Considering a gas-powered standby generator

I’ve been wearing my Bo Williams Risk Analysis™ cap a fair amount for the past couple of days, and this post started life as a comment on his post Friday miscellanea, post-Alabama tornado super-outbreak edition.

Our house has gas heat and a gas set in the fireplace. I’ve been letting the latter slide in a state of disrepair. I recognize and accept this BWRA™ Demerit. It will be ready before winter 2011, which will mean redundant sources of heat. You ought to see my related GTD project list!

The option is obvious now, but it took a conversation with my dad to learn about permanent standby generators that run on natural gas and periodically test themselves. I priced them online and may be able to purchase a unit that would power most of my house, perhaps in staggered operation for heavy loads such as HVAC and dryer, for around $5k with no headaches of managing a gasoline reserve or just–in–time fuel purchases.

The last week–long outage in the area was nearly forty years ago, but sidestepping even hours–long outages due to storms, ice on power lines, drunks hitting poles, and so on is awfully appealing too. I emptied the refrigerator and freezer, and temperatures in the Huntsville area are projected to be mild. My one power–related worry is my 55–gallon cichlid tank. I turned on a battery–powered air pump, but that’s about the best I could do. I think I was a week overdue for a water change when we lost power, so staying on top of aquarium chores in the future will help there too, assuming optimistically that these hardy critters make it.

Other questions:

  • Where can I find comprehensive lists of electrical and gas outages to find whether I’m trading more–or–less equivalent problems?
  • How expensive would backup mode be?
  • Fossil fuels in general aren’t getting any cheaper, so at what gas price does such a generator become a total dud?
  • What about purification of, say, rain water?
  • I expect a crazy run on generators when we’re no longer part of the third world. What are good value metrics?
  • What other issues do I need to consider?