Generator Sales Surge After Big Storms

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Sales of backup generators are surging across Fairfield County. 

After the twin power-outage fiascos that followed Hurricane Irene and the historic October nor’easter set records for power outages, fewer homeowners completely trust their electric companies. 

In fact, homeowners are rushing to their Town Halls to apply for backup generator permits and to stores that sell the units for $3,000 to $15,000. Permit and application fees can also cost hundreds of dollars, depending on the town and the cost of the units.               

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jim Gilleran, chief building official for the town of Fairfield. “Since Irene and the October snowstorm, people have been flocking in here every day for backup generator permits.”

During an average year, about 20 backup generator permits are issued in Fairfield. But a whopping 115 applications have been filed after the August and October storms, Gilleran said. 

“A lot of people are coming in and saying they’ve had it, they don’t want to be without power for a week or longer again, especially during winter,” he said. “They’re afraid to be without heat and hot water.”

Getting a permit can be a complicated, monthlong process that involves gaining approval from the town’s Planning and Zoning Department, Wetlands Commission, building inspectors and electricians, Gilleran said.

Next door in Westport, there have been 155 applications for generator permits, with several dozen more still being processed, said Building Department clerk Tricia Harty, who processes the permits.

“It’s off the charts, we’re busy every day working on these applications,” Harty said. 

In 2009, just nine applications were filed for backup generators in Westport. But in 2010, after numerous residents lost power from a wind storm and nor’easter, nearly 130 permits were issued, Harty said. 

“People have been coming in nonstop. We’ve been swamped with applications for months, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon,” she said.

Norwalk’s chief building official, William Ireland, said his department is also being deluged with backup generator applications. “In a typical year we have about 10. This year, we’ve had more than 75 applications,” Ireland said. “After Irene and the October storm, it’s been especially crazy.”

All that adds up to big sales for companies that sell and install the generators, which are generally about twice the size of a central air-conditioning unit and are installed on the side or rear of a home.

Mark Holzner, owner of Northeast Generator in Bridgeport — one of the largest distributors of backup generators in Connecticut — said sales have doubled over the past few months.

“There was a huge surge in sales after Irene and another one following the second storm,” said Holzner. “For months, sales for the (backup) generators rose dramatically and even now we’re still up between 15 (percent) to 20 percent over our usual sales.”

Prices for automatic generators that go on within a minute of losing power range from $5,000 to $15,000, with units that have to be turned on starting at about $600, Holzner said.

“We’ve been in business for 40 years, and this has been one of the busiest periods for generator sales,” he said. “Everybody’s pretty sick and tired of losing power, and during winter people get worried. As soon as we get the first big snow storm we expect to get another big rush.”

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