Last year, Hurricane Irene blasted through my region but fortunately for us, we did not experience any power outage. However, many of my friends and family were without power for a few days. I realized that if my house experienced the same length of outage, my basement would have flooded in no time. For some reasons, my sump pump sees a lot of action when it rains, cycling once every couple minutes. So for this reason alone, I went ahead and bought me a portable generator in case Hurricane Sandy knocks out my power. This can be added to the list of most overlooked costs of home ownership. But for now, I like to share a few things I learned while setting up my new portable generator.

  1. Peak Power vs. Running Power – Many generators will have two maximum power ratings. The lower number indicates continuous running power while the higher number reflects peak or startup power. For instance, my sump pump has running power requirement of 8A. The startup power requirement is about 16A. This equates to 920W and 1840W respectively. The generator I purchased has a rating of 3,000W continuous power and 3,500 peak power, which is more than sufficient for my sump pump.
  2. Extension Cables – I already had two extension cables so I didn’t initially purchase any additional ones for the generator. However, I didn’t consider looking at the wire gauge of my extension cables. I discovered I have one 25 ft 14-gauge cable and one 50 ft 16-gauge cable. The allowable current through these cables is 15A and 13A respectively. Although I could probably run higher current through these cables, the cables can heat up and cause fire if used for too long at these high currents. So, I stopped by the hardware store and purchased additional 14-gauge extension cables. I just have to make sure I don’t hook up too many electronic items on that one circuit.
  3. Gas Capacity – My portable generator takes about 3.8 gallons of gas. That means, I should have at least that size gas container available so I can refill gas in one trip. Unfortunately for me, all of my local hardware stores were out of the 5-gallon gas containers. I currently do own a 1.25 gallon container that I normally use for my lawn mower. In the event of an outage, I will have to make multiple trips to the gas station to fill up (provided that the gas stations have power). 1.25 gallons will provide 3-4 hours of power. I have a feeling that won’t be enough if my power is to go out.
  4. Security – My neighborhood is OK in terms of safety, but you never know. Two years ago during a blizzard, I had my shovel stolen from my front door. I had left it there overnight thinking it would be safe, but someone had snatched it while I was sleeping. After that, I secure everything that I leave outside. So I purchased a couple of heavy duty chains and lock to prevent theft of my new generator.
  5. Grounding – My generator is equipped with a little nut on the front of the machine for grounding purposes. If the generator isn’t properly grounded, you can get electrocuted if you touch anything conductive on the machine. However, if you place the generator on the ground (not on a stand), it should be grounded enough and no additional grounding is necessary. But to be absolutely sure, you can always purchase a copper wire, tie one end to the grounding nut, and the other end to a metal rod that’s driven at least a few inches into the ground.
  6. Carbon Monoxide – I feel that there are some people still out there that don’t give enough respect for carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is no joke and it can kill a person within minutes without any warning signs. There was a Korean family in my town last year that was killed due to carbon monoxide poisoning. They had their portable generator running over night in their garage. Although they had windows open for exhaust, it wasn’t enough to keep carbon monoxide from entering their home. I plan on placing my generator in the front my house, exhaust facing away from the house, and secured with chain and lock that ties to something secure inside the garage.

In case the power goes out while sleeping, I placed a water alarm on the ground next to my sump area. The alarm will go off if it senses any water on the ground. I just hope that my power doesn’t go out.