Automatic Standby Backup Power
A Buyer’s Guide
A reliable and uninterrupted power supply is vital to maintaining consumers’ livelihoods and the sanctuary of hearth and home. Outages caused by weather events are common occurrences. And now that more people are working and studying from home than ever before, the already aging power grid is under strain. In 2019, power outages were typically inconvenient and sometimes costly, but generally not much more than an inconvenience.
But in 2020, we learned that loss of power can disrupt our entire lives and leave us feeling helpless and vulnerable. An automatic standby generator restores power within seconds of a power outage, keeping everything – appliances, Wi-Fi, lights, well-pump, refrigerator, water heater, etc., – running until the outage is over. Unlike a portable generator, a standby generator automatically powers your entire home so that you and your family can seamlessly continue with daily life.
Backup power generation creates new possibilities such as safely sheltering in your own home instead of evacuating to a public facility.
The installation process required for this safe, consistent, and stable power source is complex and is not a do-it-yourself (DIY) project. Generator installation is much more involved than having a new washer delivered to your home. This is not a plug-and-play appliance. Installation typically includes:
• Generator Selection
• Project Planning
• Local Permitting
• Site Preparation
• Utility Coordination
• Warranty Activation
• Maintenance and Service
This buyers guide provides consumers a detailed description of the steps required for generator installation. The installation process is the same for all brands of residential standby generators. One of the most important aspects of the process is to choose an experienced and reputable installer committed to prompt and continuous customer service even after initial installation.
A Step-by-Step Process
1. Choosing the right generator
“My family is going to be safe and secure in my house becuase of this generator. That gives you that sense of security that to me is priceless.”
– J. A., Homeowner, Raleigh, NC
One of the first steps in installation is choosing the right generator. Choose the size of your home backup power generator carefully. It will be your single most important decision. A well-trained, experienced Generator Specialist can assist consumers in making the right choice.
Why speak to a Generator Specialist?
It takes many years of training to understand the amount of electrical service required in a single-family residence. Peak load demands and multiple appliances running at the same time will directly affect the performance of your generator. Peak load is the highest amount of energy that a consumer draws from the electric grid in a set period of time. Understanding peak load is essential for any installer to determine a generator that meets a home’s specific requirements.
2. Planning your project.
“It should be obvious that a whole-house backup generator standing by 24.7 will easily pay you back when the power suddenly goes out. The value in automatically supplying electricity to every appliance and system in your home is a premium level of service and simply costs extra.”
The next step in standby generator installation requires professional drawings, approvals and permits. Official site and impervious surface surveys may also be required. Installing a generator requires professionally licensed contractors. Building permits are issued by local governments to provide awareness of the modifications taking place across the jurisdictions within their provenance. It is important to note that in most cases, the homeowner must be at home for all inspections.
Every generator will require an electrical and gas connection. Permits and inspections are required for all gas connections whether natural or LP. When needed, liquid propane (LP) tanks are typically privately supplied and installed by localized dealers.
Building permits are applied for by licensed electricians at your city or county building department. These applications are reviewed prior to issuance by the building officials at that office. They may request additional information from you such as boundary surveys and flood height elevation certificates where applicable. Building codes and the permit application processes vary between jurisdictions.
Creating and submitting drawings and equipment specifications is a common practice in the construction business. When all application requirements are satisfied, permits are issued for each project. When specific phases of the job are completed, each project is inspected by a local authority who ensures all mechanical standards of workmanship and safety have been properly adhered to and are compliant with building codes.
3. Choosing and preparing a location.
Before your generator arrives
Preparing for the delivery of your generator requires some pre-planning. Since most generators weigh over 400 pounds, it is important to ensure that there are no obstructions that would prevent the setting of the generator in place.
Standby backup power generators are permanently installed outside just like a central air conditioning unit. And since every generator will require an electrical and a gas connection, knowing where to locate the unit before the delivery date is essential.
Following the manufacturer’s required installation specifications is required for warranty protection and compliance with your local building inspectors.
When considering the location for your generator, you will want to find a stable area that is well-drained and does not flood. Keep in mind that the generator can be no closer than 36” to any utility meters, air conditioning units, combustibles or anything serviceable.
Generators cannot be closer than 18” from the house and at least 60” away from doors, windows and fresh air intakes. Allowing 36” in front of the generator provides enough access for a technician to perform any future checkups or maintenance.
A good rule of thumb is to plan for a 10’ x 10’ space. This will provide room not only for the generator but also for the required clearances to meet local codes and manufacturer requirements.
A level surface
If your contractor is installing your generator on a pre-cast reinforced Gen-pad or a poured-in-place concrete pad, the surface needs to be level.
The landscaping in the adjacent area needs to be cleared of plants or any objects that might otherwise cause an obstruction or get in the way of the workers and their specialized equipment that will be used to transfer the generator from the truck to the installation site.
In some cases a specially designed platform will be installed to assure that the generator will be above the flood plain on low-lying coastal areas or steeply inclined grades.
4. Coordinating gas and electric utility.
gas choices, connections and electrical installation
As mentioned in Section 2: Project Planning and Local Permitting, all standby power generators require a fuel source to generate electricity for your home. Homeowners have two different choices: natural gas or liquid propane (LP) gas. The homeowner should be prepared to be present for all inspections.
Natural gas is provided and metered by a public utility. A typical gas connection requires the installation of the gas piping from the gas source to the approximate location of your generator unit. A new natural gas line requires a pressure test and initial inspection by your local Municipal Gas Inspection Office.
Because natural gas is not available in all areas liquid propane is the only alternative. Liquid Propane requires professionally installed, truck filled storage tanks refilled as needed by the provider of your choice. LP options are buried, above ground, lease, own, one large tank as space permits, or multiple smaller tanks for tight spaces.
You may want to secure multiple prices from several of your local LP dealers. If you lease the LP tank, you will be required to purchase all future LP gas from that supplier. If you purchase your LP tank, you can purchase your LP fuel from any LP fuel provider.
You will need a minimum of a 250-gallon tank (or multiple tanks with a minimum capacity of 350 gallons) to properly operate a generator system. However, we strongly recommend at least a 500-gallon tank to maintain enough fuel for a multi-day power outage
LP gas tank installation and connections
Once you have selected a LP supplier, the supplier begins the permitting process and will install and connect the fuel supply to the generator unit. The process of setting up and connecting the LP gas connection can take weeks or longer depending on the company’s schedule, so begin this process as soon as possible.
If you already have existing gas service
Great! But be aware that existing natural gas meters, underground gas service lines, LP tanks, or LP regulators may need to be altered to accommodate the new connection of your generator system. If a determination is made that one of these items may need to be updated, you will need to contact your gas provider and request this alteration. There may be an additional charge for this service.
Electrical connection and inspection
If the gas connection and inspection has already been completed before the electrical installation begins, arrange a convenient time to have the electrical installation for your generator system completed. A review of the electrical components that you have chosen to be connected to your generator system should take place prior to the installation work.
5. Service and Maintenance.
“Make sure you choose an installer who has the knowledge and experience to expedite the process. Working with a reputable and well established generator installation company will make your backup standby home power generator experience much easier.”
– S. M., Homeowner, Atlanta, GA
Activation: Your warranty and maintenance protection services Startup and warranty activations
At the conclusion of the electrical connection, the generator should be started, and all components tested and verified for proper operation. Upon the testing and certification of the generator system, the installer should demonstrate the operation of the generator system and provide you with the owner’s manual and any other documentation you may need.
At the conclusion of the testing and certification of the generator system, your installation contractor will request a final inspection from the municipal electrical inspection office.
Please note: As mentioned throughout this guide, in most cases, the homeowner must be at home for all inspections.
Due to the individual inspector’s interpretation of the National Electrical and Gas codes, your inspector may request additional work to be performed. These requests are not uncommon. If this occurs, your installation contractor will make any necessary schedule changes to complete the process.
The installation of a standby generator ranks as one of the most complex residential projects that most homeowner will ever undertake. This buyer’s guide was created to educate consumers on each of the steps required for successful and worry-free installation.
An added layer of peace of mind you should consider is 24/7 remote monitoring. This connects your generator to a cellular network and allows you to see vital information about your system anytime you want from a mobile app.
Always a Free Consultation
Contact us today for your no-cost and no-obligation consultation with a Canter Power Systems generator specialist and technical services advisors. We offer both in-home and virtual consultations.