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You have probably seen commercials advertising whole-home generators. Generac is a well-known brand that advertises heavily.
Have you ever thought about getting one? Should you get one?
A whole-home generator is used in the event of a power outage, using natural gas to power your home.
We recently installed a whole-home generator and it was an extremely involved process and an education I didn’t know I would need to have to complete this whole process. So in case you are considering installing one, I thought I would share our experience.
We live in Texas and are always under a threat of a hurricane during the season, so that is the main reason many people here have generators.
The event that put so many people over the edge was a freakish freeze we got about two years ago during the winter. We had company in town and there were widespread power outages and pipes bursting all over town.
Northerners would probably be amused that this event was so destructive but homes in Texas are not built with plumbing that can withstand extremely cold temperatures for long periods of time.
And Texas has its own power grid, which might come in handy if we ever make good on those frequent threats to secede from the Union. 🙂 But in this case, it failed us.
The lengthy widespread power outages were the final straw that put many homeowners over the edge and there was a run on generator purchases. The company that installed ours told me the freeze bought them two years’ worth of business.
Most everyone in our neighborhood installed a generator after the freeze. We had to replace our roof right before the freeze, so we would have to wait to replenish the coffers before we could look at generators.
We recently decided to install one because we experience frequent power outages during storms. We live in a neighborhood with very large mature trees that often go down during a storm and they take power lines with them.
There is also a lot of development going on in the surrounding area, and we are not confident the grid is able to accommodate the growth.
Additionally, power outages are particularly problematic for us because we have a water well and septic tank. We are not on city water in our neighborhood. So no power, no water.
We were without power for two weeks during both Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Harvey.
So we took the plunge. I don’t know what I thought the process would be, but it was so much more complicated than I thought it would be.
The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of generator you want–an air-cooled or a liquid-cooled. The liquid-cooled are very large and cost more than double the price of an air-cooled model.
Two of our neighbors chose liquid-cooled generators, and everyone else I know of has an air-cooled unit.
We went with an air-cooled model. You have to know what it is you want to run in a power outage and how many kilowatts you will need to do that.
This is a function of a number of factors.
- How many square feet is your home?
- How many stories is your home?
- How many air conditioners do you have? What capacity are they?
- Do you have gas water heaters?
- A gas or electric oven?
- A gas or electric dryer?
- A pool?
- A well and septic system?
All of these things will need to be factored into your decision of what size generator to purchase. An experienced rep will know how to use all of this information to calculate what size generator you need.
These types of things made me realize we would probably have to go with a full-service company for this process. You can buy generators in lots of places. Some plumbing and electrical businesses sell them. I have seen them at Sam’s Club. You can even buy them on Amazon!
If you went this route, you would need to coordinate with an electrician, a plumber, your utility companies, and HOA, and handle all of that yourself. You would need to get the permits and approvals yourself.
My next-door neighbor is an engineer and very meticulous about EVERYTHING. That man does his research. 🙂 I benefit from it because he readily shares all of his knowledge. He has helped me with everything from doing a mineral rights search on a property we owned to protesting my property taxes to picking a generator company. Plus, his wife grows a big garden and they give me lots of their excess produce, so needless to say, they are awesome neighbors. 🙂
I bake them cookies and cakes to repay their kindness, so I’m not just a taker. 🙂
Anyway, after my neighbor had his generator installed, he told me that he went with a full-service company because if something went wrong later on, he didn’t want to chase down various contractors who would ultimately blame each other for who was responsible for the repair.
We eventually came to see the wisdom in this and decided to go with a full-service generator company.
I began scheduling appointments for quotes. You will want to choose a reputable company that has been around for a long time because you not only want a quality installation but also quality service of the unit after your purchase.
There is a generator company in our local area that I tried repeatedly to contact with no response. Several people on the Nextdoor app were starting to complain they had purchased generators from this company but could not reach them. Not long after that a fence went up around the property and a For Lease sign indicating they had gone out of business. Not good.
One company that was recommended to me did come out, but I was not impressed with the amount of time they spent asking about my needs or answering my questions.
For instance, I asked if they handled everything with the gas and power companies, The rep said, “Well, we CAN, I suppose…”
Then, when I received the quote, it was for placing the generator exactly where I said we didn’t want it. When I asked if I could have a quote with the placement of the generator where we wanted it, I was told “Oh, it will be less.” Once I got the quote it was MORE than the original quote.
They never contacted me to follow up on the quotes. So I was done with them.
I went with the company that installed my neighbor’s generator. They sent a rep out who spent over an hour with me asking what our needs were, asking where we wanted the generator, and he crawled up in our attics with me to see if it was possible to run everything through there rather than underground outside.
He left me with his cell phone number and a folder full of information. Most helpful was a flow chart that showed every step of the process and an expected timeframe for each step.
He then called me a few days later to see if I had any questions about the materials he had left. He answered every question I had.
We live in a one-story home with two air-conditioners, an electric dryer, and a well and septic tank. We decided to install a 26kw generator. We wanted to be able to run everything in a power outage.
Once we placed the order, we paid half upfront. We paid the balance after the installation was complete. I won’t go too deep into specific pricing information, as I imagine it varies widely by region and individual needs.
But you can see by looking at units on Amazon that most of these units will run you around $5,000-$6,000. The labor to have a generator professionally installed will probably run you at least that much, plus all the plumbing and electrical parts needed for installation.
I was given a quote of $28,000 for a liquid-cooled generator, so you can see that either way you go, this is a fairly significant financial investment.
You will most likely also need to have your gas meter upgraded to handle the added capacity during a power outage. The cost for this varies greatly depending on your gas company.
Unfortunately, our gas meter and electrical panel are on opposite sides of our house, so extra costs were incurred to run electrical and plumbing throughout the length of our house to connect the two.
You will also need a concrete pad upon which the generator will sit. Depending on your situation, this will either be a pre-fab concrete pad, or one will have to be poured where you plan to place the generator. There will be a cost for this.
Most HOAs require approval to install a whole-home generator, so you will want to check with yours if you live in a neighborhood with an HOA to see what their requirements are.
The first step once I placed my order was for the gas company to come out to my home and mark all of the gas lines on my property and determine what was needed to upgrade my gas meter.
The company I hired to install the generator handled all of this and notified me to let me know when that was going to happen.
They scheduled the day of our installation. The only thing I had to do was be home that day and call the electric company once they arrived to temporarily disconnect our power during the installation and to return to reconnect our service once the generator was installed.
I really should have thought this through and not done this during this “Heat Dome” summer we all seem to be having. Having your power off when it’s over 100 degrees outside and your attics are open for hours was not my best idea. 🙂
But the team that did our installation was fantastic and didn’t turn the power off until absolutely necessary so it wasn’t too bad.
So the morning of the installation, an entire fleet of trucks showed up at our house. It was so exciting!
There was a trailer that contained the generator:
And trucks with plumbing and electrical equipment.
These guys were fantastic and worked like a well-oiled machine. It took them about 5 hours to complete the installation. You can see the concrete pad I mentioned that needs to be installed prior to the placement of the generator.
One thing you need to know is that once you have the generator installed, you are not ready to go yet, because the gas company will not come out to upgrade your meter until the generator is installed.
The generator company I used handled this scheduling for me, and the gas company came out about 2 weeks after the generator was installed to upgrade the meter.
That process took about two hours and you do have to be home because they have to relight the pilot lights on your gas water heaters when they are finished.
But you’re STILL not done. 🙂
Once the meter had been upgraded, then I contacted the company that installed the generator to let them know they could come back out and hook everything up.
They came back two days after the meter upgrade to get the generator up and running. That took about 45 minutes, and then they gave me a full tutorial to show me how to operate the generator.
We also did “test runs” where they simulated a power outage so that the generator would kick on. It comes on 5 seconds after it detects a power outage.
They asked me to turn on both air conditioners, the oven, and the dryer to ensure the generator can handle everything all at once. An electric dryer is a huge power drain, so while the generator definitely could handle running everything all at once, they told me it was best to run the dryer by itself for a short time with perhaps only one air conditioner running if we were experiencing a prolonged power outage.
They showed me how to check and add oil to the generator, which is necessary if you are without power for a week or more, which definitely happens around here during some hurricane seasons.
The service tech who gave me the tutorial left his number with me in case I thought of any other questions after he left.
So we are fully operational now and I am relieved to know that the next time our power goes out we will be back in business in a mere 5 seconds. 🙂
I honestly think I have a form of anxiety during storms because we have experienced quite a few extended power outages. I am hoping having a whole home generator will put all that to rest for good.
So from the start of getting quotes to fully operational was about a two-month process. I had no idea it was so involved so I wanted to share the process in case you are considering a whole-home generator for yourself.
To recap the process if using a full-service generator company:
- Gather multiple quotes
- Make your choice of company and generator size
- Get HOA approval if required in your neighborhood
- Gas utility lines are marked on your property
- Concrete pad is installed on the location of the generator
- Generator is installed with accompanying electrical and plumbing work
- Gas meter is upgraded to handle additional capacity if needed
- Generator is connected and fully operational
Now that I know how involved this whole process was, I am so glad we decided to go with a full-service company. They handled everything but the two phone calls I had to make to temporarily disconnect and reconnect the power the day of the installation.
And when I made the first call for the temporary disconnect, the operator asked me when permits were pulled for each step of the process. I told her I didn’t know, so she looked back through our account and saw where all of it had been done. I had no idea any of this was happening and the generator company had handled all of that.
Our installation included two maintenance service calls per year. They fully change the oil and plugs and filters once a year or immediately after a major power outage when the generator has run for an extended period of time.
Our experience could not have been more positive from start to finish. It was way more complicated than I ever knew, and I am glad to have everything done.
(I forgot to mention that while all this was going on, we were also having the entire exterior of our home painted and a window and door replaced. I’ve had lots of men running around this property for the last two months. 🙂 )
If you are considering installing a whole-home generator and have questions I haven’t covered, just let me know and I am happy to help if I can!
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