Standby Generator Systems

Standby Generator Systems

Published: October 12th, 2016

Standby Generator Systems…How to Protect Yourself from Making a Bad Investment

Many Pennsylvania consumers are experiencing more frequent, and longer power outages. As the builders build, the grid gets pushed harder and harder.  Local utilities are hard-pressed to keep up with the growing demand, and more violent weather.  As it is difficult for utilities to improve their distribution infrastructures for many reasons,  the result is that power outages are becoming more frequent, and lasting longer.

So,  you are considering the purchase of a standby generator?  This is a better (and safer) choice than a portable unit.   If you wish to run any of todays’ sensitive electronics (this is becoming everything short of lighting), you should be looking at a standby unit. The power quality of portable generators makes them a poor choice for back up power for your home unless you invest a sizeable sum for an inverter generator.  Unfortunately, standby units are generally more costly than portable units. If you are spending the hard-earned cash to have a standby unit installed, my advice is to spend it as wisely as possible.  There are significant differences between the quality of the standby generators from which to choose, and between the training, experience level, and professionalism of generator installers. This will have a direct bearing on the life expectancy of the generator, and the quality of electricity produced. We’ll get into the quality differences between generators in our next article.  Lets talk about how to protect yourself when choosing an installer.

Here is a list of things you should ask any generator installer you have asked to come out to your home.

1.  Can you supply me a list of the customers that you have installed a generator for in the last 3-6 months?  

There are many contractors “jumping in” to the generator business because of the  demand for these units.  That does not make them experienced. The more experience, the better. Because an HVAC contractor or an electrician has been in business for a long period of time, does not mean they have the experience or credentials to install and adjust the output and power quality of a standby generator.  This is a craft that manufacturers will only train “authorized dealers” to perform and is crucial to the performance of the generator. If you get a list of 4-5 persons, your installer probably doesn’t have very much experience.

2. May I contact the customers on your recently-installed list?  

Talk to them all.  Ask for email addresses, not phone numbers.  You’ll get better information via email. Its also harder for them to use their brother-in-law or other relatives as references. Prior customers can provide valuable input. Ask them if there were any issues with the generator and (more importantly), did the contractor stand behind his product.

3.  Are you a Master Electrician?   If so, do you have a Master Electricians  license I can see?

This is not a contractors license.  Townships and local government register  contractors.  So does the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This is NOT a Master Electricians License. Most of the time, these Township registration/licenses are only acknowledgement that the contractor has paid a fee to the local government, to be able to work there.  This usually means they produced an insurance policy showing they have coverage.  The insurance companies don’t require a license to insure a contractor!  A Master Electricians license is a license issued by a governmental agency that administers a written test given specifically for Master Electricians that must be passed before the license is issued.  The license should say “Master Electrician”, not “Electrical Contractor”.

4.  Are you a factory authorized or certified service provider for the generator brand that you install?

This is huge.  Installing a generator properly, and making the proper adjustments to fuel, air pressure, throttle, governor electrical output and frequency are crucial.  Only a FACTORY TRAINED INSTALLER can do this.  There are no instructions that come with the generator showing you how to make these adjustments.  There is a reason for this.  The manufacturers don’t want untrained persons attempting these.

5.  Are you listed on the manufacturer’s website as an authorized service provider?

This is the only way to check to see if your installer is being honest with you.  All  manufacturers list the approved installers and the approved service providers on their websites.

6.  Do you have a certified gas mechanic on staff or do you use a LOCAL certified gas mechanic?

Gas main pressure, gas service and meter size, connected load and pipe sizing must all be carefully calculated.  Only a certified gas professional should do this. If he is local, all the better.  Future adjustments or service may be required and its easier to get a local company to return.

7.   Which electrical inspection agency do you use and may I get their contact information?

If they are a Master Electrician, they deal everyday with inspection agencies.  They should be able to provide this information.  Electrical inspectors will be familiar with the electricians work.

8.   Do you have an established maintenance plan for your generator customers?

The contractor should have a written plan in place for their generator customers.  Some offer multiple plans.  Again, the manufacturers’ website will verify if the contractor is authorized and trained to perform this function.  If the contractor is not an authorized servicing dealer, he will not be able to make the proper adjustments these units demand.

PROTECT YOURSELF!!!!  Don’t believe what you hear.  It is easy and unfortunately, legal, to make false claims or provide misleading information to a prospective client, unless they are made in writing.  I’ve heard customers tell me that a contractor told them “their generator will last as long as their house will last” , or that they were “authorized and properly trained” when, in fact, they were lying.  Don’t believe what you hear.  Demand  to see proof.  It’s your investment,  don’t be cavalier about who you deal with.