This post contributed by Tom Kraeutler, nationally syndicated radio host of The Money Pit.
During the worst of what Hurricane Florence had to offer North Carolina, over 1.4 million households lost electrical power. But while power failures are most famously associated with natural disasters, more than 75% of all power outage occur from causes other than severe weather events. Between increased demand, an aging infrastructure, and other causes, power failures are becoming increasingly more common, making it smart to put a plan in place to protect your home from a blackout.
On our nationally syndicated radio show and home improvement podcast, The Money Pit, we frequently hear from listeners who struggle to recover from power problems. After a storm or other event knocks out your power, generators are hard to find and tradespeople can be too busy to help. But, as is often said in sports, the best defense is a good offense. Here’s how to set your home up to win the game.
Whole-house generators are permanently installed appliances that can re-power most (or all) of the home’s critical systems within seconds of a power failure. Unlike portable generators, a whole house generator runs on natural gas or propane, eliminating the need to find gasoline, which can be difficult to impossible when power to the center area has been cut. There’s also no need to run extension cords all over the house, which can be very dangerous.
Instead, a transfer switch automatically routes selected circuits or the home’s entire electrical panel to run off the generator the instant the grid goes down. The transfer switch also prevents the electrical power from being routed back to the power grid where it could potentially endanger the lives of utility workers repairing power lines.
When considering a whole-house generator, it’s smart to purchase one large enough to handle the electrical needs of your entire home. While smaller generators, often called “standby” generators, can be purchased to handle a portion of your home’s electrical needs, the installation cost is virtually the same and represents a large part of the total expense.
Each year, the cost of lightning strikes combined with faults in the utility lines feeding power to homes adds up to millions of dollars of damage to electrical systems throughout the country. If a surge were to strike, virtually every electrical appliance in the home could be damaged or lost. Comprehensive surge suppression strategy is the best way to ensure whole-house protection.
To protect yourself, you’ll need several types of devices.
- Lightning rods: Good to protect against blasts of lightning hitting at or near your home. Lightning rods provide a “ground” path to divert this runaway power from harming your home’s electrical systems.
- Surge arrestors: Surge arrestors are mounted inside your electrical panel and provide another protection against voltage spikes, which occur from the outside.
- Surge suppressors: Surge suppressors provide the second stage of an interior defense system. Most suppressors resemble power strips with outlets, and they protect equipment that’s particularly sensitive to moderate surges such as computers, TVs, phones, and audio/video systems. When shopping for surge suppressors, keep in mind that major qualitative differences exist. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. And finding out your suppressor didn’t work during a power failure can be a very expensive lesson to learn.
Battery back-ups are one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to protect individual computers and other small electronics from damage due to an electrical power outage. Known as an “uninterruptible power supply” or “UPS,” these small devices will protect your sensitive data from surges or spikes. They can also instantly restore power to your computer long enough to allow you to safely save your work and shut down the system. They should be an essential part of your power failure plan.
Protecting your home from power failures with a thorough plan has become a necessity due to today’s many power outages. But with a little preplanning, the inconvenience of losing electricity can be left at just that.
Tom Kraeutler is the host of The Money Pit, the nation’s largest syndicated home improvement radio show and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He is a former professional home inspector with the unique ability to combine encyclopedic home improvement knowledge with a comfortable and educational broadcasting style, leading Talkers Magazine to name Tom one of the “100 Most Important Talk Show Hosts in America.”