Do you travel with a pet? We do. Do you need an accessible roll-in shower or other handicap bathroom accommodations where you overnight? We do. When you travel, do you make dinner reservations two weeks ahead of time? We do. When you travel, do you find out if any of the places you are hoping to visit will need reservations for certain hours? We do. When you travel, do you wear slippers to get through security and pack special little bitty liquids? We do.When you travel, do you reserve a wheelchair and attendant so you are still upright and alive by the time you reach your destination? We do.
Wow, what a change travel planning is today from the days when we were young! When I was a kid at home with my parents, when we vacationed, we drove there. And there were no seat belts in the cars. Why, I even remember sleeping a little while — in the back window well that was flat enough and I was small enough — until I got my second wind and woke up to new scenery and new smells. The car was not air conditioned and with the windows rolled down, we could smell farms, farm animals, rivers, lakes, and even road kill. We got up very early in the morning to start, or sometimes my dad would start out driving very late at night to avoid the traffic. But we didn’t make reservations. If you are old enough, you might remember neon “Vacancy” and “No Vacancy” signs that lit up the motel signs along the road even during the day. That determined where we would stay overnight. When the vacancy signs started to indicate that there were no vacancies, that’s when we would begin to slow down and choose where to stay before the motels all got filled up.
We didn’t do an internet search looking for ratings and reviews of lodgings. We chose by sight. Do we want a pool? Do we want a restaurant near by? Do we want a picnic bench or Adirondack chairs on which to rest outside? Make sure we see air conditioners in the windows. That was a necessity when traveling in the summer, especially in the Midwest U.S.! I don’t know what the overnight cost was, but it was rare that we needed to wheel in a folding bed for me. There usually were two beds, not queen size, but doubles, and Mom and Dad slept in one bed and me in another. Today, DH and I prefer king size beds, but we “make do” with queens.
Dinners and other meals out were exotic to me as a kid. I chose special items from the menu, like hamburgers and chocolate sundaes. Once we drove to Colorado because my dad wanted to drive up Pike’s Peak. I remember stretching my parents’ good nature by ordering shrimp cocktail for dinner. “Honey, we are so far away from the ocean that it will cost $5 just for this cocktail! And you will still be hungry. Don’t you want something else? When we drive to one of the coasts, we’ll all order shrimp cocktail!” It is probably a prime indication of how spoiled I was, but I think I still ordered the shrimp cocktail. Today, we check on the web for best restaurants and ask the hotel concierge for their recommendations. We keep our favorites on our cell phones so we can repeat when we return. We rarely “experiment,” and we cherish a quiet nondescript tea time with cookies.
I also remember just showing up at places like the Wisconsin Dells, all the State capitols, Ozark resorts, indoor and outdoor venues, and rarely needing a ticket, much less a reservation days in advance. We have a friend that we go with to Branson and Las Vegas and she reserves everything in advance so that we can see a couple of performances each day and fit in all our favorites. Great fun but a lot of time to prepare and schedule!
Then air conditioning was installed in everything and every place, even the South. Air ports in the South used to be open air affairs with a luggage carousel under a shaded awning for pick up. Then air travel advanced to jet travel. Airports became transportation nightmares to drive to and through. Just trying to figure out which terminal to drive to became a hassle when you didn’t know if the nearest parking facility would have space for your car. I welcome the colored lights that now tell you how many more spaces there are in the parking lot and whether the space you are aiming at is empty or not.
“Security” has replaced comfort. I remember waiting in long lines to tour pavilions and take rides at World’s Fairs when I was young. The only thing like them today is Walt Disney World and Epcot Center, and there are rarely lines there. I don’t remember the lines being such a bad thing. We got to meet people, talk with them about where they were from, exchange addresses in anticipation of exchanging visits. I remember waiting in lines within general eyesight of my parents so they could sit down while I stood in line. I would have been able to wait out of sight if I had been one of two or more children (the only time I wanted to have a sister or brother) or if we had cell phones in those days. I don’t remember being scared of being out of ear shot of my parents, or of being abducted, or other horrible thing because I was small or a child. I don’t remember being warned by my parents not to go off with strangers, but they may have. I remember being scared of my baby sitters because they threatened to spank me. I remember being scared of some of my teachers because they never smiled and that my music teacher used a ruler to keep the beat as I played the piano. I don’t remember being scared of nameless, faceless stuff, until I started watching horror movies and other shows with my mom in my teens (like “The Fly,” science fiction movies, Rod Serling shows Twilight Zone.) I’m not saying it was safer back then. We just didn’t know any better, I guess. But it was a lot easier to just fill a bag and go…that’s what I miss.
What do you miss? What do you wish were easier? What do you think could be improved?
Our guest author today is Jake Hyet, a tree expert from Canopy Tree felling Sydney and canopytree.com. He tells us about the 6 mistakes we might make about cutting down, or “felling” a tree, and how to avoid them:
Mistake 1: Thinking you can take down a tree yourself
Tree felling is the method used in cutting down a standing tree. It necessitates using a professional tree service like Canopy Tree felling Sydney, because of the skill and cautious planning involved. Trying to bring down a tree when you don’t have the proper experience can lead to serious injury and even death. Don’t take the chance. Hire a professional to do the job. Shenandoah says that taking down a tree is an expensive proposition, costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars, more than the cost of planting one!
Mistake 2: Thinking that cutting down the tree is your only option
There are many valid reasons for removing a tree from your property, severe storm damage being one of them, but there are times when removing a tree when it isn’t really necessary can have adverse results. One of these times is if the tree can be saved. If the tree has a treatable disease or pest problem, the property owner shouldn’t just assume that having it removed is their only choice. Hiring a tree service like Canopy Tree, which has a certified arborist on staff can help you determine the overall health of the tree and also come up with possible treatments that can save the tree and restore it to good health. Shenandoah says that a good arborist can save a tree that looks hopeless to the average homeowner, a tree that is worth thousands of dollars!
Mistake 3: Not accounting for the energy savings a tree provides
Now here’s something you probably didn’t think of if you’re considering removing a tree. Having a large tree near your house which produces a good deal of shade can lower your air conditioning bill. All that shade can make a big difference in the temperature inside the house, so you need to use less energy to cool it.
While it is true that trees can help reduce a utility bill significantly, professional tree services will tell homeowners they also need to think about how trees are a benefit in the winter time by acting as a windbreak. The north side of the house is the best spot to plant evergreens. They can really help to reduce the icy cold of winter by blocking the north winds, which can also reduce your heating bill.
Mistake 4: Not thinking of the value of the tree to the overall property value
Before you remove that tree you’ve been thinking about getting rid of, ask yourself this question. Does the tree enhance the appearance of your home? If so, then it also increases the value of your home and you might want to reconsider cutting down. Attractive, healthy trees will instantly pull the eye to the house and its character. Property which is nicely landscaped with trees will always receive a higher price when selling it than a lot without trees or rangy, poorly maintained trees.
Mistake 5: Not considering the privacy a tree can provide
Trees not only can help save energy, they can also supply privacy, especially for homes situated on small lots. Don’t make the mistake of removing a tree by sending for Canopy Tree felling Sydney only to find that you are now more exposed to your neighbors and the entire neighborhood. You might not like it. Shenandoah mentions that their next door neighbors removed five or six white pines that were treasures to her backyard providing shade and hiding views of her nearest neighbor’s deck and pool. Now she has to plant some kind of sight barrier to restore visual peace to her and her visitors.
Mistake 6: Not accounting for special meaning to your tree
If the tree in question has some special meaning to you; perhaps it was a gift from someone important to you or planted in memory of a loved one, or maybe you’re just plain fond of it, you don’t have to cut it down. Just call a professional tree surgeon and they will advise you on whatever the problem is and what to do to keep your tree.
Have you made these mistakes or others that we haven’t thought about? Please share with us in comments below.
This is an update to our post about installing a standby generator for our home. It has been edited to provide more stand-alone information without having to read our other posts (unless you want to see photos of more of the process). It has been reorganized to emphasize the set of decisions that you should make or ask about before undertaking this rather large undertaking. We have also added some estimated cost figures to give you a ball park estimate of what the total job might require in time and money.
It is one of our most popular articles, so we thought as we entered the fall and winter season with its inevitable weather power outages, readers might want to be familiar with what the tasks are of installing a whole house standby generator.
We are so happy!
We finally did it! We declared independence from our local electrical utility! We installed a whole house standby generator. When the utility shuts down because of bad weather — not just winter, but for us this year, summer too — we can now flick a switch and generate our own electricity to run our whole house! What a blessing and mental comfort! Okay, it is like insurance — you hope you never have to use it — but every time we have had an outage, we have thumped ourselves on our foreheads, and asked why we didn’t take action to be able to live comfortably and have electricity for the multiple hours, days, or even weeks without power.
A standby generator may seem like a luxury unless you live on a well like us. Then it is a necessity. Without water, you can’t flush, you can’t bathe, and you can’t even brush your teeth. Also, this summer’s power outage was during record-breaking heat. and without air conditioning, we needed daily (or more frequent) baths.
So this post is about the steps we took to research what we needed, to purchase equipment, and to have it installed and up and running. Please comment with any questions you might have about the process, and we will attempt to answer all inquiries and comments. I have other posts about why we bought a generator, and the particular decisions we made to select and install the one we now have, so read those too if you have questions about what we did and why.
But first, an overview of what is involved
You will need to buy, obviously, a generator and engine to power it. This is sometimes referred to as a “GENSET.” Here, I’ll just refer to the unit as a generator. We have heard of people who saw a sale on generators and bought one without knowing what they needed or wanted. DO NOT PURCHASE YOUR GENERATOR WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE FOLLOWING:
Decision 1: who will you use to install and wire your generator?
I cannot stress enough the importance of the installer. Do not just get a licensed electrician, but someone who has installed a whole-house generator before, preferably your type and brand, and who has good references for this work. See step 1 below — this may be the only step you have to take in the installation.
Decision 2: what fuel will you use to power your generator?
You will have to decide whether you want a propane, natural gas, gasoline, or diesel powered generator. This may be a decision made for you as to what is available in your geographic area. For example, we had no access to natural gas in our neighborhood, and if we chose propane as a generator fuel, we would have to have had a propane tank installed. We chose diesel to power our generator since it is a fuel that is also a lubricant and the estimated lifetime of diesel generators is double that of a propane or gasoline generator.
Decision 3: how much electrical power do you want or need to generate?
You will need to determine how much power you will need, expressed in Kilowatts (Kw) to run whatever it is you want to supply power to when your utility power is down. If this seems like a daunting task, ask your installer to help you make this calculation, but decide what appliances and devices you need and want to run during a power outage so the installer can make the calculations for you.
This will be the most expensive part — but not the only part — of what is needed to supply auxiliary power to your house. Depending upon its size, it can cost from $2,000 to more than $15,000 USD. No, this is not a small generator. It is a WHOLE HOUSE generator.
Decision 4: do you want a switch that automatically or manually switches your electrical supply from your main utility to your backup generator?
No matter what decision you make here, have a licensed electrician install the transfer switch. The purpose of the transfer switch is to switch the source of power from the utility to the generator in a manner such that your generated power does not go out through the utility line. This is called “back feed,” another term you might run into. Back feed can electrocute linemen or -women working on what are supposed to be uncharged lines.
This is the part that takes this job out of the DIY realm. The transfer switch must be installed between your electric meter and circuit breaker box. For this part of the installation, power must be cut before it enters the house. Your electrician will know what must be done and how to do it without getting electrocuted – or find another electrician!
When you look for a transfer switch (if you are doing the purchasing yourself) you want to search for those that are “SUSE rated.” “SUSE” just means that the switch is “Suitable for Use as Service Entrance” – in other words, it can handle the high voltages carried by utility and generator lines.
Additional Costs to Consider:
How many switches you will need: Your decision as to whether to use an automatic or manual transfer switch will determine whether you or your installer also purchase
an automatic or manual transfer switch (from $1000 to $2500 USD with the automatic switch costing more than manual), and
if you chose a manual transfer switch, whether you will also want to purchase an “auto start switch” for the generator ($300 to $500 USD) so that you can start your generator remotely (for example, we had a switch installed inside the house even though the generator is installed outside.) Our installer selected and sourced the necessary switches.
Some generator manufacturers split the auto start panel components between the generator and their own (proprietary) automatic transfer switch. This might limit your selection of transfer switches, and other options.
How much wire you will need: Finally, in regard to other expenses (other than the labor to get all of this done!) will be the wire that carries power from the generator to the transfer switch. In some instances, depending upon what the distance is from the generator to your main electrical panels bringing electricity into your house, this cost can be several hundred dollars. For example, we installed our generator at the back corner of our garage and the main electrical panel was at least 75 feet away from this location.
Have a reinforced concrete pad ready to support the generator: Although some lighter generators might not need a pad installed to support its weight, you should factor in the cost of installing one. A 6” thick reinforced pad should be able to support all but the largest generators. We have seen thicker and taller pads in Florida where they get a lot of water. Your supplier and contractor can best advise you on this. This can be a DIY project, but we paid to have one installed.
It took only a day to install the pad, but the cement needed to cure, so the generator could not be installed for several more days. This gave us time to order the generator and have it shipped to us. After the generator was delivered, it took less than a week to move it onto its pad and have the necessary panels installed and electrical connections to the switches and motor made.
So some installers estimate a total cost of as low as $8,000 – $10,000 for a small house generator and installation. We spent closer to $18,000 total for purchase and installation of pad, generator, switches, block heater, etc. because of the size of the generator.
We have had our system for nearly 2 years. We have had several outages in both summer and winter to use it and couldn’t be happier. We set a monthly reminder to run the system under load for about 30 minutes (using air conditioning, heating, washer, dryer, etc.). We buy off-road diesel (saving the road taxes) and keep a supply of about 90 gallons in 5 gallon carboys, a 25-gallon tank, and a on-board 25-gallon tank for running the generator. This provides us with at least 72 hours of continuous operation before we have to purchase more fuel. We have always gotten utility service back on before running out of diesel fuel.
Steps to Install Whole House Generator:
1. This is not a DIY project. Select your installer carefully!
This is probably the most important step in the process you will take. Get references, and make sure the installer has installed your generator before. Make sure the installer applies for all the required permits.
You don’t want the installer to be learning on your installation. However, be aware that every installation has some customization associated with it, because it is being adding to an existing structure, so there might be some issues that will come up as installation proceeds, so factor that into installation time. Much of the installation is electrical and most jurisdictions require a licensed electrician to do the installation. Gas (natural or propane) powered generators also require specialized installation, including how much natural gas is available to the generator and how and where storage tanks for propane are located.
Some installers will take care of all the other steps listed below, making this step the only one you need to take to getting a generator installed. Even in this case, you will still want to know the steps below so that you are aware of what is involved, what questions your installer will want you to decide, and why an installation costs what it costs. We selected an installer who had previous experience installing a diesel generator with manual start and remote start capabilities. He added the options we wanted to the generator and built the support pad. Because he also is a general contractor, he could work through the issues we wanted to address in an even more customized way than might suit the average homeowner.
Also, make certain that the suppliers of your equipment (generator and switches) have technical support numbers not only for you to consult, but also, just as important, for your contractor to consult.
2. Determine what type of engine will power your generator
There are many types of standby generator engines:
gasoline engine (generally only small ones generators, rarely large enough to run a whole house);
natural gas or propane engine (very convenient if you already have gas heat or access to natural gas or propane); and
For those of you interested in a propane-powered engine, there is a great blog on a residential installation here.
We chose a diesel generator because
we did not have access to natural gas
we would have had to have a propane storage tank installed, and
from research we did, it did not appear that propane generators would last as long as diesels.
3. Determine what size of engine you need
The size of engine you will need depends upon how much of your house you want to power simultaneously. We used Kohler’s web site to calculate what we needed in power. There are other websites that will help you in your calculations, and remember that not every appliance needs to be powered in an emergency. Be sure to figure in your heat in the winter, AC in the summer, and refrigerator, freezer and water heater (if electric) year round. If you have a well and sump or extractor pumps, these will be necessities that you will have to have powered. You will want to be able to see at night, so lighting will be a must, but you might not need the washer/dryer, dishwasher, or even oven, if you have a counter top toaster oven and microwave with which to heat food. Don’t forget other motors that you might need (garage door openers?), or that might come on automatically and that you might not think about. The amount of power they need to start is much higher than what they use while running.
Remember that many of your electronic devices run in the background and use electricity even when switched off. The amount of electricity used is small, but don’t forget to add that in. You can generally bet that this is the case for TVs, computers, cordless phones, and anything with a remote control. In the summer, you might be able to give up air conditioning and use fans. But if you have any medical equipment or devices that run on electricity, be sure to add them also to what you need (CPAP machines, oxygen?). Electric blankets in the winter might be a necessity for one family, and completely optional for another.
In our calculations, we found that we needed about a 14 Kw generator to run everything in our house. However, because a 14 Kw generator would have had to be shipped from California (with us paying the freight), we ended up buying a larger generator from North Carolina that cost the same amount after figuring in freight. We can run both whole-house air conditioners at the same time because of this extra power!
4. Determine whether you want an automatic or manual switch to disconnect from the power company and turn on the generator when you lose electricity from your utility
There are pros and cons with either decision.
Pros for automatic start — If you happen to be gone for a few days, having the generator start automatically when you lose power will be good so that when you come home, you will not have lost food because the refrigerator warmed up or the freezer defrosted. That would require an autostart panel for the engine, and an auto transfer switch for the power. Obviously in the winter, having heat while you are gone will prevent other problems such as frozen plumbing pipes.
Cons for automatic start — It will be necessary to pick which appliances, circuits, etc. will be powered by the generator and which will not be, so they can be wired correctly for automatic start up, or so that you can turn the circuit breakers off for those things you do not want to run. Another alternative is to have a list of appliances that you will turn off when leaving the house in case the power goes out and the generator has to turn on.
Also, you will need to make sure that you have enough fuel to run the generator as long as you might be gone if you have auto-start. This might not be a concern with natural gas, but will be with propane, diesel, or gasoline. With propane, your fuel supplier might be able to refuel during a weather emergency while you are gone. With diesel or gasoline, you might be stuck with refueling yourself, so you need to know what size your fuel tank is for the engine that powers your generator, and how long that fuel will last when the generator is powering your house (or the few devices that you must have powered while you are away). It will burn less fuel when only running a few devices as compared with running everything in the house. You can have your unit modified to have more fuel made available to it, or have someone come to check on the fuel level while you are away, and refuel the engine if necessary.
Pros for Manual Start — You will not have your generator running unnecessarily if you are gone for an extended period and the power goes out. You can switch on and off the appliances and other devices as needed before starting your generator. For example in our house, we might need only the second floor air conditioning if it is summer and the power goes off at night, but need both furnaces to run if it is winter and the power goes off day or night.
Cons for Manual Start — If you decide to manually switch over to your standby generator, you might need to drain your house’s plumbing if you are going to be away for any length of time, especially in the winter. But you won’t run out of fuel while you are gone!
If you do decide to have a manual start switch to turn your generator on, it might be very bad weather outside to which you will be exposing yourself to start the generator. One way to avoid this is to install a switch inside the house to turn on the generator outside.
Either of these switches, whether manual or automatic, are usually located next to the incoming power supply box that houses the fuses or circuit breakers for each room, appliance, etc. Because we have relatives who might use the generator while we are out, we have written up instructions as to how to switch off from the power company, turn the generator on, and refuel, all with photos and placed in a plastic sleeve hanging from the basement panel that is command central for operations.
Below is shown the manual transfer switch in our basement. Whether automatic or manual, the switch can be quite large, so space will be needed to mount it on a wall. Automatic transfer switches are much larger than manual ones, and much more expensive!
5. Determine where you will locate the generator
Most standby generators are intended to be located out of doors. This is especially important for gasoline or diesel powered generators, because they generate fumes (carbon monoxide fumes are hazardous to your health. Whole house generators are large and heavy items, best located on reinforced concrete pads. Find out the weight of your selected generator, and plan and prepare its location accordingly. Be aware that some generators are quite noisy, so much so that you and your neighbors may be bothered by the engine noise. Some generators are specifically designed with extra insulation and other design features to be quiet.
6. If you decide to have a manual switch to turn on the generator, decide where you are willing to turn on the generator
If you have a switch that will turn on your generator automatically when you lose power, you will not have to decide how you are going to turn on the generator, it will turn on automatically, and if you have an auto-transfer switch, it will begin delivering power to your house automatically. If you decide to have a switch that you manually control to turn on the generator, it will be convenient to get a switch installed inside your house or garage to turn on your generator so that you don’t have to go outside during inclement weather to start up the engine that powers the generator. Note that for some generators you might need to purchase and install an auto-start panel to permit remote starting.
7. Determine if there are other considerations that will require extra equipment to conveniently run your generator
For example, we decided to install a diesel powered generator, and diesel engines can be hard to start in very low temperatures, so we had a block heater installed that supplies continuous heat to the engine when it is very cold outside. We also added a thermostatically controlled switch to this line so the block heater will only come on when it is cold and won’t run in warm weather. Additional modifications or additions might be to add a larger fuel tank to the engine or install an auxiliary fuel tank near the generator to provide continuous fuel delivery for a longer period without manually adding fuel (important for gasoline or diesel engines.)
8. Determine whether there is a maintenance schedule for your generator and follow it
Some generator engines require exercise regularly to make sure they will start up when needed (remember, you might not need emergency power for months or even years), and keep internal mechanisms and seals lubricated. This regular exercise might be automatic if you have an auto-start system from electrical utility to generator, or it might be something you have to initiate on a monthly or quarterly basis on your own. Be sure to find out whether you need to do anything manually on a regular basis, and set an appointment with yourself if this is the case. Also be certain you can control the timing of the maintenance schedule. You probably would not want the engine to start up at 3:00 am and possibly awaken you and your neighbors!
If you have a generator, what items have you needed that we have not mentioned? If you don’t have a generator and are thinking about installing one, if you have questions or comments, please leave them and we will respond!