Choosing a Home Generator

March 18th 2008
Choosing a Home Generator

Home generators are handy for backup electricity in case of an outage but there are hazards to keep in mind. Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Follow these safety tips to protect against CO poisoning:

  • - NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Be sure the generator isn't positioned outside an open window, which can allow fumes into the home.
  • - Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer's instructions. CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01). Test batteries monthly.
  • - Make sure you have the right cords and connectors, or the generator will be useless. Don't use power cords that are frayed, torn or cut. Ensure they are properly rated, CSA-approved cords.
  • - Be careful not to overload the generator by plugging in high wattage appliances that you didn't plan for.
  • - Store fuel and generator in a ventilated area (ie; exterior shed.) and away from natural-gas water heaters. Vapors can escape from closed cans and tanks, travel to the pilot light and ignite.
  • - Never have wet hands when operating a generator. Never let water come in contact with the generator.
  • - Never feed power from a portable generator into a wall outlet. This can kill linemen working to restore power or your neighbors who are served by the same transformer. It also can damage your generator.
  • - Always turn the engine off before refueling and let the generator cool.
  • - Connecting a generator to an existing electrical system should be done only by a qualified technician and approved by your electric supply authority. Otherwise, serious accidents can result. The electricity produced by the home generator may follow the electrical lines back to the transformer, creating a higher voltage current that can endanger the lives of utility employees working on the lines nearby.
  • - Check with local officials before you buy since your municipality may have restrictions on the noise caused from your generator.

Choosing a back up generator for your home:
- Generators range in size and price. The more power you require the more costly they are. Smaller, portable generators are great for powering the essentials like the refrigerator and microwave while a permanent standby system can power everything in your home and with most - Canadian homes relying on electricity to operate their heating systems, increasingly more homeowners are purchasing generators for their homes.

Portable Verses Permanent:

Portable Generators:

Portable generators can replace part of a household load during an electrical outage and they are the simplest and least expensive back up power system. When the power goes out you have to start up a gas powered generator and plug into your appliance using an extension cord. The down side is you are limited to the number of appliances that can run at any one time, they are noisy, hard to move and you have to start up and maintain the unit. They do require fuel to run so consider how long a tank of fuel will last. This can range from just a few hours to up to ten hours. When the power goes out it's absolutely critical that you keep the generator away from your house especially from door, windows and enclosed areas. It's important to follow the manufactures directions. Never try to attach a generator directly to the homes wiring system yourself. To use a portable generator without running extension cords you have to hire an electrician to install a manual transfer switch off your main circuit panel and install a dedicated inlet to power to the subpanel. This is not a DIY project.

Permanent Generators:

Standby generators are powered by natural gas or propane and they're directly wired into the home's circuit panel so they can start automatically during a power outage. They are more powerful and quieter then their portable counterparts. When power resumes, the system flips back to the house circuit and powers down the generator. There is enough to power an entire large home. This is the best option if you frequently lose power and want to keep most of your appliances running. You don't have to worry about storing gas and running cords but the drawback is cost and they must be installed by licensed electrician.

What Size Generator Do You Need?
The first step is to determine the amount of power you require during a power outage and that depends on how many appliances you need to run. This will determine the size or wattage of generator you will require. Walk through your home and make a list of everything you want to power during an outage. Look for the labels on each appliance and add up the watts to determine the generator size. You may decide that all you need is to provide power the essential items such as to your sump pump, refrigerator and furnace.

Approximate Wattage Requirements:
  • Desktop computer: 600 to 800
  • Microwave: 600 to 800
  • Refrigerator or freezer 700 to 2200
  • Television 300
  • Radio 50 to 100
  • Electric range 2100

Hire an Electrician:
Installation of a permanent generator is a job for the experts. Not only must the wiring to the transfer switch and circuit board be done according to local code, a plumber may be needed to set up the hoses to connect the generator to the home's fuel supply. An electrician or electrical - contractor should install and prepare your backup system to make sure it is safe for your family and your home. You will need a manual transfer switch to send electricity from either the municipal power supply or your backup to the vital circuits. It is a good idea for an electrician to check wiring and ground, and determine if you need spike protection. In rural areas, voltage fluctuations and even over - voltages that can damage sensitive equipment are not uncommon. Never connect a backup power system without a transfer switch that disconnects your home from the municipal power supply. This is to protect electric utility field crews from being electrocuted by your home power system when working on municipal lines. (Source CMHC)