It’s no secret that many log homes are built in areas that are more prone to power outages than your average suburban neighborhood. Whether your log home is situated in the country or in a more suburban setting, losing power can evolve from a short-term nuisance to a costly problem quickly.
That is why many homeowners are investing in ways to generate electricity when the utility is unavailable. And several options offer seamless access to power for hours and days at a time.
Worth the Investment?
To avoid a few hours of candlelit reading or grilling dinner outside, investing in a generator or other forms of power storage may seem like a steep price to pay for convenience. However, the effects of a power loss can quickly multiply in dollar amounts depending on the circumstances. For example, loss of a full refrigerator of food might be $250-$500.
Summertime can mean heavy rain or hurricanes. If your home relies on a sump pump to keep your home’s basement dry, power outages can result in a flooded basement in just a few hours (estimated cost: $10,000-$20,000). Wintertime power outages may kill the electric ignitions on furnaces or even pellet stoves, leaving water pipes vulnerable to freezing (estimated cost: $5,000-$10,000). Even after the water damage is cleaned up, the possibility of hidden mold can prove to be a health risk and result in even more costly repairs (estimated cost: $500 – $30,000).
And in the unlikely event of a larger regional outage it could be days before your power service returns to normal. This may mean many days spent at an alternative shelter like hotels (estimated average cost per night $110). Many Mainers recall the Ice Storm that dealt a significant blow to the region in 1998. The El Niño conditions that led to that crippling temperature inversion may be repeating this year in the Pacific.
If you’re not located in “Tornado Alley” or in a coastal hurricane area, power outages may be less frequent and less costly and a portable generator may be the best option. These can vary in price depending on the power produced. Kohler offers a good selection of portable home generators. If you are building soon and plan to use a portable generator, consider adding a Generac inverter tied directly into your electrical panel. This will enable you to switch completely over to generated power on a few necessary circuits, and avoid dangerous power surges when the power does return.
We spoke with Dan Giampetroni, Senior Channel Manager at Kohler to get some tips on selecting a portable generator. To size properly, you’ll need to identify the power draws and priority items. Depending on the location, essentials might include the furnace, well and septic pumps, heat pump, basement sump pump, air conditioning and refrigerator. Other items to wire into the Generac inverter might include some lighting, gas range or oven, pellet stove and water heater. For items like well and septic pumps, Giampetroni notes that they require a much higher start-up wattage than while running. These surges at startup should be included in calculating generator size. He recommends a minimum size of 7.5 kW in a residential setting, with the larger PRO12.3EFI (below right) providing rugged and reliable power for larger wattage needs.
Locate the generator hookup under cover, away from bedrooms, doors and windows to avoid carbon monoxide exposure. Remember, it’s probably not going to be nice weather when you’re powering up your generator. If you live in a warm climate, invest in a small low-wattage air conditioner to keep your cool in an emergency. Remember, portable generators need monitoring and fueling and as such are a more hands-on operation. If the location where you plan to use the portable generator is close to work or school may not be as much of a challenge as for folks with longer commutes.
As home square footages increase the investment in a more permanent power source has become common. Standby generators, powered by either natural gas or liquid propane (LP), offer convenience and seamless operation in power outages. Increased utilization in most markets also means that ancillary concerns such as maintenance and repair are readily available.
We spoke with Kohler’s Melanie Tydrich, Senior Channel Manager for the company’s standby generators. Kohler’s standby generators start automatically when it senses a power interruption. Because it draws propane or gas for its fuel, there is no manual refilling or starting. Some standby generators, like the ones offered by Kohler, can provide smartphone connectivity for added reassurance and monitoring. Tydrich notes that it’s important to have a professional assess the generator sizing needs based on the household’s energy requirements. Homeowners can get a ballpark figure by using their website’s generator selector tool.
Kohler’s OnCue Plus Generator management system provides some useful tools for homeowners. When paired with its programmable interface monitor (PIM), the standby generator can be programmed to remotely operate some powered items in the home. One essential tool for homeowners in hurricane zones is the ability to lower storm shutters remotely before a storm and raise them once the storm has passed. The system can also provide an electronic log to tell homeowners whether an emergency start-up of repair has been completed.
Sizing a generator will depend more on the electrical usage than square footage. Key electrical items that should be considered when sizing are the refrigerator, furnace, water heater, well pump, septic pump, sump pump, home office, air conditioning and other kitchen appliances, such as ranges or ovens. Some power engines, like pumps, require more energy for starting up than other appliances that sip power to maintain constant operation.
Remember that even with gas or propane appliances, their ignitions rely on electricity. If you plan to go “whole house” with the standby generator, accessing propane or natural gas for the generator system can offer some efficiencies. These fuels might already be utilized for heat or cooking and an additional hookup to a standby generator is a simple addition. Tydrich notes that Kohler’s standby generator specifications include fuel consumption at 25%, 50%, 75%, and full power so that one can gauge the size of a propane tank based on a projected outage duration.
Standby generators come in two types. The smaller ones are air-cooled and use a tractor or motorcycle engine to power up to 20kW. Larger generators are liquid cooled using an engine that might power a car or small truck. In most homes a 48 kW generator will provide as much power as a regular tie-in to the power utility.
One of the most interesting new developments in emergency power is the Tesla Powerwall, a battery designed to store energy from the grid (or from your solar panels) to supply power during outages. These seem to have application in areas where the electrical grid itself is less reliable, where rolling or planned blackouts occur during times of peak demand. These blackouts occur in warmer climates where overloads from air conditioning can cause power interruptions on a regular basis. Previously, battery back-up systems were expensive, bulky and required a fair amount of maintenance. The Powerwall checks in at $3,500 for 10kW back up applications, and can be installed in multiples for higher energy requirements.
However you plan for power outages, constructing a new home is the optimum time to anticipate these issues.