Preparing for an emergency is all well and good, but if you're not sure where to focus your energies you can end up with a very advanced plan that only gets partially completed. Standby generators are a good example of this, because even with the highest output available it can't power your entire home. Instead, plan your installation around those parts of your home that need to have power during an outage.
Essential Systems and Their Demands
Wiring a permanent back-up power source into your home is no small feat, but it requires planning and professional execution. This means tying that power source directly into a fixed circuit within your home in order to feed power to a predetermined set of outlets, appliances and systems. This is where your ability to prioritize is of critical importance.
Focus on important systems, such as HVAC and your refrigerator, so that you can stay warm but your food won't. If you choose to tie your HVAC into your generator, make sure you use it sparingly, since it's estimated that HVAC use accounts for 40% of all energy consumption in the United States. Running it for too long or placing too much demand on it can overtax your generator quickly. Alternately, a refrigerator left closed will draw much less power because the food inside is already cold.
To Light or Not to Light?
Once the sun sets during a power outage, you will be left literally in the dark, so it's tempting to tie some of your lighting into your generator. If more than half of its capacity is already being drawn by your HVAC and refrigerator, you need to be strategic about which lights are on that back-up circuit. Energy efficient bulbs and low intensity fixtures are your best bet, since you'll get more lighting from them without placing much additional strain on your generator.
Limit the amount and duration of the light you do use, and make liberal use of candles or non-electrical light sources, such as oil lamps and lanterns. If you need more lighting, make sure your generator can handle the load and you have sufficient fuel on hand to supply it.
An emergency standby generator can take a lot of the worry out of the situation during an outage, especially if you lose power in the winter or during a major storm. Make sure that the generator you choose to install is sufficient for powering everything you need, and that you're not placing unnecessary demands on it during an outage. If you're not sure, talk to your electrician or a qualified installer about a larger unit.