How Hurricane Season Power Outages Eat Away at Family Money

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's been a relatively quiet hurricane season, but with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy coming up it's worth knowing exactly how much damage Mother Nature can inflict upon your home with a power outage -- and what you can do about it.

U.S. homeowners may not want to dwell on the topic (after all, who looks forward to a blackout?), but power outages can leave household budgets in tatters in addition to leaving the house in the dark.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, power outages cost American households about $150 billion annually, and at the height of hurricane season on the East Coast about 3.5 million Americans can expect a loss of electrical power in their homes.

Homeowners can expect the following big-ticket items when the lights go out, according to Briggs & Stratton, a maker of backup power generators.

Sheltering in a hotel: $150 per night
Removing household mold: $3,000
Fixing basement flood damage: $21,890
Replacing spoiled food: $200

The U.S. Department of Human Services generally agrees, saying basement and appliance repairs, spoiled food and extended hotel stays are the most common costs incurred by homeowners during and after a power outage.

Being in the backup power generator business, Briggs & Stratton obviously wants you to buy a generator, but it's not necessarily a bad idea. Power generators can reduce or eliminate the costs of a blackout.

A small backup generator, which can light up parts of (but not all) of a home, can be had for as little as $2,500, according to Fixr.com. A medium-sized unit, which can provide much-needed heat to most of the home on cold nights, costs between $4,000 and $10,000.

A large unit, which can heat and light an entire home, costs between $9,000 and $15,000.

Sure, that's a lot of cabbage, but eliminating the cost of a dead sump pump, which can lead to basement flooding and household mold can make a generator worth the cost.

"A homeowner can incur greater costs from a single prolonged power outage than from investing in preparation measures, such as installing a standby generator system before an emergency occurs," says Amanda Grandy, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton Standby Power. "A standby generator protects a home's appliances from losing functionality when utility power is knocked offline and gives families peace of mind after a hurricane or strong storm."

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