Standby & portable home generators

During a power outage you can be sure your heat, refrigerator and security system will continue to run, along with your lights and home electronics.

Natural gas generatorseither installed permanently or with a "quick connect" cableprovide electricity during a power outage. But what they really provide is peace of mind.

Types of generators

Standby/home generators

Home generators connect to the wiring of your home, providing power for your whole house if your electricity is interrupted.

These generators can produce 100 kW, and are ideal for long blackouts.

You can find an auto start option on many models, usually starting in 10 to 30 seconds. Because it is connected to a constant fuel source, a home natural gas generator can run for extended, even unending, periods of time.

Like all natural gas appliances, you will need a licensed gas contractor to install the fuel line and the transfer switch. The generator itself is housed outdoors on a cement base, and can take about a day to install. This work involves 220 volt wiring, so use a qualified electrician to do the work.

Portable generators

Portable generators have lower power output (500 to 7,500 W), though they can provide long-term power when fuelled by natural gas. They do not include an auto start option.

Portable generators can be moved from place to place (useful for storage) if a "quick connect" is used. However, they must never be used indoors due to danger of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Important: Only operate portable generators outdoors, and at a location where the exhaust cannot enter into your home or other buildings through doors or windows. Never use a portable generator indoors, including inside a garage or other enclosed or partially enclosed area. 

Using the generator

Home generators are piped directly to your home's source of natural gas and wired to your home's electrical panel. All generators must accommodate the peak power load, or the highest amount of power used (usually at start up) of all the devices attached to the generator. For example, some older furnace fan motors take a lot of power to start.

Tip - Appliances with "slow start" options and energy efficiency considerations take less power to start and run. They won't demand as much energy from your generator, especially if you lose power often.

Starting

Some generators require a manual startyou have to flip a switch to transfer your home or appliance to the generator, and then start the unit with a button.

  • You can also purchase generators that start automatically. If your electric power drops below a certain level (usually 10 per cent below normal) the generator transfers power and starts on its own.
  • Start-up takes 10 to 20 secondsthe system waits to prevent turning on and off needlessly during very brief or very minor power fluctuations. Once the power comes back on (and stays on) the generator transfers everything back to normal Power and shuts down.

Maintenance

  • Permanently installed natural gas generators should last you a long time. The engines have an operating life of 1,500 to 3,000 hours. Depending upon the number and duration of power outages, a generator could last for decades.
  • Take advantage of annual service options (which usually cost $200 to $250) for changing the oil and air filter, checking the starter battery, and testing the system.
  • You can also choose generators that run (without transferring power) for a few minutes on a regular schedule to circulate oil and recharge the generator starting battery.
  • Regular maintenance is key to the safe operation of backup power units.

Useful features that will make your generator easier to use and longer lasting

  • manufacturer's warranty - it's different for each model, but two to five years is average
  • an LED panel that lets you know the status of the generator, or if the start fails
  • a "self-diagnostic" feature to alert you to any problems
  • a voltage regulator that deals with surges that could damage electronics such as computers

Buying tips for backup power

Make sure that the model you are choosing will work with your gas pressure or psi. If it is too low, your model may not function, especially at peak power. Contact FortisBC if you require higher delivery pressures.

Size

There are three basic sizing requirements:

  • Continuous power or how much power is needed to run your home or chosen appliances.
  • Peak power or the highest spike of power, usually at start-up.
  • Surge current or an extra margin in case of power surges.

Decide which appliances you'll want to power and add a 10 to 20 per cent margin to your estimate for start-up and in case of surges. Automatic shut-offs will kick in if the backup system is overloaded.

Guidelines

  • 4 to 8 kW units can power lights and a few critical appliances.
  • 10 to 15 kW (most common for residential use) can power most home appliances, including large appliances like water heaters.
  • 20+ kW powers a household as if there was never a power interruption (if you have a natural gas water heater, you will continue to have hot water during a power outage).

Use the Generator Sizing Guide to decide the right amount of backup power for your home

Your local retailer can you help find a model, once you decide on the important power needs in your home during an emergency, and how common and long-lasting your outages may be.

Pricing

Pricing depends on the size of the model and whether you want a home or portable model.

For example, home generators on average can cost $3,000 for the 6 to 8 kW models, while models with 11 to 20 kW cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Remember to budget the costs of installing the concrete pad, wiring and gas line. Depending on the size of the unit, installation costs can range from $800 up to $2,500.

Other features

Useful features that will make your generator easier to use and longer lasting:

  • an LED panel that lets you know the status of the generator, or if the start fails
  • a "self-diagnostic" feature, which will alert you to any problems
  • a "self-maintenance" feature that (without transferring power) runs for a few minutes on a schedule to circulate oil and recharge the battery
  • a voltage regulator, which deals with surges that could damage electronics such as computers.

Other considerations

  • manufacturer's warranty: it's different for each model, but 2 to 5 years is average
  • annual service options for changing the oil and air filter, checking the battery and testing the system
  • your gas pressure or psi: if it is too low for the generator you choose, your model may not function, especially at peak power. Contact a licensed gas contractor for help. Contact FortisBC for higher delivery pressures.

Tip - Connecting to natural gas means unlimited fuel, but some engines should be shut down after 50 to 100 hours of operation to change the motor oil. If you have a portable generator for household appliances, you might want a separate uninterrupted power supply for sensitive things like computer equipment