Q: Our electric rates are high, and we have power outages during storms. I want a backup generator for the entire house. What type and size is best? Can I use it nonstop instead of the utility's power?

A: Many people are interested in installing backup (standby) whole-house generators for electricity during power outages. It seems as though there are more outages and brownouts each year, and our lifestyles depend heavily on electronic appliances.

To answer your last question first, a standby generator, even a large one, is not designed to be used continuously as a long-term alternative to your electric utility. It is designed to operate for relatively short periods during power outages. Also, costs from a standby generator are greater than your electric rate.

No matter what size whole-house generator you select (generation capacity is in kw, kilowatts), it is best to also install an automatic transfer switch, or ATS. This control switch senses when the utility's electric power stops or the voltage is too low during a brownout.

When the ATS kicks in, it temporarily disconnects your house from the utility grid and starts the generator. This can take a short period to be up to full power. Without an ATS, you would have to do this manually or the utility lineman might get shocked from your generator.

The size of the standby generator you need depends on how many electric items you want to operate during a power outage. A 12-kw generator will handle a typical family's power needs.

Add up the wattages of all the electric items you think you need. The wattage of various appliances is listed on each appliance's nameplate. Keep in mind that many appliances with motors require greater starting wattages than the continuous usage listed on the nameplate. A refrigerator using 700 watts might require up to 1,500 watts each time the compressor starts.

Most people select a natural gas standby generator if gas is available. It is clean burning and does not require a storage tank. If there is a natural disaster, though, such as an earthquake, the supply might be stopped.

Propane burns cleanly similar to gas. Since the tank is on your property, the supply cannot be interrupted. It is more expensive than gas and requires a tank.

Diesel fuel is less flammable and easy to obtain. It requires an expensive tank, and the shelf life of the fuel is less than two years.

Standby generators can cost several thousand dollars.

Following are some of the companies that offer generators:

--Baldor, 920-236-4200, www.baldor.com.

--Coleman Powermate, 800-445-1805, www.powermate.com.

--Cummins Onan, 763-574-5000, www.cumminsonan.com.

--Generac Power Systems, 888-436-3722, www.generac.com.

--Kohler Power Systems, 800-544-2444, www.kohlergenerators.com.

Q: I want to install a whole-house fan. I already have an attic vent fan to cool the attic. Will this attic vent fan make the whole-house fan less effective?

A: They should work fine together. The whole-house fan generally will be used in the morning and evening when the outdoor temperature is lower. During these periods, the attic vent fan probably won't be running anyway. Even when both fans are running, they will complement each other.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Post and Courier, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.