What's the best generator for you?

Plenty of South Floridians go about their regular household routine when a storm knocks out the electricity. Generators power up and these folks are heating soup, playing video games and enjoying hot showers.

Various types of generators are available, with a wide range of price and power. Some generators energize a few appliances, while others keep the whole house running.

Your budget is a key factor in selecting a generator. Prices, including labor when necessary, range from about $400 to $60,000 and up. You should also consider how much wattage you need and which generator styles are suitable based on your property restrictions.


Generators fit into two broad categories -- portables and stand-by or whole-house generators. Portables run on gasoline and are often connected by heavy-duty extension cords to appliances. Permits generally are not required, unless there is a switch that's professionally wired into the home. Stand-by or whole-house generators require propane or natural gas and are hard-wired into the home. Inspections and permits are required by local building departments.

Portable generators have a more affordable price and simpler set-up. The homeowner buys one, rolls it to a safe place outdoors and plugs in the appliances. Drawbacks include the need to refuel with gasoline and the limited number of appliances portables can power.

The key benefits of stand-by generators are strong power potential and relatively hassle-free start-up when the electricity goes out. The drawbacks include the expense and requirements involved with installation. Ordering, obtaining permits and installation of stand-by generators may take two to six months.

Fuel is another issue with stand-bys. If natural gas isn't available, the property needs to be appropriate for installing an outdoor propane tank.

FPL Readi-Power, a business affiliated with FPL, sells an especially powerful portable generator along with an installation package that includes professional wiring of a transfer switch, said Gayle Faath, marketing manager for Readi-Power. The PortablePowerPLUS offers substantial wattage -- enough to run a five-ton central air- conditioner, Faath said. The $5,998 price includes a 17½-kilowatt generator, gasoline containers, permits, delivery and set-up. The process usually requires about five weeks, she said.

While portables often involve running extension cords to various appliances, the PortablePowerPLUS package includes the installation of a manual transfer switch connected to the home’s electrical panel. The homeowner plugs the portable generator into the transfer switch, and then selects which appliances to power using the circuit breaker switches.


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