Kenny Marshall lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where 100-plus-degree summer days have at times brought on rolling blackouts. As people crank their AC, power lines can overheat from the added demand for electricity and must be shut down temporarily to prevent catastrophic fires. “Last year we were without power for three days in 117-degree heat,” Marshall says. “You cannot survive here without air-conditioning.”
This February, in Austin, Texas, Joe Rizzo experienced a polar opposite (pun intended) problem: Unusually frigid weather led to power outages for 3 million Texans. “We had elderly people stuck in their homes for up to a week, with indoor temperatures below freezing,” he says.
Marshall and Rizzo are in the generator business (they’re the owners of All American Generators and Capital Power Systems, respectively). It’s a booming industry across the country as homeowners seek a way to keep the power on in an era of unprecedented weather-related outages. One major producer, Generac, reported that sales of residential generators nearly doubled in the first half of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020. Generators will keep your home running when the power grid can’t, but they can be a major investment. Here are a few pro tips.
How They Work
Standby generators connect to the utility grid through a switch that kicks on when the grid goes down — “within 10 seconds,” Marshall says — and use the home’s gas supply (whether propane or natural gas) to fuel the generator and create electricity. Generators are typically housed in a metal box in the yard, with underground connections to the gas and electrical lines that must be installed by licensed professionals. Permits from local authorities are typically required.