Q: Our electric power was out for four days after a recent storm and it was a real hassle. I’m considering a home generator but know very little about them. Can you help?
A: The cost of owning a generator will depend on what appliances you want to keep running in a power failure. Most people settle for basic devices that, if out of order, can cause real discomfort and financial loss. These generally include a refrigerator-freezer, sump pump, a portable heater or central heater, water heater, some lights and a television set and computer. Very basic portable generators that can power a few essential devices usually cost $600 to about $1,000. If you want your home to have all services and want automatic startup and minimum maintenance, you can spend as much as $15,000 for a backyard power plant. Generators can be powered by gasoline, natural gas or propane, and some special wiring is needed for best results.
The first step for a potential buyer is to total the wattage of the devices that he or she wants to keep operating. Allowance must also be made for surges, which means that most appliances generally draw a lot more wattage when they start up than when they are running. There are some excellent wattage calculators on the Internet; the best way to find one that suits your needs is to use a search engine and the words Wattage Calculator. Scroll down the resulting list of links for suitable charts; one of the best is at www.consumerreports.org. Dealers can also help you select a generator with the proper wattage to meet your needs.
Q: I have an electric clothes dryer and recently moved into a house with the correct outlet for it but no sign of a vent to the outside. A neighbor said I can use the dryer without venting it to the outside. Is that true? —Leroy
A: You can, but I recommend outside venting if there is any practical way to achieve it.
Kits are available at some home centers and on the Internet for inside venting of electric dryers only. Venting kits should never be used with gas dryers; in addition to the problems you will experience with any dryer that is not properly vented — lint and excessive moisture — a gas dryer can empty dangerous combustion products, including carbon monoxide, into the indoor air. Lint is a serious fire hazard, and thousands of clothes dryers catch fire each year because they or their vents are not properly cleaned of lint. You can read what a serious problem this is by reading a report by the Consumer Products Safety Commission; use a search engine and the words CPSC Report on Electric and Gas Clothes Dryers.
In addition to lint, improper venting will load your indoor air with water vapor, which can lead to condensation on cold surfaces, mildew and mold. Indoor vent kits generally contain a 4-inch-diameter flexible pipe that runs from the dryer exhaust to a container of water; the water is supposed to trap the lint and render it harmless.
My choice is a through-the wall vent that has a screen on the outside end to prevent access by birds, vermin and the like. A smooth metal duct, usually four inches in diameter, is best for venting. The dryer, filter, vent pipe and the outside screen should be cleaned regularly to remove lint. Lint accumulation can also affect dryer performance, making it difficult to properly dry clothes.