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Selecting and Installing a Generator

Imagine your home without the electrical systems that you rely on. No heat, no lights, no internet connection, no television. You cannot charge your cell phone or laptop. If your water is supplied by a well, that is gone too, so running showers and flushing toilets are not possible. Your home’s sump pump will not work, so your basement is vulnerable to flooding. Then there are the safety and security issues. If not sufficiently backed up, your burglar and fire alarms may not function.

Following are a few pointers to help you through the selection and installation of automatic generators.

Q: Where do I start?

A: First and foremost, a PURE Member Advocate® can personally assist you in the process of selecting a permanently installed automatic generator, from answering questions to helping you identify which model is right for your home and your family’s needs. Your Member Advocate may also assist in expediting the process. For some members, the wait time was shortened from several weeks to just a few days.

Q: Why are automatic generators a better option than portable models?

A: During a power outage, an automatic generator provides numerous advantages over a portable generator.

  • They are safer. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is high with small gas-powered tools such as portable generators. Permanently installed units are situated outside of the home and powered by natural gas or liquid petroleum.
  • They cost less to operate. They run on your home’s natural gas or a liquid propane fuel supply.
  • They start and stop automatically. Within seconds of a power failure, the permanently installed generator will begin supplying power directly to your home’s electrical circuit breaker box. Once power is restored, the generator shuts down.

Q: When is the best time of year to install a permanent generator?

A: Smaller units can typically be installed at any time of year, but larger units (20kW and up) can present a challenge to installers if the ground is frozen. These larger units will sometimes require that a trench be dug or a concrete pad be poured. Some installers can get around this if they have equipment to thaw the ground. We recommend that you begin the process, even if the actual install of the unit has to wait for the ground to thaw.

Q: Do I need a permit? If so, how do I procure them?

A: Permits are required in nearly all locales and are procured through the village building department or your town’s equivalent. Often times, your installer will obtain the necessary permits on your behalf. (Confirm this with the installers early in the process as the turnaround time for a permit could be up to 4 weeks or longer if after a significant weather event.)

Q: What is the general timeline for the installation of a permanent generator?

A: Plan on the process from ordering to installation taking 3–4 weeks, but if the dealer is especially busy or if there is an extreme weather emergency, allow 6–8 weeks. The actual installation of the unit itself may only take 1–2 days.

Q: What size is right for my home?

A: The most logical way to determine your needs is to envision your home without power. Outages can last for days or even weeks. What would your family miss if an extended outage were to occur? To begin:

  • Identify a list of all appliances that you would want to power during an extended outage. You can support just a few critical household appliances, your whole home or anything in between.
  • Know the number of circuits required by each appliance. Most common household appliances require either one or two circuits. An air conditioner, for example, typically needs two, while a sump pump or furnace each require one.
  • Determine how many appliances you will operate at the same time. This will tell you how many circuits you need to support. Note that some appliances have a higher wattage requirement for startup than for sustained usage.
  • When selecting your generator, consider future wattage needs. PURE suggests selecting a model that will allow you to add additional circuits; otherwise, you will have to replace the whole unit if your power needs grow.

Q: How much do automatic generators costs?

A: Cost varies depending on the wattage requirements and other features. There are small, mid-sized and large models available.

  • Small (7–10 kW) will power just a few basic household appliances. Cost ranges from $1850 to $4,000.
  • Mid-size (12–20 kW) is a good option if you intend to support a heating or cooling system. Cost ranges from $4,000 to $10,000.
  • Large (22–45 kW) will allow you to power your entire home. The cost of a whole-home unit typically starts at $9,000.

In the unfortunate instance that you suffer a large loss resulting from a power outage, PURE will contribute up to $2,500 towards the cost of your new automatic generator. In addition, PURE members may be eligible for a discount on their Homeowners premium simply by having an automatic generator in place.

Q: Where should I place my generator?

A: Your dealer will know what local codes dictate for installation and can offer additional advice, but here are some basic considerations:

  • It is most economical to place generators close to existing electrical panels and fuel source.
  • Always place generators in the open a safe distance from the home and it’s openings to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Some units can be placed in a trench and landscaping can be planted around units for aesthetics, but should be at least 5 feet away from the exhaust to allow for proper air flow.
  • If the generator is to be placed in an area that floods, the unit should be raised above the high water elevation.

Q: I don’t have a fuel supply in place. How will I power a permanently installed generator?

A: Automatic generators can run on natural gas or liquid propane. A licensed generator installer can help facilitate the installation of the fuel supply as well as the generator.

Q: Liquid Propane or Natural Gas: what are the advantages/disadvantages of each?

A: If you have a natural gas line already running to your home and you can place the unit nearby, it will lessen the installation cost. At present, natural gas costs less than propane and provides an endless fuel source unless the utility needs to shut off the gas. Liquid Propane enables your generator to provide a slight power advantage (a 20kw unit may be listed as an 18kw if it is powered by natural gas), but we have seen propane shortages in some regions. On the flip side, however, if authorities have shut down natural gas service, a propane fueled generator will continue to run until the propane runs out.

Q: Other than my installer, what other contractors will be required?

A: An electrician will need to connect the generator to the electrical panel and a propane or natural gas provider will need to connect it to a fuel source. Your installer will make all of the necessary arrangements.

Q: How long will an automatic generator run?

A: If properly maintained, your generator will keep running as long as its fuel supply remains uninterrupted.

Q: I don’t want to disturb my family and neighbors with a noisy generator. Are there quiet models?

A: Yes. Newer models are equipped with sound-reducing covers and operate at fewer decibels than a lawnmower. By code, generators must be placed a minimum of five feet away from household openings and are usually placed away from other nearby homes.

Q: What can I expect during the installation?

A: A licensed installer should be able to complete the installation within one day. The generator is either placed atop a crushed gravel base or a prefabricated plastic or concrete pad (depending on size and weight). The wiring is done between the generator panel and the main panel for the home. As long as the generator is installed near the fuel supply and electric supply, the process should be quick.

If you have any additional questions about selecting an automatic generator, please contact our Member Advocate at [email protected].