natural gas standby generator

Should I Install a Natural Gas Standby Generator?

When hurricane season or the winter storm season come around, homeowners start researching natural gas standby generators. With good reason! When the power goes off, a whole house standby generator means your lights stay on even if there’s a hurricane or blizzard.

Here’s what you need to know about installing a whole house natural gas generator in your home.

How Does a Natural Gas Standby Generator Work?

A natural gas standby generator is also called a whole house generator or a whole home generator. It is a stand-alone system, run on natural gas, that’s connected to your home. When the power goes out, the generator comes on, automatically. A separate device, called an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) isolates your home from the power grid once the generator reaches full speed. That will protect you and the grid from power surges. When the power comes back on, you’ll switch back over to the local utility grid for electricity.

Since the whole home generator has a continuous natural gas supply, you don’t have to worry about purchasing and storing gasoline for a portable generator. And since it’s attached to your main electrical system, you don’t have to run extension cords.

Cost is usually the biggest factor when determining if you want a whole house generator or a portable generator.

How Much Does a Natural Gas Generator Cost?

A standby generator for a 2,000 square-foot home usually requires a 16-18 kW generator, which costs approximately $8,500 to $12,000 installed. The size of your whole house generator depends on the size of your home and the number of electric devices you want it to run.

When someone installs a home generator, it’s usually after a particularly nasty storm or event. Ask someone who’s installed one and they’ll usually start out with, “When hurricane X came through…” It’s a great comfort in a storm, to know that your lights will stay on. But whether the cost of a generator is worth it depends on a lot of factors.

Is a Whole House Generator Worth It?

Whether a whole house generator is worth it depends on where you live, risk factors, lifestyle and cost.

Risk Factors & Location. Some areas of the country like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Connecticut see a lot of winter storms. And, they see heavy rainfall from the remnants of hurricanes. If you live in these areas, you may be tired of dealing with power loss due to weather events. This can be especially true if you have older or younger people at home.

Lifestyle. How long are you willing to go without electricity in your home? Is it a minor inconvenience? Or can it take weeks to restore power after an ice storm?

Cost. A natural gas whole home generator is expensive. Most resellers offer financing. Is this something you can afford, without a financial strain?

Value. Installing a standby natural gas generator can increase your home value. Remodeling Magazine publishes a yearly study showing the return on investment for different home improvement projects. You’ll get about 60% of your investment back through increased home value.

How Do I Size A Natural Gas Generator for my Home?

The size of generator you need for your home depends on what you want to run when the power goes out.

During the initial sales process, your installer will conduct a load analysis for your home. Basically, they will look at all of the items in your home that use electricity. They’ll work with you to prioritize this list of devices into “must have” and “nice to have.”

For example, is it important to be able to wash and dry clothes and use a blow dryer during a power outage? Or are you more concerned with keeping your refrigerator, TV and HVAC system running?

Here’s a check list to do your own estimate of what size generator you need for your home.

Time needed: 1 hour.

How to estimate the size of natural gas generator for your home.

  1. Make a list of the electric devices in your home and their wattage. Here are examples of what needs to be on your list:

    Refrigerator/freezer
    HVAC system
    Lighting
    Television
    Radio
    Computer
    Garage door opener
    Security system
    Water heater
    Washing machine
    Clothes dryer
    Dishwasher
    Electric stove top and oven
    Microwave oven
    Toaster oven

    Below is an example of a wattage tag that you’ll find on most, if not all, appliances in your home. To convert watts (W) to kilowatts (kW), divide by 1000. For example, a device that uses 2000W is 2kW.

    label showing watts of a device

  2. Review the list and highlight the items that are a “must have” in one color. Highlight the “nice to have” in another color.

    This depends on your personal preference and budget. Do you need to run the dishwasher or a hair dryer while you wait for the power to be restored? Does your garage door have a disconnect that would let you open and close it manually?

  3. Add up the kilowatts (kW) for the must have items and add a 10-20% buffer. That’s the minimum size standby generator you need for your home.

  4. Then add up the KW for the nice to have items and add a 10-20% buffer. Add that to the must have total. This is the maximum size standby generator you need for your home.

Once you know the minimum and maximum size gas generator you need, you can start comparison shopping to find the best deal.

Process to Install a Natural Gas Standby Generator in Your Home

Once you figure out what size generator you need for your home, you can determine if it will fit your budget. A good rule of thumb is that installation will cost as much as what you spend for the generator.

Check with the local natural gas utility company in your area to see if they offer any contractor referrals or rebate programs. Check Nextdoor and community Facebook groups to see if anyone has a recommendation.

You’re looking not only for a brand name with high reliability ratings. You’re also looking for an installer with a reputation for good service. Plus you’ll want someone that know the local permitting process.

Your installer will take these steps to set up your generator:

  1. Site Visit: Location, location, location. It’s just as true in generator installation as it is in real estate. Pick a location too far from your gas meter or electrical circuit box and you’ll pay extra to run more wires and piping. Pick a location that’s too close to your house and you’ll run up against the inspector. Your installer will help you pick the best location for your unit.
  2. Permits: You’ll need to get the proper permits prior to installation. That included electrical, plumbing and building permits. Your installer will handle most of this. You may also need to get permission from your homeowners association, depending on where you live.
  3. Installation: Your generator will be installed on a cement base outside your home. Once installed on the base, a plumber will connect the natural gas line. Then the electrician will hard wire the generator to your home and install your automatic transfer switch (ATS). The ATS will trigger your generator to start when it senses a power outage.
  4. Inspection: Your city or county building inspector may need to take a peek to ensure everything’s up to code.
  5. Meter Change-out: Once the inspector gives the thumbs up, your installer will contact your natural gas utility company to install a new meter.

Portable Generator for Electricity Back-Up Plan

A whole home natural gas generator will cost between $8,500 and $12,000. What about a portable gasoline-powered generator instead? A portable generator will cost between $500 and $2000 depending on the size you purchase.

It’s a sizeable difference in expense. But it’s also a big difference in convenience.

Your natural gas standby generator will start automatically when the power goes out. And, since the gas supply is continuous, you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel. With a portable generator, you have to pre-plan and get gasoline in multiple containers. And you’ll need to manually start the generator during a storm.

Your whole home generator is hard wired into your electrical system. So not only will it start automatically, you don’t have to deal with running extension cords around your home.

Finally, there’s a safety factor. A natural gas standby generator is outside your home and properly vented. With a portable generator, you’ll have to be concerned about proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never run a portable generator inside your house. Instead, leave it outside and run the gen-cord or extension cord in through a window or door.

When you are calculating the cost difference between a portable generator and a whole house generator, keep these additional costs in mind.

Cover photo source: Generac.com

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