Turning on the switch
Eskom’s decision to implement load shedding on a regular basis is having a severe impact on South African households – not least of which is the increased risk of damage to sensitive electronic items due to power surges, fires and crime as a result of security systems not operating properly.
Many households have also rushed to buy generators to keep the lights on and the onset of winter will add to more anxiety.
The main risks during a power cut are:
• Fire risks when candles are used for lighting
• The risk of electrocution, exhaust fumes, fire and burns when generators are used.
• Opportunistic robbery, theft and burglary resulting from tripped and false alarm triggers.
Advice on buying a generator
• Buy a portable generator that meets the needs of your household or business by initially creating a detailed list of appliances that you want to run on generator-power in the event of a power outage. The list should contain each appliance and the amount of power required to run each item.
• To determine the size generator you require, total the wattage of the appliances you want to run at the same time. Consider that some appliances have higher start-up ratings than their run ratings. Always use the higher rating to determine your power requirements.
• Generators generally range in size from 750 Watts for small generator, to 1 500 – 2 300 Watts for a mid-sized installation that can operate lighting and computers and some appliances. Heavier users should buy a generator larger than this.
• Appliances like refrigerators, washing machines and power tools require additional wattage to start up. The initial load only lasts a few seconds on start-up, but it is important when calculating your total wattage.
• A petrol generator is better for domestic use and short power cuts of a few hours. Although a diesel generator uses less fuel, it is noisier and is better suited to extended independent power needs.
• Consider buying an inverter generator, which is ideal for load shedding, as this prevents the power that the generator is producing from fluctuating. It costs more, but it will protect sensitive electronic equipment such as televisions and computers.
• There are various options for starting the generator: you can provide for an automatic transfer switch with an Uninterrupted Power Supply, which will provide a seamless switch-over to the generator power. A manual change over switch will require you to switch the electrical supply from your main supply to the generator and start the generator yourself. Check what capability the generator will have and take advice from the installer.
• Make sure your generator is professionally installed by a registered service-provider.
• Always make sure that the generator is started first and that the power is switched on when the generator is running.
• Ensure the installation and use of your generator complies with municipal bylaws, for the following reasons:
o It exhausts carbon monoxide which, if not properly ventilated, could be very dangerous
o It generates electricity which has to be properly wired and earthed and sealed
o It is a mechanical device which has moving parts and can become hot
• Never store more than 20 litres of fuel in your house, and ensure proper ventilation.
Fuel for a portable generator should be stored in a separate area that can be locked when not in use.
• Never refuel a generator while it is running.
• Purchase a named brand supported by a recognised dealer who can provide safety advice
• Test the generator frequently
• Consider your neighbours – buy a generator with noise baffling
• House external generators should be in an expanded mesh cage with a solid roof
• Remember to have a fire extinguisher of at least 4.5kg on site.
• Check your insurance policy to ensure that you meet the policy requirements for generator use as failure to do this could result in a claim being invalid because of incorrect installation or use.
• Look into solar power and battery systems too. They can be used to augment the power needs of certain appliances and be recharged during the daylight hours or when the power is on.
You may need to take out additional insurance to cover your generator if you’re using it at a private residence.
“In any event, load shedding has become part of our daily lives, and households are advised to revisit their insurance cover and, obtain advice from their brokers to take into account different circumstances and risk situations which may arise as a result of power cuts.”
Insurance protection during load shedding:
• Protect against losses caused by burglary if burglar alarms do not operate because of a power cut, or if the alarm response company is unable to attend to alarm activation. Upon reporting this claim, clients must prove that the circumstances of not adhering to policy conditions were beyond their control. Clients must furthermore ensure that alarms are in working order and are activated if their private residence is left unattended.
• Cover residential buildings if damage is caused by an insured peril such as lightning.
• Protect household contents against power surges if additional optional cover is taken out. This does not include loss or damage to portable computer equipment and cell phones.
• Protect machinery from power surges if additional optional cover is taken out. This will protect against accidental damage to machinery and equipment used for domestic purposes, such as swimming pools, jacuzzis, boreholes, sprinkler irrigation systems, electric gates and garage doors.
• Cover the contents of fridges and freezers if there is accidental spoilage due to a change in temperature if the power cut exceeds a period of 24 hours.