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Do you need an emergency generator?

An emergency generator can prevent many headaches when there's a loss of electricity for more than a few hours. However, it's important to determine what your electrical needs are, so you can select the best one, home improvement experts say.

CHECK THE WATTAGE. Generators - most of which are powered by gasoline - come in a variety of sizes and are rated by how many watts or kilowatts they produce. For example, a small generator could be rated 2,000 to 6,000 watts, enough to power a few lights, a television, a computer and a refrigerator. These generators start at about $400.

THEY SLEEP OUTSIDE. Generators should never be used indoors because they need to be well ventilated and should have at least 5 feet of space on all sides. Special heavy-duty extension cords with three-prong plugs should be used for all appliances plugged into the generator. Some generators have enough plugs for six or seven items; others may have only two plugs.

REFUELING. How long a generator will work before being refueled depends on how much wattage is being used. A 6,000-watt generator will run longer if only 1,500 watts are being used as opposed to its full capacity.

COSTLY SYSTEM. Because generators run on fuel, this cost must be factored in. One woman in Houston who was using a generator for a few days after Hurricane Ike said she was spending $57 a day on gas to power it.

STANDING BY. To power an entire household without any loss of service, the best bet is a standby generator, which kicks in automatically via a transfer switch as soon as the regular power goes out. These generators can cost from $6,000 to more than $12,000, and they must be installed by an electrician. For some, the transfer switch is included; for others, the switch must be purchased separately. Likewise, wheel kits for easy moving are not always included.

CONSIDERING CENTRAL AIR. One thing to remember is that central air-conditioning draws a lot of power, and if it's going to be used during an outage, the AC must be considered when buying a standby generator, according to Electric Generators Direct, which sells generators online. Standby generators are generally best for areas where power outages happen often.


It's also important to have emergency lighting on hand. Flashlights are usually the first line of defense, and it's important to make sure they are in working order and there is an adequate supply of batteries. Most flashlights take D or C batteries.


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