FAQs About Standby Generators

No Longer a Luxury

Question: Why does it seem that we are losing power more often these days?

                Answer:  In June of this year, a derecho traveled through our area with high winds leaving many in our area without power for days, and in some cases for a full week.   Last month, the area was impacted by hurricane Sandy which resulted in wide scale power outages in our area.  Some would say these unusual events, such as the Northeast being impacted by a hurricane in late October, can be attributed to climate change. 

Question:  How does a modern standby generator work?

           Answer:  The standby generator sits outside and when power is lost powers up and restores power to essential circuits in the home with no human intervention.  When Dominion Power or Novec restores power the generator automatically transfers power back to the electric utility and shuts down until it is needed again.  Typically, once a week the standby generator will automatically power up for a short period of time for “exercise” to ensure that it is operating properly. 

Question:  How large will the standby or back-up generator be outside my home?

              Answer:  About the size of your outside air conditioning or heat pump unit.  In many cases, the generator is located alongside the outside air conditioning or heat pump units. 

Question:  Will the generator operate all the circuits in my home?

               Answer:  You could install a standby generator which could operate all the circuits in your home, but generally the loss of power is a temporary event, and it is only necessary to operate essential circuits.    A 20KW standby generator is optimal for all but the largest homes. 

Question:  What would you consider to be essential circuits?

             Answer:  That can vary from family to family, but for most of us being warm, having running water, the refrigerator  and freezer operating, the sump pump functioning, being able to get on the internet,  the ability to cook, make coffee, watch TV and having lights is essential.    A decently sized generator can handle these duties and others, such as the garage door openers.

Question:  How long will the back-up generator be able to operate after losing power?

              Answer:  With a 500 gallon propane tank a generator could operate for up to a full week, without refilling.  Typically, we lose power for a shorter period.   Propane is the ideal fuel for a residential back-up generator as the fuel does not degrade sitting in the tank like others such as, gasoline and diesel. 

Question:  If I have natural gas in my community can it be used as the fuel source for the generator?

              Answer:  If available in your neighborhood, natural gas is similar to propane.  Most generators are designed to operate on both natural gas and propane with only minor modification.   The same generator operating on propane will produce slightly more power than the same generator operating on natural gas. 

Question:  What is your preferred brand of standby generators?

              Answer:  They all do the job.  My personal favorite is Kohler for two important reasons:  First, is that Kohler units run quieter.  Second, Kohler’s power quality is better than others which is important for sensitive electronic equipment in today’s home.

Question:  What does it typically cost to install a residential back-up generator system at my home or farm?

            Answer:  Generally, $10,000 – $15,000 depending on the size of the generator and whether the home has an existing source of fuel for the generator, such as propane or natural gas.