In the past few months, I have noticed that many HVAC companies and electricians have started to advertise that they service and install standby generators. Many are claiming to be factory authorized on websites and all are claiming to be significantly experienced in the installation and service of these units. Of late, the increased frequency and duration of power outages have convinced many to take matters into their own hands and install a back up generator to protect their homes and businesses. With this increase in public interest, many new and existing service companies are entering the generator business. In the Southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, these are about 12-15 experienced standby generator dealers that have been serving the residential and light commercial market for the past 10-20 years. They have trained a workforce of electricians and gained significant experience with machines new and older. The rest are newcomers to the business who may or may not have even attended a training class. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at this time does not require a special license or any specific training for generator installation or service technicians. For the person looking into having a generator installed, in the words of the late Steve Irwin, this spells DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!
Tips to finding the right generator installer and service technician:
The proper installation and maintenance of these standby units require the following:
A licensed electrician to make all electrical connections. The electrical service panel at your home must be disassembled and reassembled, the grounding system and equipment bonding system must be brought up to the 2011 National Electric Code.
The connection to the gas supply must be done by a certified plumber or gas mechanic and must be compliant with National and Local Gas Codes.
The engine (there is an internal combustion engine in all standby generators), must be adjusted by someone versatile enough to be certified in small engine repair AND full-size automobile engines to get them running correctly, and to keep it running properly. Servicing a generator requires significant experience in disassembly and reassembly of engine parts and adjustments must be made to engine valves, engine governors, throttle, carburetor linkage etc.
The adjustments that must be made to the generator require a specific set of tools and training that are only made available to factory certified generator technicians and require experience.
It is simply amazing that scores of companies that had little or nothing to do with these services are suddenly claiming to be experts. It takes years of experience in all of the above mentioned disciplines to
become a reliable generator installation and service provider. Unfortunately, in an effort to keep up with the one particular generator manufacturer who will make a dealer out of just about anyone who will buy a generator, many generator manufacturers are following down the same road. It’s now time to start taking a very close look at who is going to install and service your $7,000.00 - $70,000 investment
Heating oil and HVAC companies may have experience repairing or installing air conditioning systems or heaters. These systems have ALMOST NOTHING IN COMMON with generators. They have experience running gas lines, and that is a requirement of a generator installation. Snapping-in circuit breakers and running wires to a heater does not qualify them as electricians. If they subcontract to an electrician…that can be quite a different can of worms. Who is responsible for a problem…, who has the insurance…there may be issues getting them back to correct or repair something, and they have little or no control over them as they are independent business people. I can’t think of an HVAC contractor who is a certified engine technician.
Lets put this together.
Watch the big companies as they tend to be the worst offenders. Many send inexperienced installers to your home or business and they are learning on the job…possibly at your expense. As an electrician, I can’t tell you how many National Electric Code violations I have seen that were committed by HVAC mechanics. If it is a code violation… a dangerous and potentially, life and property-threatening situation exists!
Electricians have a small advantage over HVAC companies in that they are already satisfactorily trained in making electrical connections and usually experienced enough to be disassembling and reassembling your electrical panel. If they do not have a registered plumber working for them or with them, they are not qualified to install or alter you gas lines. This can be as dangerous as it sounds. If gas leaks…enough said. There is far more to this than preventing a gas leak. The proper tap ins, sizing, pitching and redirection of gas pipe is critical. All gas appliances in the home may be effected by the installation of additional gas loads and must be carefully calculated. I don’t know too many electricians who are also competent engine repair specialists…do you? So they can make connections, but not any adjustments.
In the generator installation and service field, experience is HUGE!!!!! An installer must be able to perform service to various types of engines and have a certified engine technician on staff, have the safety training and skills (not to mention the license) of an electrician, the skills and experience(and license) of a plumbing contractor and the tools, equipment factory training and the EXPERIENCE of a certified generator technician.
Before hiring a company to install and service your generator, ask to see all of their certifications. If they don’t possess them all, you are at risk.
Ask you self this…how long has the company your are about to hire to permanently alter your electrical and gas system of your home been installing generators?
How many people do you know or have consulted with have hired this company to install a generator and how is it (or is it still) operating 5 years later?
Have you checked the generator manufacturers website to verify that they are certified or at least authorized to install the brand they are proposing?
Certified Small Engine Technician
Certified Generator Technician
Caveat Emptor…may the buyer beware!