Lee Bittner loads a generator into the back of his truck at Home Depot in Tampa, Florida.
Lee Bittner loads a generator into the back of his truck at Home Depot in Tampa, Florida. - 
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The infrastructure behind America’s power grid is in pretty bad shape, and has more and more Americans turning to backup home generators.

Generac, the largest U.S. maker of backup home generators says about 7 percent of all new homes have one pre-installed. Unlike the pull-start gasoline models of the past, these new models hook up to your propane or natural gas. When the power goes out, the generator starts itself up and flips the home's electricity to generator power. It all takes about 20 seconds, and they can run for days.

Backup home generators require zoning, take a while to install, and cost at least $5,000 to set up. But for many Americans, living at the mercy of Mother Nature isn’t worth it.

Tony Vacarro, co-owner of OJ Mann Electrical Services in Cheshire, Connecticut, says a freak snowstorm in October 2011 "truly brought New England down to its knees." The Nor'easter knocked out electricity to millions, killed dozens, and marooned many more in cold, dark homes for days.

Vacarro's company installs generators, and after that storm, his phone was ringing off the hook.

“Little did we know how emotional the sale of a generator would be,” Vacarro said. “You have people on the phone literally sobbing in desperation because their husband or wife is on dialysis.”

Christie Holland, of nearby Bethel, got her first home generator for medical reasons: a family member needed a breathing machine. But now, she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“Having a generator is one of the things that will absolutely spoil you. And once you have it you don’t want to not have it,” she said.

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Follow Tim Fitzsimons at @@tfitzsimons