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Top Considerations for Home Generator Purchases

Generator Permit application with "APPROVED" stamped in red.

You’ve decided this is the last fire season you’re going to bank on luck to avoid disaster, so what do you prioritize in your emergency preparedness plan? Many Californians already keep a “go bag” by their door in case “The Big One” earthquake hits or they need to evacuate in a rush due to fire. But there’s another scenario to consider – when you’re stuck at home without power.


We’ve become increasingly reliant on electricity for everything from keeping our home security systems online to cooking on an induction stove and getting food from a cold refrigerator.  If your emergency plan includes installing a home standby generator, you’re on the right track. Installing a home generator is a process, however, so let’s discuss the top considerations for homeowners before buying a home generator.


Five Feet of Clearance


Do you have the space for a generator on your property? In general, home generators require five feet of clearance from your property line and from the windows on your home. This a rule of thumb that may vary depending on the zoning laws of your local municipality, so it’s always useful to research city regulations first.


Some homeowners live in tight neighborhoods by the beach or in condominium complexes and a permanent standby generator won’t work for them. In those cases, we recommend investing in a portable generator. Always make a point of reviewing best practices for safe portable generator operation, as carbon monoxide poisoning claims lives every year from generators running in enclosed spaces.


If your home has the proper clearance, your next consideration is bureaucracy.


City Permits and HOAs


You own your home so you can do what you want with it, right? Not exactly. There are two primary types of permission you need to seek before installation: city or county permits and, if applicable, HOA approval. If you’re considering purchasing a generator, it’s recommended to do a quick Google search for local generator permit requirements in your area. If purchasing from a generator service company like Duthie Power Services, we will work with the electrical contractor installing your generator to help you navigate the permitting process.


Homeowners’ Associations have the right to enforce aesthetic and architectural standards, although which standards are enforceable can vary from state to state. For example, California forbids prohibitions on solar energy systems or electric vehicle charging stations, as long as the system is up to code. As with city and county permits, the best course of action is to start the conversation early with your HOA board to find out what’s allowed.


Regardless of whether you’re working with the city or an HOA, any contractor will tell you that navigating the permitting process takes time. You may have the generator on your property ready to go within a few weeks, but the permits can take months to finalize. This is a big consideration if you want a generator ready for late summer heat waves, so plan ahead now.


Generator Installation takes Time and Money       


Seems affordable when you see an ad for a new home standby generator at Home Depot for under $6,000. But that’s just for the generator and automatic transfer switch which you’re most likely not qualified to safely install. The sticker price doesn’t include the cost of installation from a qualified electrician, not to mention the cost of permits and any unexpected upgrades to your home’s electrical panel that can occur.


Regardless of where you are in the U.S., buying a home generator costs roughly $15,000. This may seem high for a home add-on that you won’t use regularly, but when a power outage knocks out your air/heat, refrigerator, security system, and more…the peace of mind is well worth it.


On top of the time it takes to navigate permits, supply chain issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have lengthened the timeline for installing a new generator. While the industry catches up to demand, it’s realistic to expect your generator installation will take 4-6 months. “We’ve been lucky to keep inventory in stock to meet the demands of our customers, but the electricians with whom we work are booked solid these days,” notes Karen Cooper, Duthie Power Services’ Residential Sales Specialist. “I wish I could get new generators installed in a matter of weeks so customers have that peace of mind right away, but these days I have to manage expectations so customers are prepared for a longer wait.”


If you’re considering purchasing a home standby generator, do not wait. The Residential Sales team at Duthie Power Services can help answer any questions you have about factors that will affect how quickly you can add this essential safety feature to your home.

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