Uncle Bobs Tips: Generator Guide

Home Standby Generators

Home standby generators are used as a backup to normal utility power.

Increased demand for electric power often pushes local power providers to their maximum, resulting in "brownouts" or even blackouts. As power demand continues to challenge available power resources, power failures have been the cause of both inconvenience and great financial loss both at home and at work. Consequently, homeowners are investing heavily in home standby generators as an indispensable provider of safety, security and peace of mind.

Home standby generators are used as a backup to normal utility power. Home standby generators are permanently hardwired into a building's electrical system and often get fuel from city gas or propane lines. Since home standby generators are wired directly into your home's electric system, proper installation by a professional is critical. Shoddy installation work can cause the generator to fail, overheat, or damage existing wiring and equipment. Improper connection of a home standby generator could also void your homeowner's insurance in case of accident or injury. In addition, installation requires a strict adherence to local codes and regulations. Dealers usually come to evaluate your system's needs and depending on your location, may offer delivery, installation, and maintenance services directly. If they don't, they will put you in touch with qualified electricians and plumbers to help install your home standby system.

Home standby generators create noxious fumes, thus never operate a home standby generator inside your home, basement, garage or any other enclosed area. Place your generator outdoors (much like a central air conditioner), preferably positioned near your home's electric panel. A home standby generator needs to be installed on a level surface - most commonly, a concrete pad but occasionally hard rubber. Some home standby generator dealers cover "everything" in their installation charge, including pouring a concrete pad - others don't. Determine exactly what the installation of your home standby generator will entail before committing to a purchase. If you rent space, make sure your landlord approves your plan to install a home standby generator.

To connect a home standby generator to your electrical system, you need a separate device called an automatic "transfer switch". A transfer switch monitors incoming utility voltage 24/7. When a break in regular electrical service occurs, the switch immediately signals the standby generator to power up. It safely closes off the utility line and simultaneously opens up a new power line from the generator. Within seconds, you are generating electricity from your own private power plant, i.e. your standby generator! When regular power resumes, the switch will disconnect the standby generator and return your setup to normal.

Note: Do not attempt to install a transfer switch yourself! Installation of transfer switches always requires a professional electrician.

The model of transfer switch you purchase will depend on the size of your generator. Remember that during power outages the main concern is for powering sufficiently for the safety of your family. If power is out for several hours you will want to ensure adequate wattage to cover heat and lighting and to power the refrigerator and freezer in order to avoid food spoilage. In addition to the home standby generator and transfer switch, some recommend that you invest in a dedicated electrical sub-panel as well. Only your essential equipment is connected to the sub-panel, which is connected to the generator. This way, when power fails, your critical devices will get the emergency power without the risk of overworking your generator or having to turn off or unplug other equipment.

Additional features

Quality home standby generators will include safety features, i.e. shut down if they lose oil pressure, overheat, or are being worked too hard.

Home standby generators should have solid steel or aluminum enclosures, good mufflers to reduce noise, and be compliant with all relevant emissions regulations.

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