Power outages are becoming more and more common in many parts of the country. Severe weather events such as hurricanes, flash floods, tornadoes, and thunderstorms are among the most common causes of major outages. These can potentially leave you without power for days or even weeks. Richmond is usually at a much lower risk for major hurricanes than other areas on the East Coast. Nonetheless, records show that 40 hurricanes have still hit the city within the past 100 years.
If you want to protect your home against a power outage caused by a storm or anything else, the best way is by installing a backup generator. To understand why, we’ll now look at what a backup generator is and how it works to keep the power on during a blackout.
An Introduction to Backup Generators
Many people mistakenly believe that a backup generator is similar to those small, portable generators you might use in an RV or a camping trip. Backup and portable generators are similar because they burn fuel to power a motor that produces electricity. The main difference is that anything you wish to power with a portable generator needs to plug into the unit. In contrast, a backup generator connects directly to a home’s electrical system. The other difference is that portable generators usually run off diesel or gasoline. A backup generator instead connects to your home’s natural gas line or a nearby propane tank.
Portable generators can be handy during a blackout. They allow you to charge your phone, and you can even use an extension cord to run your refrigerator or power lamps so that you have lighting. Nonetheless, they still won’t be able to run your air conditioning or have power in your home’s outlets and light switches.
By connecting directly to your home’s electrical system, a backup generator can allow you to power your entire home provided it is large enough. This means you can keep your AC on, keep your freezer and refrigerator cold, and even watch TV. If the blackout occurs during the winter, you will also be able to use your heating system to ensure you stay warm.
To ensure this is the case, you should note what appliances and devices you think you will need during a power outage. You’ll need to determine how much electricity each item uses and then add these to calculate how much power you need. When performing this calculation, you must look at the starting power, not the running power.
Your air conditioner and some other appliances require up to three times more electricity to start than they do to run. For instance, if your AC uses 3,000 watts per hour, it could take up to 9,000 watts to start it. Your generator needs to be powerful enough to provide this large surge of energy when starting the AC. Similarly, your blower fan will also use far more energy when starting.
How a Backup Generator Works During a Power Outage
The backup generator is installed on a concrete pad outside of the home. It connects to an automatic transfer switch (ATS) installed at your main breaker panel. The ATS is the primary control for the system, enabling the generator to turn on automatically within a few seconds of the power going on.
The switch constantly monitors the electrical current flowing into your home. It will signal the generator to start if it detects the power has gone out. Once the generator is running, you will hear the ATS click. This sound means that the ATS has switched your electrical system to run off the generator instead of normal power. This whole process works automatically, and it only takes a few seconds before your power is back on, thanks to the generator.
When the ATS kicks in and transfers your electrical system to the generator, it isolates your home from the local power grid. This is important as it prevents your electrical system from potentially being overloaded when the power comes back on, which could happen if electricity was flowing into the system from both the generator and the power grid.
It also ensures that the power from the generator only circulates within your home and doesn’t bleed out into the grid. This prevents wasting any electricity from the generator. Nonetheless, the main reason this is done is that if electricity from your generator flows back into the grid, it could create a safety hazard for any utility workers attempting to repair nearby electrical lines.
While the generator runs, the ATS continues monitoring the power grid. When it detects the power is back on, it signals the generator to switch off. It then immediately switches back to normal power once the generator stops running.
The Importance of Testing Your Backup Generator
You obviously want to ensure that your generator is in good shape and always works properly. After all, what is the point of spending money to install a generator if it won’t run when you actually need it?
All backup generators have a programmable “exercise” mode, which allows you to set a day and time for the generator to run automatically. The purpose of exercising the generator is to keep all moving parts lubricated and prevent any fuel inside the generator from degrading. Most manufacturers recommend that the generator gets some exercise once a week, but some only recommend it every two to four weeks.
Exercising also enables you to monitor the generator to ensure it has no errors or alarms and that everything is working properly. For this reason, you should always schedule the exercise for a time when you will be home to monitor it. When it is running, you will want to check for issues like leaks or more exhaust smoke than usual. You should also make sure that the oil pressure and temperature are in the normal range and that the motor sounds normal.
When the scheduled time arrives, the generator will automatically switch on just as it would during a blackout. However, during this exercise mode, the automatic transfer switch will not activate. Even though the generator is running, your home will still run off the electrical grid. The generator should run for around 30 minutes and then automatically shut off again.
Backup Generator Installation, Maintenance and Repair
At Davis & Green, we specialize in installing backup generators in Richmond and the surrounding areas. We carry many reliable, efficient generators from top brands like Generac and Kohler. Our licensed electricians also repair and service generators from all other brands. If you’re not sure what size of generator you need, we can help you calculate your estimated energy usage. We can also help you decide which type of fuel is the better choice. This way, you can rest easy knowing that your generator will fully meet your electricity needs. To learn more about our generator services, or to schedule an appointment to have your generator serviced, give us a call today. We also offer heating and cooling services as well as plumbing services.