Generator Systems (Podcast)

In this podcast, Tim Kent, the electrical field supervisor with N.E.T.R., Inc. talks about the benefits of generators. He explains how they work, how they help during a blackout, and how to choose the right size for your home. Then, he provides some tips about maintenance and what to do if you buy a home with a generator.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher. I’m here today with Tim Kent. Tim is the electrical field supervisor with N.E.T.R. Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about generator systems. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Kent: Thank you for having me, John.

Cause and Impacts of Blackouts

John: Sure. So Tim, what causes blackouts and what are some of the impacts of blackouts on daily life?

Tim: Blackouts are caused by… the main source is the weather. Of course, any type of extreme weather can cause power lines to go down, which can cause a blackout. Also, it doesn’t really happen a lot here, but there’s rolling blackouts in the summer mainly.

Basically, that can happen by A) too much power being used by a city or town that the power plant can’t keep up. So you tend to have rolling blackouts basically that shut down [the grid] for a period of time, could be a couple hours, and then turn back on primarily. Or then sometimes you have those accidents that happen, someone cuts the wrong wire or hits it … or knocks over a telephone pole and that can knock off the power to your home.

The Solution to Blackouts: Backup Power Generation

John: Okay, and so how is backup power generation a good solution for those incidents?

Tim: So we’ve actually been getting a lot of calls recently because over here in Massachusetts, we’ve had quite a few windstorms and snowstorms that have knocked out power to a lot of people. Basically, a lot of them are either home all day because they work from home, they need the power, they have kids, it’s very cold outside, so they don’t like losing the heat either.

And then also you have maybe people who are elderly or older that again need their heat and don’t want their food to spoil. So a lot of the solutions that have been done for generators is basically to get them installed. Then, they have a good power source, backup power source, emergency power source in case power goes down, people lose power kind of. Some people can lose it for a couple minutes, an hour or so. Some people lose it for days.

It’s definitely good for the people who lose it for days. If you’re in a place that doesn’t really lose power a lot, then you’re kind of like, “Well, what does it matter? It’s not really a good investment for me,” but those people who lose power constantly multiple times, every time the wind blows a little bit, there goes power for two days and depending on the severity of the storm or what happened, your food can go bad. You can’t go to work, it costs you a lot of money. So having a backup solution that’s able to give you power and allow you to continue to live your life and do the things that you need to do, and without having that worry of, am I going to have heat tonight, what am I going to do with all this food that’s just spoiled, it’s a great peace of mind tool as well.

Pros and Cons of Different Types of Generators

John: Are there different types of generators that are available? What are some of the pros and cons of them? Are there different sizes?

Tim: Yeah, so there’s not really … For residential, there’s really only two types. You have the whole home standby generator, and then you have the portable generators. We’re kind of talking about the whole home. So the whole home basically is kind of what it sounds like. It’ll basically power your entire home. It’s designed to come on and sense by itself when power goes out and kind of sense, okay, I need to turn on. Usually, they turn on in about, believe it or not, in about 10 to about 20 seconds, they’ll be activated and turn on power, give or take. So it’s a really quick, really short time period where you don’t have power.

Basically, the sizes you can go kind of on the smaller side that are just designed to do more of the general lights, maybe your fossil fuel heating system, some outlets type of deal to being able to just live life as normal with the larger size ones. Generac’s range from anywhere from 10 kilowatts all the way up to 26 kilowatts, which is just basically the size difference, the amount of power it has. That’s pretty standard for residential generators. So it all depends on how big your home is and what you want power from that generator is kind of the key.

How to Choose the Right Size of Generator

John: Right. Do I want only just enough power to keep my refrigerator on or maybe my stove so that I can do some cooking, but I don’t really care whether my lights are on or my TV, I can live without that for a couple of days, or do I just want my life to go on exactly the way that it was and I want to be able to watch TV and use the internet.

Tim: Exactly. Yeah, it’s definitely the sizes are based on what the customer would like, how they want to live their life during power outages. The right size also depends on how long you lose power. If you lose it for days, well, at some point I need to use my stove to cook food.

John: Right. Or I’m working from home and I really need to be able to have the internet or something like that.

Tim: There’s only so far Hot Pockets can get you in the microwave for dinner, so you kind of want another alternative.

Fuel Sources for Generators

John: Right. Are there different fuel sources that are available for backup generators or do I need to be making sure that I put gasoline in my generator every so often or something like that?

Tim: There’s primarily two fuel sources for the whole home standby generators– that’s liquid propane and non-natural gas. Natural gas is a little bit more efficient than liquid propane, but that obviously will depend on what comes to your home already. You don’t need to put gas in any of these or gasoline in any of these generators. They run off of, like I said, the liquid propane or natural gas.

The only gasoline generators would be the portable generators that you would get. They could run off propane or regular gasoline. So I usually recommend liquid propane. I do think it is easier because it’s a lot less involved in the plumbing aspect of it for prices. You don’t have to upgrade the meter, your gas meter, that can take time. You don’t have to pipe from your natural gas.

And if there’s a time that you do whole home electrification and you get rid of your natural gas, well, now you have a natural gas generator, so you still need to keep it, right? So with liquid propane, that kind of gives you more flexibility in that way as well.

Installing a Backup Generac System

John: Okay. What’s involved in the installation process on a backup Generac system? Will I need to make additional upgrades to my home in order to use a generator?

Tim: Sometimes you might. So definitely we want to check your existing electrical system, your panel, to make sure it can handle the generator to make sure it’s compatible. You don’t want to put a brand new generator on a very old panel, so it’s a good thing to have maybe a more modern or updated panel as well to have the new generator on.

Usually, some of the things that we come across is the placement of it is the most important part. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out too many times that the fuel source and the electrical source are located on the same side of the house right next to each other and that you can just put the generator right in the middle and everyone’s happy. Instead, they tend to be on the other side of the house, of course, all the time. So placement of the generator is key.

Usually, it tends to be … Customers tend to have to remove some plants or some gardening to place it where it needs to go, and we have to follow certain clearance compliance issues as well because it does have carbon monoxide exhaust, just like any engine type of deal. So it has to stay a certain distance away from your windows just in case on a summer day you decide to open it up and you don’t want any of that carbon monoxide coming into your home along with your existing AC condensers or other possible air intake or exhaust vents in your home.

That’s usually the hardest part is to try to figure out what works for the plumbers, what works for the electricians, and what is code-compliant and what the customer likes. It is a big unit. Sometimes they don’t like the aesthetics of having a massive generator in the front lawn. So trying to figure out what works for everyone that way.

How to Keep Your Generator Running Smoothly

John: And how do you keep a generator running smoothly? Does it require regular maintenance? Do you have to run it every so often to make sure, like you said, it’s an engine… if I just left my car sitting in the driveway for a year without using it, it might not run properly. Do you have to run it every so often or what does a homeowner have to do to keep it maintained?

Tim: So the benefit of the whole home generators is they will basically run themselves. When we install one, we set up a program to basically run weekly or biweekly at a specific time. We choose a time that the homeowner is going to be home because we want you to hear it. The whole point is for you to hear the generator turn on and run its normal operation, so you know everything’s working okay. If it doesn’t do that and it’s supposed to, then okay, hey, I might have a problem. Then you can give us a call and we can come out and look at it. The last thing you want to do is realize you have a problem in the middle of a snowstorm when you lose power.

So that will automatically self-test itself, automatically run. You don’t have to do a single thing. It does it by itself, it basically tests the engine. What it won’t do is it won’t transfer power. So you don’t have to worry about all of a sudden the power going down for 20 seconds or anything like that. It just turns on the engine like you would if you have your car sitting for a while. You want to run it every so often so the battery doesn’t die on it, especially in the cold temperatures. It does the same exact thing as that.

So maintenance-wise, the only thing that you would have to worry about is yearly maintenance. Same thing, just like any other engine, you need to get an oil change. You need to get it an air filter, an oil filter change, maybe change out the spark plugs, check the battery, and then obviously what we would do is we would do a test run, make sure it actually transfers power like it’s supposed to.

And then also make sure if there are any, what we would call troubles or issues that maybe the generator is indicating to us, we see what they are, clear them, and take action to fix them if they need to be done. For us, like I said, N.E.T.R. is a full-service Generac-authorized dealer, so we can not only sell you and install the generator itself, we can obviously maintain it and do your yearly maintenance to make sure it’s all operating how it’s supposed to.

Bottom Line: Why You Should Invest in a Generator

John: All right. And then finally, what’s the overall value of investing in a generator system for your home? Can you get some of that money back? Do you think at the end, if you did go to sell your home, are home buyers looking for generators to be pre-installed in homes? So would it add to the value of your home?

Tim: Yeah, so definitely generators used to be a luxury item. They used to be a … A couple people used to have them. Now they’re popping up everywhere. A lot of people like the idea of having a generator. Some people don’t realize how easy it is to maintain and how hands-off it is for the homeowner to just have a generator because some people look at it and go, well, now I have to deal with this thing that I don’t even know what it is.

But in actuality, if you’re trying to sell your home with a generator, Hey, I already have a full-service company. They are the same company that installed it, they come out once a year and do all the checkups. You just pay whatever the price is and they’ll fix whatever needs to be done and do the checkups, right? And then you just sit back and forget and let it do its thing. It is a good thing.

I know people … It’s one of those things that people don’t think about until the power’s out. It’s kind of, everything’s good. Hey, we didn’t lose power, everything’s fine. And then next thing you know, you’re in the middle of winter with no heat or power, you’re kind of like, “Oh, crap.” So it is definitely a good resale value for your home. It is definitely a good value if you’re living there or if you’re going to buy a home with one.

I always tell everyone, just like if you buy a used car, maybe replace the battery and make sure it’s good. I would definitely say if you do buy one with a generator to get it maintained right away. So the maintenance schedule, you’ve already reset it. You don’t know how long that previous owner has … Maybe he’s neglected it or maybe he’s been on top of it, but if he has neglected it, you don’t want to just assume it’s going to work and then realize, oh, well, he hasn’t gotten it maintained in three years. The thing has no oil in it.

So my recommendation is if you do move into a home with a generator, definitely call a company to get it maintained and get it worked on and just reset that schedule. So, you know, okay, I’ve had it maintained and get on a yearly plan to get it maintained every year.

Contact N.E.T.R. to Talk About Generators

John: All right. That’s good advice. Great to talk to you again, Tim. Thank you.

Tim: Thank you very much.

John: And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at or call 781-933-NETR. That’s 781-933-6387.