Installing Residential Standby and Portable Generators

Portable generators can be installed in backyards and connected to the grid via a special power inlet ©2024 All Star Electric San Antonio

Making a Big Difference During Catastrophic Weather Events

As electricians in San Antonio, All Star Electric has been installing standby and portable generators in homes for decades. But the number of installations drastically increased after the catastrophic events of February 2021.

The “Big Freeze”, as we call it, took everybody by surprise. Temperatures across Texas dropped suddenly, and the extreme weather forced Texans to draw more power than usual to keep their home at temperature. The massive draw overpowered the grid and took down large sections of it: over 4.5 million homes and businesses lost power, some for days, causing at least 210 deaths. Water infrastructure was also compromised: 14+ million residents received boil-water notices due to low water pressure and broken pipes. The Texan economy took a big hit, with the cost of the disaster estimated to $195 billion.

San Antonio and Bexar County were directly impacted. Hence the sudden rise in demand for backup generators, both standby and portable, in our region. In this blog, you’ll learn about the various generator types designed for residential use and what to know before determining a solution for your home. 

Do You Need a Licensed Electrician to Do the Job?

Texas law does not explicitly mandate the hiring of a licensed electrician to install your backup generator. However, Texas Property Code Section 202.019 addresses standby electric generators, emphasizing compliance with manufacturer’s specifications and applicable governmental health, safety, electrical, and building codes. 

In practical terms, there are many reasons why you will need to hire a licensed electrician (and a reliable one to boot!)

  • You will need a permit from the City of San Antonio, and to notify your electric utility.
  • To install the proper transfer switch, you will need to have the power company pull the electric meter to disconnect from the system. That requires breaking the seal.
  • Whole-house generators are heavy, difficult to move and require a fuel source. If your generator is gas powered (natural or propane), those connections need to be made and tested by a certified gas technician.
  • Once the installation and wiring are complete, the job must be inspected before the utility power is reconnected.

Most homeowners do not have the knowledge and equipment necessary to do this themselves. Moreover, the process starts with doing load calculations and examining your service panel to determine the size of your generator and how it will be hooked up to your panel.

The licensed electricians of All Star Electric San Antonio have mastered the installation process of backup generators, whether standby or portable. We get the job done right the first time. We give you the expert advice you need to determine the size and type of generator best adapted to your circumstances, and we will deliver a timely and affordable service.

Selecting and Prepping the Power Generator Installation Site

construction workers leveling the ground back of a home near San Antonio TX ©2024 All Star Electric San Antonio

The site on which your power generator is to be installed must balance safety, operational efficiency, and accessibility. We’ll begin the entire process by surveying your property to pinpoint a location that offers ample space for maintenance and enough distance from living areas to mitigate noise interference.

We will advise you on all possible locations, and you will make your choice. Once the area is selected, we will prepare the site by clearing any debris, vegetation, or obstructions. We need to create a clean working area. We also need to ensure the ground is level: the generator needs a stable, even base that prevents vibration and movement affecting its operation.

Remember, the selected site impacts not only the initial installation process, but also the long-term operation and maintenance of your power generator.

Fuel Source Options

What fuel source should you select? Your choice impacts the efficiency and the cost of your power generator, as well as the complexity of the installation process. Let’s review the fuel types, their benefits and their limitations.

  • Gasoline-Powered Generators: Gasoline is a readily available fuel that is highly convenient. It is also highly volatile, creating safety concerns and impacting storage life. As we’ve seen over time, gasoline prices have trended up, potentially making it a worse choice than alternatives. 
  • Diesel-Powered Generators: Diesel engines are durable and efficient. Their higher energy density increases their longevity. Diesel fuel requires careful storage. Prices have consistently risen over time.
  • Propane-Powered Generators: Propane burns clean and propane-powered generators are more silent. This gas has a long storage life with no degradation. However, it tends to be less accessible during widespread power outages and in remote areas.
  • Natural Gas-Powered Generators: The supply of natural gas is both consistent and reliable in many regions of Texas. This fuel burns clean and generators using natural gas require minimal storage space. However, Installation requires a connection to a municipal gas line, which can be complex. It is also subject to local regulations.

In Texas, homeowners tend to make natural gas and propane their first choices of fuel for power generators. But at the end of the day, your decision will have to be based on availability during emergencies, storage requirements, how often you plan to use the generator, and the cost of fuel. 

Navigating Local Permits and Regulations

As licensed electricians in San Antonio, All Star Electric as a long experience in obtaining the necessary city permits and in dealing with utilities. We take over the entire process for you, so you don’t have to consult the city website and deal with the red tape at the building permits office.

Our electricians will provide the authorities with detailed design installation plans, power generator specifications, and as applicable, proof of compliance with zoning laws.

Our team will also deal with the utilities (connection with the grid, connection with gas lines), and attend the inspections for you.

Minimizing Generator Noise

Generators, by their nature, are noisy. In residential areas, this is a major concern. To keep your neighbors happy and comply with local noise ordinances, we will work on the following solutions:

  • Installing acoustic barriers or enclosures specifically designed to dampen generator noise.
  • Selecting a generator with lower decibel ratings.
  • Positioning your generator as far as possible from your windows and your neighbor’s windows, and direct the exhaust pipes away from your neighbor’s and your own home.
  • Schedule regular maintenance with you to keep your generator running smoothly, and operational noise at a minimum.

Reducing the Environmental Impact

All generators have an environmental impact: they burn fuel, and they emit gases. This is the advice we give homeowners:

  • Favor generators with the latest emission control technologies to decrease harmful exhaust emissions.
  • Consider fuel options with a lower environmental impact: biodiesel, natural gas.
  • Implement an energy-efficient operation plan to run your generator only when necessary.
  • Keep your generator maintained regularly to keep it operating at peak efficiency (conserving fuel and reducing emissions).
  • Plan for proper disposal of used oils and batteries, following local regulations to prevent soil and water pollution.
  • Consider the most silent generator models, as noise also impacts the environment.

Standby Generator or Portable Generator?

There are two main categories of generators for residential properties: standby and portable.

Standby Generators: A Safety Net for Power Outages

Standby generators remain idle until an interruption of your main power supply occurs. Then they spring to life, and start powering your essential appliances and systems. In our region, where power outages are relatively infrequent, this type is a good choice for homes when you want immediate backup power.

  • Automatic Activation: Standby generators automatically turn on during a power loss, minimizing downtime.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Because they operate only when needed, they are typically more fuel-efficient than other types of generators.
  • Cost-Effective: they typically involve lower operational costs (maintenance, repair), which makes them a budget-friendly option in the long run.

The most ubiquitous of all standby generator brands for residential applications is Generac, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer. According to their website, they control 80% of the market, and indeed, we often see their units installed in single-family properties.

Portable Generators: A Flexible Solution

The DuroMax XPI30000HXT is a portable backup generator

Portable generators are versatile units that can be moved as needed, providing a convenient power source for a variety of situations. They are well-suited for very temporary power needs, such as outdoor events, construction sites, or as a backup for homes during infrequent (and relatively short) power outages.

  • Mobility: You can easily move portable generators from one location to another.
  • Versatility: They come in various sizes and power capacities. They will keep small appliances and parts of your household powered. They typically deliver less power than standby generators, which does not make them the right solution for big homes or when the homeowners want all parts of their home to remain fully operational during a power outage.
  • Manual Operation: Unlike standby generators, portable generators typically require manual start-up (MTS). They won’t automatically kick in during a power outage but necessitate a physical presence to turn them on. If you are often taking trips and want your power generator to kick in in case of a power outage while you are away… this is not the right type of generator for you.
  • Fuel Options: Most portable generators run on gasoline. Some models use diesel, propane. Some smaller models use solar power.
  • Cost: Portable generators are generally less expensive to purchase than a standby or a continuous operation generator, and they require less maintenance. On the other hand, they tend to be less fuel-efficient, and over time the cost of fuel can outrun the difference in the cost of purchase.

For portable generators, there are 3 brands we recommend after seeing them operating for years: Westinghouse, DuroMax, and Champion. All Star Electric San Antonio is a certified installer for DuroMax generator products, but if you prefer another brand, we will install it just as well. 

Safety Precautions

When we complete the installation of your power generator, the electricians of All Star Electric San Antonio train you in the operation of the unit, as well as in the safety precautions you will need to take to prevent accidents and injuries.

  • We will ensure all installation procedures comply with the manufacturer’s guidelines and local codes.
  • Maintain a clear perimeter around your generator to ensure adequate ventilation and ease of access for maintenance.
  • Make sure the carbon monoxide (CO) detectors of your unit are fully functional when we deliver the unit installed. We will show you how to check their operation when you power on your unit.
  • Inspect electrical connections regularly for signs of wear and corrosion, and to keep all wiring secured to prevent accidental contact. If you are under a maintenance contract, your technician will verify these points when performing maintenance on your unit.
  • Keep your portable generator dry, and not use it in wet conditions (unless completely protected by an enclosure). This is to avoid electric shock risks.
  • Test periodically that your generator operates correctly, to make sure it will function properly during a power outage.

Generator Enclosures and Weather Protection

Whether of the portable or standby type, your generator needs protection against the weather to operate correctly. Enclosures must have at least 2 characteristics: be of a robust construction and ensure proper ventilation. We would only use enclosures rated for outdoor use, with features like corrosion resistance and sound attenuation.

What to look for:

  • An enclosure with a high Ingress Protection (IP) rating will shield your generator more effectively against dust and water intrusion;
  • A model set up with a good cooling mechanism to prevent overheating during the hot summers of the San Antonio area.
  • An enclosure with a strong locking system to secure the generator from unauthorized access.

If the options available on the market do not meet your installation requirements, consider a custom-built enclosure with the appropriate soundproofing, thermal insulation, and additional weatherproofing.

Why Call All Star Electric San Antonio to Install Your Generator?

The team of licensed electricians of All Star Electric San Antonio brings to your table some 30 years of experience in all domains of electrical contracting. For us, there is no job too big, and no job too small. We strive to deliver quality services at affordable prices.

Contact us online today to discuss your project. We will be glad to advise you and give you a free estimate.

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