Losing for several days leads some people to think about their alternatives. One solution that comes to mind is a generator. That merits serious consideration, according to Rockland County’s Director of Fire & Emergency Services Gordon Wren.
“Sooner or later we’re going to get hit with a real hurricane or major ice storm,” said Wren. “We’re encouraging people to buy these and install them. If people have generators and they use them wisely and safely, they can take care of themselves.”
After Hurricane Irene swept across the county on August 28, as many as 45,000 O&R customers lost power, some for up to eight days. When the nor’easter hit right before Halloween, tens of thousands of people were without electricity. Some in the county remained in that situation for a week.
People moved in with family and friends or stayed in hotels. Others toughed it out because of pets or concern about leaving their homes empty. One could drive through quiet neighborhoods and occasionally hear the loud hum of a generator.
Larry Beckerle, owner of Beckerle Lumber Stores, said people got to their stores as fast as they could after the hurricane.
“We had generators on the shelf for two years,” he said. “They went out after two hours.”
The stores’ buyers ordered more generators than they had stocked previously. Beckerle said he questioned that decision but not for long. The freak October snowstorm caused a repeat surge.
“We ran out again in two hours,” said Beckerle, adding the stock has been replenished. “Now there is much more of an awareness of the need for generators.”
Clarkstown Building Inspector Peter Beary confirmed that increased interest has shown up in more building permit applications for generators.
“A big rash of people are coming in now for permits,” Beary said. “I think the ones that depend on a well or have wet basements (have applied).”
Beary noted residents who rely on well water or get flooded basements and need to have a working sump pump have been among the 12 or so who have applied. A building permit is needed for the installation of a generator and once it is complete, a building inspector will check it and an electrical underwriter will look at the final hookup.
According to John Giardiello, director of Orangetown's Office of Building, Zoning, Planning, Administration & Enforcement, they have had five applications since the snowstorm.
Clarkstown building department officials recently decided to establish a new category for generator applications, which previously were listed under “alteration.”
Wren, who installed a generator for his home, said for a modest amount people can purchase a small generator that can run a refrigerator and lamp. In addition to the price tag of whatever size generator is bought, there are other expenses to consider. In addition to the required building permit, a licensed electrician should be hired to take care of the setup and make sure it is grounded properly.
Portable generators usually provide 8,000 watts of power or less. Permanent generators deliver 10,000 watts plus and will run more household items. John Stauff, manager of the Spring Valley Beckerle store, said people have to add up the watts of the different appliances or electronics they want to operate in order to get a generator to run them.
The first thing to do is determine what essential appliances would be needed or wanted during a power failure. The appliance wattage varies according to brand and model and it all adds up quickly. Wattage charts are listed on generator boxes, here are some examples:
- Sump pump---estimate 1,000
- Refrigerator---estimate 700
- Furnace---estimate 600
- Lamp---estimate 100 each
- Laptop---estimate 250
- TV---estimate 190
- Hot water heater (electric)---4,500
At Beckerle, portable generators weighing between 110 and 225 pounds cost from $539 to $1,099. Then there is cost of the gasoline or propane to power it or the installation of a connection to the building’s natural gas line. Wren noted that appliances like a refrigerator do not have to run constantly and can be limited to one hour out of every four hours in the summer to keep food from spoiling. Even though the generator’s purpose is to replace the power lost during a storm or other event, it must be protected from the elements
“Like any piece of equipment, it’s dangerous,” said Wren. “They should be grounded. They should be set up away from the house.
Generators produce carbon monoxide fumes and they should be located outside the house and at least 20 to 30 feet away so the fumes do not travel into the house. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that people cannot see or smell. Since February 2010, state law requires carbon monoxide detectors near sleeping areas in all single family and multi family homes.
A Clarkstown resident called the building department because his CO detector was going off. Beary said the determination was made that the generator needed to be moved further away from the house.
Generators should not be placed on decks or inside garages. A Chestnut Ridge man was believed to have fatally suffered carbon monoxide poisoning after the Nor’easter because he was running a generator inside an open garage attached to his house.
“As long as it’s outside the house and the fumes are not going into the house you can leave it running all night,” Wren said.
But he cautioned if there is a major storm and fuel supplies are limited or cut-off, owners would want to restrict their usage. Wren said generators use a lot of gasoline so owners need to think about running them for an hour at a time and then turning them off. Another factor to consider is the noise they produce. Stauff said the noise level is comparable to lawnmower or compressor in decibels and it is constant.
Care and maintenance is a priority. Wren said even if it is not needed, a generator should be run at least half an hour each month to keep it operating properly. Or, the fuel must be drained out and the generator should be run until the carburetor is dry.