Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 8,

2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Protect Yourself With A Backup Generator

Driving northeast from sunny Trenton on the morning

of September 5, 2001, I encountered a puzzle as I approached

Princeton.

Traffic was backed up much more than it normally is, yet there was

no sign of an accident.

The first clue to the reason for the unusual traffic jams was a pile

of newly-sawed logs next to the curb near the Theological Seminary.

There were also branches on the grounds of the Princeton Borough

complex,

and around the corner, on Alexander Road, there were still more

branches.

Strange. There had been no storm in Trenton, not even a little wind

or rain.

As I turned from Alexander Road onto Roszel Road, I was astounded

to find that the road was closed. Ditching my car in a nearby parking

lot, I walked the rest of the way to my office, passing PSE&G crews

on the way. In the drive of my building, at 12 Roszel Road, an

electrical

generator, knocked from its pole the previous evening, was blocking

the way. Inside the offices of U.S. 1, it was dark, and Richard K.

Rein, the paper’s publisher, was sending employees home. Without

juice,

there were no computers, and without computers there was no way to

get any work done.

"It doesn’t take a terrorist to knock out power," says

Robert

Griffith, founder of An-Mar Electrical Contractor in Hamilton,

a company that has just started installing Coleman gas generators.

"It could be a hurricane, a car accident, lightening." A

sergeant

in the National Guard, Griffith had been at Fort Dix earlier in the

day on which we spoke, a cloudy day with drizzle, but a day without

dramatic weather. "The power went out," he says. "Why?

Who knows. It could have been anything."

The building where he was working at Fort Dix did have some back-up

power. Some lights stayed on, but there wasn’t enough power to keep

computers, fax machines, and copiers on. "For three hours we came

to a stand still," he says. "They were panicking. As it got

hotter, they were afraid the servers would go out." He says the

National Guard did have enough back-up power for essential tasks,

and that none of its public service roles were jeopardized. Still,

the sudden loss of power hurt productivity.

At our newspaper, which did not have back-up power on that day in

early-September, the loss of electricity was crippling. The daily

flow of faxes was cut off. There was no word processing, no page

lay-out,

no access to database information, no E-mail, no light in interior

offices, and not even telephones. The lines were still open but the

phones on the desks were controlled by a PC.

Stores, small businesses, and households all are addicted to

electricity.

And for the most part, it is taken for granted. When his National

Guard colleagues started to fret about their servers, Griffith

suggested

that they turn on some fans. In much the same way, home owners,

deprived

of television news during a blackout, routinely try to flip on the

radio, whether or not it operates on electricity. So much of what

we depend on for communication, security, commerce, and entertainment

runs on electricity that we don’t think about it — until the

lights

go out.

Griffith decided to include a service that would keep those lights

on when he read that Coleman had decided to stop distributing its

gas-powered generators through Home Depot stores. Home Depot, he says,

encouraged home owners to install the generators themselves rather

than hire contractors to do the work. He says Coleman decided this

was dangerous, and wanted its generators installed by professionals.

He contacted Coleman, and the company agreed to include his company

in its roster of installers.

Griffith graduated from Hamilton High School in 1966 and served in

Vietnam as a Navy gunner. After leaving the Navy, he worked as a

corrections

officer, and received a commendation for saving a fellow officer

during

a rebellion. "Inmates were beating him with ankle irons,"

he recalls. "I attacked the inmates." How many? "There

were five of them," he says. At some point during the melee, he

noticed that one of his arms was "dangling." Hit by one of

the irons, it was broken.

Enough was enough, and he left the corrections system in the mid-1980s

to learn the electrical trade from his uncle, Les Hutchinson, a

Trenton

electrician. In the late-1980s, Griffith organized his own company,

An-Mar, which he recently incorporated. He has two sons, Robert, who

is now serving with the peace keeping mission in Sarajevo, and Brian,

a Navy Reservist who is working on his college degree. Griffith

expects

both of his sons to join An-Mar soon.

Gas-powered generators are a new line for An-Mar, but Griffith expects

them to account for 30 percent of his business before long. He offers

a primer on what the generators can do, and how a business or

household

can decide on how much backup it needs.

Why invest in a generator? One of Griffith’s customers,

a family with a home in Titusville high on a hill, loses power

regularly

because of lightening strikes. The family’s children, says Griffith,

become frightened when the lights go out. "When the lights go

out, people’s minds play tricks. The generator makes them feel

secure."

In the case of this family, it also keeps the water running. They

get water from a well, and a power failure means the well’s pump shuts

down.

Water is an issue for another client, a doctor who lives in a flood

zone. During a recent heavy rainfall, the doctor’s finished basement

was ruined when the power went out and the sump pump failed.

For homeowners, the issues are safety and comfort. For small

businesses,

whether they be at home or in an office park, the main issue often

is money. An outage — or even a brown out — cuts off the

computers

that are the lifeblood of nearly every business.

Why a gas generator? The Coleman generators Griffith is

promoting run on natural gas. He says they are preferable for many

customers — including families with children — because, unlike

diesel-powered generators, they go on automatically, and do not

require

anyone to flip switches or pull ropes to get them going. Natural gas,

Griffith adds, is a reliable source of fuel because power companies

maintain their own back-up generators to keep gas flowing when

electric

power is out. This is so, he claims, because if gas flow is shut off,

pilots go out, and then when the gas goes on again, "you could

have a lot of houses blowing up."

How much does it cost? Owners of homes and businesses

can figure out how large a generator they need by adding up the amps

on the electric devices they want to stay on all the time, even in

a power outage. Amp ratings are affixed to most — if not all —

electronic devices and appliances. "The average computer uses

two amps," says Griffith. Copiers, because of the heat they

generate

as they print, use 6 to 12 amps, and a fax machine uses about two

amps. A refrigerator uses about 6 amps, and a freezer draws 12 amps.

It is not necessary to power everything, though, says Griffith,

pointing

out that a freezer that remains closed will stay cold for a long time.

A 10,000-watt generator is rated for 80 amps, a 15,000-watt generator

is rated for 120 amps, and a 25,000-watt generator is rated for 220

amps. A ballpark price for the smallest unit is $6,500. The middle

unit is about $11,000, and the largest unit would cost about $18,000.

All prices include installation. Griffith says the 15,000 watt unit

would keep essential power in a 3,000 square foot house on. It would

keep the heat or air conditioning on, power the home office, and keep

a good number of the lights on. With a 25,000 watt generator a home

that size — or larger — could run pretty much as usual, with

even the whirlpool on.

For a business, the larger units would have no trouble powering 8

to 10 computers, a copier and a fax machine, a server, and a number

of fluorescent lights.

How does it work? The generator is linked to the home’s

main power source. It turns itself on for a test run once every two

weeks, and presents a read-out indicating whether there are any

problems.

When power does go out, monitors alert the generator to take over

and to keep running until the main power source is back up.

There is a bump as this change-off occurs, and Griffith says it is

important to have computers and other electronics protected by an

uninterrupted power source for the transition. This plug-in device,

he says, retails for about $400, and is easy to install.

Griffith is gloomy about energy deregulation in New Jersey,

predicting that the state might suffer through the sort of energy

crisis that fouled up the works in California last year. But

regardless

of the success of deregulation, an easy prediction is that there will

be more lightening strikes, cars hitting utility poles, and freak

wind storms like the one that took U.S. 1 down for more than 24 hours

last fall. It is up to each home owner and small business owner to

decide whether preventing the ensuing disruption is worth the cost

of a generator.

An-Mar Electrical Contractor, Box 2866, Trenton

08690. Robert P. Griffith, proprietor. 609-587-3988; fax,

609-584-7861.


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