Generator sales surge when electricity does not

Stores sell out, restock for next outage

SAN ANTONIO – As millions of Texans shivered in the dark and icy cold, something else was heating up -- sales of portable generators.

“We are bare. We sold out by Tuesday afternoon,” said Matt Coleman, with Northern Tool and Equipment.

His store on Loop 410 even had to fire up the generator to stay open last week. They’ll restock now as people prepare for the next time the power gets zapped.

If you’re looking to buy a generator to keep the lights, heat and refrigerator running, as well as the computer and phone chargers, the size you buy matters.

“A lot of people, when they have a generator, they just don’t want the heater,” Coleman said. “They will still be in the dark. The phone won’t be charging, can’t get hold of anyone. The recommendation is 4,000 (watts) and above, and they’re covered.”

Expect to pay approximately $500 for a 4,000-watt generator and around $1,000 for 8,000 watts for even more power. Prices vary according to features and manufacturer, too.

Portable generators can save lives, but the carbon monoxide fumes from the gasoline can be deadly. A generator should be placed 20 feet away from the house.

“It has to be well ventilated,” Coleman said. “Can’t have it indoors, and keep it away from doors.”

A safety feature to look for is an automatic shutoff. If carbon monoxide gas levels get dangerously high, the machine shuts off. Some are even designed to emit less carbon monoxide in the first place.

Once you have a generator, Coleman says maintenance is critical, or you, like many people last week, could be left out in the cold.

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About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.