Uncle Bobs Tips: Generator Guide

Standby Generators

Standby generators run on natural gas or propane.

There are two basic types of electric power generators: stand-by generators and prime power or portable generators. Stand-by sets are used as a backup to normal utility power, i.e. during an electric blackout. Hospitals, communications service installations, pumping stations and many other facilities are equipped with standby power generators. Stand-by generators are permanently hardwired into a building's electrical system and often get fuel from city gas or propane lines.

Generators can run on several different types of fuel. Diesel electric generators are popular for larger, commercial applications due to their longevity and lower operating costs. Standby generators run on natural gas or propane. The primary advantage is that no fuel storage is required - the generator is simply connected to utility lines and draws fuel when it needs to. The choice between gas and propane is based solely on that which is available in your area. Both portable and standby generators are sometimes available in dual- or tri-fuel configurations, where switching from natural gas to gasoline to propane is made simple.

Since standby generators are wired into a building'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 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 standby system.

Since standby generators are located outside a building (much like a central air conditioner), it's best they can be positioned near the electric panel. The standby generator needs to be installed on a level surface - most commonly, a concrete pad but occasionally hard rubber. Some standby generator dealers cover "everything" in their installation charge, including pouring a concrete pad - others don't. Determine exactly what the installation of your standby generator will entail before committing to a purchase.

If applicable, you will need a plumber to connect the gas or propane line. Standby generators can be sensitive to both fuel pressure and volume, so high-quality connections are important. If you rent space, make sure your landlord approves your plan to install a generator.

To connect a 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.

Additional features

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

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

With standby power generation on demand, generator manufacturers have a competitive, wide array of models for you to choose from. SO, when the power goes out, don't be powerless...be prepared with your standby generator!

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