Safety tips to keep in mind when purchasing home generator system

Purchasing a generator to supplement your home's electrical system during outages can be a wise investment if it is properly installed.

By Vanesa Brashier,

It’s hurricane season – the time of year when people in hurricane-prone areas begin considering their storm plans. For a growing number of residents, those plans include the purchase of a generator to power their homes during outages.

“Portable generators are dangerous because you are dealing with gasoline. They can be a hazard for people as they add more fuel to a hot generator,” said Mike Doyle, owner of Cleveland-based Peachstone Corporation, a certified dealer for Briggs and Stratton, Generac and Kohler generators.

As anyone who has experienced a hurricane knows, finding fuel after a hurricane can be difficult, if not impossible. Assuming gasoline can be found, placement of a portable generator is important so as not to allow carbon monoxide fumes to build up in spaces where humans and animals are dwelling.

“The thing with portables is that 8 out of 10 times, a generator that has set up more than three months will have trouble starting. With today’s gasoline, the carburetor can easily get gummed up,” Doyle said. “A vast improvement to that is a generator that is tied in with your electrical system. They run on natural gas or propane, which are clean-burning fuels.”

A properly-installed natural gas or propane generator that is tied into a home has a standby generator that kicks on from 10-20 minutes a week to lubricate seals, maintain the engine and perform a systems check.

“If your generator sits up for two years and never starts, that is a good indication that there is a problem with the generator and it needs maintenance,” Doyle said. “If it skips a week, it could have a problem.”

The average home will typically operate on a 20KW generator with a load management system. With today’s smart switches, the generator does not have to be as big as the service size of the home because of load management. The 20KW generator will power all of the house on alternating schedules, so the air conditioning system might be on during times when other big power-sucking appliances, such as dryers and ovens, are in operation.

“With normal uses, you might never know that the system is managing the load,” said Doyle, who is also a master electrician.


With advertisements promising affordable home generator systems for as little as $2,000, the temptation is to purchase a system and have a friend with electrical experience install it. However, that can carry a huge risk as a bad installation will result in the manufacturer voiding the warranty when something goes wrong.

“I had a customer the other day who purchased a Generac generator through a big box store. He had his nephew, an AC guy, install it between two air conditioner units outside his home about two week from a window,” said Doyle.

Heat from the AC units caused the generator to overheat and malfunction.

“Generac was going to pay for the parts to repair the system but his warranty was voided after they saw how his generator had been installed. He is on his own for the repairs,” Doyle said. “Essentially he now needs another generator because this one has to be moved. He has to pay more now to reinstall it and make the repairs than what he would have if he had purchased the system and had it properly installed the first time.”

Ordering generators online or through a big box store to save money may not a good idea because homeowners end up paying more in unforeseen costs for installation.

“Go with a company that is certified for sales and service through the generator manufacturer. Otherwise you are taking a risk with your home, your life and the reliability of the generator,” Doyle said.

For the untrained eye, a bad generator installation might be difficult to spot. Doyle said bad installations can result in appliances getting fried by power surges and other electrical errors.

“That causes a huge risk to the generator, but it poses other hazards. I have seen installations that were not done right and they ended up burning up the appliances in the home. It’s not a fun thing to have to replace a $3,000 refrigerator or a $8,000 air conditioning system because of a bad generator installation,” he said.

Improperly grounded generators can cause the unit to become “hot” or electrified, so that anyone who touches the generator can receive a life-threatening shock.

“The generator doesn’t have to be running to be a risk,” he said.

A properly-installed generator will be at least five feet from a door, window or opening, depending on the generator manufacturer’s standards. A generator should be placed on a concrete pad or slab that will keep the system level.

“Some of the installations I have seen are crazy, so don’t trust the big box stores to give you a good installation unless you have checked out who the store is using for the installation. Get a real certified generator technician and dealer who knows the systems well. Make sure the company you purchase from is also certified for repairs,” Doyle said.

If the price of a generator sounds too good to be true, it probably is, said Doyle.

“Generac advertises a $2,000 generator that won’t run the AC system of your house. It’s just another version of a portable generator,” he said.

During certain times of the year, manufacturers offer extended warranties, rebates and incentives. Currently Briggs and Stratton is offering a $250 gift card with any purchase of a 20KW Fortress generator through June 28.

“Be sure to ask about extended warranties. Use a dealer who can give you a service contract so that you never have to worry about your generator,” Doyle said. “A lot of companies, including mine, offer financing as low as $125 a month for a new generator installation. We also offer free in-home consultations to show sizing, placement and financing options.”

Installations can take as little as a day but some take longer because of inspections and the approval of installation plans. Those vary based on location and energy providers.

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