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Thinking About Installing a Whole House Generator

Understanding the Basics Before Installing a Whole House Generator

Hurricanes, winter storms, overwhelmed electrical grids – power outages are starting to seem like a part of normal, everyday life. When images of Texans powering their homes through a storm with hybrid Ford F-150s went viral last winter it got more people thinking about installing a whole house generator.

If you’re one of those people, this post is for you. This is a quick overview of all the basics including what a whole house generator does, who might want to install one and alternatives that could be a better fit. 

How a Whole House Generator Works

When the electricity goes out, a whole house generator provides power with natural gas or liquid propane. Unlike a portable gas-powered generator, a whole house generator is connected to a gas supply so it’s always ready to go. The whole house generator is also tied into the electrical system.

A whole house generator has two primary parts: the generator and the automatic transfer switch (ATS). 

The generator does the grunt work of converting gas into electric power, but the ATS is crucial. The ATS sensor can detect power outages and start up the generator automatically. No person is needed to intervene or be there to start the generator. 

But what about power surges if the electric power kicks back on when the generator is going? Good question. The ATS takes care of that too. Once the generator is able to supply the house with power the automatic transfer switch cuts power from the electric grid. This helps prevent power surges and circuit overload. 

How Installing a Whole House Generator Affects Home Value

Installing a whole house generator is a serious investment, but is it one that will pay off? That’s the million dollar question. Actually it’s the $7,500-$15,000 question, because that’s how much it costs to install a whole house generator in the average home.

In addition to the generator itself, the other major costs include:

  • Labor
  • Permits
  • Licenses
  • Electric lines (6’)
  • Gas lines (6’)

There’s a huge range in the cost of this project because there are a lot of variables. The size of the generator is one of the most significant factors. The larger the generator is the more it will cost and the more expensive it will be to install. Other factors include where you live and your energy needs. 

Overall, Consumer Reports estimates that installing a whole house generator can add 5% to the value of a home. Remodeling Magazine has been tracking the cost vs. value ratio of whole house generators since 2007. During that time the return has ranged from 47.5% to 67.5%. That’s actually a fairly decent return compared to other home projects. 

How much of a return you’ll see on your investment largely depends on location. People in the Gulf Coast who face the possibility of long-term outages every hurricane season see the value in a whole house generator. Like everything else in real estate, how much value a whole house generator adds mostly comes down to supply and demand.  

For some families the cost of a whole house generator is still worth it even if there isn’t a 100% return. If someone in the household relies on a medical device or medications that must be refrigerated, having a whole house generator is a safety issue. 

Whole House Generator Alternatives

If the last section gave you a little sticker shock you may be interested in knowing there are alternatives to a whole house generator, but they too have their pros and cons. There are two other options: portable gas generators and solar panel systems.

Portable gas generators are much less expensive, but they don’t come with the ease of use and constant power supply. They also don’t power on automatically and you won’t see any return when you sell your home. Another significant drawback is power output. Portable generators are rarely capable of powering the average size house, but they can keep key equipment like the refrigerator up and running.

A solar panel system is another alternative, but it’s not a good one for all situations. For example, if the power is out due to a winter storm the reduced sun exposure might not be enough to power the home. For this reason, solar power can only be considered a backup power supply. Solar panel systems are also just as expensive as a whole house generator, if not more. However, the cost is offset by tax credits, increased home value and reduced energy expenses. 

When you need a reliable electricity plan you can count on Spark Energy. We give you options for powering your home with electricity, natural gas and renewable resources. Check to see which Spark Energy plans are currently offered in your area. 

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