Backup Power Importance Grows as Blackouts Loom

We’ve discussed how increasing demand on the electrical grid from electric vehicles and appliances risks brownouts and interruptions, but this spring a new twist was added—shutdowns to mitigate the risk of fire damage.

Xcel Energy cut off power to 56,000 homes and businesses in northwest Denver and suburbs in anticipation of dry conditions and high winds, the lethal combination that led to the disastrous Marchal Fire in December of 2021. While Xcel restored power to most locations within 24 hours, some customers were without electricity for several days. The overall economic impact has been estimated in the many millions due to food spoilage and lost business revenue.

 While some of the losses can be attributed to the short notice given by Xcel, more time wouldn’t have helped those without adequate backup power.

When the Power Goes Out Do You Have a Backup Plan?
How long can you afford to be without power? A day? A week? Longer?

Food will keep for 24-48 hours in a well-packed refrigerator or freezer, but can you consume it before it goes bad?

Candles and oil- or battery-powered lamps will last as long as the supply holds out as will cell phones and computer networks with backup batteries. So a short interruption may be only an annoyance.

But what about heat and essential medical equipment? Warm weather outages may be tolerable without air conditioning but even a short loss of life-supporting devices can be tragic. And even gas-fired furnaces and water heaters often rely on electricity for their thermostats and ignition.

Get Whole-House Backup Power…While You Still Can
We’re 100% behind the move toward electrification. It’s cleaner than coal, gas, and petroleum. New and emerging technologies are making it more efficient and sometimes even less expensive, especially as alternative sources of electricity become more available. And it’s reliable—usually.
But as we become more dependent on electricity to heat and power our homes and vehicles, outages, even brief ones, can range from inconvenient to disastrous, especially in freezing temperatures or for those reliant on lifesaving medical devices.

Coloradans are no stranger to power outages. They occur regularly year-round, mainly due to our extreme weather, but also from fires, traffic crashes, and industrial accidents. And while outages and “brownouts” due to heavy electricity demands are infrequent in our area, as added demand is placed on the already strained electrical grid, they are likely to become more frequent. Local utility Xcel Energy already cuts power to customers’ air conditioning during summer demand peaks on their “energy saving” plan. Now they’re cutting it off when fire danger is high.

That’s why it’s critically important to have a backup plan when the power goes off. Fortunately, there’s a variety of options for backup electrical power that suit all budgets and circumstances.

But first…
Have a Power Outage First Aid Kit
It’s important to know what’s causing the power outage and how long it will last so you know how to react. Xcel is encouraging customers to prepare for an outage. These steps include putting together an outage kit. Include things like flashlights, batteries, portable chargers, a phone that does not require electricity, a non-electric clock, bottled water, non-perishable food, a manual can opener and a first aid kit.

Keeping devices charged and making sure your computer and audio/visual devices are protected from surges.

Other things to consider may include lighting options for when the power goes out and using a cooler to avoid opening the fridge.

Cell phones are great as long as they have power and a working cell tower nearby. If you have a land phone line, it should still work, presuming the system is up. But cordless phones need electricity to transmit signals to the base station.

Choosing the Right Backup Power Supply
People who live and work in remote areas know that power outages can take a while to resolve. But what about urbanites? True enough, outages are usually dealt with in a relatively short (or at least shorter) time in the cities and towns, but even a few hours of downtime can be a big problem. And when heavy winter snow and ice hit, even urban areas can be without power for a day or more, creating serious problems, especially for people with health or mobility issues.
Your choice of backup power will depend on your individual needs and your budget.

Backup Batteries—A short-term answer
Backup batteries, both integrated and standalone, can be a temporary option for your computer or Wi-Fi network, but when you have a big project to finish, a dark house full of bored kids, appliances that don’t work, or someone relying on electrical devices for home health care, a backup generator is a better solution. And if you rely on a heat pump or other electric heating or cooling systems, you can get very uncomfortable in a hurry when the weather turns nasty. Backup batteries are best for short outages with limited needs since even “heavy duty” batteries have low storage capacity.

Backup Generators
Generators fall into two basic categories: portable and permanent. Choosing the best one for you is a balance between your needs and your budget. Here are some considerations:
Portable Generators
Portable gasoline-powered generators are the least expensive backup power options and come in a variety of outputs to meet different needs. Properly sized, operated, and maintained, they’re a good choice for occasional outages, are budget-friendly, and can be used (carefully) by homeowners.

They also require the most work to set up, maintain, and operate and can be dangerous to use.

If you’re considering a portable generator, read our article Backup Generator Benefits before buying. It has safety tips as well.

Any generator that ties into the household electrical supply should be set up by a licensed electrical contractor. Improper connections can result in severe damage to your home’s circuitry, injury, and devastating house fires.

Permanent Whole-House Generators
Long the choice for commercial locations, a permanently installed generator has several advantages for homeowners too. Installed similarly to an air conditioning unit, they’re as close to a “set it and forget it system” as you can get. They’re normally connected to a natural gas or propane supply, so you don’t have to worry about storing potentially dangerous gasoline—or running out at the worst time. They have sophisticated controls and switches that automatically turn the unit on when an outage is detected. They also cycle the generator periodically to keep it in good working condition and notify you when it isn’t.

But natural gas hookups are an endangered species in some areas and propane tanks may be prohibited by zoning or HOA restrictions. If you’re in an area that has or is planning to restrict natural gas hookups, act now while you still can.

Whole-house gas generators are also the most expensive to buy and install but are a very reliable source of power for places where minimizing downtime is important and natural gas or propane fuel is available.

Stay Safe with Professional Help
Choosing the right backup system and using it safely requires a knowledge of electrical circuitry and codes. Don’t risk injury, shock, fire hazards, or expensive repairs by getting in over your head.

If you’re thinking about adding safe, reliable backup power or have any problems or concerns about your electrical service, the pros at Allstar Electrical Services are ready to help. We offer homeowners, builders, and businesses reliable, professional electrical work that is safe and up to code.

Call Allstar Electrical at 303.399.7420 or visit our website. We’ve served Colorado’s Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the BBB and are an Angi’s Home Advisor certified contractor.