Q: We recently had a big storm hit. Once again, I wish I had a backup generator system installed at my home. After going through my second prolonged power outage in the last few years, this coming spring I'm going to get the project started. Who do I contact first, and what can I expect to happen during a power failure once my generator is installed?
A: I want to clarify that the type of generator you're asking about is called a "standby" generator system. Residential standby generators run on natural or propane gas and are permanently hooked up to a home as an automatic system. These systems can provide emergency power to a home for days or even weeks at a time while one waits for local utility power to be restored. A standby generator system needs to be professionally installed, and all required permits need to be pulled.
Start with a licensed and insured standby-generator installer in your area. You can also contact a certified standby-generator distributor, and he/she can usually set you up with an installer. The first visit should include walking the property to check out equipment location and the electrical load to determine the correct generator size. Also, ask for an estimate in writing, since standby power systems can be expensive.
What should you expect from a standby system? When power is lost, an automatic transfer switch starts the system, and in about 10 seconds or so generator power comes on. Once electricity is restored, the standby system shuts down.
Bottom line: Installing a standby generator system can keep you "current" with the latest trends in home technology.
Master plumber Ed Del Grande is the author of "Ed Del Grande's House Call," the host of TV and Internet shows, and a LEED green associate.