This article was updated on: October 20th, 2021
Electrical storms, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding — all of these weather events and more can inflict damage on the electrical utility grid, plunging your home into darkness for hours, days, or even weeks. Many homeowners purchase small portable generators to provide backup power in the event of power outages, but these only provide a limited supply of electricity and require regular oversight to keep fueled and running.
When you lose power you'll lose the convenience of electricity, and perhaps even the capability to cook, have hot water and heat your home. Home standby power for the entire home is a smart way to protect your home and family.
In this article, we'll examine important points you should consider before installing a whole-house generator, also called an automatic standby generator, instead of a portable, partial house generator.
While it's tempting to run on down to the local home improvement store to purchase a portable generator when a big storm is on the way, there are some good reasons why you may want to think ahead and provide your home with a dedicated standby generator.
A portable generator might be fine for a camping expedition or tailgating at the football game, but it probably won't have anything near the amount of power output you'll need to power your home, particularly if you want to be able to keep a major appliance, air conditioner, or the heat on.
It's an unfortunate fact that many deaths have occurred in the past few decades from the unsafe use of portable units. Most of these have occurred because of carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by locating the generator inside, or too close to, a home. There are other dangers as well.
Running extension cords throughout your home to connect to a portable generator is not only inconvenient, it creates the potential for electrical shock, tripp, creating the potential for electrocution of lineman trying to restore power. A properly installed electrical panel transfer switch or generator interlock kit can eliminate that danger.
When a power outage occurs it can be hard to know exactly how long the power will be out. In most cases, the interruption will be short. However, in the case of a large-scale natural disaster, you may need your own home standby unit power source for days or even weeks.
A standby generator can rely on power sources such as natural gas or propane stored in a large tank. That means they'll be able to run for much longer, providing you with a reliable source of power.
Portable generators have a limited fuel capacity and need to be refueled often. The fuel they use may be in short supply during an emergency. All things considered, the run time of a standby generator makes them a logical choice for consistent power during emergency situations.
The ideal emergency generator
An ideal home backup generator will provide enough electricity during power outages to operate home heating and air-conditioning systems, providing you with a comfortable environment and protecting your home from damage from mold or frozen pipes. It will be ready to run at a moment’s notice with no need for you to position the generator and run electrical cords to provide power for essential appliances.
That’s why an increasing number of homeowners are emergency-proofing their homes by installing a whole-house generator. A whole-house generator is permanently wired into your home and turns on automatically when the power goes out. Standby generators are connected to either natural gas lines or large fuel tanks, so they’ll have enough fuel to get you through an extensive power outage.
Sound like a good idea? If you’re considering a standby generator, take a moment to consider these important points before you take the plunge. You’ll have a better idea of what’s involved in installing a standby generator and the installation cost, and you’ll be able to choose a generator that makes sense for your home.
At the top of the list of important considerations is generator capacity. Generators are rated by the number of watts they produce. A thousand watts is called a kilowatt (kW), so a 10kW generator can produce 10,000 watts of power.
The more devices you want to power, the bigger (and more expensive) the generator you’ll need. A typical portable device might produce 2kW to 4kW, whereas a 20kW rating is quite common for a whole-house generator designed to power your entire house.
If you’re only concerned about keeping a few lights on and powering your refrigerator and freezer, you can get by with a relatively small generator, perhaps in the 5-10kW range. Furnaces and air conditioning units require much more power — for a medium-size home you’ll probably need a generator in the 20-22kW range.
A quick search on the internet will rustle up a number of calculators to help you determine how large a device you need for your generator installation. Or contact a contractor who installs standby generators. They’ll have the experience and expertise to help you select a generator that’s right for your needs.
Your generator won’t do you any good if it doesn’t have fuel. In the event of a natural disaster, fuel supplies may be limited or unavailable, so you’ll need a sufficient quantity of fuel to last for an extended period of time.
Of the four fuels that are primarily used for generators — gasoline, diesel, LP gas, and natural gas — we can rule out the first one immediately. While gasoline is the most common fuel for portable generators, it’s a poor choice for whole-house generators. Gasoline is highly volatile, making storage difficult, and it deteriorates over time, so the jerry cans you stashed in the shed will be worthless after a year or two. Let’s examine the other options.
Diesel has some attractive qualities as a fuel. It’s stable and less volatile than gasoline and it’s high in energy content, so diesel engines are generally quite efficient. For a standby generator, you’ll need to install an external tank to hold your fuel if you want more than a day’s supply. The advantages of diesel make it a popular choice for schools, hospitals, or businesses, but it is less common for home applications. Nonetheless, it’s worth considering if you don’t have access to natural gas or convenient LP gas delivery.
Clean-burning LP gas is safe and easy to store. Home storage tanks for liquid propane range in size from 100 to 1000 gallons, and most areas have local dealers who can set you up with a tank and deliveries in a jiffy. While propane doesn’t have quite the energy content of diesel, it’s an excellent fuel for a standby generator since you can easily have a large, stable supply of fuel on hand.
What’s not to like about natural gas? It burns cleanly, and natural gas supplies are rarely affected by natural disasters. Natural gas generators offer the reliability to keep the power flowing through almost any circumstances. Natural gas tops our ratings, followed closely by LP gas, with diesel running a distant third.
If you’re a dedicated do-it-yourselfer you may entertain notions of saving on your home generator installation cost by installing a whole-house generator yourself. After all, there’s always YouTube to help… But before you take the plunge, consider all the factors that are involved in installing a standby generator. You'll probably decide that the extra installation cost of hiring a professional is worth it.
Standby generators utilize an automatic transfer switch that detects a power outage and starts the generator. Depending on your configuration, the switch may then transfer control of your power to a separate breaker panel that will send electricity to only the circuits you’ve chosen to have powered.
If you’re using natural gas or LP gas to power your generator you’ll need to connect the natural gas line or propane tank to the generator. And you’ll need to be sure you have the correct valves to handle the type of gas you’re using for your home generator installation. Saving some money on the installation cost here might be dangerous.
Depending on your locality you may be required to acquire a building permit for the home generator installation. Inspections may be required as well. Also, consider any restrictions that your homeowner’s association (HOA) may have in place.
Your generator will have specific manufacturer’s guidelines for proximity to your home, and you’ll need to consider how close the unit’s exhaust is to windows or other entries to your home when performing the generator installation.
That’s a lot to handle if you’re doing the generator installation job yourself. And the results of doing the job incorrectly could be catastrophic, with the potential of accidental electrocution, gas leaks, and carbon monoxide poisoning topping the list.
Your best bet for generator installation? Hire a professional to do the job. They’ll have the background and knowledge to ensure a safe and smooth installation. In addition, professionals that specialize in whole-house generator sales and installation can assist you in choosing the generator that best suits your needs.
Don't let the prospect of generator installation costs dissuade you. Knowing that your whole-house generator has been installed properly and will run safely and efficiently is worth the extra installation costs.
Do you want to know more about backup power to your home? Contact us, our service professionals are happy to talk about the options for home generators that are available to you, and they can help you get the new generator you need.
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