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Whole House Generator Installation

This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series Generator

Life with a Kohler 12RES (12 KW) whole house backup generator.

  1. Background
  2. Decision to Buy
  3. Installation
  4. Review

(7/9/2009) When I originally wrote this I had no idea it would become the most popular post on this blog. Please — I’d like to improve it and make it more useful. Post comments if there are areas you’d like me to add or fix.

I spent a large part of my life growing up in rural Pennsylvania. I actually split my time between suburban New Jersey where I went to school and an 80 acre farm approximately 40 miles from Scranton, PA at the northern end of the Pocono mountains. For most of the time that my family owned it, the farm had a single house originally built in the mid 1800s. It sat up a 1/2 mile long driveway off of a dead-end dirt road. The power lines ran cross country to the house, and needless to say, with few customers in this area PP&L (Pennsylvania Power & Light) wasn’t interested in responding to calls at a moment’s notice. Which meant that we spent a lot of time without electricity. And I don’t mean one hour interruptions either — I mean that the place was without electricity for a full week at least once if not two or three times a year.

When I was young, this was a workable arrangement for my family, but once I left for college (I’m an only child) and my parents started aging, they couldn’t go for days on end carrying buckets of water from a surface well to the toilets to flush them (or head to the outhouse in the back yard in winter) or devote the time to splitting, stacking, and carrying enough firewood to keep the stove burning for 7 days straight in the winter. So they eventually built a second, modern ranch-style house and had a generator installed. This setup consisted of a 7.5 KW gasoline-powered generator located on a concrete pad outside the back door and a manual transfer switch in the basement connected to a panel which ran a few lights, the water pump, the furnace, one light or outlet in each room (including one for the refrigerator in the kitchen), and an extra outlet in the living room for the TV. Since they cooked with a gas stove, they were also able to cook.

This was a dramatic improvement, but still not an optimal solution. By today’s standards it was a terribly inconvenient installation, primarily because it meant that my parents had to constantly pour gasoline into the thing to keep it running (about every 8 hours at a moderate load), even though they cooked and heated with propane and had a giant bulk tank right in the driveway. Plus, a manual transfer switch isn’t fun for young people, never mind my almost elderly parents tromping down to the basement by flashlight in order to throw this thing on and off.

So, when I bought my latest house in Massachusetts and my parents sold the farm in Pennsylvania, we used some of the proceeds to investigate a new generator.

Right about the time that I started research, whole-house generators were gaining popularity. The largest manufacturer, Generac/Guardian, started to put commercials on major TV networks showing people making margaritas with a blender during a major thunderstorm that knocks out power to their neighborhood. Sounded good to me.

I researched brands, sizes and types and learned a few things along the way. I quickly established that I was interested in a whole-house unit with an automatic transfer switch. I had no desire to tote large tanks of gasoline around and constantly fill up a small portable unit. Nor did I want to worry that my pipes were freezing while I was on vacation because even with a generator there would be no one around to plug it in and run it. So a propane fueled whole-house system was what I focused on. Here are a few things I discovered along the way:

  1. The market for residential systems is dominated by Generac/Guardian and Kohler.
  2. Other than the manufacturers, there is almost NO information on the web about installing or living with a residential generator.
  3. There are very few installers who deal with residential generators and the special concerns that accompany a residential (as opposed to a commercial) installation. Like siting the generator so it doesn’t piss off your neighbors, and taking the aesthetics and usability of your yard into consideration.
  4. Most propane/gas companies are useless when inquiring about these units, even when they sell them. Only a good propane supplier will take the time to work with you for little return. After all, if the generator is all you run with propane, you will be a very tiny customer for them.
  5. Many small town inspectors outside of traditional hurricane country have never seen these units and could be a significant impediment to the installation, unless they’re willing to learn and adapt like mine was.

If you are interested in a generator like this, unless you find one of the top installers in the country (like I believe I did), you had better prepare yourself for some serious learning. I believe that to truly do an installation yourself and get a satisfactory product, you will need to become familiar with:

  1. Propane measurements and usage requirements. This includes understanding bulk propane delivery units, tank sizes, headspace, vaporization rates at various temperatures, pressures, volumes, and what BTUs represent. You’ll need to make sure that your tanks can deliver the propane required to run the generator at the lowest temperature you’d expect it to run.
  2. Propane company delivery plans including renting vs. owning the bulk tanks, auto-delivery, minimum usage, etc.
  3. Flammable gas piping requirements including materials required (black iron, galvanized, other), minimum distances from ignition sources, easy access for delivery, flow rates, pipe sizes, burial requirements, etc.
  4. Generator siting requirements including gravel vs. poured concrete pads, minimum code required distance from openings (windows, doors), sound requirements, etc.
  5. Electrical codes including load requirements for what you want to power, circuit panel capacity, wire gauges vs. distances, pass through requirements, transfer switch requirements, electric company rules, etc.

For someone with no background or no desire to dive into the details, this is no small feat. And there are a few horror stories about bad installations leading to non-working systems (see this for example).

So, I went about researching and used the dealer locators to find dealers in my area that sold both Guardian and Kohler generators. In spite of being listed on the manufacturer’s website, I really had difficulty getting people to call me back (note this was 2005 during the building boom — I bet people are more responsive now). I found a dealer local to me in Massachusetts and called them. They were responsive and knowledgeable (part of a respected large electrical contractor). They came out and did an initial home survey, took pictures and measurements, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they went away and a couple of weeks later gave me a quote for over $11,000!

I had seen a company online that had a good website, but they were located almost 100 miles away in New Hampshire and I figured they would never come as far down as my area. But only because I used to live in New Hampshire and I knew where the business was I took a chance. This proved to be the single best decision of the entire process. Powers Generator Systems proved to be the kind of expert resource I needed. They were prompt, courteous, knowledgeable, flexible, professional, and … wonderful. Without question they were the single best contractor I have ever worked with. And they did the complete job for under $9000 (including gas tank costs)!

In consultation with Powers and with a little figuring about loads, I settled on a Kohler generator for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I felt that their transfer switches were more advanced and faster acting (and safer for my computer equipment), and there was (an admittedly unsubstantiated) feeling that the Kohler unit and housing were slightly higher quality than Guardian. Thus began the installation.

The following is not intended to be a step-by-step guide to installation walking you through all the possible calculations and permutations, but rather a basic outline of the steps I took to get the job completed. In order:

  1. Calculate power requirements
  2. Decide on generator size
  3. Calculate gas flow requirements and determine tank size
  4. Determine installation location
  5. Order generator and gas service and apply for permits
  6. Install gas piping and gas pipe inspection
  7. Generator site prep, installation, wiring, and run test
  8. Final propane installation & tank fill
  9. Final inspections (Fire Department & electrical)

Your actual steps may vary depending on local requirements.

Calculate Power Requirements

This is the first area where one can go astray. The main strategy a prospective generator owner needs to employ is to keep the manufacturer and dealer from over-sizing the generator you buy. Unless you have some kind of dramatic load (like central air conditioning which cycles on and off with a large current draw at startup), all the online calculators and manufacturer recommendations are designed to do two things — maximize their profit margin and limit their liability.

The method promoted by most manufacturers and installers all but guarantees an oversized installation and higher profits for both manufacturer and dealer. The typical method simply adds together the maximum capacities (amperage) of the circuits you want to power and specs a generator with enough capacity to cover them all. This maximizes profits in two ways. First, within any given manufacturer’s line of generators, different capacity generators are often built on the same basic chassis. The only substantial difference is the size of the stator winding. The incremental cost for larger stators is insignificant, yet the price difference that the manufacturer can charge is substantial. Thus, within generator families, larger generators are more profitable to sell. Second, coming to your house to conduct the power survey costs the installer money. Time spent with you is time not spent on other projects. So anything the installer can do to minimize the time spent gathering specs increases his or her profit. So what you typically get is a cursory survey that results in a larger generator than actually needed. And, by over-specing the generator they all but guarantee that there won’t be problems later when you add appliances.

A more appropriate survey adds up the actual loads which are on the circuits that will be protected and makes a realistic estimate of how often they will truly be simultaneously run. A really good survey will use an actual power monitor (like the one I have) to actually record the draw of various appliances. As an example, I have an 1800 square foot house with an electric range, electric well pump, electric dryer, and three room air conditioners in summer. By any online calculator I need a minimum 16KW generator. Yet I have had a 12KW for years without a problem. And in fact, as an experiment, I once fired up all three air conditioners (a 15,000 BTU and two 6,000 BTU units), the clothes dryer in maximum, the oven at 350 degrees, the large stove burner on high, and then made my well pump engage by running the water. The peak draw on the meter? 10.9 KW. So instead of following the manufacturers recommendation, all I need to do is not turn on absolutely EVERYTHING in the house at once and I should be fine on my 12KW unit.

Decide on Generator Size

Kohler 12RES 12 KW Generator

Kohler 12RES 12 KW Generator

I want to point our here that my original installer went with the 16KW recommendation, but it was Powers that pointed out that a 12KW would do fine. That was my first clue that they were a good company.

So I decided on a 12KW unit. If you have some additional loads, like central air or an electric water heater, then your requirements will need to account for those loads.

Calculate Gas Flow Requirements

The first step here is to find the right gas company. In the world of residential propane, generators are an extremely low volume business and therefore not very lucrative for gas companies. In most higher-volume installations, you lease the propane tanks from the gas company and pay a monthly fee just to have them. The gas company will tell you that this is for your own protection (they will change/replace cylinders when they are old and unsafe) but this is just marketing bullshit. They do it because it’s a predictable revenue stream that more than pays the cost of the tank over their lifetime and so that they can recycle tanks among customers increasing their profit even more. Most residential propane hardly notice the small rental charges on their invoices because their use of propane dwarfs the modest charge. But for a generator user who might not use more then 50 gallons in a year the cost is significant.

There are a few propane dealers around who understand this and will outright sell you the propane tanks which, although a larger upfront cost, will minimize their cost over their lifetime. Eastern Propane here in Massachusetts is just such a company, and they were the second great find during my search for help. [Disclaimer: I worked with someone for 9 years whose wife is a Customer Support manager at Eastern, so I tried them early in my search and wasn’t disappointed. But I didn’t research propane dealers nearly as much as I did generator installers.] After consulting with the Eastern representative, we agreed that for generator installs, owning the tanks is probably a better deal.

Now the arithmetic begins. Each manufacturer will provide a gas requirement as part of their installation instructions (203,000 BTU/hour for the 12RES). The key to this part of the installation is in working with your gas company to ensure that enough propane is delivered to your generator to let it start and run when needed. This is a more complicated task than it might initially seem, particularly if you live in a cold climate.

[September 2011 – I’ve written a more detailed article on gas usage and generator runtime calculations.]

Propane is stored as a liquid, but it must transfer to the vapor phase in order to run the generator. The rate that this happens is directly proportional to the heat available to make it happen which is in turn a function of both temperature and surface area exposed to the heat. This means that in a cold climate, the size of your propane bottles may be more of a function of ensuring an adequate gas flow during the minimum expected temperatures than it is of how long you might want the fuel to last. A good discussion of this is at Propane 101 and is shown in the chart below which I borrowed from http://www.flameengineering.com/Propane_Info.html.

VAPORIZATION RATE – 100 lb. Propane Cylinder (Approx)

Pounds of propane in cylinder
Maximum continuous draw in BTU/hr at various temperatures in degrees F.
20°
40°
60°
70°
100
113,000
167,000
214,000
277,000
300,000
90
104,000
152,000
200,000
247,000
277,000
80
94,000
137,000
180,000
214,000
236,000
70
83,000
122,000
160,000
199,000
214,000
60
75,000
109,000
140,000
176,000
192,000
50
64,000
94,000
125,000
154,000
167,000
40
55,000
79,000
105,000
131,000
141,000
30
45,000
66,000
85,000
107,000
118,000
20
36,000
51,000
68,000
83,000
92,000
10
28,000
38,000
49,000
60,000
66,000
My Dual 125 Gallon Tanks

My Dual 125 Gallon Tanks

As you can see, the energy available to your generator at 0 degrees is dramatically different than at 70 degrees. My installation is done with dual 125 gallon (450 pound) tanks which can be seen at http://www.eastern.com/pdf/PropaneTankOptions_062606.pdf.

Determine Installation Location

Once you’ve figured out the tank size, the next step is location. You will need to figure out the placement of the generator at the same time so that piping can be calculated. The distance between the tanks and the generator will determine the type of piping run needed. For example, codes define a maximum length of unsecured pipe, so much of your piping will need to be attached to a structure or run underground. The availability of structure to which you can secure the pipes can be a major issue (I needed to bury mine). In addition, the propane installers will worry about specific codes governing cylinder placement including minimum distances from potential ignition sources, which can include lots of stuff you probably didn’t think of like outside lighting, Bar-B-Que grills, electrical outlets, etc. And, they’re going to want the cylinders in a location that they can reach with their delivery hoses too. After your installer explains local requirements to you, you will have narrowed down the available locations for the cylinders and generator significantly. Astute readers will also have picked up on a central paradox governing this calculation. The generator itself is an ignition source! So yes, the cylinders must be both a minimum distance from the generator to prevent ignition, and a maximum distance governed by the piping required. See, this isn’t as flexible as you thought!

While siting the cylinders, you’ll need to keep in mind some things about the generator as well. The most universal requirement is that it be close to the electric service entrance to minimize the cabling required and that it must be a minimum distance from any openings to inhabited areas (to prevent the exhaust from pumping carbon monoxide into the house if you leave a window open).

Locating the generator away from the electrical service is possible, but remember that the size (diameter) of the cable run between the generator and the transfer switch will need to be increased with distance to overcome resistive losses. So there is a practical limit based on the maximum cable size that can be run. Your installer will be dealing with large bundled cables here, not typical 14, 12, or 10 gauge copper house wire.

My Generator Location

My Generator Location (see text at right for an explanation)

If you balance the propane requirements with the generator requirements, you will have few choices of where to site the units. I am lucky that my house has a detached garage connected by an open breezeway (meaning it’s not inhabited so the distance from a window in the garage doesn’t matter) and this is close to both the driveway (for propane delivery) and the electrical service. Plus it’s separated from the main house to keep the noise at a minimum.

My Installation

In the picture at left, you can see then entire installation of my generator. The path of the cable is shown as the red line. The propane tanks are located directly behind the generator, out of view of the camera. The garage is about 15′ wide, and the breezeway is 10′ wide. Where the cable runs in front of the breezeway, it’s run under some wooden stairs and comes back up to enter the basement near the meter.

Once these decisions are made, the propane installer will develop a piping plan which balances flow requirements with local codes governing pipe material and allowable distances. In many areas, codes can vary from town to town. For example, in Grafton, MA where I live only black iron pipe is allowed. But just one town over, black iron pipe is not allowed and copper must be used. Only a local expert can navigate this mess.

Apply for Permits

Once you, your generator installer, and your propane installer have all agreed on the locations for things, it’s time to place the order and pull the permits. A good installation contractor will do this for you, but it’s always a good idea to double-check and ask to see the paperwork.

Piping Install

The next step was the installation of the piping. The gas installer should have specified all the pipe sizes to be used and you will likely need a licensed plumber to do this install, or else the inspector won’t pass it. Don’t get me started on this gross restriction of freedom and total scam by states bowing to the plumbing and union lobby. But anyway, the gas company may have a certified pipe fitter on staff who will do the job. In my case, the run between the tanks needed to be buried, so the gas company gave me the dimensions for the tank placement and the generator company gave me the dimensions for the generator placement and I connected the points and dug a trench between them. The trench needed to be 40 inches deep with 6 inches of sand in the bottom. When complete, I notified the gas company and they sent the fitter to install the risers and the run between them. When done, the fitter capped both ends and pressurized the pipe with compressed air. Then he notified the town who sent the plumbing inspector to sign off on the install. As long as the line held pressure everything would be good.

Once the inspector signed off, I was free to fill in the trench (another 6 inches of sand on top and then the dirt). Then I notified the generator company that the rough piping was complete.

Generator Prep & Wiring

This was the easiest part for me because Powers generator handled everything so professionally. On the day of the scheduled install, two guys showed up on a truck with the generator. A few minutes later an electrician from Powers also arrived. I had discussed the install location with the original Powers rep, but the location wasn’t optimal and I was sure that the information about the work hadn’t reached the team.

Essentially, my installation was done on the left side of my garage. The wiring penetrates the garage, goes up and across the door header, and then down and out the other wall. From there it needed to go under some wooden steps and underground, and finally through the wall and into the basement near the main service. I was certain that no one had told this poor crew that the were going to need to remove wooden steps and trench across my breezeway plus penetrate three walls. When I met them in the driveway and explained it to them, all they said was, “Yup. OK.” And that was it. Unbelievable.

While the guys outside began leveling the pad area and dumping the gravel they brought for a base, the electrician headed for the basement. I live in a house built in 1978 that originally had electric heat. So it always had 200 amp service. But when the electric heat was removed by the previous owners, no one really cleaned up the wiring, so the 220 circuit breakers are still in the box and the old wires are hanging all around. To further complicate things, another previous owner has installed a sub-panel to power a basement workshop they had set up. This didn’t even phase the electrician who went right to work preparing for the transfer switch and the rest of the install.

Transfer Switch & Panels

Transfer Switch & Panels

At this point, I just let them work, occasionally reminding them to help themselves to the refrigerator with soda and water that was in the basement. Several hours later I heard the generator fire up (they were testing it with a portable propane tank). I went outside and was stunned at the complete job they did. The wires were run perfectly, the trench had been dug and conduit installed, everything had been sealed, caulked, and glued, and the steps had been replaced like nothing had happened. I went to the basement where a brand new transfer switch was mounted and where the circuit panel was neater because the electrician had not only done the installation, but consolidated important circuits from the subpanel to the main panel and fixed a couple of unbonded neutrals and a missing ground! They even swept the sawdust off the floor, some of which I had left there. I was utterly stunned, never having had such a professional experience.

After a few minute rundown of how things worked and how they set it up, they left me the paperwork and it was complete.

My Generator (forgive the mess)

My Generator (forgive the mess)

Final Propane Hookup

After the install was done I contacted the gas company one final time. In a few days a truck arrived with the two 125 gallon tanks and the concrete pads they would sit on. The driver muscled them into place and let me know that the final connection would be done in a few days after the scheduled fill-up. A couple of more days passed until I returned home from work to find that the tanks were suddenly full. The day after that I returned home to find that the piping was finally all connected. Success!

I simply had to try because I didn’t believe that it would actually work. So I went to the basement and pressed the button as the instructions said and the generator fired in less than 10 seconds and ran great. And it hasn’t missed a beat yet in three years!

Final Inspections

This last part was the easiest, though somewhat nerve racking. I let the town know that everything was complete and they told me that the inspector would arrive in a couple of days. True to his word he arrived as scheduled and admitted he had never seen a generator like this before. His number one concern was that there was a transfer switch to keep the generator from back-feeding the grid. He asked me about this while he was staring right at the transfer switch. Rather than be a royal pain though, he looked at the the documents that came with the transfer switch and was satisfied that it was good enough. He left without really looking at anything else. Sometime in the next few days, the final required town inspection by the fire department happened and they left a nice letter to be displayed in the window nearest the generator.

And it was all finally over!

Summary

I’d say this whole process took about 10 days of research, a week of calling companies and scheduling visits, and then about 4 weeks of work from the start of the installation to the end. It required a lot of coordination and quite a bit of research and learning.

We’ve had the generator installed for 3 years and it’s performed flawlessly. The first year was remarkably free of power failures, but by last winter the generator really paid for itself. In December we had an ice storm in Massachusetts, and while we were less affected in my town than in some areas, we were without power for 14 hours. I work in Boston and though I didn’t travel that day, while my neighbors were hunkering down figuring out how to keep the pipes from freezing, I was able to keep working online like nothing was wrong.

Update, 7/2011: It’s been closer to 5 years now that my generator has been working and I’m still satisfied. This spring there was a minor car accident on my road and someone hit a power pole with a transformer on it. As expected, my generator came on and ran for 12.5 hours. It wasn’t particularly cold out, but it was nice to be able to continue watching TV and to have a nice hot shower in the morning which many of my neighbors had to skip. And then, the most important test of my generator’s life: June 1, 2011 was game one of the Stanley Cup finals when my beloved Boston Bruins took on the Vancouver Canucks. It was also a night of tornadoes and terrible thunderstorms here in Massachusetts. And, although a tornado didn’t approach my house (the closest was about 12 miles away) the thunderstorms did cut power just before the puck dropped. Tens of thousands of Bruins fans were left unable to watch the game … but not me. Again my generator ran for about 10 hours, and I was the only house in my neighborhood with power. Miraculously, even though electricity was down, my Verizon FiOS cable feed stayed up, so I didn’t miss the game (even though the Bruins lost). Thank you Kohler!

Update, 8/2011: Hurricane Irene blew through Massachusetts and I was without power for about 10 hours. Again, my FiOS cable and Internet connection stayed working the whole day, so we weathered the storm in total comfort.

Can you see it in there ... yup, that's my car.

Update, 10/2011: 2011 isn’t going to go quietly. Just a few weeks after hurricane Irene, we had Snowtober. A freak early-season Nor’easter dropped 6+ inches of heavy wet snow on my town and because the trees still had leaves, brought down millions of branches (including an oak tree on my car … see the pic at left). Hundreds of thousands of people were without power. This time we weren’t spared … but the generator again proved itself. We were without electricity for 65+ hours with outside temperatures in the 40s. The generator ran the whole time. At one point we had some people over and the generator was holding its own with the electric oven on, two big burners on our stove on high, the well pump cycling while the shower was running, and all sorts of miscellaneous lights and TVs running. What a comfort having  this generator.

Through several short duration outages and now one that lasted several days, the generator starts in seconds and keeps the appliances running with no issues. I would do it all over again in a moment.

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Post Revisions:

  1. September 2nd, 2011 at 00:10 | #1

    @John Winter, Mgr.

    I never see anyone say how large their propane tanks are and how long the generator (a 17kva, let us say) can run on a certain quantity of LPG. Thanks!

    • September 6th, 2011 at 00:22 | #2

      Thanks to your prompting I finally got around to writing about how I did this calculation. On full tanks I should be able to run for 3.5 days off my dual 125 gallon tanks at full load. Almost 6 days at 75% load. See the whole discussion in: this post.

  2. John
    September 6th, 2011 at 07:35 | #3

    i am glad i stumbled upon your post! i have been wanting to get a generator for a couple years now. powers is coming today for an estimate. i live in hamilton, ma and was very glad they agreed to come down this far!
    thx for all the info, john

  3. Steve C
    September 7th, 2011 at 17:06 | #4

    I’m in Rhode Island and was without power for a little over a week after the hurricane came through (came back on late Sunday, 9/4 after blinking out on 8/28 at 8:30 am). It got tiring after the first day or so to take showers at my company (I work for EMC). So, you can probably guess why I came across your post. Still have a bunch of Google hits to follow up on as well, but I doubt I’m going to come across as detailed synopsis as yours. Well done and thank you for helping along the homework.

  4. John
    September 15th, 2011 at 21:08 | #5

    powers coming oct 4th to install 20kw ge. i really wanted the kohler but because of new regulations, the size of the generator must be large enough to handle the entire load of the house. ge is the only one that has the “power management system” so you can have your top 5 biggest draws on it and it will shut them down in order of priority. i happen to have a pool and a hot tub as well as central air so the ge was the only one that fit the bill. it is a briggs & stratton engine and should be fine

    • September 17th, 2011 at 08:42 | #6

      Wow. I’ve never heard of such a regulation. Is this some kind of local code? I can’t see how that would even be legal – seriously. Safety can be easily protected without mandating that a generator run the whole house. If you can give more information I’d love to hear more about this regulation and where it comes from – is it local code or a state regulation or a national code?

      That said, I’ve read about Guardian/Generac’s new transfer switches and they sound really good (I assume you meant Guardian/Generac not General Electric). With pool pumps and central air I can see 20 KW being necessary, particularly in a large home. My 1800 square foot home without Central Air had no such large loads, so my 12kW works fine. I have pushed it to close to its 100% limit though during one summer storm. Warm and muggy out I had a 12,000 BTU window a/c unit in my living room running almost constantly, and two 6,000 BTU window units running constantly in bedrooms. Two refrigerators were running (I could hear them in my kitchen and when I went to the basement). Then while cooking a meal, we were running water (well pump kicking on after a while) and using the largest burner on our electric stove (2.1 kW). My guess is those loads added up to about 9 kW or 10 kW. Add in the TV my daughter was watching and all the lights and we were probably at 9.5 kW to 10 kW. Then we turned on the second largest stove burner (1.8 kW) and as I turned it on I could see the halogen lights above our stove flicker and hear the generator begin to strain. It all ran, but I had to be close to 100%.

      Good luck and keep us posted.

  5. Phineas
    November 24th, 2011 at 12:07 | #7

    Rob, first I want to thank for writing out your experiences. It was very helpful. Especially so for me because I live only about 3 towns east of you — making your recommendation of Powers Generators a major plus. Do you use their contracted annual maintenance service arrangement? And if so, what do you think of the plan, and Powers now?

    Since I’ve been debating between Generac and Kohler, I also found your comments on the products interesting too. Like you, I will also have to go the propane route. Every detail you gave us about that was gold to me.

    Thanks again.

  6. James
    December 3rd, 2011 at 23:19 | #8

    I like the Kohler line, and was thinking of one the same size. Is that generator quiet enough to have near the house– say within 15-20 feet of our central living areas ? Otherwise I would have to pay for a long run of electric and NG line (having to bury both lines in separate trenches) of about 60 feet in length.

    • December 4th, 2011 at 11:09 | #9

      Hard for me to comment honestly on the sound because the generator is so far removed from my house. And my neighbors don’t really know I have it because there are small hills blocking the noise on that side of my house as well. Kohler advertises this as being “as quiet as a residential vacuum.” I think they must have really loud vacuums. But the noise isn’t unpleasant when I’ve been nearby the running system. Then again, I haven’t had to live with the thing right outside my bedroom window for 5 days either.

      I do know that the noise is somewhat directional … the exhaust is pointed away from your house and it is louder on the exhaust side than the other side. Keep this is mind when siting your install.

      Hopefully someone else with an installation near their home can chime in. My gut says that with the windows of your house closed, the noise is bearable.

      Good luck.

  7. Don
    December 24th, 2011 at 09:33 | #10

    Hello, we are in western North Carolina and experience an occasional outage due to ice storms. Not very often and usually just a few hours. In the summer there was an outage of 17 hours which was unusual. But, we also now have a 190 gallon saltwater tank that needs protection because it cannot go more than 10 hours or so without loss of expensive fish and coral. Is there anything short of a whole house approach that can protect a few rooms including the fish tank? We don’t need the level of protection that you need in Massachusetts (I think). Is there a less costly alternative? Thanks!

    • December 30th, 2011 at 11:26 | #11

      @Don

      I agree with Alan. For me the question comes down to whether or not you need a standby generator (one that will monitor the line and turn itself on in the event of a power failure) versus a portable model that you start yourself. The smallest standby generator that Kohler makes is 8.5 kW. But if you are sure you’ll be home or will return home quickly after an outage, then a portable system with a manual transfer switch may work. And portable systems can be sized as small as 800 watts, so you could conceivably run just the fish tank.

      Another option is to set up something besides a generator. I have no idea of the current draw of a saltwater tank but if it’s only a few hundred watts perhaps a solar or wind powered battery backup would work (tons of information at http://homepower.com/basics/solar/). Or maybe even a large uninterruptable power supply. There’s a good discussion on this web page: http://www.nooutage.com/hups-advantages.htm (note, I have NO affiliation with or knowledge of this company – just thought they had good info on this page).

      Hope this helps.

  8. Alan
    December 28th, 2011 at 00:30 | #12

    @Don
    Don, yes there are several models to do just what you need.
    They come with a branch circuit panel instead of a whole house transfer switch.
    This may power 8 or 16 circuits for example.
    You simply wire just the 8 or so circuits you desire to be backed up.
    Just working from memory here, I think these usually supply several 120 volt circuits and maybe one 240 volt circuit.

  9. Cindy
    November 3rd, 2012 at 01:41 | #13

    I am so glad that I found your website when searching for whole house generators. Your information about sizing is extremely helpful and I will have the company I go with perform a survey of the actual draw. Every year our power outages in NJ get progressively worse. Last year we were out of power for 6 days with Hurricane Irene, and I am currently without power due to Hurricane Sandy. It has been 5 days so far, and I am told that it could be another week to ten days before we have our power restored.
    I grew up in the Poconos also (Tannersville), and our power outages were nothing like what I have experienced since moving to New Jersey. I am hoping to have the generator installed before winter and snowy weather sets in.

    • November 3rd, 2012 at 09:55 | #14

      Sounds worse than I remember it – I’m glad each passing year that I left NJ for good.

      Hope the information is helpful and get’s you the proper size generator. One thing I left our regarding size – an over-sized generator uses more propane even at a low load, and so the runtime might be less than a properly sized unit for a given amount of propane. For most people, the size of the propane supply is an issue if a generator is all they use it for. If you’re tapping off a large bulk tank that also runs heat and lights then it’s less of a problem.

      One thing to be careful of is choosing a propane dealer that actually has a backup plan themselves. Given the devastation we’ve read about in NJ, even with a generator you might not be able to get a propane fillup in time to keep it running after the initial few days. And it’s not just a matter of getting the roads cleared either. If the propane company is without power, they might not be able to fill and dispatch their trucks.

      One of the reasons I selected the propane company I did (besides knowing someone who works there) is because they are a regional company with multiple facilities stretching from Rhode Island to northern New Hampshire. Only a truly devastating event would impact all of their facilities, so I would hope that they could always arrange an emergency fillup for a customer. Last year, we had Hurricane Irene followed by our October snowstorm. Our power was out for three days after the October storm and I did have to ask for an emergency fillup. There is a premium charge for that, but it was still worth it. If I had only a local company in the same town without power I might have needed to scramble to find another dealer. Keep that in mind when you select your propane company as well.

      Good luck.

  10. Pat
    November 5th, 2012 at 10:25 | #15

    I’ve been procrastinating on this since the ’08 ice storm and have decided the time has come since outages have been increasing in frequency and length. How did you fare in Sandy?

Comment pages
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