The tragic events of Hurricane Harvey and the imagery of the devastation in Houston remind so many of us of Hurricane Sandy five years ago. After Hurricane Sandy, nicknamed “Superstorm Sandy,” many residents decided to purchase a backup generator. Other people who had portable backup generators before Sandy decided to upgrade and installed whole house units months after the storm had passed.

I am often asked if a backup generator is a feature people value when they are looking to purchase a home. For some homebuyers, it certainly is of value, and my real estate listing materials will always state whether a home has a backup generator. More importantly, the decision to install a backup generator for your home should be about what your family needs. Thinking back to the events of Hurricane Sandy and its impact on New Jersey residents, here are a few considerations:

1. How much do you want to spend on a backup generator?

Whole house generators have a fuel supply such as natural gas and power several rooms or the entirety of a home. They can cost thousands of dollars or tens of thousands depending upon the size of the house and run on a variety of fuel types. Whole house generators also require a plumber to connect the fuel supply, the installation of a concrete pad outside the home on which the generator sits, electrical hookups, town inspections and often a permit. You will also want an annual maintenance contract for a whole house generator.

Alternatively, there are smaller portable backup generators which can be set up to run outside the garage or home and keep essentials like a refrigerator and freezer unit running. These can cost several hundred dollars to several thousand. Often they require gasoline, and when there are gas shortages after a hurricane as we saw with Hurricane Sandy, just running the portable generator means long waiting times standing in line at the local gas station.

2. Do you have young children and pets?

During Superstorm Sandy, there was often no cell phone service or cable television, and it was difficult to determine how long homes would be without power. Many schools and residents did not have power for two weeks. As the temperature of the homes got progressively colder throughout the first week, families with young children and pets decided to leave the area. Because there was no phone service, it was impossible to call local facilities that boarded pets to find out if there was any room for the family pet. The reality is that a family with young children and pets should consider backup generators seriously. During a major weather event, these families do not have the mobility to just get up and leave – there are too many logistics involved, not to mention the expense.

 

The decision to install a backup generator for your home should be about what your family needs.

 

3. Do you have school-age children that attend the local public or private schools?

Another problem that families confronted with Hurricane Sandy was that different schools, even within the same district, began school as quickly as possible after their power resumed. Some area schools opened on different days than others only a few miles away. Families, for example, had children that could attend middle school even though their local elementary school had yet to reopen for a sibling. Other families had schools reopen while their own homes were still without power. Because it is often helpful for children to get back into a routine after the chaos caused by a major weather event, backup generators are an important consideration for families because they give them the ability to stay in their home and get children back to school.

4. Do you have elderly parents living with you?

More people are opting for multi-generational homes and choosing to care for an aging parent. Often, seniors require medications or access to home medical equipment that relies upon electricity. There are medicines that must remain refrigerated, and a loss of heat in the home can have serious consequences for an elderly person. There were many cases of pneumonia during Hurricane Sandy, and often the people that had gotten ill were either children or aging adults.

5. Do you have driving access to relatives or friends should your home lose power?

One week after Hurricane Sandy when many homes in our area were still without power, some families decided to leave the area. It was unclear when power to their homes would be restored; there was a shortage of gasoline and rationing of gasoline that was available. Many people got in their cars and drove west to Pennsylvania where they could find a hotel, gasoline for their car and a safe place to wait for power to be restored to our area.

If you don’t have relatives or friends within driving distance that would willingly provide a place for you to stay during a major weather event, a backup generator may be the right choice for you. It’s nerve-racking to put your family and pets in a car and drive until you can find a place to stay, but during Superstorm Sandy, so many families did. Often after they found a hotel, the hotel did not accommodate pets, so if the family had their pets in tow, they had to keep going till they could find a pet-friendly hotel.

6. Does your home have essential mechanicals that are electricity-dependent?

Hurricanes bring wind and, of course, lots and lots of rain. During Hurricane Sandy, some people who had sump pumps in their basement needed electricity for the sump pump to work. Once the power went out in the middle of the night, the sump pump stopped working, and many local residents woke up to a foot of water in their basement by morning. Another issue is how your water heater is powered – gas or electricity. Some people have gas water heaters, but the starter units for those water heaters are self-enclosed and need electricity to work. So, ironically, without electricity to the home, the gas water heater may not work.

The installation of a backup generator for your house is an investment, not just a home expense. Between paperwork, the scheduling of multiple contractors, the permit application process, and required town inspections, installation can take months. So, if you’re thinking about a backup generator for your home, don’t make a decision based upon whether it will add future value to the house. Make a decision after assessing your own needs, its importance to your family and the lifestyle you lead.

If you are in the market for a new home and have concerns about the necessity of a generator, different township requirements, or perhaps are wondering whether you should plan to install a generator after closing, contact Victoria Carter on (973) 220-3050 or email victoria@victoriacarter.com. I would be happy to answer your questions.

On a personal note, I am sure I can speak for everyone in our area when I say our hearts and prayers go to the families in Texas and Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

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