What you should know before the next time the
power goes out
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The scoop on home generators
By Jim Youngquist
[JAN. 13, 2007]
The forecast this weekend calls for freezing
rain, and remembering the last ice storm we had in the beginning of
December, I thought I would offer advice again on the issue of dealing with
You remember that ice storm. It caused the loss of electric power
for some 500,000 Ameren customers in two states, not to mention the
countless other households with other power providers that endured
the cold without power for up to seven days.
Loss of household
power is more than an inconvenience. You can't ask the 17 people who
reportedly lost their lives because of power loss. Our lives are now
constructed around the availability of electric power, and when it
goes out we seem to be helpless.
More and more this sense of helplessness sends citizens out to
their local hardware stores to purchase electric generators.
Available for as little as $299, the sales pitch says that you can
restore power to all your essential household systems. Just add
gasoline and pull the handle. Many homeowners will ignore a lot of
noise if they can just get the lights and heat back on, and maybe
watch an episode of "House" or "ER." Face it, home just isn't home
Here's the rub: Most of those inexpensive generators are ruining
the appliances and electronic items that you plug into them!
Most inexpensive generators put out filthy alternating current,
causing the appliances and electronic items to heat up. Clean
current, the kind you get from the power company, is measured in
terms of stable harmonics, represented by a sine wave.
alternating poles switch back and forth smoothly, in perfect 60
hertz frequency. Ameren states that their power is within 5 percent
harmonics under load. All your appliances and electronic items were
designed and manufactured to expect that kind of power.
Most inexpensive generators put out square wave power
rather than sine wave power. The ragged edges on the square wave
power makes electronic devices react as if direct current was being
applied rather than alternating current. The result is that the
items plugged into square wave power heat up and are usually
damaged, even if plugged in only a short time on a square wave
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Many homeowners tried putting all their household electronics and
appliances on their new little generators, and there were many
experienced plasma TVs that smoked, furnaces that popped and
computers that fizzled. Appliances suffer from shortened lives and
loss of features because of this rough, filthy square wave power.
It would be best that if you're going to invest in buying a
generator for the next power outage, consider the advice of David
Blankenship of Blankenship Electric in Atlanta:
A generator that
puts out sine wave power generally costs 30 percent to 50
percent more than square wave generators. Don't shop price, shop
Look at the manual
for the generator before you buy it. If it shows square wave
output, don't buy it.
say that they put out sine wave power at 5 percent harmonics,
but they may not put out that quality of power under load. Check
the specifications to make sure that the generator you are
considering puts out sine wave 5 percent harmonic power under
Just because a
generator says it will power your whole household during a power
outage does not mean that it will power it with healthy power.
Many popular brand names will put out square wave power and
destroy your expensive belongings.
company may not pay for appliances or electronics that are
damaged by your generator.
The next power-killing storm may not happen for years to come, we
might hope, but it is never too early to be prepared to make good
decisions for our households.