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Consider getting a generator for backup power

In 2004 Peter Summers, 59, moved from Louisiana to his new home in Vero Beach, Florida.  Ten days later,  Hurricane Frances slammed into Summers’ home.  Hurricane Jeanne followed days later, and Wilma brought more destruction in 2005.  The 2004 hurricanes knocked out power in Vero Beach for weeks.  Without air conditioning, Summers sweltered.  Nights were miserable.  “It was so hot.  No air was moving.  I couldn’t sleep.  At night I’d go out and dangle my feet in the pool and fall asleep that way,” said Summers.  That’s when he decided to get a generator. 

Summers bought an 11,000-watt, propane-fueled generator.  Transfer switches turn it on when power fails.  It runs lights, a freezer, refrigerator and backup window air-conditioning unit that efficiently cools part of his home, but doesn’t require as much power as the main air-conditioning unit.

Tony Weir a marketing director for a maker of electric generators, suggests these tips:

• Newer, overhead-valve engines start easier and run quieter than side-valve engines. If you can’t pull a cord easily, consider an electric-start model.
• Only run your generator outside.  Never run a generator in a garage, even with the door open, or a sunroom, even with windows open.  Engines produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you in minutes.  Carbon monoxide from electrical generator engines killed 12 people in Florida in 2004 and 2005. 
• Pick the right size unit.  A 5,000-watt unit ($600-$800) would run a refrigerator, freezer, some lights and a TV or radio simultaneously.  A power-company audit can help determine what you need.
• Add stabilizer to stored gas or diesel fuel.  Run the fuel tank dry before storing to keep fuel systems clean.   
• Use heavy, 10- or 8-gauge extension cords.  The smaller the gauge number, the heavier the copper wire inside.  Check for heat building up when cords are in use; if extension cords run under or on top of carpeting or other combustible materials, they could start a fire.
• Or install a transfer switch, as Summers did.  An electrician can install a transfer switch to safely provide power through existing wiring.

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