How do I choose a standby generator?

Learn what to consider when deciding on a back-up power solution for your home and lifestyle.
Source: Generac

There are a number of items to consider when deciding what back-up power solution will work best for one's home and lifestyle. It is important to do the research and read between the lines — especially when a family's safety is at risk.Generac has developed this easy guide for consideration as you begin the process of purchasing your new standby generator.

1) Who makes it? — Be aware of the company's reputation and leadership in the generator category. It helps to choose a brand that is solely focused on generators to ensure you are getting a quality product from a trusted company.

2) Exterior Shell — Don't overlook the exterior shell of the generato. Be sure the external enclosure, or casing, of the generator has easy access for servicing. Hinged enclosures are best. Be sure to stay away from bolted enclosures which make it much harder to service the generator. Also, be sure to choose a generator with a rust-resistant shell, ensuring longer life of the generator.

3) Sound Levels — Be sure to consider the sound decibel of the generator to ensure your generator won't wake your family at night or interrupt your favorite television program. Most reputable standby generators will sound similar to an air conditioning compressor ... or even quieter. Look for models that feature a quiet mode during its weekly self-test, when most home owners will hear their generator running, since actual power outages are less frequent.

4) Engine Basics/Sizing — Just like a car, the generator's engine is its heart. Smaller size generators use air-cooled engines while larger ones use liquid-cooled engines with separate cooling systems. In either case, look for engines built for heavy-duty generator usage, and not adapted from other products. The better engines have longer service intervals, requiring oil changes after every 200 hours of service or even longer. Beware of the electrical load your generator says it can handle. Do your math. Be sure the power of the generator matches the power needed to back up the circuits and appliances in the home you want to back up. Customizable solutions should always be an option.

5) Day-to-Day Operation/Ease of Use — The generator should have its own programmable controller to allow for hands-free operation and is another key element to examine before purchasing a generator. The controller should act as the brain of the generator and alert the homeowner when it is in need of maintenance — making the generator very user-friendly for the busy homeowner. The best generators on the market today are much more homeowner-friendly and should work just like a normal kitchen appliance. They have control panels that communicate with plain language that is visible on a LCD display, not just a series of warning lights.

6) Warranty — Keep your eye out for warranty offerings and additional seals of approval — these are important. A quality generator company will always offer warranty flexibility that fits best with your needs and budget.

7) Transfer Switches — These devices transfer your home's electrical load from the utility line to the generator in the event of a power outage. They should be matched correctly to the generator size, the amount of electrical load you expect the generator to back-up and they need to comply with local electrical building codes. Your home's electrical distribution panel is designed to carry a certain amount of electricity and the generator's transfer switch should not allow more power than the distribution panel can handle.

8) True, Clean Power — All generators create harmonic distortion which can interfere with sensitive electronic equipment such as high-end HVAC systems, plasma televisions and computers. The best generators produce less than five percent total harmonic distortion to ensure 100 percent compatibility with all household appliances.

9) Ease of Installation — Installation of a standard residential standby generator should only take a matter of hours by a qualified installer. Some generator systems come with pre-wired transfer switches to make it simpler for the professional installer or a serious DIY'er.

10) Dealer Network — A well-trained and well-qualified dealer is important not only when you first purchase and install the generator, but for years afterward for routine maintenance and service. Make sure the dealer you choose is very familiar with standby generators and has an electrical background.Generator manufacturers have widely varying dealer networks. The best ones give you many choices no matter where you live.

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