This . . . Portable Generators
My wife and I have lived
in our present home since 1975, and we thought we had survived
more power outages than any other family in Annapolis---until
Hurricane Isabel came along. Since we both rely heavily on the
Internet and we had recently moved an elderly parent in with us,
and we still needed electricity to flush, this 60-hour outage
was my last wakeup call-we were ideal candidates for a portable
During less severe outages and as part of my never-ending search
to find new and interesting web sites, I would often turn my attention
to generator-shopping. Good news---I kept much of my research.
Apparently I am not alone. According to Consumer Reports, portable
generators have joined candles, flashlights and bottled water
as must-have survival items.
Like any new gadget, there are many technical issues to learn
about and consider. First we had to decide what our running wattage
and surge wattage power requirements were. Surge wattage is the
electrical energy required to start motors and compressors; running
wattage is the electrical energy required after the initial start-up
phase. I made these two calculations based on information gathered
from several web sites, including www.generatorquotes.com/calculatorz.asp;
generatorstore.com/home.html, and a closer resource at www.homedepot.com
and www.lowes.com. My wattage
calculations looked something like the following table.
you can see, the running and surge wattage totals are quite different.
That is why all generator specifications include dual wattage
ratings. It was not uncommon to see many smaller and mid-size
portable generator units with minimal differences in the two wattage
measurements. Although my wattage needs are based on my own situation,
it is clear that the circumstances for most homes or home offices
are similar and will need 50 to 60 percent more surge wattage
than running wattage.
In my opinion, most households can operate the essentials using
a 5,000-running-watts unit with 8,000 surge watts. Remember, my
power requirements are unique to me, and they are determined by
the essential items that make life tolerable at the Hammond house.
Your local electrician would also be helpful with this calculation.
Another very important issue is the quality and type of current
output. Most units I looked at had brushless alternating current
(AC) generators delivering 12 volts, 120 volts AC and/or 240 Volts
AC. According to Consumer Reports, several units they reviewed
failed to deliver more than 108 volts consistently which, in some
cases, could cause damage to some appliances if operated at these
lower power settings for a prolonged period. Read the specifications
carefully and, if in doubt, I recommend that you measure the power
output. Regardless, always use a quality power strip to mate your
computer or other sensitive electronic items to the portable power
The next considerations were related to fuel capacity, running
time and sound levels. At http://theepicenter.com/tow01076.html
the author states "Quiet is expensive! Loud is cheap!" The wattages
I considered required an 8- to 15-horse power (HP) engine which
translates to a gallon of fuel per hour. Many sites and technical
people sing the praises of the Honda portable power units, although
the unit I decided on was a Porter-Cable 5,500/9,000-watt unit
with the latest generation Briggs & Stratton electronic ignition
pull-start 10 HP 4-cycle engine with a 7-gallon tank. I found
the starting sequence easier than my lawn mower, and the sound
level of 72 decibels was about average and quite tolerable. The
7- gallon tank will provide about 9 hours of operation at full
power load and 13 hours at 50 percent power, which is more than
adequate for our Annapolis outages.
After the unit arrived I made my final location and connection
plans. I decided that I would not invest in a permanent interface
panel. Instead, I would bring the four 15-amp power leads into
a central location in the home through a new utility panel opening
and then disperse the power to the critical home and home office
items with properly-rated extension cords.
After several significant outages here and on the East Coast,
supplies of generators are slowly returning to normal and, as
you might expect, prices did rise. I was very happy with www.statelinepower.com
where I purchased my unit for $625 delivered, but there were several
others like www.northwestpowertools.com,
that I could have purchased from if they had any units to sell.
More permanent applications could also be found at these sites
and locally. Home Depot had two larger units on display, priced
from $2,999 to $9,999 installed. There is a unit for every home
at and one to fit your budget.
In the end, I have had several people tell me that the power would
never go out again now that I have a generator. We lost power
this past week again and, just as I was about to electrify my
critical appliances, BGE arrived in record-breaking time to get
us back on line. Maybe having a generator just makes BGE come
faster. Regardless, we can work and flush without BGE and that
is a good thing. May the power be with you!
If you have comments or suggestions, or have an idea for a future
computer or business topic, e-mail me at Jimmy@CapitalConsultant.net
R. Hammand, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant
to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.