Is a whole-house generator worth the cost? After spending a good amount of time reading articles and online threads about the question, I can say that I've at least learned what additional questions to consider....as they say, it's all about location, location, location....and comfort levels. If your lifestyle includes a well and septic system, odds are you're at least a good candidate for a generator. But even if your friendly neighborhood subdivision building code requires a sump pump, a generator might also be a most important home amenity....
After last summer's wind storms, and the early 2009 ice storm, we invested in a whole-house generator....a fully automated system with transfer switch. And although the utility service lines to our resort community home (in Hide-A-Way Hills, near the Hocking Hills Region) were buried when we built in 2005, in southeast Ohio trees are tall and electric lines are mostly overhead. Our generator is a 20kw unit (Guardian), which will run all the basics plus heat pump on one side of the design, and our electric furnace on another side. An automated system can certainly be a priceless part of your vacation home...one that kicks on immediately can save your pipes and wallet, not to mention your peace of mind when you're miles away.
Two important points here....first, it's definitely not a job for the average or weekend handyman; we'd strongly recommend a licensed electrician who knows code requirements and has a few generator installations under the belt. Second, your heating source greatly affects the generator size (and cost) you'll need or want. An electric furnace simply requires more wattage than a propane furnace; you'll find online sites where you can estimate needed generator size, but they won't necessarily ask what type of furnace you're using. Again, here's where that licensed electrician will come in real handy. I've talked with our electrician about the number of "fixes" they've done on improper generator installations.
Some of the threads I've read talked about the odds against extended power outages, noting that in the long run the cost is far above the value. Perhaps a good point, certainly affected by where one lives, but I've spent some time talking to the folks at our rural electric cooperative service provider. They've noted that while power outages have been relatively non-severe in the past decade or two, recent and future signs are now suggesting something different. In the overall community of Hide-A-Way Hills, we're looking more closely at backup generators for our lodge and/or clubhouse, along with updated emergency shelter and management.
But back to the money matter....again, a couple of points to note, anecdotal though they are: during the recent storms, motel rooms were quite difficult to find, as so many were booked for the emergency crews brought in to help. And the cost of a motel for even a couple mounts well into the hundreds of dollars after a few days....along with additional meal costs, and perhaps the need to run back and forth to get what's needed at your home.
And what about return on investment? For background, a couple of places to start online are this article at realtor.org, and another article covering 2007 cost vs. value for standby generators. It appears that the average return (upon home resale) of a whole-house generator is about 58%....and the second article notes that it might be as high as 89%. From here, even in the 60% range it's something to strongly consider....just one or two fairly extended outages will tell you why. While it's important to consider ROI, ultimately the purchase is for much larger reasons....just like the purchase of your home itself, primary or vacation.
In Hide-A-Way Hills, we're holding a public meeting for members with South Central Power on Saturday, May 16 at 10am. Presentations and discussion will involve generators (including South Central's "Generlink" option for non-whole-house generators), the overall power grid and design, tree trimming and cutting, and right-of-way issues.
©2009 ikarensell Enterprises, Inc. Doug & Karen Parker, Prudential Calhoon Company Realtors, http://ikarensell.com