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Generators 101

Residential Generator

After the extended power outages caused by Hurricane Ida, many New Orleanians are likely considering purchasing a whole-home generator. There are are many things to take into account before making that choice.

First, look at your individual situation. Hurricane evacuations are never easy for anyone, but for some (the elderly, the disabled) they can border on impossible. Metairie resident Carl Moore stayed home during Ida to care for his 96-year-old mother, an adult son who is confined to a wheelchair and a family friend who uses a walker. Moore bought a generator in June 2020. He said it worked perfectly during Ida.

“The generator was the best money I’ve spent on my home,” Moore said.

Heidi Schwartzmann’s family decided to get a generator when her mother, Sheila, needed nightly home dialysis. Power outages, even during ordinary thunderstorms, became terrifying. Evacuations were even more challenging.

“We got in a bind one time trying to evacuate and coordinate the dialysis and supplies. It was a nightmare. It could’ve ended up as a serious life or death situation. So that’s why we put [the generator] in,” said Schwartzmann.

Heidi said her mother received a kidney transplant and no longer needs dialysis, but that the generator has been “worth every single penny.” She said if you don’t get it, the cost of evacuations will add up over the years (hotels, lost food in freezer and fridge, eating out on the road). 

But some may choose not to get a generator. New Orleans resident Josh Fogarty rode out Ida in a friend’s house with a generator and while it worked well, he doesn’t plan on buying one, feeling the money spent is too much for the amount of days it would be in use. He added that if a situation arose where a generator would be needed long-term, then the living situation in the city would likely be so bad he would leave town anyway, which he did four days after Ida came ashore.

If you decide to get a generator now, be patient. Patricia Smith, owner of PEMBA Lighting, Sound, and Automation said the demand for whole-house generators is very high. As of September, she said the wait time for installation stretched until February.

Costs are also important. Moore spent around $15,000 for his generator and installation. Schwartzmann’s cost approximately $10,000. Covington resident Debbie Zimmer spent $11,433 on hers. New Orleans resident Steve Maloney said his cost approximately $8,000. Like all products, prices can vary based on the model you get. Sometimes, people need work done on their gas lines in order to install a generator, which also costs money. There are specific safety regulations that must be met which can cause installation costs to rise.

Smith recommended getting a long warranty that covers parts, labor and travel time. It’s worth it because a generator is a machine, and like any other machine, it can fail. Generators should be serviced at least once a year (every six months if it has run for several hours). The maintenance will include changing oil and filters and usually costs around $200.

If you are using your generator in an Ida-like situation, you need to change the oil. Smith said you should check oil daily in that scenario and top off if low. When purchasing, ask how often yours will require an oil change and definitely purchase oil at the start of hurricane season. 

Sadly, many people suffered from generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning in Ida’s aftermath. Generators must be placed at least five feet from the house (10 if a propane tank is being used). Carbon monoxide detectors are a must for any house, but especially one running a generator.

Lastly, if you have a generator but still evacuate, shut off the generator before leaving your home. If it runs constantly for an extended period of time without an oil change, it could cause fires and other problems. 

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