Storm Preparedness & Generator Panels

The first icy day usually prompts a call to the garage for snow tires, while August heat drives air conditioning unit sales up. In our industry, a bad winter often means more requests for generator panels in the home.

Generator Panels

Generator panels are available, and well worth adding to your new home. The few hundred dollars investment in the panel will pay off in safely, and convenience in the event of power outages. The generator panel is designed to allow the homeowner to switch the source of power for selected circuits in the home and in most cases, includes an exterior plug that allows the generator to be safely connected. In the event of a power outage, you start up the generator, switch the source in the panel and appliances or receptacles pre-wired will function as long as the generator is running, without having to run cables around the home. When ordering a home with a generator panel, you have the option to choose what circuits to cover with the generator back up. To begin this decision process, evaluate the floor plan of your home; ideally there will be a room or small cluster of rooms you can close off and designate as the rooms you will occupy in the event of a prolonged power outage. Often this is the main living area of the home. Consider bringing bedding, camp cots and sleeping bags into that room in an effort to keep the family together. Plan to have light, heat, water and a method of preparing food in this room or area.

Light

Having a light in the room you plan to occupy, and main bath covered by the panel is a good idea. You can use lanterns, candles or flashlights of course, but having the one or two lights powered is a good safely decision.

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Water

In rural areas, an important consideration is your water pump. The water pump circuit should be covered by the generator but the pump also draws a lot of power, so if you experience a storm warning, it’s always a good idea to fill containers of water to use later if the power goes out to reduce draw on the generator. Consider jugs of water for consumption and pails for flushing the toilet (you can pour aprox ½ pail of water in the bowl to prompt the toilet to flush and of course flush only when necessary in the event of an outage!)  If you are on a town water supply you may not need to consider water unless the power goes out at the main station.

Heat

Do not try to heat your entire home unless you have a very impressive generator combined with an easily accessible abundant fuel supply. Rather, focus on heating the main room you are going to stay in (consider it a pyjama party!). You may have a fuel burning appliance that can function in the event of a power outage with little or no electrical help such as a wood, oil or pellet burner. Most still require some electricity to run fans, igniters and dampers etc. so be sure these required systems are covered by the generator. If, like many you do not have such a heat source, power a receptacle or two and have an electric heater on hand for these emergencies. The very popular wall mount fireplaces or free standing electric fireplaces often have a heating capacity, (turn of flame and light effects if possible to reduce fuel consumption) or invest in a safely designed small portable heater. Be careful where you place the heaters keeping age and mobility of people and pets as well as distance to flammables in mind. If the bathroom is off from the main rooms you are heating, you can heat it surprisingly well with a burning candle however be sure the container is safe and tip proof and use carbon monitoring when burning flame.

Food

Good things to have on hand in the event of a power outage would be a hot plate of one or two rings to heat water and food. People often use the small propane stoves generally used for tent trailers or camping for cooking during power outages, but be sure your propane tanks are kept fresh and stored safely, and the area you are using the stove in is properly ventilated. If you don’t have a cooktop available, power a couple receptacles (preferably along the kitchen counters) for use with other smaller appliances which could be used to provide some warm food and beverages. An electric kettle to heat water for drinks or soups, a toaster, a grill for sandwiches and a crock pot or rice cooker can all be used creatively to provide some warm foods.

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Other considerations

Where you set up the generator is critically important. Like a running car in a garage a generator produces carbon monoxide with builds up do to the density of the gas.  You do not want the generator operating near any exterior vents to the home.  Carefully inspect your planned set up location for vents of any kind (dryer, HRV, heat pump, bath fans etc…)  Invest in a carbon detector either combined with or separate from a smoke detector and be sure it is tested and batteries are changed regularly.

The generator panel and exterior generator hook up prepare the home for the use of a generator. You will still need to decide upon and purchase a generator and keep fuel on hand. Generally speaking, the better quality the generator the more energy efficient it is likely to be. A small portable generator of less than 5000 watts may only run two to three hours on a tank of fuel especially as you are more likely to max out the capacity. Larger generators used at partial capacity may run six to eight hours or more. Carefully read your generator specs and be prepared to go out to fill it as required and plan your activities to limit draw. Fuel for your generator is an important consideration. Find out the expected rate of consumption for the size and type of generator you purchase. You will need to know the size of the fuel tank on the unit and what fuel you need (diesel or high test gasoline) and then have a safe place to store fuel.

At Kent Homes we like to say “safety first” and it really should be first and foremost in your mind. Above all, in the event of a power outage and severe storm or weather conditions, be safe, plan and think; seemingly simple decision can have larger than anticipated outcomes.

In the event of a power outage be prepared, and then relax. Young children can be frightened by events they don’t understand, be sure the power outage is dealt with as a family adventure. It may provide time to talk, play games or read.

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