How Do I Select A Home Standby Generator?
Emergency generator power gives you peace of mind even when you’re not in the middle of a blackout. It gives you security and eases at least some of your worries with the knowledge you’ll be able to weather the worst in relative comfort.
There’s only one problem: How do you know what the best home standby generator is?
We’ll talk about how to safely use standby generators and what factors you need to consider as you research one for your home.
At Rytec Electric, we’ve partnered with Cummins to provide our customers with a wide range of the best generators out there. As such, our discussion will focus on Cummins products and resources.
How do whole house generators work?
Whole house generators automatically switch on to provide backup power when there’s a blackout. Automatic generators can be installed to start up in as little as a minute and begin supplementing your power system.
A key piece to this process is the automatic transfer switch (ATS). This safely connects your generator to your breaker panel, flicks on if the power goes down, switches off when the power is restored, and generally makes your life easier.
Though many standby generators are automatic, there are manual options available.
For detailed information about how generators work, we’ve already written a blog! You can access it here: How Do Home Generators Work?
How do I choose a home standby generator?
There are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing a home standby generator:
- How much power do you want? Do you want the entire home to function normally, or just the air conditioner and a select few appliances?
- Who is in your household, and do they need any specialized care?
- How much do you want to spend on a generator system?
- Are there regulations from your municipality, county, state, or HOA regarding home standby generators?
- Where is your property physically located?
- What power source do you want to use? The most common options are
- Liquid propane
- Natural gas
All of these power sources are fairly fuel efficient, but the price and availability vary.
A natural gas generator is the ideal for most people because natural gas almost never goes out at the same time as the electrical grid. It combines price with reliable availability. Of course, not everyone lives near a gas line, which could make installation cost prohibitive or literally impossible.
Diesel and liquid propane require you to store fuel on your property. If a blackout is longer than you’ve prepared for, then, depending on the circumstances, they might not be as readily available to restock.
Your household will have a big impact on the kind of generator you need. Do members of your household have medical devices that require electricity to run? Do you have very young or very old family members or pets living with you who will be more heavily impacted without central air or heating?
Finally, the location of your property is important for more reasons than how close a gas line is.
For instance, if you don’t use municipal water, or you’re only partially on it, then it’s reasonable to assume you’ll need a system that can handle powering your well pump in addition to other home systems. Or, if you live in an area prone to flooding, you might want to ensure your sump pump is always in working condition.
What size standby generator do I need?
Standby generator sizing is one of the most important things to keep in mind as you decide what type of generator is best for your family. The typical small home generator has the right amount of power for the HVAC and refrigeration systems. If you want or need more electronics powered, you’ll have to plan accordingly.
Your electrical contractor will correctly size your generator based on your home’s size, what you’d like to power, and any surge wattage that might occur from the systems running.
If you’re not ready to call an electrician, Cummins has a sizing calculator online.
What is required to install a backup generator?
To install a backup generator, you’ll need multiple contractors, permits, and an inspection.
Your primary contractor to install a backup generator will be an electrician. However, there’s a good chance you’ll need a plumber and concrete installer.
If you choose a gas generator, you’ll probably need to run gas plumbing. This requires a plumber. If you don’t have concrete for your generator to sit on, then you’ll need a concrete installer to lay a concrete pad. These are both structurally necessary, and they’re probably not projects your electrician is licensed to do.
Your electrician ensures your generator is safely installed to not only your circuit breaker, but also the main power utility. Improperly installed backup generators can easily become hazards to employees fixing the main power lines as much as they pose dangers to your home.
We’ll talk more about permits later. In that section, there are resources for South Carolina counties and municipalities regarding permits you may need.
In short, you will almost definitely need a permit to add a standby generator to your home. Lexington and Richland counties (where Rytec primarily operates in S.C.) require them, and municipalities in those counties will have various rules of their own. If your neighborhood has an HOA, there’s a possibility they have regulations to follow, too.
Ideally, your electrical contractor will take care of getting your inspection done. An inspection is a final check from a third party expert to ensure your generator has been properly installed. If the inspector finds any issues or errors, they’ll notify you and/or the contractor so they can be amended.
Once your generator has passed inspection, there’s nothing left for you to do except keep it well-maintained!
What if I want to install my backup generator myself?
If you have an advanced electrical background, you could install your backup generator yourself. However, even in that case, we recommend against it.
As we’ve discussed, there’s a good chance you need more than just an electrician. Even if you aren’t installing a gas generator, you might need a concrete pad installed. This is the literal foundation your generator will sit on, so you should be confident in its quality.
Also, liability could fall on you if you improperly install your generator. It may impact your ability to make warranty claims, as well.
Where should I install my backup generator?
Realistically, if the contractors involved in your backup generator installation are recognized, trustworthy professionals, you won’t necessarily have a huge range of options. Your contractors should be familiar with the safety regulations to install your generator.
That’s not to say you’ll have zero choices on placement! Rather, if your contractor isn’t showing you they understand regulations and safety around placement or doesn’t help you follow them, you’re going to want to hire a new contractor.
Our recommendation to immediately narrow down your list of potential contractors is to confirm they’re licensed and insured. We don’t recommend hiring anyone who doesn’t have both.
Cummins recommends standby generators are installed at least 60 inches (5 feet) from any openings into an occupied structure, including windows, doors, and dryer vents.
- Your municipality, county, and HOA (if applicable) may have different safety regulations.
- An “occupied structure” includes neighbors’ homes as well as your own.
These regulations significantly reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while using your generator.
What fuel source you choose to use also impacts generator placement. It’s going to be more cost effective to install your generator near your electric meter and, if applicable, your gas meter.
New generator models prioritize quietness, but you should still take noise into consideration. Neither you nor your neighbors want to be disturbed by a noisy generator – especially not on top of the stress of a lengthy power outage!
Additional safety information and resources:
Portable generators have different requirements and safety protocols than permanent generators!
If you choose to purchase a portable generator, be sure you know how to safely use it. Many accidental deaths and serious injuries by carbon monoxide poisoning during natural disasters are because users misunderstand how to use their portable generator.
You should also consider hiring an electrician to install a transfer switch between your portable generator and electrical panel to reduce potential electrical hazards.
For more information on safely using permanent and portable generators, we’ll refer you to this Cummins webpage. Your electrical contractor will also be able to answer your questions and concerns, and they’ll know where local regulations deviate from manufacturer recommendations.
Again: If your contractor doesn’t know this information, don’t hire them! At best, improper generator installations are safety and electrical code violations. At worst, they’re serious and even fatal health concerns.
Do I need a permit for a backup generator installation?
You need a permit for a backup generator installation in Lexington and Richland counties. Your HOA or municipality may have additional restrictions or permits for backup generators. You’ll also need an inspection to approve your new generator once it’s installed.
We recommend you let your contractor apply for all applicable permits, even if homeowners are approved to apply for them as well. It gives homeowners better liability protection.
In Lexington County, if the permit is in your name, you’ll be liable for any faulty work your contractor does.
In Richland County, there are certain exemptions available to homeowners, as well as instructions for homeowners who need a permit or inspection. Your permit application requires the information of the homeowner and contractor (exemptions may apply).
Stay comfortable and safe in your home
Selecting a standby generator eliminates worry of the unknown. You’ll know that, no matter what, your family is safe, even if there’s extreme weather or it’s unclear when an outage will end.
At Rytec Electric, we want the process of selecting a generator to be as worry-free as possible. We’ll take your home’s size and household needs into consideration to determine what the best generator will be for you. If you have budget constraints or have a particular fuel source you’d like to use, we’ll narrow our suggestions accordingly.
There’s no part of the installation process we won’t handle for you where we’re qualified. We’ll obtain any necessary permits. We’re not only licensed and insured, but all of our work falls under a one-year labor warranty. Plus, as Cummins partners, we’re certified to sell and install the brand’s high-quality generators and associated product warranties.
Find out more about what we do to make your home generator installation experience as simple as possible, or contact us so we can answer questions you may have.