California’s Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has been cutting power to hundreds of thousands of residents in an attempt to lower wildfire danger from downed power lines. Some people have been without electrical service for several days, creating concerns about food safety, water, and medical needs along with the considerable inconvenience of living without electricity.
And if you think that’s just California’s problem, a look back at recent Colorado history will change your mind.
“Bomb Cyclone” Points Out Need for Backup Power
Last spring’s high winds, called a bomb cyclone by the Weather Service, left at least 164,000 people in Colorado without power. Hurricane strength winds downed power lines and cut off travel throughout much of the Great Plains. The storm serves as a reminder that even in urban areas, loss of electric service can present serious dangers.
Have a Backup Plan
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, especially if you’re one of the growing numbers of Coloradans who telecommute or run a home business. And while local utilities in Colorado haven’t threatened California-like blackouts, when major storms like the bomb cyclone or 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.
Batteries Can Only Do So Much
A backup battery may 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.
What Type of Generator is Best?
Generators fall into three basic categories: portable, permanent, and hybrid. Choosing the best one for you is a balance between your needs and your budget. Here are some considerations:
Gasoline-Powered Portable Generators
Portable gas-powered generators are the least expensive 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 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.
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 and even cycle the generator periodically to keep in in good working condition and notify you when it isn’t.
They’re also the most expensive to buy and install but are a very reliable source of power for places where minimizing downtime is important. Talk to a licensed electrician about your options and costs.
Hybrid Backup/Power Supplies
If you want a system that gives backup power for short periods of low wattage demand without the hassle of a portable generator, a hybrid might be right for you. Like a car battery charger, these devices are trickle-charged and store energy in batteries. They also have built-in AC inverters to run household appliances. You still need to plug individual cords into the units, but they’re virtually maintenance-free and can be used indoors as long as ventilation is provided in case the batteries release fumes. Many are portable and can be used on job sites, as well.
They’re best for short outages with limited needs since they have low storage capacity but may be a versatile solution if you only need minimal power to ride out an outage.
Stay Safe with Professional Help
Colorado residents learn quickly that power outages are a way of life. We have more lightning strikes than any state except Florida, and while we don’t get hurricanes, as recent storms have shown, our winds can rival them. Throw in heavy wet snows and ice storms and having backup power handy can add to your productivity and peace of mind.
Choosing the right generator and using it safely requires a knowledge of electrical circuitry and codes, so 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 the Front Range for over 15 years and are top-rated by the BBB and Angie’s List.