Energy Advisor: Most Homes Don’t Need a Generator

At first glance, buying a generator seems very attractive; having a backup power source will make life more convenient during power outages – not to mention their usefulness for work and play away from the grid.

But, in reality, only a relative handful of Clark Public Utilities’ 228,000 customers would benefit from an investment in a generator.

For the vast majority of Clark County residents, a power outage is little more than an inconvenience that ends mere minutes after it begins.

“Unless your home is prone to prolonged outages or you depend on vital medical equipment, you’ll usually never get more than a few minutes of use from a generator,” the security manager said, Justin Zucconi. “In many cases, the outage will likely be over by the time they pull it out, charge it up, plug in their devices, and start it up.”

Customers who live in rural areas, where outages can sometimes last a few days at a time, can benefit from an investment in a generator. They will make life more comfortable and convenient when the power is out. Plus, they can help preserve food stored in large freezers or refrigerators.

People who depend on life-saving electronic medical equipment can also benefit, even if they live in cities. Even if never or rarely used, having backup power can be invaluable peace of mind for the medically vulnerable.

Most households can survive an outage just fine for about a day with little inconvenience. Food in the fridge or freezer can stay cold for hours, as long as the door is kept closed or ice or cold packs are added. Alternatively, perishable foods can be moved to coolers until power is restored. Barbecues or camp stoves used outdoors, not in the garage or kitchen, can work in a pinch or a breakdown could be the perfect excuse to try a new restaurant across town.

Generators are available in different sizes with varying output capacities. The best generator isn’t necessarily the biggest, rather it’s the one that will adequately power the appliances a household needs.

Appliances should be directly connected to a generator with an extension cord designed to handle the power demand – anything less is a fire hazard.

Some homeowners may want to connect a generator to the home’s electrical panel. But this should never be installed by anyone other than a professional using a transfer switch or lockout device. Giving up on these safety devices can be fatal for utility crews working on nearby power lines.

A generator improperly connected to an electrical panel can push electricity out of the house and into surrounding power lines. This back-fed electricity could kill or injure an unsuspecting lineman who touches nearby power lines while making repairs.

Generators should be away from windows, air vents, garages or carports, but never too close to the neighbor’s house. When rain is a problem, consider placing it under a gazebo or portable shelter.

Remember to turn it off before refueling and avoid spills. A hot generator engine could start a fire in the presence of gasoline.

In most cases, a car can provide many of the benefits of a generator. It can keep you warm and charge small devices. That’s why keeping a full tank of gas is another way to stay safe during a breakdown.

Energy Adviser is produced by Clark Public Utilities and draws on the expertise of energy advisors and utility personnel, who provide information on energy conservation and use. To contact us, call 360-992-3355, email [email protected] or visit

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