If you want to buy a generator: A primer

The Centurion by Generac Power Systems 10,000 Watts The Centurion by Generac Power Systems 10,000 Watts LP Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch, which is $3,000 plus installation at Lowe's, bringing the cost to about $8,500, depending on the electrician's fees. Photo Credit: Handout

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You weren't able to shower, or heat your home. You threw out all the food in your fridge. You couldn't turn on the lights or the TV for two weeks or more, and you clung to cellphone power like life itself.

Some are still without power because of superstorm Sandy. And it is expected there will be other storms in which Long Islanders are bound to lose power again.

Unless you have a generator.

An electric generator uses gasoline, liquid propane or natural gas to create electricity, says Jim Baugher, generator expert at Power Equipment Direct, an Illinois-based online power equipment company that ships nationwide without a fee. They range in wattage between 800 to 150,000, but most generators for private homes are between 3,250 to 20,000 watts, depending on a home's size and the amount of power required.

If you want your essentials -- fridge, sump pump and heat -- you'll need at least a 5,500-watt generator. Powering an entire home requires 17,000 to 20,000 watts.

As many Long Islanders have noticed, it's usually too late to get a generator after a storm hits. "People usually put projects like this off because it's not an immediate need, but it becomes an immediate need after the storm happens," says Tom Magoulas, regional service manager for The Home Depot's New York metro stores.

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Before you head to the store, decide which type of generator would be best for your home. Here's a guide:

PORTABLE GENERATOR

PRICE $500-$3,000 (You can also buy a transfer switch for an additional $500 to $900 that would connect the portable generator to your circuit box; you'd need an electrician to do this, but it would eliminate extension cords. The generator would be outside, but you'd need only one cord to connect it with the electrical panel.)

FUEL Gasoline

FUEL COST PER DAY You'll need about 10 gallons a day for a small portable generator -- so, depending on the price of gas and the size of your generator, you'll spend upward of $30 per day to power your portable generator, says Jeffrey DiLandro, president of Ocean Electric Corp. in Southampton.

PROS It's a relatively inexpensive generator. You can get one for as little as $300 (for a small, low-watt generator). You don't need a professional to install it. You can plug the appliances you want powered directly into the generator using extension cords. Then you put gas in the tank and you're good to go, Baugher says. You can use it in the rain or snow as long as it's covered from the elements by a generator shelter, which costs about $200.

CONS It doesn't switch on automatically. If you're not home when your power goes out, you may lose food in a refrigerator because it won't turn on. Since it needs to be stored in a dry space, most people keep the generator in a garage or basement, so you'll need to take it outside to use it -- and the generator could weigh 50 to 300 pounds, depending on size. It runs on gas, so you'll have to fill it daily, which may be a problem if there's a gas shortage. When the power returns, you'll have to continue to run the machine to get rid of fuel residue. If you forget to do that, you'll have a major cleaning job ahead the next time you use it, DiLandro says. These generators typically max out at 12,000 watts, so they aren't a great option if you want to power a large home, says Pete Happ, general manager at Huntington Power, a local store selling generator and emergency power systems. You'll be able to hear it running at all times. Some are difficult to start.

ON THE MARKET DuroMax XP10000E 10,000 Watt 16 HP, which is $1,500 at amazon.com.

STANDBY GENERATOR/WHOLE HOUSE GENERATOR

PRICE Starts at $8,500, including installation

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FUEL Propane or natural gas

FUEL COST PER DAY $50 to $300, depending on the size of the generator

PROS It's a permanent solution. Most standby generators, if well-maintained, will last at least 10 years. It senses loss of utility and switches over to the generator within 30 seconds. When power is restored, it senses that, too, and switches back off. You can power entire circuits or a whole electric panel, as opposed to individual appliances, says Jim Baugher, of online retailer Power Equipment Direct. It may increase the value of your home.

CONS You'll have to maintain it by changing the oil and filters annually. If it's used for five days or longer, you should service it.

ON THE MARKET Centurion by Generac Power Systems 10,000 Watts LP Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch, which is $3,000 plus installation at Lowe's, bringing the cost to about $8,500, depending on the electrician's fees.

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TRI-FUEL PORTABLE GENERATOR

PRICE $1,300 to $5,000

FUEL They can run on natural gas, gasoline or propane.

FUEL COST PER DAY It varies depending on the type of fuel you're using, but will start at $30 for a small generator.

PROS In a gasoline shortage, you can always switch to an alternate fuel, such as natural gas. All other benefits are the same as regular portable generators, with the exception of the cost.

CONS They make up less than 1 percent of portable generator sales because they are new and cost up to four times more than a similar-sized portable generator thatruns only with gasoline, says Matthew Andrews, of online company Power Equipment Direct Inc. There's very little selection because these are so new. They can also be as loud as gas portables.

ON THE MARKET Powerland 10,000-Watt 16 HP Tri-Fuel Gasoline LPG and NG Generator with Electric, which costs $1,300 at The Home Depot.

Safety first

An Oceanside woman died last week from carbon monoxide poisoning linked to a portable generator running in her home's attached garage. Here, Matthew Andrews, spokesman for the online company Power Equipment Direct Inc., offers the following safety tips:

- Portable generators must be kept outside, at least 5 to 10 feet away from any door, window or ventilation area of your home.

- The generator should never be used indoors. This includes garages with doors open because the carbon monoxide gas can collect quickly and linger for hours.

- Always point the exhaust of your generator away from your home.

- If you are using a generator, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

- Don't plug your appliances directly into the generator.

- Allow your generator to cool off before you refuel it or add oil to prevent an explosion and to protect yourself from burns.

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