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How to Choose and Install Standby Generators

Updated on November 11, 2013

How to Choose and Install the Right Standby Generator for Your Home

What exactly is a generator?

A generator is a device that is able to provide electricity to your home or business in the event of a power outage. Generators can be operated using different types of fuels including LPG or diesel.

Difference Between Portable and Standby Generators

If you happen to live in an area that experiences frequent power outages, you probably need a standby generator to tide you over. A diesel generator can supply enough electricity to run your refrigerator, lights, air conditioners and heaters.

Generators produce electricity by activating an alternating electromagnetic field through a piece of coil. What happens is that magnetic forces run through a coil producing enough voltage to run your electrical appliances. Standby generators are different from portable generators.

Smaller portable generators can be used on camp-sites while larger portable types are used on construction sites to power up tools such as air compressors, drills and saws. Standby generators, on the hand, run on gas or fuel supply and can automatically begin operations whenever there happens to be a power outage.

These are installed into your home or business electrical system and automatically switch back to standby mode once main power is restored.

You don't have to struggle with extension cords or worry about refuelling the generator. The reason is that it taps into your home or business fuel and electricity supply which is already up and running. While portable sets may be relatively cheaper (they normally cost between $300 to $400), they are not recommended for extended power blackouts.

Strength and endurance

In the year 2012, there were more than 2800 power outages in the US with thousands of families suffering the effects. A few years back, investing in a standby generator might have seemed like an extravagance. However, an increasing number of people prefer to install home generators to protect themselves and loved ones against power outages.

The first thing you need to consider making a choice is if you want your air conditioner to continue functioning during an outage.

In Southern US states, the heat can be unbearable, and you may need your air-conditioning to function full-time. In order to determine how strong you need your generator to be, take a closer look at the metal plate on your air-conditioner. The air-conditioner strength will be expressed in any of three units: BTU, Amps or Tons. Generator strength varies from 3-ton for 36,000 BTU to 5-ton for 60,000 BTU. If you don't see a metal label, look for the grading on the circuit breaker instead.

A 30-Amp circuit breaker indicates that you need a 3-ton generator while a 50-Amp breaker suggests that you should opt for a 5-ton generator. The air-conditioning is by far the appliance that consumes the maximum electricity. If your electricity panel indicates say 200-Amp as your household consumption, you can opt for a generator that supplies 100-Amp. It's safe to assume that you will not be using your maximum power consumption during a power outage.

Determining the size that you need

To figure out the size of standby generator you want for your home or business, begin by noting down the wattage specified on each electrical appliance. The wattage label is usually stuck right outside the appliance door or sometimes at the back. For each appliance, keep adding up the wattage.

Typical wattage figures include microwave (600 to 1200 watts), refrigerator (600 to 1200 watts) and washing machine (around 1200 watts). The total wattage is what you want from your standby generator. Honda generators combine efficiency, affordability and reliability into one single package. They are manufactured using the latest technology and are durable as well as rustproof.

How to Choose the Right Transfer Switch for your standby generator

A transfer switch helps integrate your standby generator into your home or business electrical system. An automatic transfer switch is responsible for powering on the standby generator every time there is a power outage. Automatic transfer switches typically come in three different types: 100-amp, 200-amp and 300-amp.

All you need to do is to select the transfer switch to the grading on your circuit breaker. So if your circuit breaker indicates 200-amp, opt for the 200-amp switch. Modern transfer switches come in two styles: The load centre and the service disconnect types (Standard switches are on their way out and you should avoid them if possible).

Load centre switches are ideal for smaller homes or businesses where the inbound electricity is restricted to 100-amps or less. They may not work for larger homes or bigger appliances. Service disconnect transfer switches are used for larger homes that consume 200-amp electricity.

While service disconnect switches require extra initial investment, they are easier to install compared to load centre switches. Honda generators offer LPG, kerosene and portable models.

How to Select the Right Fuel for your Generator

In case you opt for a standby generator, the best choice is to go for the fuel that is already being supplied to your house or place of business. What you need to remember is that most standby models are rated by manufacturers for handling a specific fuel amount.

The generators can produce full electricity only if they receive the required fuel pressure from your home or business fuel supply. In certain cases, you may need to request your utility company to upgrade your gas meter to the required PSI (pressure per square inch) value. Sometimes, in the event of a major natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, your home fuel supply may get disrupted. In that case, you may want to switch your standby generator to what is called a 'bi-fuel tank'.

Out of gas, propane and diesel generators, diesel models offer the maximum efficiency and require minimum maintenance. Diesel generators also score over gas generators because they do not have any moving parts (like rotors) that can wear away or electrical parts like ignitions or plugs that require replacement.

How to Install a Standby Generator

The best location for installing a standby generator is a place that is flat and has access to water drainage. You should preferably install it in close proximity to its fuel source and choose an outdoors location. The reason for this that most standby generators, however fuel efficient, will tend to produce a certain minimum amount of exhaust fumes.

It's best to mount the generator on its own cement pad well away from windows. Ensure that you hire a local lift gate service to help you install your model as it proves to be extremely heavy to haul into place.

Standby generators require a transfer switch to integrate them into your home or business wiring system. Transfer switches prevent your generator from getting damaged from the main electricity supply.


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