The kids living at the group homes operated by Family Service of Rhode Island have already been displaced from their original home. Forcing them to move to yet another unfamiliar facility in the event of a storm or an unexpected power outage? That was unacceptable for an organization committed to keeping the children in its care as comfortable as possible.

So to protect three of its group homes in northern Rhode Island, the social services organization turned to a solution that would keep the power running in any weather: standby generators powered by propane.

The kids housed in the group homes came there due to some disruption in their family, in some cases abuse or an assignment from the court system. “We already know that they suffered discomfort in their lives,” says David Cooley, property manager for Family Service of Rhode Island. “My opinion is if we can avoid the displacement, we’re in better shape.”

Robust protection

The three homes, built in the mid-1990s in the Greenville-Smithfield area, are essentially self-reliant. It was too expensive to bring access to amenities such as city water or natural gas to their rural locations, so they rely on wells, water filtration systems, septic systems, and onsite fuel sources.

For organizations serving young populations, reliable power is critical. In this case study video, YMCA Camp Woodstock’s executive director Tony Gronski explains why he turned to propane to fuel eight generators throughout the camp.

The 3,700-square-foot homes are robust, with air-conditioning, refrigerators, freezers, and fire alarm sprinkler systems. “The only thing we were lacking was: If the power goes out, all those things are useless,” Cooley says.

Through donor funding, the organization was able to install 25-kW generators that would keep everything in the homes running, including the sprinkler system pumps, which supply the emergency sprinklers from 400-gallon storage tanks. “The generators are fully automatic, so once the power goes off, these come on, and vice versa,” Cooley says. “Just last month we used it for a six-hour timespan.”

The most reliable fuel

The organization chose propane to fuel the generators because it has a longer shelf life than any other fuel, Cooley says. With two storage tanks of propane at each home, the generators would last for about four days straight, even with the air conditioning consuming lots of electricity.

“For facilities and organizations caring for sensitive populations, losing access to critical systems during a power outage is often not an option.”

Safety was also paramount. “I’ve heard stories about how people, if they lose power, would have a company come in and put a portable [generator] unit on the outside of the house, disconnect the fuse box, and run it like that,” Cooley says. “Then if the system happens to be too close to the house, that’s quite dangerous. So I think the best way to do it is to permanently put it in place, as opposed to a temporary solution.” Propane supplier Osterman Propane provided helpful assistance on placing the storage tanks, Cooley says, including at one home where they had to be located a distance from the home.

Using propane for the generators was also a natural fit because the homes already used propane for cooking. “The kids don’t get fed fast foods, it’s all fully prepared meals,” Cooley says. The kitchens are used every day to prepare nutritious meals, and the staff appreciates having access to the easily controlled propane cooking appliances.

For facilities and organizations caring for sensitive populations, losing access to critical systems during a power outage is often not an option. Propane generators offer a safe, reliable solution that’s available even for buildings without access to natural gas.

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Jeffrey Lee