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Three Things to Consider Before Installing a Whole-House Generator

Electrical storms, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding — all of these weather events and more can inflict damage on electrical grids, 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 a power outage, but these only provide a limited supply of electricity and require regular oversight to keep fueled and running.

An ideal emergency generator for your home will provide enough power 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. And 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. Unlike a portable generator, awhole-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 you’ll be able to choose a generator that makes sense for your home.

Generator Capacity

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 generator might produce 2kW to 4kW, whereas a 20kW rating is quite common for a whole-house generator designed to power your entire home.

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 generator you need. 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.

Choosing the Right Fuel

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

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.

LP Gas (Propane)

Clean-burning LP gas is safe and easy to store. Home storage tanks 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.

Natural Gas

What’s not to like about natural gas? It burns cleanly, and natural gas supplies are rarely affected by natural disasters. With a natural gas-powered standby generator you’ll be ready 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.

Dare to DIY?

If you’re a dedicated do-it-yourselfer you may entertain notions of saving money 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.

  • Electrical connections – 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.
  • Plumbing connections – If you’re using natural gas or LP gas to power your generator you’ll need to connect the 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.

  • Building permits/HOA restrictions – Depending on your locality you may be required to acquire a building permit for the installation. Inspections may be required as well. Also, consider any restrictions that your homeowner’s association (HOA) may have in place.

  • Site selection – 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.

That’s a lot to handle if you’re doing the 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? 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.

Interested in learning more about getting a whole-house generator for your home? Call us and we’ll be happy to help you figure out the best generator for your home.

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4 comments on “Three Things to Consider Before Installing a Whole-House Generator”
  1. You make an excellent point when you mention how the size of the generator you will need will depend on how many devices need power. My wife and I have decided that we will be working from home for a few weeks, and we need to ensure that our computers will not turn off if the power goes out. We'll consider getting a generator that will help us maintain efficiency when working.

  2. How do I compare the KW capacity of a generator to the required capacity of our existing home? Is it done by rooms, square footage, checklist with room by room power requirements...

  3. Hello,
    I am looking for something to help with a house that is 4,000 sq ft. I need something that would be able to run 2 A/C units if need be.

  4. Hello, we are interested in a natural gas whole house generator. However, we live in San Angelo, Texas. Do you do work outside Fort Worth?

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