The Inside Outside Guys: Standby power a new must-have for homeowners

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
Special to The Detroit News

The American culture has seen the cycle repeat itself many times. Where the advent and affordability of new technology or systems led to the mantra, “Someday, every house will have it.”

Think about it. Indoor plumbing, whole-house heating, radio, refrigeration, wall-to-wall carpeting, television, central air-conditioning and microwave ovens. That is the short list from the past 80 years of things we didn’t have but now can’t do without.

Most residential standby generators run on natural gas or propane, and they are professionally wired into a home's electrical system.

We could go on, naming attached garages and high-tech wiring systems among others in the past 50  years to go along with thermal-pane windows with high-tech films.

So, what is the new “must-have” for every home? The Guys believe it is standby power generation.

The country is dealing with an aging electrical infrastructure while the public is being convinced that electrical energy is “clean” energy and totally renewable.

And why wouldn’t we believe it? Electricity is like magic. You don’t see it or hear it or smell it. You don’t have to fill cans with it for future use. You simply plug into a receptacle and things are powered. Houses use more electricity today than they ever have before, but the delivery system is old and under-built.

According to the Energy Information Agency, EIA, the average home in the U.S. last year used 10,715 kWh, kilowatt-hours, of electricity and the average residential user paid $0.1372 cents per kWh. Think of a kWh as powering 10, 100-watt light bulbs, for one hour.

Californians pay $0.2358/kWh for residential use while Michiganians spend $0.1713/kWh, with the costs seeming to rise annually. Back in the early years of 1900, costs actually decreased each year due to the economy of scale from an initial high near $0.05/kWh down to less than a penny per kWh.

But the truth of the matter is that most of the world’s electricity is still generated by mining and burning coal. Additionally, due to our aging electrical distribution network, electricity is not an efficient fuel source. EIA data indicates at least 5% of the total electricity generated never gets to an end user. And electricity is a make it and use it product. Despite all the excitement regarding bigger batteries, we still have not found an Earth-friendly and cost-efficient way to store excess electricity.

Power outages are becoming a common occurrence throughout the country, with Texas holding the No. 1  spot last year at 66 outages. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan consumers annually experience hours and days without power.

Combine this with the reality that self-contained generators have come of age. A lot of units are built in the U.S. with Wisconsin-based Generac leading the way, supplying nearly 8 in 10 residential generators purchased.

Nearly 30% of our residential electrical consumption is for heating and cooling. When you realize we also have an ageing-in-place population, it becomes obvious that uninterrupted home power supplies are not a luxury, but a necessity.

When shopping for a home unit, it is important to understand the installing contractor is as important as the type, size and brand of system you buy.

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 you may purchase a unit that only powers key circuits, say for safety lighting, heating and cooling.

Some home appliances will demand more power at start up than they need to run, so folks like Bratcher will consider this KVA, Kilovolt-Amp, surge when sizing the unit to protect motors.

Additionally, permits may be required for the install and your electrician should supply them all. Since these devices will generally operate using natural gas, placement of the generator closest to gas lines and home electrical lines makes sense. Gas lines or valves may need to be modified for the install to make sure both the house and the generator supplies are sufficient when in operation.

The installer will include a transfer switch that automatically shuts down utility power in an outage and turns on standby power, then reverses when utility power is restored.

With proper sizing and installation, loss of power is usually limited to a few 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 a lower harmonic distortion to produce cleaner current that protects sensitive electronic equipment.

A professional installer will also offer a service contract providing annual “checkups” on the unit, as well as 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.

Make sure you use a professional like those found at

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