With active hurricane season ahead, do you need a generator in Florida? Here's how to decide

Do you need a generator?

That all depends and only you can really answer that question.

Does anyone in your household use a medical device requiring electricity? Without air conditioning, the elderly and young are especially prone to heat-related illness.

Do you have a refrigerator or several freezers filled with food?

Power interruptions aren't unusual in the United States and when you factor in outages caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, knowing what you can do ahead of an outage should be an important part of your disaster planning.

Here are a few things to consider.

How often does power go out in the US?

U.S. electricity customers averaged 5 and a half hours of power interruptions in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration. Floridians suffered more than triple those hours without power.

The good news is that was driven by fewer events in 2022 that knocked out power compared to 2021.

The bad news is that the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to possibly double the average number of storms, and that follows several tornadoes that have already knocked out power across areas of Florida's Panhandle and North Florida.

Florida leads US in average duration of electric interruptions

Customers in Florida lead the U.S. in 2022, suffering without electricity for 19.1 hours on average, according to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration.

In September 2022, Hurricane Ian knocked out power to more than 2.6 million customers, some for more than two weeks. Two months later, Hurricane Nicole left over 300,000 customers in Florida without power.

2024 is expected to be an extremely active hurricane season

Every prediction issued for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season has agreed: this season will be very active. Most forecasts call for more than double the average number of storms.

The National Hurricane Center released its season predictions Thursday, May 23. The agency is predicting 17-25 named storms, eight to 13 hurricanes and four to seven major hurricanes.

How many could hit Florida? Colorado State University forecasters looked at hurricane tracks from 1880 to 2020 and predicted there's a 96% chance Florida could be impacted by a named storm in 2024.

Do you need a generator? 8 reasons why you should buy a generator

  • Do you live in a storm-prone area? In Florida, the answer is definitely yes.

  • Weather-related power outages can last for hours or days or even weeks.

  • Without a generator, if there's a power outage, you won't have water if you have a well.

  • Food can spoil in as little as four hours.

  • Some medications require refrigeration.

  • You have a medical device requiring electricity.

  • You'll be able to run essential appliances and lights.

  • Depending on the size of your generator, you may be able to run anywhere from a window air conditioning unit to cooling your whole house.

Should you buy a portable or 'standby' generator?

Portage and home standby generators do the same thing: they provide electricity when your power goes out.

Portable generators are:

  • Cheaper.

  • Portable, although bulky.

  • Can run a few basic appliances and lights. Depending on size, some can handle a window air conditioner.

  • Run on gasoline so you can fill cans yourself but depending on the price of gas, this could get expensive. You also need to store those gas cans. A few portable generators can run on liquid propane, natural gas, or diesel fuel.

  • Require you to manually turn them on and can only be turned on when it's safe to do so.

  • Larger ones can be connected to an electrical panel via a transfer switch, but still have to be turned on manually. Some require extension cords to run from the generator to the appliances or lights you want.

  • Portable generators can be deadly if they're run inside or too close to your home.

  • They need to be protected from the elements when you do run them outside your home.

  • Noisy.

Standby generators are:

  • More expensive.

  • Installed permanently outside your home by a professional.

  • Hooked directly into your home by an electrician, usually with automatic transfer switches.

  • Insulated housing makes them relatively quiet.

  • Can run anything from lights and a refrigerator to an air conditioner for the entire home, depending on size purchased.

  • Run on either natural gas, diesel, or liquefied petroleum.

  • Often require a large tank that needs to be refilled by an authorized dealer. When filling an entire tank, this could be expensive.

  • They can operate for days or weeks on a full whole-house propane tank or indefinitely in the case of a natural gas version if there are no interruptions to service.

  • Can be set up to automatically come on when power goes out, even in the middle of a storm.

Pros and cons: Portable vs home standby generators

Consumer Reports provided a pro vs con guide to help homeowners decide which generator is best for them. Its findings include:

Home standby generators

Power output: 8,000 to 20,000 wattsPrice range: $2,000 to $5,000Fuel needs: 13 to 48 gallons of liquid propane or natural gas per day

  • Pros: "Home standby generators are largely worry-free. They’re typically sized to power an entire house and they turn on automatically. They can run for days or weeks without refueling, they tend to be very quiet, and you don’t need to fuss with weather covers or canopies."

  • Cons: "Home standby generators are pricier to buy, and installation costs can range from a few thousand dollars to $10,000 or more. That’s because you might need an electrician plus subcontractors who can handle the plumbing for a gas or propane line and build a steady permanent base for the generator. They’re also reasonably large, so you need space for them on the side or back of your house."

Portable generators

Power output: 3,000 to 8,500 wattsPrice range: $400 to $1,500Fuel needs: 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline per day

  • Pros: "Portable generators are much cheaper to buy and install. When connected to your home’s circuit-breaker panel with a transfer switch, they can power almost as much as a home standby generator. They have built-in outlets for suitable extension cords if you haven’t installed a transfer switch."

  • Cons: "You need to wheel your generator out of storage, connect it to your transfer switch, and fire it up each time there’s an outage. Portable models also require you to store large quantities of gasoline, mixed with fuel stabilizer, to get through a prolonged outage. They tend to be noisier and have lower output than home standby models, too."

How much do generators cost?

Models range from small units that start at about $450 and can power a single appliance to whole-house or home standby generator that can cost upward of $25,000 (including installation) and power an entire house, according to Consumer Reports and Forbes.

How do you decide what size generator to buy?

According to Consumer Reports, based on running wattage, here's what you can run (based on appliance averages). For exact wattage of your appliances, look at your owners manual.

  • Up to 2,000 watts: Refrigerator (700 watts), laptop (200 watts), five to 10 lights (250 watts), smartphone charger (20 watts), home security system (100 watts), TV (100 to 150 watts).

  • Up to 3,500 watts: Refrigerator (700 watts), laptop (200 watts), five to 10 lights (250 watts), smartphone charger (20 watts), home security system (100 watts), TV (100 to 150 watts).

    • It will also run a 10,000-btu air conditioner (1,000 watts) or one of the following: toaster oven (1,200 watts), hair dryer (1,200 watts), washing machine (1,200 watts), space heater (1,500 watts), coffee maker (1,000 watts).

  • Up to 7,500 watts: Refrigerator (700 watts), laptop (200 watts), five to 10 lights (250 watts), smartphone charger (20 watts), home security system (100 watts), TV (100 to 150 watts), 10,000-btu air conditioner (1,000 watts).

    • It will also run a well pump (1,250 watts), sump pump (900 watts), and gas or propane furnace (800 watts) or one of the following: 8-inch burner on an electric range (2,000 watts), dishwasher (1,500 watts).

  • Up to 20,000 watts: Everything under the roof.

How dangerous are portable generators?

Portable back-up generators produce the poisonous gas carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that kills without warning. Each year, more than 400 people in the U.S. die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 100,000 visit the emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

  • Always use a generator outside, a minimum of 20 feet from your home, with the exhaust directed away from the house. Do not run it inside your garage.

  • Make sure it is well away from windows, doors and air conditioning units.

  • Make sure your house has a working carbon monoxide detector on every level.

Florida sales tax holiday could help you save money on portable generator

Florida's disaster preparedness sales tax holiday will happen twice in 2024, with the first two-week period starting June 1.
Florida's disaster preparedness sales tax holiday will happen twice in 2024, with the first two-week period starting June 1.

Florida will have two, two-week sales tax holidays to help residents prepare for disasters.

When are the 2024 sales tax holidays for storm hardening?

  • June 1-June 14

  • Aug. 24-Sept. 6

Among the items that will be tax free during the Disaster Preparedness sales tax holiday are portable generators costing $3,000 or less.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida power outages: Do you need portable, standby generator?