We recently had a home stand by generator installed, and I thought some readers may have an interest in the decision considerations we faced. The intent of this article is not to promote any specific brand of home stand by generator, but rather discuss some of the factors that should be contemplated.
Some of the risk factors that we considered were the impacts of more severe weather due to climate change in terms of causing more potential power outages. More people switching to electric vehicles, thus putting more stress on the power grid. And, the impact of the overall power grid aging and requiring updating and repairs. Since we are planning to stay in our current home for many years to come, it made sense for us to move forward with a home stand by generator.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
At first glance it may seen odd to look at a photograph of a fence under construction when reading an article about a home stand by generator. Installing a permanent home stand by generator can be a sizeable investment, and it can sometimes be linked to other renovations that need to be done in advance.
In our case, we needed to replace an aging fence since the gas and electrical lines for the generator needed to be routed through that section of our backyard.
Over the past number of years we have been updating sections of fencing, so tackling this project in the spring made good sense for us. We used the same fencing technology as we had for other sections in order that everything would be consistent and uniform.
There are numerous trees and shrubs along the perimeter of our yard which makes digging post holes difficult and time consuming. So, we used galvanized steel 10-foot posts that are driven in from above using an air tool. The posts are pre-drilled to make fastening standard 2″ X 4″ spanners easy to do. We hired a local fencing contractor to install of the metal posts.
My wife and I then installed the 2″ x 4″ spanners, fence boards, and top rails. I used a reciprocating saw with a high strength metal blade to cut the tops off the steel fence posts.
As retired seniors it likely took my wife and I a bit longer to build this section of fence than it would most homeowners. Working around some wet weather we had the new 90 foot span of fence finished in about eight days.
Before purchasing a home stand by generator it is prudent to investigate various brands, power sizes, and determine the best place on your property to have it installed. There may be local bylaws that need to be considered, as well as electrical and gas permits and inspections.
If you use an existing natural gas line as your source of back-up fuel, you’ll also need to make sure that a licenced gas fitter does a load assessment. This may indicate that an upgraded gas meter and higher capacity gas service is needed, as was the case with our installation.
Depending on your local utility you may be facing additional charges for this work. Most home stand by generators can run on either natural gas or propane. The fuel nozzle in the generator’s engine will need to be switched out based on your choice of fuel.
If you are lucky your electrical meter and gas meter/service will be on the same side of your home, and in close proximity. This will help reduce installation costs. As noted earlier there may be local bylaws and other government regulations that need to be followed.
From a safety standpoint a home stand by generator must be installed at least 5 feet away from any window that opens. This is to ensure that carbon monoxide gas will not enter your home when the generator is running.
This type of appliance should not be installed by amateurs from both safety and warranty standpoints. We worked through an approved dealer which provided licensed electrical service. The dealer arranged for a licensed gas fitter to do that part of our installation. From start to finish it took about three months for our installation to be completed. A large part of that was waiting for the gas company to upgrade our meter and gas service line.
I would recommend getting a formal site inspection done by an approved dealers as well as obtaining a full quotation for all of the work to be done. As you can see in the photograph above, we did not have enough room next to our electrical meter to install the transfer switch next to it. So, additional work was needed to run extended electrical lines to and from the transfer switch.
It also pays to think ahead about what other things may come up during installation. When our electrical service was rerouted into the transfer switch it created a gap in our siding where the former electrical service ran from inside our house to the meter. I contacted our siding contractor and had them pre-cut a small piece of aluminum spacer to plug that gap. This helped ensure a good, weather proof seal.
Having the installation handled by licensed professionals who have expert knowledge of your choice of home stand by generator is something that I would recommend. When I was doing my research I read many online reviews of many generators. I found that the folks who had significant problems with their generators (regardless of brand) appeared to be the ones who did not have approved dealers do their installations.
Choosing a home stand by generator is like choosing a camera. There are many options out there and it really comes down to your individual needs. We liked the gull-wing design of the model we selected as it made servicing easier. We chose a 14 kW model so we could power our entire home during an outage.
Make sure to have the approved dealer do an inspection of your electrical panel and service. This will help determine the size of generator you need, and any upgrades that may need to be done to your electrical service.
The various manufacturers have online tools you can use to help determine which size of generator would be best for your needs. It is important to note that since natural gas is not as ‘energy dense’ as propane a 14 kW generator will only produce 12.5 kW when powered by natural gas.
Another feature that we liked about the unit that we selected was its 24 volt starting system. Most generators only have a 12 volt system which often means that an axillary battery warmer needs to be installed if you live in a cold climate. Sometimes it can also require the installation of an axillary oil heater. These add-ons will draw additional electrical current when your generator is not in use. They also add to the purchase and installation costs of your generator.
A home stand by generator will utilize an internal combustion engine to generate power that is converted into electrical current. This leads to two other considerations… noise level and fuel consumption. A difference of 10 dB doubles the sound intensity. So, what appears to be a modest difference in dB can result in a noticeable difference in sound intensity.
Manufacturers publish the noise levels of various home stand by generator models. Most are calculated at a distance of about 23 feet from the unit. If you have a chance to inspect various generators first hand in advance of your purchase look for good sound insulation and a sound dampening muffler. Generally speaking a home stand by generator will approximate the sound of a gasoline powered lawn mower. As noted some generators operate at lower dB levels than similarly kW rated units.
Fuel consumption can vary between manufacturers’ equipment… even when comparing units that have the identical kW rating. This can significantly impact the running cost of a generator. The model that we selected is up to 35% more fuel efficient than comparable 14 kW models when running at full load.
It is recommended that home stand by generators run a test cycle every week, or every second week. Test cycles typically mean a generator runs for about 10-15 minutes. This is important to ensure that all of the systems are working properly and will kick in effectively in the event of a power outage. It also keeps the internal combustion engine’s seals and internal parts properly lubricated.
Having a home stand by generator serviced is usually recommended once a year, or at 100 hour run intervals., whichever comes first. This can be done on a DIY basis, or by hiring a qualified technician.
With a brand new generator it is a good idea to have the oil and filter changed after 5 hours of run time. This helps ensure that any small particles that may be inside the internal combustion motor from the manufacturing process will be trapped and removed early in the life of the generator.
With proper maintenance a good quality home stand by generator should provide 20 years or more of reliable service.
Internal damage to a generator can be caused when rodents and insects get inside the unit. Look for good quality screening material that helps eliminate this type of problem from occurring.
Our home stand by generator was only fully load tested and put into service within the last couple of weeks, so we have not yet experienced a power outage. The test power outage under full load went smoothly.
While this article focused on various issues when considering a home stand by generator, it also serves another purpose. That is to remind us how important it can be to use our cameras to document interesting or significant events in our lives.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post. Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,185 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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