WASHINGTON - A survey recently released by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) found that almost half (48 percent) of adults in hurricane-prone states (representing 9 million households) expect to lose their electricity for 24 hours or more in the next six months. And at least one in three adults (32 percent) nationally said a lengthy loss of power would have at least some impact on their personal financial situation.

While nearly half of adults in hurricane states expect to lose power, just one in four surveyed (26 percent) - and just 20 percent nationally - said they own a generator that can be used as a backup power supply.

Of the national respondents, 66 percent report owning a portable generator versus 25 percent who say they own a standby generator. Portable generators supply electricity to selected appliances through extension cords, while standby generators are permanently installed.

New standby generators can provide cost-effective and care-free protection from power loss, yet homeowner understanding of the benefits they deliver remains low, with 53 percent of those surveyed admitted they knew little or nothing at all about them.

Standby generators are designed to automatically turn on in the case of a power outage to supply electricity to selected circuits in a home, ensuring that the impact of any power loss is minimized.

"It appears that builders have an opportunity to make home-owners aware of the benefits of owning a standby generator," said Brian Feehan, PERC's managing director of engine fuel programs. "In addition, builders can also educate homeowners about how underground propane tanks can serve as a reliable fuel source in severe storm environments. This also provides builders with an opportunity to look at how the same underground tank can add value around the home, such as by expanding outdoor rooms."

A survey conducted earlier this year by the propane industry found that outdoor living rooms and standby power generators were the top drivers for builder interest in installing underground propane tanks. Underground tanks are becoming popular because once the tanks are buried, the only evidence of the tank is a small dome with filling connections that protrude just inches above the ground.

Prices for standby generators start at $1,500 plus installation, which runs about $1,000 additional. Still, while some portable generators can cost less than $1,000, they provide significantly less power and convenience. An average home's essential appliances will operate on a standby generator with 7,000–13,000 watts (W) of power.

High wattage "comfort" appliances that require dedicated circuits, such as central air conditioners, pool heaters, and dryers, require a surge of electricity when they first start up, and that can influence the size of the generator a homeowner may need.

As an example, a 7,000-W standby generator will power eight circuits and a window air conditioning unit, whereas a 13,000-W unit will operate up to 12 circuits and a 4-ton central air conditioning system.

Sixty-six percent of those surveyed in the standby generator survey said their generator runs on either unleaded gasoline or diesel fuel. In a severe storm situation, access to gasoline and diesel fuel will be limited.

Standby generators run on either propane or natural gas and can be hooked directly to a homeowner's existing gas lines, which means that in the event of a severe storm, homeowners have access to a reliable source of fuel to power the generator.

In fact, propane marketers are able to provide homeowners with an underground tank that is protected from the elements so that a constant source of fuel is available.

On average, a 250-gallon propane tank fueling a 7 kW standby generator would provide enough electricity to power a home for five days, while a 500-gallon underground tank would provide power for 11 days.

The survey also explored issues individuals would be concerned about in the event of a power loss that lasted more than 24 hours. Food spoilage topped the list of concerns in the event of a power loss (69 percent), followed by loss of air conditioning (50 percent), and the inability to stay informed (50 percent).

Other concerns include computer or phone loss (41 percent), followed by mold growth (39 percent), inability to use medical devices installed in the home (29 percent), and loss of a security system (24 percent).

The survey, which asked American adults a variety of questions on their preparedness for the upcoming storm season as well as their knowledge of the options available to power their home in the event of an extended outage, was conducted for PERC using Opinion Research Corp.'s CARAVAN National Omnibus.

Telephone interviews were conducted June 15-18, among 1,008 adults 18 years of age and older, including 178 adults who live in hurricane-prone states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

The margin of error is ±3.1 percent.

Publication date: 09/25/2006