Friday, March 8, 2013

Generators: Another Source of Comfort and Security

Generators! I love generators. They can really make life simple when life gets difficult due to adverse weather, local earthwork, a vehicle running into a power pole, or even routine service. Very hot days and very cold days may cause a power utility to “brown out” a neighborhood. I have lived in many climate zones and have lost power for many reasons. Some of my homes had provisions for temporary power but most did not.

Recently a client called. “John, I hate to be a bother, but the power in our new home is acting weird. Only about half of our electrical fixtures are working. I have walked the entire home and it is weird.” This had happen to my home just a few weeks earlier, but I thought there was no way it could have been the same problem of an old underground line being corroded. This was a brand new home we recently completed. I had supervised the install of all the utilities at their home. I asked if they had had any other underground work done since moving in and the answer was no. Almost as an afterthought she added: “It seems everything we need is running but a lot of circuits are not.”

Ah hah! My old gray mind finally clicked. Was the generator running, I asked? She could not hear it. I asked that she check and, sure enough, it was quietly purring away. Sweet!

Because the home network and computers were on the generator powered circuits, she was able to bring up the website for the power utility and discovered an outage had been reported. She was amazed that it was so simple. The security system did not issue a peep. The switch over was so quick and seamless that she had not noticed the change. This was a comfort for her and she was able to go back to work, telecommuting.

While recently attending the International Builders Show, I spoke to Generac, a leading manufacture of generators, to learn about whole house generator coverage. It’s a challenge, because you want strike a balance between cost, complexity and benefit. Generac has a new Nexus breaker panel that does the trick. It can handle up to 6 large 220 circuits. In effect, it manages large loads and the starting of big motors  such as heating elements, air conditioning, well pumps, septic pumps, electric stoves, or water heaters. It allows only one or two of these to start or operate at the same time, essentially managing the house loads and telling the generator how hard to work. In the homes we design and build, the remaining electrical loads are generally light. CFL and LED lighting use tiny amounts of energy. Energy star appliances sip energy. WaterSense fixtures use less water allowing well and septic pumps to work less. What that means is that the same generator that is usually specified for partial home coverage may service an entire BuildSense or other energy efficient home.

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