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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Storms a Windfall for Generator Sales

By James Lomuscio

Westporter Carla Rea says that despite Tuesday night’s fierce, howling winds that made her cable television go out briefly, she had no fear of losing power thanks to a propane-powered, 14 kW generator installed to the tune of $12,000.

WestportNow.com Image
This 40 kW generator, which runs on natural gas, starts up instantly to power everything in this Westport home when electric service fails. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Like all permanently installed, free standing, automatic generators, Rea’s unit kicks in the second a power outage hits. She says it was well worth the price tag considering how many days she and her husband Michael Rea, a member of Westport’s Board of Finance, were left without power after Hurricane Irene in late summer and again with the October Nor’easter.

“I knew if something happened yesterday with the wind, I wouldn’t have to worry,” she said.

The Reas are just one of more 175 Westport households that have opted to put in permanent, standby generators since Hurricane Irene, according to Laurence Bradley, director of the Planning and Zoning Department.

“Usually we did three or four a month, and now we’re doing 10 to 12 sign offs a week,” said Bradley. “These are the ones that are permanently installed, not the ones you’d put in the back of a truck.”

Paul Bonomo Jr., owner of Cannondale Generators, Inc. at 390 Danbury Road in Wilton, concurred that generator sales and installations are booming for his business which services Fairfield and Westchester Counties. He said his company has averaged about 15 per week, and many of them have been in Westport.

“This is the busiest we’ve ever been, and we’ve been in business 21 years,” Bonoma Jr. said. “The October Nor’easter sealed the deal.

“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of stress,” he added.

Most permanent generators, he said, cost between $6,000 to $10,000 per household, depending up its size, run on propane or natural gas, and have an output between 10 to 20 kW. Among the makes he installs are Generac, Kohler, Cummins-Onan and Briggs & Stratton.

Portable, 5 kW generators, are considerably less, between $600 and $800 at stores such as Lowes and The Home Depot; however, they will wind up costing about $2,000 by the time a licensed electrician puts in a separate electrical panel, Bonomo said.

He added that portable generators often run on gasoline for two to three-hour periods before needing to be refilled, while propane powered ones “can go for at least three days or natural gas ones as long as the natural gas is on.”

Bonomo noted that according to the National Fire Protection Act (NFPA) code, all units must be placed a minimum of five feet from any opening to the home such as windows, doors or vents to prevent a back draft of carbon monoxide. No separate enclosure or shed is needed for a permanent generator, he said, “since they already have a weather proof enclosure.”

While generators can offer peace of mind, Rea said, getting one installed, is not as easy as the flick of a switch.

“The whole process started about two months ago, and it’s been a longer process than I expected,” said Rea, a former chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). “It was almost like having an extension put on the house.

“To have a permanent generator we had to get permits from the Conservation Commission because we’re 100 feet from a lake,” she added. “Then I had to get a signoff from the P&Z.”

According to Bradley, residents wishing units installed should come with survey and town Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps to his office during business hours, “and we will try to find staff to work with them.”

Rea said the process did not end there.

“Then I had to get an electrical contractor, and he had to get a permit from the Building Department, and they had to come out to inspect it,” she said.

“The Town Hall part was easy,” she added. “I think the toughest part was for my electrician to find the right generator because there was such a huge demand. I had to take a number.”

In addition to that, Rea said that her existing 25-gallon propane tank used for cooking was not sufficient to run her stove and the generator if the power went out.

“When the electrician was done, I had to call a plumber to hook it to the propane tank, but I also need a larger 100-gallon tank,” she said.

Rea said it has been three weeks, and she is still waiting for the larger tank to arrive. She said that when the new tank is in place, it will again require approval from the Building Department, “the final approval to have a CO (certificate of occupancy).”

“It’s been a longer process than I expected, and I’m probably never going to lose power again,” she laughed.


Posted 12/28/11 at 09:50 PM  Permalink


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Only in Westport would you have to deal with five government agencies / departments in order to install something (on your private property) to improve your quality of life.

Posted by Joe Witz on December 29, 2011 at 01:13 AM | #

The Reas sure pd. over the top for a 14k gen. installed.

Just had 17k installed; total cost is some $4,500 less.

Gues it pays to to homework.

Oh, yeah, it did take a bunch of permits.

Posted by Daniel Katz on December 29, 2011 at 11:02 AM | #

Mr. Bonomo exaggerates a bit. I got a transfer switch installed for $500 + $400 for a 5,600 watt generator (on sale, normally $700) = $900 to $1,200. The generator starts on the first pull. But some manual labor is involved.

Posted by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on December 29, 2011 at 01:02 PM | #

Would love to get a rec from Mr. Katz - I can capitalize on his homework - although I am doing some of my own, and finding prices about 6,500. for 13 kw.

Posted by mary ruggiero on December 29, 2011 at 07:01 PM | #

Mr. Pisarro, who the hell is Mr. Bonomo….am I missing something here?

Posted by Daniel Katz on December 29, 2011 at 07:39 PM | #

In the article it states: “Portable, 5 kW generators, are considerably less, between $600 and $800 at stores such as Lowes and The Home Depot; however, they will wind up costing about $2,000 by the time a licensed electrician puts in a separate electrical panel, Bonomo said.”

Posted by Nicholas Pisarro, Jr. on December 29, 2011 at 09:26 PM | #

How were the Reas able to place the generator so close to their home?  I’ve been told that zoning requires any permanent generator to be installed a minimum of 10 feet from any building.

Posted by Jim Howe on December 30, 2011 at 01:24 AM | #

...to block the view of the swing set!
I got a generator and transfer switch back in 2003 after that semi-National “cascade outage” during that hot August week.  (remember?).  Irony is, now that I have it, I’ve never lost power. Go figure?  Since it is a sizable portable one, I was able to help others.  (parents, family, friends).  If thinking of buying one, please keep in mind, the essentials are all you need.  And that is around $2500.  Camping out in your own home for a few days shouldn’t cost more than that.

Posted by Damon Conte on December 30, 2011 at 04:01 AM | #

Can the source and age/installation of the generator
shown be published?  It’s so close to a window
and the laws were very specific when our Generac
was installed last spring.  Tarala Electric installed the generator and Gault took care of the propane tank and hook up.  Both did a great job plus took care of all the paper work. Except of a once a week automatic ten minute test run the unit has not had to “strut its stuff” -  yet.

Happy New Year to all.
Janet Beasley

Posted by Janet Beasley on December 31, 2011 at 01:06 PM | #