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Generators gaining use as Maryland residents face power outages caused by storms

Environmental PoliticsThe Home Depot

WASHINGTON – Maryland residents who fear the winter storm will cut their power supply might appreciate CDS Logistics President Roy Cranford’s vision of stationary generators one day becoming as commonplace as air conditioners.

He sees generators incorporated into new housing projects and more and more residents adding them to their homes to protect themselves against a potential power outage. The part of the company that handles generators, CDS Emergency Power Services, has an “unprecedented level” of demand for stationary, or standby, generators, with a backlog of over 400 installation jobs, according to Cranford.

“Due to the combined impact of hurricanes Irene and Sandy, along with the 2012 summer thunderstorms, we are seeing demand increase for home standby generators,” Cranford said. The Baltimore-based company installs generators in Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Virginia and Delaware.

Three basic types of stationary generators can be installed to automatically start once a home has lost its main power source. Basic generators that can power only a few circuits are the most popular and cheapest option. These types of generators are 80 percent of the generators that CDS installs. The systems cost from $4,000 to $7,500, according to CDS.

Homeowners can power the lights and most electrical appliances through a managed load generator, the second type. A transfer switch installed near the power breaker allows the homeowner to determine which appliances and lights will be powered by the generator. This option costs between $7,000 and $10,000, according to CDS.

The third type of generator is for those who want to literally power their entire home. Liquid-cooled generators are the most expensive, with costs varying greatly depending on the number of devices in the home. Prices range from $8,000 to $22,500, according to CDS.

Portable generators are less expensive and don’t have to be installed. They can be used simply by plugging an extension cord into the generator, and then plugging in electric-powered devices into that extension cord.

These generators can be hazardous if homeowners don’t understand how to use them properly. The generator must be plugged in via an extension cord to a device. There are safety risks from these types of generators if the generator is plugged into a wall outlet. Back-feeding could injure utility workers who are fixing electrical wires because the generator feeds electricity into wires that workers believe are dead. It can harm generator users as well, because the power's return can send thousands of volts of electricity to the generator, according to a press release by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

Gasoline and propane portable generators must be refueled  when the gas is running low and the generator has cooled down. This not only limits the amount of time a portable generator can be continuously used, it can also require storage of a large quantity of these fuels. Stationary generators can be connected to a home’s gas system so that a fuel tank doesn’t have to be replenished.

Prices for the most popular, portable, home generators range from $699 to $1,000 with a power range of 5,500 to 6,500 watts, Aspen Hill Home Depot Store Manager Matthew Bobbitt said. The higher price can come from increased wattage and features such as a push-button start switch and an auto-shut off feature that turns the generator off when it is running out of oil.

All generators must be kept outdoors at least five feet away from any entrances to the home to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Bruce Bouch, director of public education for the Office of the State Fire Marshal, recommends anyone using a generator install a carbon monoxide detector in their home.

Neighborhoods are starting to experience some of the consequences of generators in the community. The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection has received an increasing number of inquiries on generators, as well as noise complaints, according to Stan Edwards, division chief of environmental policy and compliance.

Monthly maintenance-testing of stationary generators is what often leads neighbors to discover that there is one in their neighborhood, according to Edwards. He encourages people thinking about purchasing a stationary generator to “think about the noise issues while they’re installing, instead of after the fact,” to avoid having to move the device in response to a complaint.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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