rico567
Preliminary Note: This post is actually going to discuss "pre-installation," since that's what I've been doing recently, i.e., the process of selecting and purchasing a standby generator and installer. It concerns none of the logistic, technical, legal, or other aspects of installation, but I couldn't find a more appropriate category to place it, so here it is.

Anyhow, that's what this is going to be about, and not strictly installation, so read no further if you're not interested. I've never purchased a generator before, and I am not a professional in this business, either with generators or in the electrical service business. Although I have knowledge of household 120/240V circuits and have done troubleshooting, replacement and a modest amount of installation over 40 years, I am speaking more or less as an "informed consumer," someone who is in the process (still, I hope) of acquiring a standby generator.

I'm writing these things down as much to clarify my own thoughts as anything else. All ideas and opinions are welcome, but I'm not dealing with a technical issue so much as the issues in generator installs in our area, and the experiences I've had in trying to get this done.

1. Sizing the standby generator

The first point where I encountered issues (this Spring) was in determining the correct size for a home generator. I thought I'd be done by now, but….not so much. The online manufacturer's sites seem pretty straightforward, and the "calculators" to determine generator capacity (Generac, Briggs, GE, etc.) are pretty consistent. When I input my requirements, they all conclude that I need a generator on the low end (7-8 KW).

But that has a way of changing when discussing the issue with real people, including some on this forum. The only installer I've actually had out to the house to size things up simply gave me a range of installed prices for various units (Generac), but he clearly favored something larger, without being able to say why. I think I may have cleared this point up somewhat by subsequently reading discussions on this forum: that it's not a good thing to be running a generator at or close to its rated capacity. I think I understand the "why" of this recommendation, and I have come to agree with it.

Unfortunately, simply sizing up a generator to something that will run everything I need to operate, leaving a comfortable capacity "overhead" (10-14 KW) tends to tax my budget severely, given what I will discuss in the next section.

2. Finding an installer

Early in this process (end of April) I had an installer (a Generac premier servicing dealer) come out to the house (we live in a rural area) and look over the installation. They did so, and mailed me a proposal about a week later. For a 10KW Generac, they want nearly twice as much installed as I can buy the generator for (from Ziller and other online vendors) delivered. These folks had to come from 40 miles away, but they did come, I'll give them that. I think I understand why the quotes I've been given are so high, but that doesn't help me.

I then began to explore alternatives, including hiring an electrician to install the unit or finding another servicing dealer. The short version of this search is that every contractor in our area I've found who will install the unit will only do so if I buy it from them, and there are no other servicing dealers who are willing to sell/service a generator over such a distance (> 40 miles).

Another dealer who is supposed to come out with an electrician -some day- and give it a look-over has basically got his generator alone priced so high that I'm right up against my budget without any installation. I'm still waiting on callbacks from two other contractors, one who only does sell + install, another that supposedly does installs. After that, I'm out of options.

What's left, if these other leads don't pan out? What I don't want to think about….buy a portable generator (probably a Honda) to just power the 120V necessities, get the appropriate extension cords, and deal with it.

What have I concluded from all this? That the consumer entering into planning and purchasing a standby generator in the low range (7-14 KW) needs to plan on budgeting at least twice the cost of the generator itself for installation. This will save time and frustration, and might well be a good topic for a sticky on the forum, not so much for the professionals and/or those with wide experience in this area, but for the consumer who comes to this forum seeking information.
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Skip Douglas SkipD
I'll tell how you I saved a bundle on my generator/installation package. I asked our local dealer if I could do part of the work, replacing one of the two electricians they normally send out on an installation. In other words, rather than a hard turnkey quoted job, we turned it into a time and material job. I did all of the conduit running and built the base for the generator before they ever arrived on site. I helped carry and mount the generator, mount the ATS, and run the wiring. The bottom line was that I saved over $2700 for my efforts and the job was done far better than the contractor alone would have done it. For example, they would have punched holes through floor joists and pulled open cables while I ran a very neat conduit system that my wife is far happier with.

It's very important that the applicable codes are fully understood by whoever is ramrodding the installation. This can be complex for folks who don't work in the industry. Fortunately, I'd been around electrical installation jobs in my career even though I've never been a licensed electrician so it was less difficult for me to understand the what the codes were requiring.

In sizing the generator, it's important to understand that the generator must be large enough to supply ALL of the loads that are automatically switched to it. Load management automation is allowed to reduce the peak load on the generator and thus allow a somewhat smaller generator. Using a transfer switch that has a number of breakers to handle your critical loads is the easiest way to keep the generator size down.
Skip Douglas
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ceb58
OK, now from a contractors point of view. I will give a little history so you will see where I am coming from.
I am a licensed electrical contractor but I do it part time. I work for a state agency who has been charged with maintaining the state emergency communication system. I am 1 of 2 electricians for the whole state. When the build out is complete we will have over 180 Generac generators going.

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I then began to explore alternatives, including hiring an electrician to install the unit or finding another servicing dealer. The short version of this search is that every contractor in our area I've found who will install the unit will only do so if I buy it from them, and there are no other servicing dealers who are willing to sell/service a generator over such a distance (> 40 miles).


For reasons I still cannot grasp Generac makes it hard on a dealer to sell their product. To get good pricing they must sell volume. If not then it is as you said you can buy off line cheaper. Another reason is the dealer must mark the unit cost up. That's business. He has tied his money up, he has had to store the unit and every thing else that goes along with it. Then there is warranty issues. Generac pays a flat rate plus a flat rate for travel. If it is much over 40 miles in a service type truck with the price of gas then he will lose money on a round trip. Also if he doesn't have the part on the truck that Generac tells him he must buy and stock and he must make a return trip it is all on him.

Any of the smaller units I have installed for homeowners the homeowner has purchased. If I bought the unit I would add around 15% to the price for handling. Plus this takes me out of the warranty issue.
What I wish people would get through their head is when you are given a price by a contractor he has overhead, he has employees and he has to make a living. People will not blink at a plumber charging $125.00 for unstopping a sink. But let an electrician charge $75.00 for crawling in a hot attic to repair a arcing wire that has been chewed by a squirrel. They think you are robbing them at gun point.

I know every one cannot afford the big units and the install price. In your case if you feel comfortable with around 15Kw then go with a portable. You can have the gen. plug, breaker interlock and cord installed for less than $1000.00 and that is on the very high end depending on the layout. You will be surprised what you can run on it. Just remember you will be using it during storm situations and how many times dose that happen? In a time like that it is not necessary to run every thing. Just run what you need not what you want.
Now if you don't want to be bothered or lift a finger then save up the big dollars install a 40Kw diesel and kick back.
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genme
Good feedback from Skip and ceb.

Can you find an independent electrician who has done generator installations? If you hire an independent electrician, can you find a Generac dealer who will service your generator?

SER cable installed should be cheaper than wire in conduit. That said, we're going with copper wire in EMT. Would I go that route again - it would depend on available funds.

Your 2x generator cost is about right for us. I found a good deal on a concrete pad (with someone I had hired before.) The propane line ran right next to the generator (cost not bad for that either). But, 95 feet of copper and conduit installed is time consuming (= expensive.)
Model 5875, Nexus controller, 999cc Engine, 20kW LP, 2011
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Skip Douglas SkipD
I didn't mention that my conduit run worked out to about 75 feet. I wouldn't have wanted to pay someone else to do it - especially with the care in locating the conduit for aesthetic reasons (keeping Cindy happy).
Skip Douglas
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rico567
genme;10552 wrote:
Good feedback from Skip and ceb.

Can you find an independent electrician who has done generator installations? If you hire an independent electrician, can you find a Generac dealer who will service your generator?

SER cable installed should be cheaper than wire in conduit. That said, we're going with copper wire in EMT. Would I go that route again - it would depend on available funds.

Your 2x generator cost is about right for us. I found a good deal on a concrete pad (with someone I had hired before.) The propane line ran right next to the generator (cost not bad for that either). But, 95 feet of copper and conduit installed is time consuming (= expensive.)


Genme: The answer to your questions are:

1. So far, I cannot find an independent who will do installs. I am still waiting on one callback, but have no great expectations.

2. I certainly do fear that if I can save money by buying a generator online and hiring an independent, that no dealer will service the generator. I have already run into one dealer (Briggs & Stratton) who explicitly tells any potential customer, right away and up front, that he will service nothing that he has not sold.

It's at least good to get feedback that you think 2X cost is predictable. The one visit and quote -from the Generac premier dealer- is about that, not quite. It may be the way to go, but I'm a bit nervous about a dealer 40 miles away.

I think, from what I have heard, that the dealers / contractors are building extra money into their quotes out of a very real concern of having to make multiple visits in the process of installation. This Generac dealer told me when he was here that "We would really like to have your gas supplier here the day we install the generator." It's another one of the "time is money" things I've seen in several contracting scenarios, the most vivid being a big remodel on our house in '98, where the main contractor's carpenters had to go off and work another job, waiting two days for the electrical subcontractor to show up and wire the kitchen.
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Ira
SkipD;10541 wrote:
In sizing the generator, it's important to understand that the generator must be large enough to supply ALL of the loads that are automatically switched to it. Load management automation is allowed to reduce the peak load on the generator and thus allow a somewhat smaller generator. Using a transfer switch that has a number of breakers to handle your critical loads is the easiest way to keep the generator size down.


Just wondering...when calculating total load that include various motors (e.g., A/C, refrigerator, water well pump), is the "running" load or the "startup" load used?

If it is the startup load, what if the A/C thermostat has a "five-minute delay start after power loss"? Is that considered load management?
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Skip Douglas SkipD
Ira;10569 wrote:
Just wondering...when calculating total load that include various motors (e.g., A/C, refrigerator, water well pump), is the "running" load or the "startup" load used?

If it is the startup load, what if the A/C thermostat has a "five-minute delay start after power loss"? Is that considered load management?
I don't really know the answers to those questions off hand, but we have several licensed electricians on board who will hopefully pop in with the answers. I've never dealt with the calculations personally.

When my generator was installed, we didn't have to go through the process of calculating the load (NEC 2005 was in force here at that time).
Skip Douglas
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Ira
SkipD;10570 wrote:
I don't really know the answers to those questions off hand, but we have several licensed electricians on board who will hopefully pop in with the answers. I've never dealt with the calculations personally.

When my generator was installed, we didn't have to go through the process of calculating the load (NEC 2005 was in force here at that time).


I was looking at several web sites that calculated total loads. Not sure if it is the same total load calculation as used for genset sizing though. If it is, the term "total load calculation" is a somewhat misleading term for a non-electrician like me. When I hear "total load calculation", I automatically think it is the load present when everything is turned on. The calculators I just saw are much more forgiving. The obvious example is they assume you won't be running the A/C and heater at the same time. They also assume you won't have every light in the home turned on at the same time.

I'm outside of any city jurisdiction, so I didn't even need an inspection when mine was installed three years ago. The dealer said he thought 22kW was borderline, but that's what I went with. I've since also installed an energy monitor that tracks almost every circuit individually, and found out that my home has never gone above 12kW (not including startup spikes). Normal load without the "really big stuff" or small kitchen appliances is usually less than 2kW.

I wanted a whole-house liquid cooled 1800rpm genset, so 22kW was the smallest I could get from Generac. I think the spike limit is 35kW, so given the energy use patterns I've seen, the 22kW genset is plenty big enough. I wonder if NEC 2008 would agree?
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rico567
Ira;10571 wrote:
I was looking at several web sites that calculated total loads. Not sure if it is the same total load calculation as used for genset sizing though. If it is, the term "total load calculation" is a somewhat misleading term for a non-electrician like me. When I hear "total load calculation", I automatically think it is the load present when everything is turned on. The calculators I just saw are much more forgiving. The obvious example is they assume you won't be running the A/C and heater at the same time. They also assume you won't have every light in the home turned on at the same time.

I'm outside of any city jurisdiction, so I didn't even need an inspection when mine was installed three years ago. The dealer said he thought 22kW was borderline, but that's what I went with. I've since also installed an energy monitor that tracks almost every circuit individually, and found out that my home has never gone above 12kW (not including startup spikes). Normal load without the "really big stuff" or small kitchen appliances is usually less than 2kW.

I wanted a whole-house liquid cooled 1800rpm genset, so 22kW was the smallest I could get from Generac. I think the spike limit is 35kW, so given the energy use patterns I've seen, the 22kW genset is plenty big enough. I wonder if NEC 2008 would agree?


This is fascinating, and it fills in a few more pieces to my puzzle. Ira, you and I are in the same boat in terms of location. I live in a rural county in IL, and although building permits are supposed to be pulled for houses, there's no county code and no one to do any inspections, NEC or otherwise.

I'm interested in connecting 1 x 240V circuit (well pump) and 6 x 120 V circuits (water heater, refrigerator, freezer, kitchen, bedroom, TV.....so I can't even imagine where I'd ever pull 12KW. I'm not about to spend the money on one of the big liquid-cooled rigs, but this helps pull things into perspective.

May I ask what energy monitor you're using?
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Ira
I'm using several Brultech ECM-1240 monitors. Their software allows the user to view up to six of them at the same time. Each one has seven "channels", and a single channel can monitor multiple circuits. Google Brultech and it will take you to their website.

You sure your water heater is 120V? Most electric water heaters are 240V.

The genset I have is not cheap, but I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to (and could afford it). I would do without other "luxuries" so I could buy one, if necessary.
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rico567
Ira;10575 wrote:
I'm using several Brultech ECM-1240 monitors. Their software allows the user to view up to six of them at the same time. Each one has seven "channels", and a single channel can monitor multiple circuits. Google Brultech and it will take you to their website.

You sure your water heater is 120V? Most electric water heaters are 240V.

The genset I have is not cheap, but I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to (and could afford it). I would do without other "luxuries" so I could buy one, if necessary.


Thanks for the reference to Brultech, Ira.

Yes, the water heater only requires 120V. I perhaps should have specified that the unit only requires electricity for the power vent fan & control box. It's a Bosch Aquastar gas demand water heater running on LP.

I'm aware of the benefits of a liquid-cooled generator running at lower rpms.....but for the sort of power outages we get around here, I'm sure this one will do fine. We've actually managed for 40 years without any generator whatsoever.....but the recent necessity for a sump pump has changed all that, particularly in the Spring. Got to have something automatic, or we have to stick around for 3-4 months of the year.....of the two alternatives, I prefer the former.
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rico567
With reference to the search detailed in my OP, I think I may have a resolution. Got a call today from an electrical contractor who'll let me order my own generator, an do the install on a straight time + materials basis.

Ironically enough, this is the electrical contractor who's done most of the work on our electricity around here over twenty-plus years.

It wasn't so much that the answer was right under my nose, because the office person originally told me they would only install something they bought from a distributor themselves, and the only brand they handled was Cummins-Onan.

Well, C-O makes a fine generator, I'm sure, but their entry level unit is pretty much at the top of my budget.....not including transfer switch, materials, or installation labor. Then, at the end of the conversation, she said. "Well.....I think they may do Generac, let me have him call you." Well, he finally did today, and was very accommodating. And since we've had work done with them in the past and I know their work to be of the highest order, I think I'm going that route.

I'm going to get the order process with Ziller going, and I'm sure I'll be posting in this forum before this project is completed. And, thanks to everyone who chimed in to help me think this through.
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ceb58
Ira;10569 wrote:
Just wondering...when calculating total load that include various motors (e.g., A/C, refrigerator, water well pump), is the "running" load or the "startup" load used?

If it is the startup load, what if the A/C thermostat has a "five-minute delay start after power loss"? Is that considered load management?


[COLOR="Blue"]The NEC has a set formula for doing the load calc. on a house. One part is using 3va per sq ft for gen use recpt. and it goes on from there.
A five min. delay is not load management. What that refers to is load shedding built into the transfer switch. Items that would put the gen. over the calculated load are interrupted by relays and will not let them come back on until the utility is restored. However some will monitor the load on the gen. and when it "See's" enough available power it will let selected loads come on under gen. power.[/COLOR]

rico567;10577 wrote:
With reference to the search detailed in my OP, I think I may have a resolution. Got a call today from an electrical contractor who'll let me order my own generator, an do the install on a straight time + materials basis.

Ironically enough, this is the electrical contractor who's done most of the work on our electricity around here over twenty-plus years.

It wasn't so much that the answer was right under my nose, because the office person originally told me they would only install something they bought from a distributor themselves, and the only brand they handled was Cummins-Onan.

Well, C-O makes a fine generator, I'm sure, but their entry level unit is pretty much at the top of my budget.....not including transfer switch, materials, or installation labor. Then, at the end of the conversation, she said. "Well.....I think they may do Generac, let me have him call you." Well, he finally did today, and was very accommodating. And since we've had work done with them in the past and I know their work to be of the highest order, I think I'm going that route.

I'm going to get the order process with Ziller going, and I'm sure I'll be posting in this forum before this project is completed. And, thanks to everyone who chimed in to help me think this through.


It is a sign of the times. Once-upon-a-time a contractor who only installed a certain brand would hold his ground. Now any thing goes to keep working. But it is like I said if the customer supplies the equipment then the warranty is on them. Not if but when you need warranty work you can call Generac for a service dealer near you but don't get pissed when they take their sweet time getting to it because they didn't sell it. Also they will look for any thing to say it was installed wrong to void the warranty and give you a bill for the service work which will be 3-4 times greater than what warranty work pays.
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rico567
I can now call this phase of the generator project closed. I ordered a genset from Ziller today (well, pre-ordered, as they're out of stock and awaiting a shipment including the model I want (5871). I've got one contractor I'm comfortable with who installs generators (including Generac) on a regular basis, and another guy is coming out tomorrow to do a quote.
LP supplier was out this morning to do the Fall fill-up, looked over the location and said it would be a piece of cake, in & out in an hour. Looks like the candle has been lit....
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phabib
Unrelated to generators, but as a backup of last resort for your sump pump you may want to consider either a water pressure powered pump, or if you're on a well and need power to have water pressure a battery backed one. For a few hundred dollars you could be saved many thousands of water damage.
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rico567
phabib;10683 wrote:
Unrelated to generators, but as a backup of last resort for your sump pump you may want to consider either a water pressure powered pump, or if you're on a well and need power to have water pressure a battery backed one. For a few hundred dollars you could be saved many thousands of water damage.


We are in a rural area on a well, so the "hammer pump" powered by water pressure is not an alternative for us.

I got & installed the battery backed DC pump as soon as the sump was constructed. It's a Wayne 2-in-1 unit, where the DC pump sits on top of the AC pump, and stays plugged in on a maintenance charger and kicks in automatically if the AC fails. It's powered by a big honking deep-cycle boat battery. If water is coming into the sump the way it sometimes does in the Spring, that battery is good for just about 1 hour (pump is emptying out the sump every 15 seconds), as we found out this past March. So- the DC backup pump, while it works just fine, has its limitations.

I considered just buying a small portable generator and keeping it around for the sump, but that would tie us to being around the house constantly for a 3 month period.....not something we were prepared to consider. So- that means an automatic standby unit. And here we are.
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