Backup power, a new must-have for homeowners

American culture has seen the cycle repeat itself many times over. Where the advent and affordability of new technologies or new systems has led to the mantra “One day every house will have it”.

Think about it. Indoor plumbing, heating throughout the house, radio, refrigeration, carpeting, television, central air conditioning and microwave ovens. It’s the short list of the last 80 years of things we didn’t have but can’t live without.

We could go on to name attached garages and high-tech wiring systems, among others over the past 50 years, to accompany thermally glazed windows with high-tech films.

So what’s the new “must-have” for every home? Guys think it’s emergency power generation.

The country faces an aging electricity infrastructure as the public becomes convinced that electric power is “clean” and totally renewable energy.

And why wouldn’t we believe it? Electricity is magic. You don’t see it, hear it, or feel it. You do not need to fill the boxes with them for future use. You just plug into an outlet and things are powered up. Homes use more electricity today than before, but the distribution system is old and underbuilt.

According to the Energy Information Agency, EIA, the average home in the United States last year used 10,715 kWh, kilowatt hours, of electricity and the average residential user paid 0.1372 cents per kWh. Consider that one kWh is equivalent to powering 10 100 watt light bulbs for one hour.

Californians pay $0.2358/kWh for residential use while Michiganians spend $0.1713/kWh, with costs seemingly rising every year. By the early 1900s, costs were actually decreasing every year due to economies of scale, dropping from an initial high of near $0.05/kWh to less than a penny per kWh.

But the truth is that most of the world’s electricity is still produced by mining and burning coal. In addition, due to our aging electrical distribution network, electricity is not an efficient fuel source. EIA data indicates that at least 5% of total electricity generated never reaches an end user. And electricity is a produced and used product. Despite all the excitement about bigger batteries, we still haven’t found an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to store excess electricity.

Power outages are becoming commonplace across the country, with Texas taking the top spot last year with 66 outages. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan consumers experience hours and days without power each year.

Combine that with the reality that stand-alone generators have come of age. Many units are built in the United States, with Wisconsin-based Generac leading the way, supplying nearly 8 out of 10 residential generators purchased.

Nearly 30% of our residential electricity consumption is for heating and air conditioning. When you realize that we also have an aging population in place, it becomes clear that uninterrupted household power supply is not a luxury, but a necessity.

When purchasing a home unit, it is important to understand that the installing contractor is as important as the type, size and brand of system you purchase.

Master Electrician Mike Bratcher, owner of Bratcher Electric in Wayne, gives us some tips on what to look for. Not every home needs a “whole house” generator, so buy a unit that powers only key circuits, such as security lighting, heating, and air conditioning.

Some home appliances will require more power to start than they need to run, so people like Bratcher will take this KVA, Kilovolt-Amp surge into account when sizing the unit to protect the motors.

Additionally, permits may be required for installation, and your electrician must provide all of them. Since these devices typically run on natural gas, it makes sense to place the generator closest to gas lines and household power lines. Gas lines or valves may need to be modified for installation to ensure that house and generator supplies are sufficient when operating.

The installer will include a transfer switch that automatically removes utility power in the event of a fault and activates backup power, then reverses when utility power is restored.

With proper sizing and installation, power loss is usually limited to seconds.

Many smaller residential units are air cooled while larger units are liquid cooled and will run quieter and for longer periods of time.

Your installing retailer might also talk about “clean” electricity as we have discussed in previous articles. Some generators will be rated with lower harmonic distortion to produce cleaner current that protects sensitive electronic equipment.

A professional installer will also offer a service contract that includes annual “check-ups” on the unit, as well as a written warranty on parts and service.

The next “must-have” for your home will add comfort and value while providing a level of peace of mind.

Be sure to use a professional like those found at

For housing advice and more, listen to Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at

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