Tuesday, July 2, 2013



Since 2009, I have had to suffer through 16 power failures at my current house. It seems as if anything stronger than a mild breeze knocks out the power. It’s gotten to the point where if someone with a bad cough walks by my electrical wires, I rush to dig out the candles.

So last month, I finally decided to have a full-house automatic generator system installed. I’d scrimped and saved $6,500 for the project, and I fully intended to stay within that budget and not spend a penny more.

The first two generator companies I called for estimates nearly caused me to give up and just go buy a case of candles because one wanted $10,000 and the other, $11,000.  When I happened to mention this to my insurance agent a few days later, he suggested that I call an electrician friend of his who has connections (pun intended).

I called the electrician and he advised me to buy the generator myself at one of the big-box home-improvement stores, and then hire my own electrician and gas fitter. He said I would save a bundle that way. So I followed his advice and bought the generator – a powerful Generac system for a little over $2,500. Then I called back the electrician, told him I’d taken his advice, and asked him if I could hire him to hook up the generator for me. He said he’d just begun a huge project rewiring an entire mobile-home park, and made it sound as if he wouldn’t be available until about December of the year 2020. So I called the electrician who’d originally wired my house and asked if he could install the generator. He said he’d get back to me. He never did. Finally, I found another electrician who was willing to do the job right away for $2,400.

Then I searched for a licensed gas-fitter to connect my underground propane tank to the generator.

Well, as luck would have it, I was out walking my dog one afternoon and a neighbor I’d never had the opportunity of meeting before was outside in his yard. I stopped, introduced myself and struck up a conversation with him. When he happened to mention what he did for a living, I couldn’t believe my ears. He was a licensed gas-fitter! Fate had intervened!  I told him about my generator and he said he’d be glad to do the work for me.

I think, however he probably regretted that decision after he arrived to size up the situation.

If I had wanted to put the generator in the middle of my driveway, then it would have been a snap to connect. But I wanted it hidden behind the house, over 100 feet from the gas tank.

“I think the best way to go about this is to run a line from the gas meter through the basement and then out to the generator,” he said. “It should cost about $800.”

After he measured my basement, however, he didn’t look too pleased. “The farther the line has to go, the bigger it has to be, and the more expensive it gets,” he said. “Let me check with your gas company to find out if running another pressure line directly from the tank to the generator might be a better option.”

The gas company recommended the pressure line. “The trench for it has to be 18 inches deep after you’ve added two inches of sand,” they informed me. “Let us know when you finish it.”

They sounded as if they wanted me to dig my own trench! Me, who digs like an aging gopher and would have to hire a live-in chiropractor afterwards? So although I knew it would further strain my budget, I called an excavator.  He said he could dig the trench and provide the sand for the bottom for a total of $400.  I had no clue what the going rate for trench digging was, but $400 sounded OK to me, especially since I could forgo chiropractor.

The trench digger arrived on his Bobcat two days later and proceeded to dig the equivalent of the San Andreas Fault Line in my yard. And the trench has to remain wide open until the gas line is laid and the building inspector approves it. I have visions of small animals, particularly skunks, roaming through the yard at night and falling into the abyss. Or, if there’s a period of heavy rain, I’ll end up with my own private moat.

Meanwhile, the electrician asked me to pick out 12 things I wanted to connect to the generator. The first few were easy – the furnace, the well, the water heater, TV and the refrigerator.  Then it became more difficult. Did I want the automatic garage-door opener or the backyard floodlight so the dogs wouldn’t stumble around out in the dark and accidentally end up “doing their business” on the bulkhead?  Or did I need a bathroom light so I wouldn’t end up stumbling around in the dark and accidentally “doing my business” in the bathtub? It took me over an hour to decide, but I finally chose the 12 things I wanted hooked up.  The electrician then spent seven hours getting everything wired.

After he left, I realized I had forgotten to connect something really important – the water purification system in the basement. Without it, the water will come straight into the house from the well.  And the water in my well contains 10 times the normal levels of arsenic.

So I guess I’ll have to remember that the next time there’s a power failure, not to invite anyone over for iced tea.

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