http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/14902062.htm STORM SEASON Rich means more power than FPLWhen it comes to generators, bigger is better for South Florida's affluent class. After all, true luxury means having electricity at ALL times. BY JOHN DORSCHNER jdorschner@MiamiHerald.com 24/7: After a storm, fashion designer Donald Pliner's Star Island home can run on its own power thanks to a large generator, shown inset in right corner. Interactive | Get ready for storm season 'Generator fever' is lighting up South Florida Town tests underground electricity Cities explore benefits of electric utility ownership Is there an alternative to FPL? For the truly rich in South Florida, having a huge generator to power all their home needs is becoming as important an accessory as a swimming pool. Consider businessman Tony Blank, whose new South Miami-Dade home will include a large generator hidden behind a decorative wall, with two 1,000-gallon propane tanks buried under the driveway to keep his entire home going for three days after a hurricane. It will be able to power all air-conditioning and appliances in his 9,000-square-foot house, as well as the Jacuzzi, pool pump and the electric outlets at his dock. Estimated fuel cost: $1,846 a day. ''I'm a trendsetter,'' Blank said. ``I don't have to worry about losing power, and that's worth a lot.'' After six major hurricanes hammered the state in the past two years, many South Floridians are either buying generators or upgrading to larger ones for existing homes and businesses. As for future construction, a huge divide is developing between those who will sweat with candlelight and those still clinking their ice cubes as they watch their high-definition TV in cool comfort. Gus Gil, president of the Latin Builders Association, says marketing of generator-ready capability for ''your basic new tract home'' -- $500,000 in South Florida -- isn't a factor at the moment. ``I don't even hear it being offered as an option. It adds too much to the cost.'' One condo development, Casa Majorca, near downtown Coral Gables, is being planned with some limited generator capability for its $600,000 to $800,000, two- and three-bedroom units. So when it comes to recovering after hurricanes, the truly rich will be in a class by themselves with their ''full-house'' power. ''This is a marketing vehicle,'' said Ignacio Zabaleta, partner in Eastshore Architects, a Coral Gables firm that has designed a number of built-in generator homes costing $3 million and up, including Blank's home near Old Cutler. ''It seems ridiculous to have a new home above $1 [million] or $2 million without a generator,'' said Eric Johnston of Americas Generators, a Doral firm specializing in selling large generators to businesses and luxury homes. ``A lot of builders are calling us.'' ECOTEK Power, a Miami Beach company, reports getting many calls from ''contractors with spec homes in the $7 million range,'' said owner Jan Stanbury. ``A lot of people in the real estate business are saying the first requirement in selling a luxury house is a decent generator.'' By ''decent generator,'' he does not mean a little thing on wheels into which one plugs a TV, four lights and a fan. He means something that will power everything, including air conditioning. These units are the size of compact cars, set on concrete bases and have a transfer switch for automatic changeover when Florida Power & Light fails. They're usually powered by large propane tanks or connected to a city natural-gas pipeline, if available. ''These people would like to live normal lives [when FPL power dies],'' Stanbury said. ``A lot of these homes have fine wine collections, art collections, which can be damaged by heat and humidity. To protect your personal property, it behooves them to get a generator.'' Stanbury says he is retrofitting large generators to the homes of many celebrities, including singer Ricky Martin. ``I'm finding a place for them that tries to keep them out of sight, away from windows [to avoid ventilation problems] and to conform to local building codes.'' But architects who are custom-designing expensive homes say they're now integrating these large generators into the original concept, frequently grouping them with air-conditioning handlers and pool pumps at the back of the property. Jorge Esteban of Breakstone Homes says he's now designing an oceanfront home on Golden Beach in which the first-floor living area is raised up on pillars with the generator below. At Eastshore Architects, Zabaleta is using a number of solutions. For Blank's house, in a flood-prone area east of Old Cutler, the generator and air-conditioning compressor will be placed on a platform 11 feet above the ground. Blanks' generator will be 140 kilowatts -- more than 20 times larger than the typical home generator -- and, of course, the rest of the house will be designed for hurricane protection, including impact glass windows. A full-house generator set-up can add $50,000 to the design of the house, but since Eastshore's custom projects generally run $3 million and up, that's still less than 5 percent of the cost. Where it starts to add up is in the operating costs. For Blank to keep his 9,000 square feet cooled, his generator will burn about 27 gallons of propane an hour, Zabaleta said. At the present rate of $2.85 a gallon for propane, that means a daily fuel cost of $1,846.80. Still, these large generators have advantages. Most are fueled by propane or natural gas because, unlike regular automobile gasoline or diesel, propane does not degenerate in the tanks and doesn't have to be periodically replaced. Most of Eastshore's homeowners are contracting with supply companies that promise to replenish the tanks as necessary as soon as roads are open after a storm. Not all of Eastshore's projects involve whole-house service. Jeff Azari, a Miami-Dade businessman who spent weeks at home in the dark after Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Wilma, is opting for a moderate approach, which he calls ``camping out in the kitchen.'' Zabaleta, his architect, says that means family room, kitchen, breakfast area, bathroom, laundry room and bar will be linked to a 55-kilowatt generator. ``The generator will be powerful, but if it served the whole house, I'd hate to see the fuel bill.'' Certainly, there are plenty of generator alternatives. Casa Majorca, a small condo development in the Gables, is being planned so that refrigerator, microwave, water heater and selected outlets in each room will be linked to a large generator. An elevator, lights in the common area and swimming pool pump and filter will also be generator-linked. ''It was during Wilma when this project was under design,'' said developer Phillip Yaffa, 'and 98 percent of Miami-Dade was without power. And I said, `You know, I'm building a luxury project with top-of-the-line appliances. Why can't we maintain a certain lifestyle?' South Florida is supposed to be paradise.'' Are more such projects on the way? There are no generators for Coscan Homes' development under way in Pompano Beach, where homes are going for about $550,000. ''But in a year, we're going to have something in the $1.2 [million] to $2 million range, and for that I think almost everyone is going to want backup power,'' said Coscan's Al Piazza. Carlos Gonzalez of Lennar Homes says the company has been ''exploring the possibility'' of adding generator-capability into its projects. And what if we have another year or two of multiple hurricanes knocking out FPL service for days or weeks? At that point, Zabaleta believes, the built-in backup generator ``will be as ubiquitous as an air conditioner.''