 years (preceded by the driest 18 months in over 50 years), you cannot persuade people of that.

Recency effect really does predominate.
Valuethinker
 
Posts: 23712
Joined: 11 May 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Valuethinker » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:15 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:
WolfPackFan wrote:Why would the cost of you moving be greater than $20k + gasoline and lifetime maintenance costs?


It's expensive because my wife's job is in NYC. As a practical matter, switching jobs would be expensive. The kids go to a high school near us that would be difficult to match. If we sold our house and bought a comparable one, we would also be selling when the kids go to college, which would mean two home sales rather than one (and it seems to me that real estate transactions have high friction; there are always costs involved).


It doesn't (yet) seem that the frequency of disruption justifies moving. You are not, AFAIK, right on the coast where the water from these storms laps your front door, nor living on unusually low ground. You just have unreliable electricity supply.

$20k seems a relatively small prophylactic investment (depending on your income and assets of course). Propane seems a good long term storage solution (over diesel or gasoline, which have issues that way).

This is the moment for me to chip in that LED lights, etc. and other low energy appliances can be a real godsend if you are going to run on backup power. It's certainly the moment to unplug lights with incandescent bulbs and halogen bulbs.
Valuethinker
 
Posts: 23712
Joined: 11 May 2007

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:26 pm

Valuethinker wrote:It doesn't (yet) seem that the frequency of disruption justifies moving. You are not, AFAIK, right on the coast where the water from these storms laps your front door, nor living on unusually low ground. You just have unreliable electricity supply.
Other than temporary flooding during a storm, we live on a hill in an elevated part of town. Our downtown sometimes floods horribly, but not our house.[/quote]

$20k seems a relatively small prophylactic investment (depending on your income and assets of course). Propane seems a good long term storage solution (over diesel or gasoline, which have issues that way).
We are lucky enough (due to my wife's job that would be a casualty of moving) to be able to fund $20k out of current cash flow. We have natural gas, which I think is preferable to all.

This is the moment for me to chip in that LED lights, etc. and other low energy appliances can be a real godsend if you are going to run on backup power. It's certainly the moment to unplug lights with incandescent bulbs and halogen bulbs.
We have been replacing bulbs, as they burn out, with LEDs. I'm a big fan of them, especially as you can now get them with a more pleasing color balance.
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby astrohip » Mon Oct 29, 2012 2:38 pm

It comes down to the cost of inconvenience. I live in Houston, and really don't want to go w/o electricity. Hurricanes hit in the summer, and w/o ac, houses turn into steam baths. I can afford it, so I put in a backup generator. It costs about $8K, runs on natural gas, and has an automatic cutover switch. It runs one a week for 5 minutes to keep itself in shape. And yes, it ain't quiet.

Leesbro63 wrote:Even nat gas and propane could run out in a big emergency.

Not natural gas. They have real issues if the gas lines lose pressure, so the gas companies do everything in their power to keep them pressurized and running. I've never heard of gas being cutoff in Houston. As someone else mentioned, it would take an earthquake (we don't have them) or nuclear bomb to stop the gas.
astrohip
 
Posts: 132
Joined: 21 Dec 2010
Location: Houston TX

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:11 pm

True to form just lost power. Replying via cell phone. Hope it's not a week or more.
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TT » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:20 pm

Recent article I was reading regarding house sales upgrades and appraisals made specific mention that appraisers will not make a specific increase in the adjusted value of a house with a whole house generator. It was listed as one of the lowest returns on investment when considering house upgrades.
Hope this helps.
TT
 
Posts: 365
Joined: 17 Oct 2009

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby JDCPAEsq » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:29 pm

sscritic wrote:
JDCPAEsq wrote: I shudder a bit at the thought of refilling the propane tank - probably about $3,000 for 1,000 gallons at $3.00 per gallon but if the alternative is a house without power for ten days I might be happy to pay it.
John

Are there any nice $300 a day hotels near you who have generators to keep the power on? It might be fun to ride out a storm in a luxury hotel (if $300 a day is luxury near you).

Yes, that might be nice, but in Florida I imagine you'd be competing with 10 million other people for a room. Also, 10 days without air conditioning or refrigeration in a hot, humid Florida summer can really do a job on the interior of your house. As I mentioned, I never would have paid $20,000 for the generator, and have never felt the need for one during 35 years of living in Florida, but as long as it came with the house I bought last year I'll keep it up and running.
John
JDCPAEsq
 
Posts: 1835
Joined: 5 Mar 2007
Location: Southwest Florida

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby newstreetnj » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:34 pm

Hi Friends,

We live within the Baltimore Beltway(Towson) and have had numerous week long power outages thanks to a 3rd world utility. We even had a 5 hr outage the day before Sandy hit. Their excuse is "the trees"-as if other parts of the country don't have trees!

I wrote numerous letters to the Public Utility commission here in MD, the governor etc all to no avail, so I finally caved and got a 20kw Generac for ~9K with automatic turn on etc.

As others have stated, each time we lost power all perishables were lost and altho we did go to a hotel last time we lost power, I don't know that we would want to do that every time.

Most of the families on our block now have generators so the noise issue isn't a big one.

Bob

P.S. Consumer Reports recently rated the smaller, portable generators and Generac was tops.
newstreetnj
 
Posts: 27
Joined: 30 Oct 2008

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:39 pm

Whee! I guess it was a local outage, because we came back up after 'bout an hour. I think tonight's going to be the longer outage. Right about now, I'm kicking myself for not having installed 6 months ago. I have a feeling getting installers who aren't busy in the next few months will be tough.
User avatar
TomatoTomahto
 
Posts: 2394
Joined: 11 Apr 2011

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Kosmo » Mon Oct 29, 2012 4:38 pm

I'm in a suburb of Philly that's right in the hurricane path. We're moving soon (literally 3 miles away) and I'm thinking about installing a whole house generator for the new place. At the very least a powerful portable generator that can be hooked up directly to the house.

While hurricanes do cause a lot of damage, I think the real danger for this area is snow/ice storms. We generally get a few hours to a day of power outage here and there, but it has lasted a few days in the past. Losing heat when it's below freezing is not fun.
User avatar
Kosmo
 
Posts: 330
Joined: 5 Sep 2012
Location: Philadelphia

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Flashes1 » Mon Oct 29, 2012 5:00 pm

My parents in the rural Midwest have a "whole house" generator because the electricity goes out once a week or so for no reason. It comes on so fast that they hardly know it's on. And it does come on once a week at a set time to verify it's still working. It's enough to power their AC, lights in approx. 4 rooms, and their refrigerator. They love it.
Flashes1
 
Posts: 482
Joined: 7 May 2008

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Allan » Mon Oct 29, 2012 5:50 pm

I build new houses in Houston and after Hurricane Ike many of my clients now want generators. A whole house generator is a small power plant but we've put in 30KW-60KW units that power a portion of the house. When we wire the house we segment out the circuits and equipment on the generator and install a transfer switch. One item we always include are the garage door openers, and of course appliances, one AC unit, lights, wine rooms, etc. Personally, having lived in Houston since the 50's I think they are over-reacting but I gladly put them in.

Allan
Allan
 
Posts: 561
Joined: 21 Feb 2007
Location: Houston

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby Yam the Bomb » Mon Oct 29, 2012 6:30 pm

I've used a lot of noisy generators through the years but about 10-years ago I used a 6500 water-cooled Honda that was as quiet as you could ever get. There are different ones because I've used other Hondas that were fairly quiet but this one was practically silent.

Also you want to make sure any generator you get has an auto throttle so it idles down to the RPM it needs to supply the power you are requiring. The ones that just run full throttle all the time will be noisier, wear out quicker and eat way more fuel.
Yam the Bomb
 
Posts: 97
Joined: 20 Aug 2012

Re: Is it time to install a whole-house generator?

Postby dpc » Mon Oct 29, 2012 7:38 pm

To answer your original question: Does it make financial sense? I don't see how it could possibly make sense financially unless you have some a lot of something expensive that requires refrigeration. If you want one and can afford it, then why not. But check local codes and think about how much fuel you want to store. I'm a EE doing power systems but I've never been remotely interested in having a standby generator. Of course I live where the weather is mild and outages are not a major issue. When the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake occurs, I may think differently. For true emergency power requirements, relying on natural gas is generally not acceptable as a fuel source. Also, NG engines will be larger and more expensive than diesel. If you are talking about large whole-house unit and want to have a fair amount of on-site storage, I'd go with diesel. The fuel is much less volatile (safer) than gasoline.
dpc
 
Posts: 107
Joined: 27 Aug 2011

Next

Return to Personal Consumer Issues

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: curmudgeon, donall, harikaried, jeff1949, ralph124cf, robby152, tyrion and 41 guests