Product Selection Tips: Standby Generator Checklist

For pros working in storm-prone areas of the country, consider the following tips for product selection.

According to the National Weather Service, this year's hurricane season is expected to be "active to extremely active." goes a step further, boldly forecasting that 2010 could be a "top 10 active year," with Joe Bastardi, its chief hurricane meteorologist, predicting a total of 16 to 18 storms. To put that in perspective, only eight years in the last 160 years of record-keeping have had 16 or more storms in a season.

With the threat of more hurricanes than usual, homeowners in storm-prone areas are likely reminded of the importance of a reliably fueled, standby generator. Building professionals who train now to become familiar with this application may find new opportunities in a few months.

"A generator used to be a luxury, something that an owner would put on the alternates list, but not anymore," says Mike Walker, owner of Michael K. Walker & Associates, 33-year-old remodeling and custom building firm in Sarasota, Fla. "Power loss on these barrier islands is pretty prevalent, even without storm events. An owner only has to sit in the dark a few times before he wants a generator."

"We put emergency generators in virtually everything we build new and retrofit them in older homes, with propane being the fuel of choice around here," says Walker.

There are many benefits to a generator that's powered by an uninterruptable, on-site fuel source such as propane—especially when compared to gasoline and diesel. Propane emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions than either fuel and is highly economical to store and transport. If released it does not pool, leave a residue or contaminate soil or ground water. Lastly, propane does not experience the same rate of deterioration as the gasoline or diesel, making it a better standby fuel source. Today's gasoline, for example, with its high ethanol content, has a shelf life of only a few months.

In addition to advising prospective clients on the benefits of propane, they'll likely need to learn about generators in general. To that end, Generac Power Systems, which has been manufacturing generators for more than 50 years, offers 10 considerations to keep in mind when choosing a standby model:

  • Brand Name. Be sure to choose a manufacturer that's been around for a while and has a good track record.
  • Exterior Shell. Look for a rust-resistant shell with easy access for servicing (hinged enclosures are better than bolt enclosures).
  • Sound Levels. Standby generators should be no louder than an air conditioning compressor (or even quieter).
  • Engine Basics and Sizing. Look for an engine that's built for heavy-duty usage, with longer service (every 200 hours or more) intervals. It should provide enough to circuits and appliances the homeowner wants backed up.
  • Ease of Use. The generator should have its own programmable controller with control panels that communicate in plain language on an LCD display (not just a series of warning lights).
  • Warranty. A quality company will always offer warranty flexibility.
  • Transfer Switches. These transfer a home's electrical load from the utility line to the generator in the event of a power outage; they need to be matched correctly to the generator size.
  • Compatibility. The best generators ensure 100 percent compatibility with all household appliances.
  • Ease of Installation. Installation should take no longer than a few hours.
  • Dealer Network. A well-qualified dealer will help for years to come, especially in the area of routine maintenance and service.

Walker has his own set of recommendations. They include:

  • Have a "load bank" test run on the new generator. This means running it under a full load for at least four hours. This will prevent problems down the road.
  • Insist that owners sign up for a maintenance plan that offers at least a yearly inspection and oil change.
  • Recommend that clients lease a tank from a propane dealer (if this is offered in your area) rather than buying it outright. "Customer-owned tanks can be an expensive problem if something goes wrong in the future," says Walker.

To find out more about installing propane solutions for coastal construction, such as backup power generation, download the Propane Planner guide.

For a review of other propane applications appropriate to your region, use the Heating System Map to find professionally certified education courses and other training resources.

Product Selection Tips: Standby Generator Checklist
Case Study: Increasing Propane Usage
Green Building Course Focuses on Propane


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