With rapidly aging power grids worldwide, unusual weather events, and frequent, sustained power outages in some areas, many people are looking for alternatives to keep their households and home businesses up and running. It is thus unsurprising that the estimated value of the global generator sales market in 2021 is $19.9 billion and should grow to $26.5 billion by 2026. While there are different types of generators for various power needs, whole house or standby generators, as they are otherwise known, are becoming increasingly popular.
Whole house generators are expensive, but installing one can be worth it if you work from home, experience frequent or prolonged power outages, store lots of cold food, or live in a climate where heating or cooling is essential. Generators can run for weeks with enough fuel and proper maintenance.
Major outages in Texas during the first quarter of 2021 led to an acceleration in demand and backlog for home standby generators, over and above the pre-existing already high demand levels. Generac, a leading manufacturer, posted net sales of US $807 million in this period compared to the US $476 million in the first quarter of 2020. So what has been the experience of those who bought whole house generators?
Are Whole House Generators Worth It?
It is evident from rapidly increasing standby generator sales worldwide that many people believe they are worth it. Moreover, those who work from home and live in regions where power cuts occur more than three times a year or last a long time are probably indispensable.
Population growth, urbanization, the increasing incidence of extreme weather events, aging infrastructure, and power grids are elevating the demand for electricity to higher and higher levels throughout the world. This is driving demand for generators through the roof. Generac, a significant generator manufacturer in the United States, cannot keep up.
At the same time, there has never been a greater demand for access to the internet, electronic communications devices and systems, and information networks. They play a vital role in children’s education, running businesses, news broadcasts and weather warnings, and personal safety. Depending on the area you live in, a standby generator may make your property more attractive to home buyers and tenants.
A standby generator may be worth it for many reasons. An assessment of your home’s power needs, financial situation, availability of fuel, special needs of household members, the likelihood of power outages in your area, yard space, and other variables is necessary to determine whether it is worth it for you.
The Pros and Cons of Whole House Generators
|Keeps your electricity on during an outage||Expensive to buy and install|
|Seamless transition from grid power to generator||Fuel is a recurring and significant cost|
|Often improves home value||Regular and sometimes costly maintenance|
|Stops food and perishables from spoiling||It’s loud and may disturb neighbors|
|Designed to run for extended periods||Takes up space outside your home|
|Peace of mind knowing you have a backup power source||It can be unattractive if prominently placed|
Below are some of the most significant pros and cons to whole house generators that you should carefully consider before purchasing one for your home.
Whole House Generator Pros
Whole house generators –
- can save your life if you live in cold climates that regularly experience extreme weather events that take down the grid or where the grid is old and prone to failure. Hypothermia is a particular risk for the elderly and young children.
- keep water pumps working
- do not have to be started manually when the power fails. They start automatically.
- are connected directly to the household circuit board, so have no need for extension cords or cables that must be plugged in manually
- provide seamless switching from grid to generator power. They are hands-off generators that don’t require the user to do anything
- are designed to run for long periods
- can improve the value of your home and are quieter than portable generators
- may allow you a discount on homeowner’s insurance
- can keep you online and working from home during blackouts preventing losses in income
- can save you on spoilage costs by preserving freezer and fridge contents and allow you to continue to cook food
- keep lifesaving home medical equipment like CPAP machines, insulin pumps, and nebulizers going
- keep communication devices like cellphones and radios going so that you can stay in contact with the outside world
- can charge electric vehicles and recharge the batteries of conventional vehicles
- provide peace of mind in difficult living conditions even while you are away from home
Whole House Generator Cons
Whole house generators –
- are expensive to buy and install, and fuel costs can be high if power outages are frequent
- require professional installation and maintenance
- are permanent fixtures on the property, so may not be attractive to people who are not homeowners
- can be noisy and lead to noise complaints from neighbors
- take up more space than portable generators
- may require large fuel storage tanks that can be unsightly
Considerations When Buying a Whole House Generator
Here are some additional considerations to think about before purchasing a whole house generator:
Is there space in your yard for the proper placement of a relatively large piece of equipment whose noise could irritate neighbors? While modern whole house generators are much quieter than they used to be, they still make a noise and should not be installed close to a neighbor’s house.
If you don’t have natural gas, do you have space to install a sizeable liquid propane or diesel tank to ensure a sufficient fuel supply for the generator? In extreme weather conditions, fuel supply may be interrupted, and you need enough fuel to keep the generator going for at least a week if it is to serve its intended purpose.
What type of fuel is the most widely available in your area? If you live in a rural area, propane may not be as readily available as diesel, and access to natural gas is unlikely. Since you will most likely need the generator when weather conditions are bad, it’s best to choose a generator that runs on the most available fuel.
Will you have to install a concrete slab for the generator to stand on, or do you already have a concrete area that is suitable? This can add to the costs of installing the generator. It is generally not recommended that you install a generator in a garage or other outbuilding because of safety issues. Carbon monoxide is a product of fuel combustion that can be a silent and deadly poison for the entire household.
What are the installation costs? Installation costs can start at around $5000 and go as high as $11 000. The average is between $5000 and $6000. A plumber is required to connect a whole house generator to a propane tank or natural gas line, and the job can take between four and six hours. It may also be necessary to have a transfer switch installed.
How big is your home, and what are your power needs? Bigger homes require more electricity which in turn will require a generator with a larger output. If you use electric power tools in your business or other electrical equipment regularly, you will have to consider this when looking at generator size. A whole house generator can be used to power everything in a home or only certain essentials, depending on your needs.
What is the available budget? A standby generator is an expensive item and should be seen as an investment in your home because it is a permanent fixture. The average cost of a 7.5 to 10 kW natural gas generator, including installation, has been estimated at $5 900. Still, natural gas is not necessarily the best way to go, and you may not have access to it anyway. The national average cost of a whole house generator in 2021 is between $10 000 and $20 000.
The most commonly purchased whole house generator size is 18kW, which can power a two thousand square foot home. It costs around $15 000 and provides power for appliances, hot water, cooling, and heating. If you have an electric car that needs charging and a two thousand five hundred square foot house, you may need a 25kW generator which costs around $25 000.
Can you afford the maintenance costs? While maintenance costs depend on the type of generator you choose and are not excessive, you still need to be prepared to maintain the generator properly. Maintenance ensures that the generator will last for its maximum lifespan, so you need to protect your investment when you install a whole house generator. An annual service is a good idea, but additional services and replacing minor parts that wear out will be necessary if you use the generator frequently.
Fuels Used By Whole House Generators
When considering the pros and cons of whole house generators, you need to consider the fuel that the machine runs on. Some of them run on liquid propane or natural gas, while others run on diesel.
Natural Gas Generators
If your area has natural gas piped in, the generator can be connected to the existing gas line. If you don’t have natural gas, you can go for either a diesel-fueled or liquid propane-fueled generator. Liquid propane can be stored in tanks on your property, and the advantage of propane is that it has an almost unlimited shelf-life.
Natural gas pipelines can crack or become damaged in extreme weather conditions, so if your generator uses it for fuel, you could be left high and dry. In rural areas, you are unlikely to have natural gas piped into your home, so you have no choice but to consider generators that use other fuel types.
Liquid Propane Generators
A good-quality propane tank is made of galvanized steel and can last up to thirty years. Propane should always be stored outdoors in the open, not in sheds, garages, or homes, because if there is a leak, it can poison humans and animals. It can also explode if exposed to a naked flame. You will need enough space in your yard not only for the generator itself but also a good-sized tank if you choose to go with a propane-fuelled generator.
For a whole house generator, the capacity of liquid propane tanks should be between one hundred and five hundred gallons which means you will have to locate a suitable area in your yard to locate it. It is preferable to get professional advice and assistance when installing such large tanks because you must follow propane storage and handling regulations.
With a propane tank, you always need to be alert for leaks and ensure that valves are working properly since a faulty valve is the most likely cause of a leak. However, the advantage of a propane generator is that less maintenance is required because propane is a clean-burning fuel that does not leave carbon deposits and other residues inside the fuel line, system parts, exhaust, and engine. Fuel spills are also less likely with liquid propane than gasoline and diesel.
Propane is relatively unaffected by freezing weather conditions, unlike gasoline and diesel, which become more viscous, leading to difficulties in starting. Diesel engines, in particular, need to run above certain temperature thresholds to perform well. If the temperature drops too low, they run into a problem known as wet stacking, which diminishes performance and damages the engine.
Propane is cheaper than diesel, but it burns faster, so you will go through a lot more of it. Propane generators also have a shorter lifespan than diesel generators. So in an emergency, you’ll spend less on diesel than on propane. Also, diesel is more widely available.
Diesel generators are preferable to those that use gasoline because diesel fuel has a much longer shelf-life. Gasoline only lasts about three months, while you can store diesel for up to a year. The shelf-life of diesel shortens if you expose it to water, air, or temperatures of over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so it should always be kept in a cool, dry place. Fuel stabilizers can be added to diesel annually to preserve it. However, it is best to replace old fuel with fresh after a few years.
You should only store diesel in a tank or container explicitly made for diesel storage. You would have to install a diesel tank alongside a standby generator to ensure that you have enough fuel to last for a while.
A diesel-powered generator is probably better than a propane-fueled one when considering whether to buy a whole house generator because diesel engines last longer than any other kind. A diesel generator’s lifespan will be thousands of hours longer than a properly maintained propane or natural gas generator if it is well maintained.
How Do Whole House Generators Work?
A whole house generator acts as a standby for a home or business owner and is hooked up to the residence’s electric circuits so that when the power goes off, it kicks in automatically. This means there is no interruption of the electricity supply and essential equipment, lights, refrigerators, stoves, and central heating keep going. When the power kicks in again, the generator turns off by itself.
These generators have to be installed by an experienced technician or electrician and are not portable. The beauty of having one is that you don’t have to fiddle with cables and extension cords and stock up on gas like you would with a portable generator. Whole house generators also offer a lot more output than portable generators, which can usually only power a few home appliances at a time.
A whole house generator is usually a lot bigger and heavier than a portable generator and may require a concrete slab in your yard on which to stand. If you don’t have a suitable surface for the generator, you will have to pay a contractor to construct one. These generators are much more expensive than portable ones and are effectively permanent installations, so they are probably not worth the expense if you are renting a home.
Unlike portable generators, standby generators run until the grid power turns back on, which could take days or even weeks. They will operate continuously as long as there is a sufficient fuel supply and you have maintained it well. These generators have to run for a few minutes each week while conducting self-diagnostic tests to check for potential problems. A whole house generator is always on and doesn’t have to be started manually like a portable generator when the power fails.
Whole house generators are expensive to buy and install, they can more than makeup for those costs in savings on food spoilages and prevention of income loss, avoiding medical expenses due to health risks posed by the elements, and sheer peace of mind. They can be a worthwhile home investment that makes life a lot easier when the power fails.