Demand for home generators, along with ingenuity, increases after the winter frost


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Frank Paul never wanted to be without power again after losing power and heat for 12 hours during the February frost. He knew hurricane season was on the way.

So Paul, 46, went shopping, looking for a 9,400-watt Firman three-fuel generator that could run on gasoline, natural gas or propane and power his entire Cypress home. He called his local Costco and asked the manager if the store had the $ 800 generator in stock.

“He started to laugh,” said Paul.

Generators are still in high demand in Texas, which has its fair share of hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes, but extended outages during the February frost have swelled demand. Consumers say popular generator models are hard to find, flying off the shelves almost as soon as they arrive.

Electricians say they have a backlog of customers waiting to install generators, as memories of the winter storm that plunged millions of Texans into freezing darkness and caused nearly 200 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage remain raw.

“People really don’t trust the government and elected leaders to provide basic necessities anymore,” said Paul. “At the end of the day, you have to have a backup plan.”

Data on generator sales is scarce and comparisons between 2020 and 2021 are skewed by the pandemic. Anecdotally, however, consumers have said that some brands of generator sets, such as the Firman three-fuel generator set, are often sold out in stores.

Generator sales, particularly during the Texas sales tax holiday for emergency supplies in April, were particularly strong this year, retailers and consumers said.

Harbor Freight Tools, a California-based equipment retailer that sells its Predator-branded portable generator set, declined to release exact numbers but said it saw a “modest to healthy” increase in its portable generator sales across the country. Texas following the winter storm. While some customers are buying portable generators for camping and tailgating, the California retailer said others are buying its generators as back-up power in an emergency.

The company said it saw an increase in generator sales during the Texas tax holiday for emergency supplies in April.

“We have seen a general interest in our line of portable generators,” said Harbor Freight spokesperson Craig Hoffman. “It’s reasonable to assume that storms have increased the desire for home backup generators. “

DIY generators

Even before the frost, generators that could power entire homes, like those made by Generac and Kohler, were in high demand. These backup generators typically cost over $ 10,000 and have maintenance costs of around $ 25 per month.

Some buyers would wait a few months or more to get one.

After the winter storm in February, many Houstonians opt for a do-it-yourself home generator setup. They buy portable generators that can run on natural gas and hire plumbers to connect the natural gas line to power their generators. Some require electricians to install special hookups that feed the generator directly to wall outlets and hardwired light fixtures, eliminating the need to run separate wires from the generator throughout the house.

These jury-rigged home generator setups can cost less than $ 2,000 to buy and install, a fraction of the price of traditional whole-home generators. If installed by professional electricians and plumbers, these DIY setups are legal and code compliant. Homeowners can maintain and repair portable generators themselves and easily take them with them when they move.

These DIY home generators are gaining popularity after a man from Sugar Land gained attention by powering his home with a similar setup during the February frost.

In Katy, a man used his Ford F-150 gasoline-electric hybrid truck to power his home during the storm. The truck’s gasoline engine charged the vehicle’s electric battery, which supplied power to the house. Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning has a similar feature, allowing owners to power their homes for three days using the truck’s battery.

During the winter storm, Brian Milan used a Firman three-fuel generator to power his nearly 3,700 square foot home in Cypress for 64 straight hours. The Louisiana Registry said her $ 1,500 generator setup was able to power her washer and dryer, heater and all the lights inside her home.

After sharing his experience with some neighbors, he decided to start a Facebook group to help others install DIY generators. The group, called “Generators: Portable Generators to Power Your Whole Home,” has more than 800 members across the Houston area. Milan said around 90 people came to his home for demonstrations.

“I had no problem with the gel,” said Milan. “The only downside was that we didn’t know when the power was back on. “

New job

Before the winter storm, master electrician Glen Searcy said his typical workday consisted of installing ceiling fans and recessed lights and troubleshooting wall outlets that were no longer working. These days the Northwest Houston electrician spends most of his days installing portable generator hookups..

Searcy said he gets about three or four calls a day from customers looking to hook up portable generators, and expects to make 10 generator hookups a week for the foreseeable future. The job typically takes around three hours and costs around $ 600 for labor and materials.

There is so much demand for portable home generator installations, Searcy said, that electrical parts such as circuit breakers and power boxes are out of stock for weeks.

“It just exploded since the freeze,” said Searcy, 69. “It’s the busiest I have ever been.”

Plumbers, who have been in high demand since the freeze to fix broken pipes, are now seeing a new wave of work coming from installing natural gas lines to portable generators.

Gino Boutros, a third-generation plumber serving the Northwestern Houston area, said his family business Tony’s Plumbing has installed nearly 100 natural gas lines for portable generators since the freeze and plans to perform five installations. per day during the summer. The job typically costs around $ 350.

“The first month and a half was spent on all pipe repairs,” said Boutros, 29. “Now I have a technician who just plugs in the generator. “

Paul, a United Airlines flight attendant, bought his 9,400-watt Firman portable generator last month, then hired Searcy to install the electrical hookup so he could power his Cypress home. With hurricane season here, Paul said the $ 1,300 he spent on equipment and installation was well worth the peace of mind to keep his family comfortable when the power goes out again. .

“I have an 8-year-old daughter and a baby boy who are arriving in July,” said Paul, 46. “I didn’t want to be caught in the heat with a newborn baby. I can breathe easier knowing we can stay cool. “Xxxx

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