Question & Answer

10 Questions to ask before you buy a Home Standby Generator

a. This is a question that only you can answer. No one “needs” a Home Standby Generator, but many people choose to have one. Ask yourself what will you do if you lose power.

i. What type of heat do you have? Most homes are heated with electricity or gas (natural gas or propane). Both of these heat sources rely on electricity to run. Maybe you can tough it out and get by until the power comes back on. But how long will that be? 1 hour? 1 day? 1 week? And even though you can tough it out, how about the kids? Or animals. What about frozen pipes?

ii. Without power you also have no entertainment. No tv. No gaming systems. No way to charge cell phones to keep in touch with friends and family.

iii. If your house is on a well, you now have no water.

iv. What about health concerns? More and more people are using CPAP machines. I was asking a friend who uses one what happens if the power goes out after he falls asleep? His response was he would die. Wow, I did not know you needed one that bad. He said the CPAP machine itself doesn’t save his life, but without it his wife would kill him. Sounds funny, but it does affect many people.

v. What about food spoilage? Without power how long will your food in the refrigerator and freezer last? They do last longer if you don’t open the doors, but if you don’t open the doors how are you going to eat?

B. Of course you could just not worry about it, and when the power goes out, and you get cold enough, and hungry enough, you could just go and stay at the local emergency shelter with 500 of your new best friends.

a. This is an option that many people choose to do. Most portables run on gasoline, which have a much shorter shelf life. That means you are constantly starting your generator to make sure the fuel in the carburetor stays fresh. And your having to keep extra gas on hand for refills. Of course you will follow the safety rules and when you need to refill you let it cool down completely to avoid fire danger. Which means you are without power for an hourish. Assuming you’re not having to run to the local gas station to get more fuel if the fuel you had has gone bad or you did not store enough and you run out. And that is assuming that the gas station has power to pump the fuel out.

b. If you choose to go the portable route, you are also having to run extension cords everywhere, and moving around on which device you need to power next.

c. NEVER run a gas portable generator in any enclosed area. That means not inside the house, or even an open door garage. People die every year because they do not follow this rule.

d. Portable generators are generally smaller than Home Standby generators. Which means you’re not able to run everything you want at the same time.

e. There are also reports every year of people going around during power outages and stealing portable generators right out of peoples yards. Or even worse, when people are sent to shelters, like they do often during fire dangers, or when the power is out long enough and they need to warm up, the
houses without power are now defenseless. No power to run the security systems.

f. The exercise feature.

i. Home Standby Generators generally have an exercise feature. They will automatically start up (you get to choose, but generally once per week) do a quick test that everything is ok and shut itself back off ready for the next power outage. The portable generators YOU have to remember to go out and test start it up, test the power outputs and engine operation, and shut it back off.

1. Let’s all be honest, we all have good intentions of doing this, but very few actually follow through. We all have busy lives that keep us too busy to remember to actually test run the generator. As a result, extended time goes by, the power goes out, the generator fails to start, you take it into the repair shop to get the carburetor cleaned, and you get it back generally after the power comes back on, so it can sit there, and again only gets exercised a few times and filled up with regular gas, because that is what you have at home, but time goes by and it does not get exercised because we all have busy lives, another year goes by and the gas in the carburetor is again bad, the power goes out and the cycle continues.

2. Home StandBy Generators also have a battery charging system that not only charges the battery while it sits there, it also monitors it and will have a message on the control panel that the battery voltage is low if the battery goes bad. (We also have remote monitoring systems so we can see when the battery gets low and can get it replaced before you even know it).

a. There are two types of transfer switches, but 3 ways people will supply power to their house from a generator.

i. The first and most preferred option is an auto transfer switch hooked up to a Home Standby Generator.

1. The power goes out, the transfer switch detects it and signals the Home Standby generator to start. After the generator starts and warms up briefly, the transfer switch switches to the generator power and life goes on as normal. You are out of power for approximately 34 seconds (based on a Briggs and Stratton set up)

2. When the shore power comes back on, the transfer switch waits a few seconds to make sure the power is on to stay, transfers the power from the generator to the shore power and signals the generator to go into a cooldown mode and shut off, ready for when the power goes off again.

ii. The second type is a manual transfer switch.

1. This one doesn’t detect the power supply nore does it start the generator. When the power goes out, you have to manually start the generator (weather Home Standby or portable wired into it) and manually flip the transfer switch to supply power to the house. This is still a good safe system because when you
manually flip the transfer switch it isolates the shore power so there is no chance of back feeding. Just as good as an auto transfer switch, but you are doing the switching and starting.

iii. The last one is not recommended at all, although some people still do it.

1. You have a power cord specially wired to plug into the generator and the house, you shut off your main breaker, start up the generator and you are now
supplying power to the house. The problem is the power going into the breaker panel is entering through house wires that are not meant for that kind of load, then supplying power to the rest of the breaker panel. This is a recipe for disaster. Especially if the main breaker ever gets turned on while the generator is plugged in and running. This then back feeds power out into the power lines
coming in and the electric company does not think too kindly when their repair guy is working on power lines he believes are dead but you are feeding power into them.

b. The size of the transfer switch is usually (but not always) matched to the size of the breaker panel. For example, if you have a 100 amp breaker panel, you get a 100 amp transfer switch, or if you have a 200 amp breaker panel you get a 200 amp transfer switch.

i. Some homes have 2=200 amp breaker panels. You can also get a dual 200/400 amp transfer switch that will run both breaker panels.

i. The size of the generator is based on the power usage that the house “can” use, and the power needed that the homeowner “wants” to use.

1. To figure out what size you need, you have to look first at your breaker panel and add up all the power needs based on what the breaker panel is set up for.

2. Then you want to look at your heavy loads, like your HVAC system, and get the data off of it and add that into your calculations.

3. Then you have to ask yourself, what do you want to run when the power is out. What is the most important to you?

4. In these calculations you will find a balance of the size you need.

ii. Modules

1. You might also want to consider the use of modules on the system.

2. The modules will regulate medium to high loads as to a priority that you set to what is the most important to the least important

a. This allows you to possibly run a smaller generator to run your basic items, and then when there is low power usage and you want to run one of your prioritized loads, the system will allow loads to start or stop pending power usage available.

iii. You can do all of this yourself

1. Or, There is available a virtual power needs assessment guide that will guide you through these steps to help you figure out what you need.

a. This is FREE from Clark’s Lawn & garden equipment/HSGS.

2. Or, you can request an “In-home power needs assessment” where the expert comes to your house and evaluates your power needs and offers suggestions on the size of generator, possible locations for the generator placement and answers other questions.

a. This is a FREE service offered by Clark’s lawn & Garden/HSGS

a. Gasoline

i. Readily available but extremely poor shelf life. How much can you store for how long?

ii. When the power goes out and you need to refuel, does the gas station have power to pump?

iii. When the power goes out and you need to refuel, and the gas station is able to pump, how long of a line will there be and what if the station runs out of gas?

iv. Works good in a portable generator when you cannot be hooked up to a larger source of fuel.

v. Will the generator start after storage from the last time you used it. The generator should be exercised but most people don’t or forget to. Then when they need it the old gas has plugged up the carburetor and now you have to
take it into the repair shop, to get it back just after the power comes back on.

b. Diesel

i. Diesel is a more stable fuel than gas, but you still need to have a way of storing large amounts and can you get what you need when you need it at the gas station.

ii. Diesel when stored for long periods of time can grow algae, which can and will plug up the system and cause your engine to not run.

iii. Diesel engines tend to be more expensive to purchase and to repair.

c. Propane 

i. Propane does not go bad so long term storage is no problem.

ii. You can choose the size of storage tank to fit your needs.

iii. The propane distributor comes to you to keep it full.

iv. You can use propane to run some household appliances like a stove, heater or drier. Giving you multiple uses of the 1 fuel.

v. Propane will not foul the carburetor when not used.

vi. Propane is also a very clean burning fuel leading you to less maintenance on your engine.

d. Natural Gas

i. Natural gas has all the same properties as propane, but, instead of a storage tank, you are hooked up to a pipeline.

ii. Unlimited supply, as long as the pipeline doesn’t break.

1. Not that pipelines don’t break, but when was the last time you heard of a natural gas line break?

iii. Long term storage, doesn’t go bad, you can run appliances on it…

e. Natural gas is generally the preferred fuel if you already have natural gas to your house, otherwise propane is the next best choice.

a. 3 major brands

b. Briggs & Stratton

i. Briggs & Stratton is the oldest manufacturer of the 3.

ii. Long history of building quality engines

iii. Briggs & stratton uses their highest end commercial “Vangaurd” engines in their generator to give the best performance and longest life.

c. Generac

i. Generac is the most popular internet Home Standby Generator.

ii. Generacs preferred selling system is to sell direct to the end user possibly saving the end user some money.

iii. Generacs quality is still a decent generator, but not up to Briggs and Strattons standards. Generacs quality is considered good enough.

d. Kohler

i. Kohler makes a good generator, good quality.

ii. Kohler is much harder to service and a lot more expensive to service.

iii. Harder to find repair technicians to service or repair.

a. Briggs & strattons warranty is the best

b. Parts

i. Briggs, 5-10 year

ii. Generac, 3 years everything, years 4-5 engine and alternator only

iii. Kohler, 5 years

c. Labor and travel

i. Briggs, 5-10 years

ii. Generac, 2 years limited (Travel time is limited so dealer might charge excess to customer)

iii. Kohler, 2 years

d. Startup costs

i. Briggs & stratton, Included in Price

ii. Generac, Included in price

iii. Kohler, $400 average

e. Total

i. Briggs, least expensive. No warranty costs while under warranty.

ii. Generac, Fully covered for years 1-2 (except possible travel time charge), parts only converge for years 3-5, Parts coverage limited years 4-5 to engine and alternator only

iii. Kohler

1. Most expensive warranty coverage. Parts only, labor years 1-2, high start up costs.

a. When buying a Home Standby Generator, you need to consider installation.

b. Installation needs to be done either by the home owner, or preferred by a certified electrician.

c. Most generators that are bought from a dealer are purchased from a electrical contractor company.

d. Their only concern is keeping their technicians busy doing installs. They are good at installing but they only consider what makes them money. They do not care or know how to maintain or repair the generator later as they are electricians, not mechanics. Once the generator is installed, you probably will never see them again. Should you need a service or repair, they are only trained in the basics, if you can get them to come out. You will ultimately need to find a certified repair technician to come out and repair. If warranty work needs to be done, it has to be done by a certified repair technician.

e. If you buy online, you have to find an electrician to install for you (unless you do it yourself, we do not recommend that). 

f. If you need any repair or maintenance in the future, you must find a certified repair technician to come out and repair. If you have any warranty work that needs to be performed, you have to have a certified repair technician.

a. HSGS (Clark’s Lawn & Garden Equipment) is the only non electrician, certified repair technician, dealer that has been doing repairs and service for over 47 years that we are aware of. We are not electricians, so if you purchased a generator from us, we will not be doing the install, but as a result we work with several electricians who are always looking for more installs from us so their quality is top notch. We get to approve their work and if not any good, we never use them again. I have fired enough electricians to sink a boat because their quality was not up to our standard.

b. Consider this, After the install is done, you never want to see the electrician ever again, because if you do it means something went wrong. But, you want to see me because the generator is an operating piece of equipment that will need
service and repairs in the future, just like your car. You don’t take your car back to the salesman, but to the repairman. By buying from HSGS, you already have a relationship with your repairman.

c. If your electrician or electric contractor company tells you that they can service, repair and take care of you, ask them these questions.

i. How many volts should the battery have when tested?

1. This is the number one repair issue so they should know.

2. Most will tell you 12 volts. While it is true, the battery is called a 12 volt  battery, but a fully charged and functioning battery should show roughly 12.6 volts. If the battery is only showing 12 volts, it either is not fully charged or has a possible fault. Either one will cause the generator to not start.

ii. Do you, the customer, need to install a battery charger to keep the battery charged?

1. No, HSG’s have built in battery charges.

iii. The charging system.

1. Ask if you test the battery with it hooked up or disconnected. And what should the battery show if the charging system is working.

2. If you test the battery with it hooked up, you are not getting a reading off the battery, but off the battery charging system (unless you pull fuses and disconnect the 240 sensing wires). The charging system will be showing 13.6-14.4 volts.

iv. Batteries should always be disconnected when tested and load tested. A bad battery could be showing you 12.6 volts, but when load tested they can fail, and will not start your generator.

v. These are the most basic of questions, I could give you many more. But if they cannot answer these correctly, you do not want them servicing your generator (and do you really want to buy from them too?)

a. . After you have purchased your HSG (Home Standby Generator) You are covered by the manufacturer warranty. But, just like your car, you need routine service. We usually recommend an annual service where we service the engine,
test your electrical connections, test and service your battery and make sure the generator is performing to the proper specs.

b. We also offer a monitoring service, where we install a monitoring system on the generator that will inform us when the generator runs, when it does its weekly exercise and if there are any issues that need to be addressed. By us monitoring the generator, we are able to catch any faults before the power goes out and you realize that something is wrong. This gives you complete piece of mind.