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backup generator

Do You Need a Standby Generator?

A standby generator could be a lifeline when the power goes out.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Mar 28, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Sometimes, power outages are predictable -- they occur during or following a major storm, like a tornado or hurricane. Other times, they can happen out of the blue, such as when a transformer blows or a power company's equipment fails. Either way, in a best-case scenario, power outages can be fairly disruptive, and in a worst-case scenario, they can cost you money.

Imagine you're a homeowner whose power goes out and stays out for days. Goodbye, fridge and freezer contents. And if you're a business, an extended power outage could cost you not only inventory but also new customers.

That's why having a backup generator is crucial, especially in areas that tend to experience extreme weather conditions that lead to frequent power outages. With a backup generator, you'll be able to power some or all of your property so you're able to live or work more comfortably and minimize financial losses during periods when the power stays out for days. (Don't confuse a backup generator with a solar generator, the latter of which could serve as your property's main power source all the time.)

But not all generators are created equal, and the type of generator you buy could dictate how well it performs when you need it to. And while you could opt for a less expensive portable generator, a standby generator may be a better bet.

What is a standby generator?

A standby generator is a generator that runs on natural gas or liquid propane and is hooked up to an existing gas line. Standby generators are designed to kick in automatically when the power goes out so that you, as a home or business owner, don't experience an interruption in power. (Often, a standby generator can start working in less than 30 seconds once the power goes out.)

Standby generators are hooked up to a transfer switch that tells them when to automatically turn on or off. (This means you generally need an experienced electrician or technician for installation.) As such, with a standby generator, you don't have to do anything once the power goes out -- you can sit back and wait for the lights to come back on.

With a portable generator, on the other hand, you'll need to manually hook it up with extension cords and pour gas into it to get it to work. A portable generator will usually only power a couple of appliances in your home or place of business. A standby generator, on the other hand, could have the capacity to power an entire home or business.

How much does a standby generator cost?

Buying a generator isn't cheap, especially if you're looking for a standby unit. For a residential property, you could pay anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000 or more, depending on the size of that property. A standby generator for a commercial property can cost even more, but the price ultimately depends on property size and the capacity you're looking for.

For example, if you're installing a standby generator for your home, you may not feel the need to buy one that powers your entire house. Rather, you may decide that powering most of your appliances, but not your air conditioning system, which draws a lot of power, is sufficient.

Is a portable generator a more cost-efficient alternative?

Portable generators are much less expensive than standby generators -- you can usually buy one for anywhere between $500 and $2,000. But keep in mind that you won't get the same capacity to power your home or business as you will with a standby unit. Rather, with a portable generator, you might manage to power a few lights, a TV, a refrigerator, a septic pump, and maybe a water heater.

Also, with a portable generator, you'll have to deal with obtrusive extension cords that run from that generator to your appliances, which could prove hazardous. And you need to constantly fuel a portable generator with gasoline to keep it running, whereas with a standby generator, you get an automatic transfer right into your natural gas line so you don't have to worry about powering it. Finally, portable generators can be more dangerous -- you need to make sure yours is properly ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Who needs a standby generator?

Homeowners and commercial property owners alike can benefit from having a standby generator. As a homeowner, buying a generator could spare you financial losses, like food spoilage, when power outages strike. Also, if you work from home, a standby generator is a solid investment, as it ensures you won't suffer a loss of income due to circumstances outside your control.

As a commercial property owner, having a standby generator could make it easier to attract and retain tenants. Businesses don't want to have to worry about losing inventory or customers, and if you invest in a standby generator, they shouldn't have to.

Can installing a standby generator increase property value?

You don't always recoup the full value of your investment when you make improvements to your property. According to Remodeling Magazine's 2018 Cost Vs. Value Report, a $12,860 generator increases resale value by $6,940, which means you'll get 54% of your investment back.

That said, having a standby generator could make it easier to sell your property, and that could be a source of savings right there. Furthermore, while you may not get 100% of your investment back in resale value, remember that having a generator could save you money by preventing losses. And in some cases, having one could also lower your homeowners insurance.

Should you install a standby generator for your rental property?

If you own a home that you rent out, installing a generator is a good way to draw in tenants and potentially command a slightly higher rent. But unless you live in an area that's prone to frequent power outages, it may not be a worthwhile investment -- tenants may not be willing to pay a premium to avoid power outages if they only tend to happen once or twice a year.

The bottom line on buying a standby generator

Standby generators offer peace of mind, and there's value in that alone. If you don't want to deal with the hassle of losing power and potentially having it stay out for days on end, then a standby generator is a smart investment, and one that works more easily and seamlessly than a portable generator. Though you may not recoup that generator's entire cost when you sell your property, having that unit could save you a world of money -- and hassle -- along the way.

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