Generators: Keep Your Home Business Running When the Power Company Can’t

March 13, 2016 | By | Reply More


What happens to your home-based business when there’s a power outage? That, of course, depends on the nature of your business, how reliant you are on electricity for getting work done, and how long the outage lasts.

  • If you’re a writer who depends on a laptop, wireless Internet router and a smart phone, you’re in business sans email and Internet for at least a few hours until your electronics need recharging.
  • If you’re a graphic designer who depends on an AC-powered desktop computer and monitor, you’re out of business until power is restored.
  • If you’re running a crafts business that relies on power tools and other machines to keep up production and good lighting to ensure the quality of workmanship, you’re out of business until the power goes back on.
  • If you’re running a home daycare facility, the comfort and safety of those you care for are at risk, and the harm that may do to your reputation may hamper your business even after power is restored.

While the impact of a power outage will vary based on the nature of your business, let’s not forget that we’re talking about home businesses here. When the power fails, you can’t just go to the office and not worry about the sump pump, food in the freezer or the wellbeing of those who share your home.

The point is this: Power outages can bring both businesses and home life to a stop. If it’s your job to keep both running smoothly, consider a backup generator for emergencies.

Emergency Generator Options

When considering generator types, first ask yourself how much work you want to do to set up, maintain and start the generator when the power goes out.

Standby Backup Generators.

For the greatest convenience, a permanently installed backup generator is the best bet. Backup generators are wired into a building’s electrical system via a transfer switch. They sense when power from a utility provider is interrupted, and they start up automatically. The most convenient models are self-monitoring and start themselves up at regular intervals to maintain readiness for emergencies. Available models can run on natural gas, liquid propane, gasoline or diesel fuel. The average installed cost for a whole-house backup generator, according to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Survey, is $12,135.

generator outputs

Portable Generators

Far less expensive than a built-in generator, a portable unit can get you through a blackout. You’ll spend between $300 and $2,500 for a portable model, depending on output. But a portable generator isn’t a turnkey backup system; in an emergency, you’ll need to roll the generator outdoors, start it up and run extension cords to the lights and appliances you want to power. It’s also important to start and test the generator a couple of times each year to be sure it’ll be ready when you need it.

Portable generators run on gasoline or diesel fuel. Their engines spew carbon monoxide when running. Portables should be run outdoors only, at least 15 feet from the house. Neighbors who aren’t as well prepared for a blackout won’t only be envious if you have lights and they don’t—they’re likely to complain about a portable generator’s noise.

Determining the Required Output

Whether you’re considering a permanent standby or portable generator, take the time to calculate how many watts of electricity you need to keep your essential appliances and equipment running simultaneously during a power failure. Since the cost of a generator is directly related to its power output, it’s most economical to consider only those appliances you really can’t do without for a few days.

The tables below list the appliances and wattage requirements of appliances and office equipment that might be considered essential. To use the tables to calculate your own needs, check off the items you think you’ll really need, and go around your house to find the power requirements of any other equipment that you want to include. You can usually find the wattage rating on a label somewhere, which also gives the model number and year of manufacture.

power requirements of appliances

power requirements of home office equipment

Once you’ve identified your must-haves, add up all the wattages and multiply the sum by 1.5. (Appliances with motors, like refrigerators and washing machines, need more power to start up than to run). That’ll give you the minimum output for the generator you need.

Sizing a Permanent Standby Generator

If you’re considering a whole-house generator, there’s an easier way to determine the output you’ll need based on the electric service in your home. See the table below, which correlates generator outputs with various standard capacity service panels. A generator that delivers more than 20 percent of the normal service can get you through a power outage if you’re selective about running critical appliances. One that provides about half the wattage of a given service panel should enable you to live and work through a power outage without thinking too much about it.

Portable Generators and Extension Cords

By itself, a portable generator can supply power to a given appliance only when connected to it with an extension cord. Most portables have a number of receptacles with different configurations, including standard 3-prong, 120-volt outlets and 240-volt outlets for high-demand appliances like electric ranges. Extension cords used with a portable generator should be the outdoor type and at least 14-gauge.

Apart from the hassle, connecting appliances to a generator with extension cords presents other issues—like the need to leave a door or window open to route them inside. Another problem is that certain appliances you may need to run during an outage—like a well or sump pump, a furnace blower or a central air conditioner—can’t be plugged in with extension cords.

Transfer Switches Make Portables Safer and Easier to Use

It’s much easier and safer to run power from a portable generator to your home’s electric service panel through a transfer switch, which will cost between $300 and $500, plus installation by a licensed pro. One cord from the generator to the switch is all you’ll need. Suitable transfer switches enable power produced by the generator to be routed to between six and 10 circuits—those that serve your critical equipment and appliances.

A transfer switch is also a safety must for any generator connected to house wiring. It keeps generator power from being sent out over downed power lines which can be dangerous for repair workers.

Whether you opt for a built-in backup or a portable generator, it’s important to know that you have the power to keep your home business running when nobody else can.



Michael Chotiner

Michael Chotiner is a homeowner and longtime business owner who writes on home-based businesses and DIY for The Home Depot. Michael’s tips on power generators are geared to keep home-based businesses up and running in the event of a power outage. For a full range of Home Depot’s portable generator options, you can visit the company’s website.

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