Generator Installation Trouble – Five Questions to Avoid Costly Problems

Generator Installation Trouble – Five Questions to Avoid Costly Problems
September 16, 2014 SNH Editorial Team

Fall and winter are upon us.  Winter storms and prolonged outages without heat & hot water are no fun. Prime time for generator salespeople: But watch out!!!!…

Who can you trust? Who is a real expert? Who will give you the right job at a fair price? Generator installations are expensive and cost can range widely. Hard to believe this little box can cost that much….

Here are five must-ask questions:

1.  What is the correct sizing of the generator for my house? – Should it be a 20Kw, a 40Kw or 65 Kw?

The answer derives from the existing loads / service and needs to be carefully evaluated by an experienced electrician. Know that there are big price differences among generator sizes. Be sure to compare “apples to apples” among installation proposals!

2.   Will the generator installer obtain all (!) permits?

Town permitting and inspection processes protect you, the homeowner! While it may appear to delay and/or complicate the schedule since inspectors rarely show up right away, this step ensures that things are done correctly.  It’s a homeowner’s check on a contractor and functions as notfication to the homeowner’s insurance company that the generator was installed properly.  Insist on permits and all inspections!

3.  What parts of the house should be running on the generator?  T

The answer is generally the same:  Basically the entire house minus perhaps air-conditioning units.  While it sounds like a cost savings to run only “essential” parts of a house on a generator, the practical reality is the cost of reconfiguring electric panels into what is and what is not run by the generator is not worth it.  You are better off paying for a larger generator, if need be.

4.  Who should I hire?

It is best to hire a generator company or an electrician. Electrical work is the main component in putting together a generator system.  That said, stay with an established generator company, one with a good service department.

5.  Who should supply alternate fuel like propane?

Does it matter?  Yes, it does.  In recent storms, many suppliers simply did get to refuel their customers.  Nothing worse than having a generator that does not run when you need it.

There are important delivery details. A generator runs on an alternative fuel source, natural or liquid gas/propane.  Natural gas provides a constant supply.  Propane gas, however, has to be stored in tanks, which need to be refilled. Many small propane suppliers were unable to supply propane rapidly enough in previous storms.  Best to choose a propane supplier with its own depot and a flawless supply record during previous storms – ask around! This is an important and often overlooked detail!

Get answers to these five questions and you can be pretty sure that your home will run safely and reliably during storm outages. You will have peace of mind and that’s, of course exactly what you want when you make the rather costly purchase/installation of a generator with a built-in automatic transfer switch. Here are 3 more important tips how to separate good contractors from not so good ones.

Getting the answers to the above questions will keep from your version of this true and expensive lesson / nightmare:

A generator company sells the homeowner a 20Kw generator and represents that it will run the entire house.  The homeowner feels she is getting a great price and contracts for the work….Only the house has a 400 Amp service.  The first clue should have been that the automatic transfer switch is rated for a 200 Amp service.  In other words, the transfer switch is undersized.  While the homeowner thought she was doing the right thing by insisting that a permit be pulled for the installation, she does not realize that an inspection for a “final CO” is part of the installation process.  She thought the installation was complete – when the installer demonstrates the generator things seem to be working and pays the generator company. 

Some time later another electrician gets called in on another matter. He sees right away that the equipment mis-matched.  He asks the homeowner, if she has a “CO” from the Town for the generator installation, knowing this is unlikely given the poor installation standards. An inspector would likely not have passed the installation, yet this final step is important.  Without it, a homeowner runs the risk of defaulting his/her homeowner insurance policy in the event of a problem….!

This is where things get messy, since the generator installer insists all terms were spelled out in the contract and he did his job accordingly.  After weeks of back and forth arguments with the installer, in the end, the homeowner had to hired another company to replace the generator and transfer switch – and paying twice!  Finally, a “Certificate of Occupancy” is obtained.  

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