An emergency generator can prevent many headaches when there's a loss of electricity for more than a few hours. However, it's important to determine what your electrical needs are so you can select the best one, said Neal Waldron, co-manager of the Home Depot in Ross, Pa. Here are some tips on what to look for.
Generators, most of which are powered by gasoline, come in a variety of sizes and are rated by how many watts or kilowatts they produce. For example, a small generator could be rated 2,000 to 6,000 watts, enough to power a few lights, a television, a computer and a refrigerator. These generators start around $400.
Generators should never be used indoors because they need to be well-ventilated and should have at least 5 feet of open space on all sides. Special heavy-duty extension cords with three-prong plugs should be used for all appliances plugged into the generator. Some generators have enough plugs for six or seven items; others may only have two plugs.
Length of operation
How long a generator will work before being refueled depends on how much wattage is being used. A 6,000-watt generator will run longer if only 1,500 watts are being used as opposed to its full capacity.
Because generators run on fuel, this cost must be factored in as well. A woman in Houston who was using a generator for a few days after Hurricane Ike said she was spending $57 a day on gas to power it.
To power an entire household without any loss of service, the best bet is a standby generator, which kicks in automatically via a transfer switch as soon as the regular power goes out. These generators can cost from $6,000 to $12,000 and up, and must be installed by an electrician. For some, the transfer switch is included; for others the switch must be purchased separately. Likewise, wheel kits for easy moving are not always included.
One thing to remember is that central air-conditioning draws a lot of power, and if it's going to be used during the outage, the AC must be considered when buying a standby generator, according to Electric Generators Direct, which sells generators online. Standby generators are generally best for areas where power outages happen often.
Other power sources
Consider Duracell's 600-HD Jump Starter and Powerpack with radio. This sealed 28-amp battery includes an alarm clock, three AC outlets and one DC outlet.
It's also important to have emergency lighting on hand. Flashlights are usually the first line of defense, and it's important to make sure that they are in working order and that there is an adequate supply of batteries. Most flashlights take D or C batteries, although some smaller ones take AA.
Other lighting options include Energizer's Light on Demand line. There is a desk light, a tabletop night light, a wall plate night light, a motion light for indoor or outdoor use and a wall sconce that each contain an LED light stick and a backup rechargeable battery. The stick light can last up to 20 hours without recharging. The Light on Demand line can be purchased at target.com and amazon.com.
Energizer also makes an LED battery-operated emergency lantern.