How much would you pay for a blackout back-up?

We wrote today about the surge in interest in natural gas-powered generators for homes in case of blackouts. They’re not cheap, and lengthy blackouts like those following Hurricane Ike are rare events, but a growing number of Houstonians are willing to make the investment.
A few readers who signed up with one of the companies CenterPoint chose to take part in a promotional program for the systems said they were a bit surprised when their final bills came. They had expected the 5 percent discount advertised to be taken off the estimate or for CenterPoint to reduce it from the bill. The promotional material doesn’t claim anything of the sort will occur, but to some it is a bit vague about the discount.
In a nutshell, the companies supposedly include the discount upfront. CenterPoint isn’t really offering the discount, rather they just let the generator installers benefit from being on their list of suggested providers. The companies actually pay CenterPoint to take part in the promotion.
Some have also questioned the value of maintenance contracts, as were suggested by those we interviewed. If you’re comfortable checking and changing the oil on your car you might be comfortable doing some of the work on the generator yourself. And since most units have weekly or monthly self-tests where they turn on for about ten minutes and signal any problems, one might also be able to get by with occasional service calls.
Not every yard has enough room for the systems either. They typically require 5-foot setbacks from homes and fence lines, which can be impossible in some neighborhoods where the homes take up most of the lot. So be sure the installation company actually knows the local codes and requirements.
Finally, if you’re interested in a unit don’t expect to get it installed soon. Most companies have said they have many weeks of work backed-up already. In some cases getting the units delivered from factories is taking many weeks as well. So don’t throw out those flashlights just yet.
Below is a graphic that ran in the paper showing the basics of a typical unit (but without the usual setback from the home).

Gas Generator 0624 C