OK, 2020 needs to go away now! I'm having to write this week's column—not from my home where we've been without power for almost a week, thanks to the wrath of 100 mph winds that knocked trees onto powerlines in our 'hood—but from a remote location. Sure, we're lucky not to have had trees land on our home. We're not homeless or unsheltered, but we're pretty freaked out at how long it's taken to get power back on to the almost 200,000 residents along the Wasatch Front who've lost power. I found myself talking to friends who own generators, my electrician as well as family members from Florida who are used to hurricane winds and outages there.
After the storm, I noticed that only one family down the street had a portable generator at their home. The one we plug into at Burning Man is provided by one of our camp-mates who uses his at construction sites; it's about as big as a Volkswagen Bug. We could have gone around to different stores to get a small gas-powered generator but after two stops of "Nope, sold out" experiences, we gave up looking for quick solution.
Now, we're onto a big idea: a permanent generator in case of earthquakes, snow or wind or any combo of those that knocks out power lines. Gennies come powered by the sun, diesel and regular gas fuel, propane and batteries. My friends recommend a dual-fuel portable one that uses regular gas and propane, but my electrician and my Floridian family say a Generac-type device is the most common in their area. Basically, we need to decide what we want powered if the power goes out. Obviously, running the furnace, lights and refrigerator are basic needs but then it would be nice to have computers and the internet. The cost of the genny depends on how much power we want for back-up emergency. The electrician puts in a second power box and a switch and a cord that runs to the portable or permanently placed unit (about the size of a central air condenser).
Small portable units can run around $500—with the electric start feature and powered by gasoline. Permanent gennies like a Generac system can run $3,000-$20,000, depending on power demands. Hospitals, airports, police and some public services like 911 have backup generators as do large grocery chains.
As homeowners fearing that Mother Nature is going to get madder in coming years causing more frequent outages, we want to be prepared, so we're looking into all options to avoid 45 degree F mornings without heat. The good news is that if we do install a permanent emergency generator in our home, we will be adding value in case we ever decide to get the hell out of Dodge.