Has the Super Bowl blackout generated any ideas?


(Portable power generator | Thinkstock)

We take it on faith that more Super Bowl watchers were dismayed by the 34-minute football-viewing interruption than were alarmed by the implications of the instantly infamous power outage. Those who do stress about such matters, particularly New Orleans city officials along with Entergy, the utility company, haven’t officially identified the root cause, leading many to speculate that the power grid was overtaxed.

Yet, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other major storms that have struck the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in recent years, it’s evident that many homeowners are waking up to the fact that once power is knocked out, it’s unlikely to be rekindled in a half hour. At what point does being prepared with a backup power supply such as a home generator begin to make sense? Has the Super Bowl blackout convinced you to invest in a portable power generator?

The case for it is clear: Anyone displaced by a storm for more than a few days knows that expenses can add up quickly and inconveniences are aplenty. And anyone who works in a home office primarily knows that going without the Net is a non-starter; moreover, seating is usually limited at the nearest WiFi hotspot.

We asked Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware’s home expert, to share his homeowner recommendations. “With an investment of say $600 you can buy a portable standby generator,” he says, one powered by gas or propane. “A 5000-watt generator would have enough power to run your refrigerator, a pump if you need it, your lights. It would operate the furnace but not the air conditioner because of the draw.”

Makes sense, but there is a slight catch: Your home needs a transfer switch - installed by an electrician for about $1,000 he says - to enable the cutover to a portable power generator. “You disconnect your home from the power grid, your utility, and an electrician wires certain circuits where you plug in your generator,” Manfredini explains. “You go outside and start the generator, making sure it’s at least 20 feet away from home. And bring your home to some semblance of operation in a matter of 30 minutes or less.“

Manfredini is partial to using propane generators because, he says, if the electricity is out, your neighborhood gas station won’t be able to pump gas for you to take home and use. But unless supplies run out, you can always pick up a propane tank from a hardware, grocery or sporting goods store.

As America’s power grid grows older, Manfredini, who owns an Ace store in a Chicago suburb, is convinced that this will cause more outages and spur more homeowners to turn to portable generators to bridge gaps in the power supply. In his home he’s installed a permanent supply of natural gas to help offset a prolonged electrical outage.

After San Francisco was embarrassed by a power outage at a Monday Night Football game last fall, “officials from Entergy and the Superdome embarked on a last-minute, multimillion dollar effort to ensure such a spectacle wouldn’t be repeated at this year’s Super Bowl,” according to a report today in The Times-Picyune. Apparently, it wasn’t enough.

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