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Home Backup Generator Cost and Installation Guide

In this Home Backup Generator Cost & installation Guide you will find information regarding generator prices, how to install one, and who to call in case of issues.

Standby generators are becoming common in most American households. Most homes are heavily reliant on energy supplies that a power outage would wreak havoc. Also, owing to the increase in blackouts due to the increased stress on the power grid, experts are advising that all households have a standby generator. Extreme weather is another cause for long-term power outages. A backup generator will come in handy in such times as it will provide light, heat, and energy to powerhouse appliances. Heat is essential more so during the winter months, and the generator can save lives if people in the home depend on powered equipment. By and large, install a backup for the protection and peace of mind it provides.

Nevertheless, before you call your utility company, there are things you ought to take into account before making a purchase.

Power requirements – Your house power requirement in the event of an outage will determine the size of the generator and consequently the value. It is therefore paramount that you figure out your energy needs in advance. However, it often comes down to whether you want to power the entire house or just the emergency loads. Answering this question will help you determine the power you will require during a blackout and thus the size of generator you need to purchase. If you are looking to provide energy for the entire home, expect a more significant price tag as you will be consuming more power. Peak demand periods such as summer months also have to be accounted for. If you decide to only power the emergency load, your budget will be much lower as only the emergency circuits have to be determined. You might need to split the emergency circuit from the main panel if you are dealing with an existing structure.

Fuel type – Before you make a purchase, ensure you ought to check the availability of fuel. Natural gas, propane, and diesel are the most common fuel types. Gasoline might seem more convenient as it is readily available, but it is a weak fuel system owing to its short life of stability. Diesel and propane are an ‘on-site’ fuel source, but you might need a refill during extended outages. Natural gas, on the other hand, is pulled from your local utility company. Finally, local codes might dictate the fuel types, but often the decision lies with the homeowner.

Location – You ought to have a pre-determined spot where you are going to install the generator. The generator should be located close to the fuel supply and transfer switch, and in an area that is easily accessible for maintenance and repair. Also, it should be high enough to keep rising water away. If you are considering outdoor or rooftop installation, remember to keep it away from building openings, and adhere to minimum distance requirements from combustible walls. As for indoor needs, you will need to learn about the fuel supply requirements, ventilation, and the nearness to flammable materials.

Enclosure type – Enclosure type is a concern if you are installing the generator outside, and more so if there is an existing sound ordinance. Sound regulations within a particular area often dictate that noise should be at a certain decibel at the nearest property line. The sound law will determine the system enclosure.

Transfer switch – It often boils down to an automated transfer switch or a manual switch. Most standby systems come with a digital transfer switch, but you can still request a manual transfer switch. Nevertheless, it will not result in much cost saving. As for the size, it boils down to your energy requirements. Just answering the question as to whether you need the system to power the entire house or just emergency loads will help you determine the transfer switch size.

Warranty – Finally, understand the warranty duration and coverage. Standby systems aren’t cheap, and you want top protection. Typically, the warranty will range between one and five years for residential systems and one and two years with optional upgrades for industrial operations. Acquaint yourself with the various warranties available to make an informed decision.

Costs

According to most homeowners, expect a price tag between $1,150, and $6,300 for a generator. The average is often $3,700, but you can spend as little as $400 or as much as $9,500. The amount you pay will depend on the size of the system, installation, and typical job factors.

Nevertheless, the cost can be classified according to the power supplied, or the fuel type.

Cost According to Fuel Type

Fuel type will be the chief factor that influences the amount you spend on your generator.

Gasoline

A gasoline powered generator is the most popular option for homeowners. First, it is cost-effective, setting you back between $500 and $3,000. It is quiet meaning that you will not have to invest in a soundproof enclosure unlike with diesel-powered generators. Also, gasoline is readily available, and this increases the portability of your system. You can use it at home, at the market or construction site, or for a weekend getaway. However, it does have its shortcomings. First, gasoline is difficult to store, has issues in cold weather, and has a short shelf life. The gasoline generator is also less fuel efficient compared to diesel generators.

Diesel

A diesel-powered generator is designed to power an entire home or work under extreme conditions. Diesel generators are more efficient under extreme conditions unlike during light-load operations. Other than the high initial cost involved with a unit setting you back anywhere between $3,000 and $15,000, a diesel comes with a ton of benefits. First, it is the least flammable fuel option. Second, it is more readily available during times of emergency, unlike other fuel types. Also, seeing as only air is compressed, your engine runs more effectively while using less fuel. It also requires less maintenance, unlike other backup systems. Finally, newer systems are quiet to operate in neighborhoods owing to technological advancements.

Natural Gas

If you reside in cold climates, you might want to install a natural gas standby system over diesel or gasoline. The reason for this is that this system is more convenient compared to the other two. Seeing as it is connected to the utility grid and the main house, it offers an almost unlimited run time compared to the other two. It does not require fuel storage and will run for extended periods of time making it ideal for areas that heat for extended periods is essential. The only shortcoming is that it isn’t energy efficient. One gallon gas of gasoline is the equivalent of 1.36 gallons of natural gas. Also, it has a higher price tag than a gasoline generator costing between $1,900 and $5,000.

Propane

If you are looking for an environmentally friendly generator, you might want to invest in one that is powered by propane. Propane is a clean-burning fuel in that it releases relatively low levels of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere compared to other energy sources. Also, propane is available during outages when fuel pumps aren’t working. The reason for this is because it is stored in individual or bulk containers. Another advantage of propane is that its shelf life is considered limitless, unlike gasoline where you have to use stabilizers. Finally, a propane generator is not going to be full of carbon deposits after not running for several months, unlike a gasoline-powered generator. As for the cost, expect a price between $500 and $6,000.

Solar

If you are considering a solar powered generator, expect to pay anywhere between $300 and $5,000. The top advantage of a solar powered system is its sustainability. It does not need constant refueling unlike other generators. Also, you don’t have to deal with the issue of stale fuel where the generator has sat idle for long periods of time. The only shortcoming is that small units cannot store large amounts of energy and are limited by sun exposure.

Cost According to Size

The power often determines the size the generator will deliver. Generators are available in small, midsized and large.

Small – These generators will often deliver between 7kw and 10kw. Just enough to power one or a few household appliances. However, they cannot produce enough power to support an entire house. Often, the price for their installation is between $1,900 and $3,000 with an extra $500 for installation.

Mid-sized – These are generators that will deliver between 11kw and 20 kW of power. Some of these can power an entire house while others cannot. As for the price, it will depend on the size but falls between $3,000 and $4,900. If you are looking for a system to power your heater and one other appliance (a total of 16 circuits), purchase the 11kw generator at $3,000. The 16kw generator, on the other hand, can power a 1k to 3k sq. Ft. home and will set you back $3,700. For $4,500, you can get a 17kw generator that can power a 2500+ square foot home. Finally, for $4,900, you can get a 20kw system that can power 3k+ sq. foot homes. Budget $1,000 for installation.

Large – These will deliver power above 20kw. Anything above 30kw is for industrial purposes only. They are ever in position, in protected cases, and are liquid cooled. They will set you back well over $6,000 and a few thousand dollars for installation. We advise you consider these systems if you are looking to power an entire house.

Cost According to Fuel TypeCosts
Gasoline$500 - $3,000
Diesel$3,000 - $15,000
Natural Gas$1,900 - $5,000
Propane $500 - $6,000
Solar$300 -$6,000
Cost According to SizeCosts
Small$1,900 - $3,000
Mid-size$3,000 -$4,900
Large$6,000

Installation Costs

The rule of thumb when dealing with electricals even among experienced DIYers is to leave work involving electricals to the expert. Installing backup systems is no exception.

First, you need to assess your home energy needs. You can call an electrician, but often some simple maths will suffice. Total all the energy requirements of household systems and use the figure to select the appropriate equipment. If you hire an electrician, be ready to pay between $65 and $85 an hour. As for the site, the generator should be close to the transfer switch, and the fuel supply. Remember that it should be away from any openings (doors or windows), and the proximity to combustible materials.

After selecting the site, you will need to pour suitably sized concrete pad which will set you back around $75 a yard. Next, you will have to invest in a fuel tank. The tank will be responsible for feeding the generator throughout use. It can be filled with propane or diesel and must be installed by a professional and will set you back between $50 and $100. Whether it is mounted above or underground is up to the homeowner. Next, you will have to install a new sub-panel next to the original, accompanied by a transfer switch. A transfer switch will set you back between $200 and $400 in labor and will take around 3 to 4 hours. Finally, you will have to provide electrical wiring and wiring to code. An electrician will set you back between $65 and $85, but the final amount will depend on the amount of work required.

Potential Drawbacks

One of the chief concerns for most homeowners when installing a generator is the noise. Ensure you get the appropriate housing if your system might exceed the required decibel. Safety should be a top concern too. These units should be at least five feet away from any opening. Fitting it in a tight spot might require additional enhancements.

Enhancements and Considerations

Permit – Most states and local authorities require you to pull permits for installation of a standby generator. Authorization will set you back around $200. You will have to provide a detailed plan for your setup, and ensure it meets the requirements as stipulated.

You can purchase a portable generator if a standby generator is too expensive. Though you will often have to set it up yourself, it serves the purpose of lighting and powering house appliances in the event of an outage.

Standby Generator Maintenance Tips

Here are some tips that will go a long way in helping you avoid some common problems with backup generators.

Wattage – Every generator has two capacity ratings. The starting rating which is higher, and the “rated,” “continuous,” or “running” rating. When making a purchase, always ensure you are making it based on the “running” watts though it is often lower. The “running” capacity shows the maximum power the system can operate at over extended periods of time, while the starting capacity shows the maximum power the system can get to for a few seconds. For example when an electric motor starts up. However, the “starting” capacity is not sustainable, and don’t make your system purchase based on that wattage. It will not be enough for your needs, and you might find yourself in the market shopping for another system.

Store up oil and filters – The reason you are investing in a backup system is to avoid the conveniences caused by power outages. You want to ensure you are ready for any blackout and more so during or after a storm. The last thing you want is to be running around looking for filters and oil. Often, a new system needs an oil change after 25 hours. Afterward, you will have to change the oil after 50 or 60 hours. You want enough filters and oil to last you several days or a few weeks.

Refilling – Homeowners often go up in flames when refueling their generators. The gas tank is situated on top of the engine to feed the carburetor through gravity. Despite the setup being ingenious, it’s also dangerous if you spill gas on a hot generator. To avoid this, wait some fifteen minutes for the engine to cool down and strap an LED headlamp when refilling.

Gas – Running out of gas can destroy your system and more so the cheaper models. The generator continues producing power while stopping and your houses electrical load drains the magnetic field of the coils. When you restart the system, it often runs fine but does not generate power. Running around town looking for a repair shop is the last thing you want during a storm. Also, reenergizing the coils will set you back $40. Also, stale or old gas can lead to problems. It is the leading cause of generator starting problems. Some manufacturers advise owners to add stabilizers to reduce varnish, gum build-up, and fuel breakdown, but it this is not full proof. You want to empty the tank and carburetor once the storm season is over. If your carburetor has a drain, merely open it once it cools down. If not, empty the tank with a hand pump, and run the generator until it’s out of gas.

Backfeeding – Don’t run power back into a receptacle. Backfeeding is illegal in all states and for a good reason. It kills family members and company linemen every year. Despite what the internet says, it is a terrible idea. If you want to avoid running cords, invest $300 in a transfer switch.
10 Questions to Ask When Purchasing a Standby Generator

What options does the supplier provide?

The idea here is to know whether a supplier can cater to the different needs you have. Different homeowners will require different units. A supplier with multiple options is more likely to meet your needs than one who supplies one generator brand.

What after-sales services does the supplier offer?

Often the job ends when the supplier ships the product. However, you might want to look out for the few who send the product and ensure that it has been installed appropriately. Better yet, higher institutions that offer startup and commission support as well as maintenance.

What quality assurance does the supplier provide when selling pre-owned generators?

Most generator suppliers don’t have quality control measures in place. When purchasing a pre-owned system, you are likely to buy on “as is” basis. However, with a little effort, you can locate suppliers who provide warranty on pre-owned units. Often this is between 4 and six months. We advise you purchase from suppliers with quality control measures in place.

What are the supplier’s payment options?

You want to work with a supplier who can accommodate your payment options. Most ask for cash in advance and is the accepted policy, but you can trace a few who take credit.

Does the seller have a buyback policy?

All suppliers sell generators. After all, that’s their work. But what about their buyback policy. You want to purchase a generator from a company that not only sells you, but offers appraisals on equipment, and buys back assets.

What’s the fuel continuity plan?

Most generators run on either diesel or natural gas. However, these lines can be interrupted. Diesel supply can be interrupted with owing to a shortage supply while government declaration can divert gas supply lines or damaged. You want to ensure you have a backup plan in case of fuel supply disruption.

How long has your business been operational?

The idea here is to get an organization that has been around for several years. Working with an established company does not guarantee quality, but you will be dealing with a company that has streamlined its services. Also, you are working with institutions that have several years of experience under their belt.

Are there any pending legal complaints filed against you?

The idea here is to test how forthcoming the institution is with information. You can check the Better Business Bureau for information and determine whether the group was/is being honest with you.

What kind of maintenance does the system need?

All generators need regular checkups. The oil has to be changed, and so does the fuel. Visually inspect the generator for any signs of damage, and troubleshoot to check if there are any other issues. Ask the dealer for maintenance tips during installation.

What kind of guarantees comes with the generator?

Finally, you want to acquaint yourself with the warranty options available. Only make a decision that suits you.

Conclusion

When purchasing a generator, ensure you know your energy needs. The power you need during an outage will influence the size and thus the amount you spend on your system. Be vigilant and ask pertinent questions to ensure you purchase the best.

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