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A recent study by Global Market Insights predicts steady growth in standby generators over the next five years. It attributes that demand, in part, to the increasing frequency and severity of storms, growing consumer awareness of how to protect themselves from power outages, and improvements in generator performance and affordability. For builders, this is an opportunity to talk to customers about further increasing their homes’ resilience while rolling the cost into a construction loan.

While a standby generator inherently brings peace of mind, builders can guide customers to features that provide the most confidence for their particular home. One variable is air-cooled versus liquid-cooled equipment. Liquid-cooled units are more robust and built for harsh conditions and longer outages, says Rusty Mills, marketing manager at Clifford Power Systems, headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They can cost twice as much as a similarly sized air-cooled model. Built like a car engine, a typical liquid-cooled generator will run continuously for several days without needing to be shut down and oiled.

A standby generator installation by Clifford Power Systems.

An air-cooled unit, on the other hand, requires the homeowner to let it cool down every 24 hours and add a bit of oil if it’s running during an extended outage, says Isack Merenfeld, general manager at the Generator Supercenter of Miami. “You choose a liquid-cooled unit if someone has a medical condition or the client is an older couple who cannot add oil by themselves,” Merenfeld says. A house over 4,000 square feet that runs multiple air conditioners also may need a liquid-cooled unit. “Air-cooled models have 7–22 kilowatts of power, while liquid-cooled generators go up to about 70 kilowatts for residential use,” he says.

Another key consideration is fuel type. Mills says, “One of the myths is that diesel is the most reliable fuel source for standby generators, but the most common field issue we see is fuel instability.” Diesel fuel is stable only for about six months because it can have contaminants and starts to break down. Propane is the better choice because it is stable, he says, and having on-site fuel storage that’s adequate for a long outage also helps homeowners feel prepared. “Someone with a propane generator probably has a pretty good-size tank because they’re using propane for other things; the tank is sized to sustain a longer outage than a diesel generator with a 24-hour fuel tank,” Mills says, adding that a fully loaded 20-kilowatt generator consumes approximately 3 1/2 gallons of propane per hour.

Economies of scale

Jacques Benhamu, project manager with Conkreta, a Miami builder of $2 million–$5 million custom homes, says 90 percent of his customers ask for a generator. During design, the MEP contractor plans for an electrical panel sized to run a requested generator, though the specs and installation are outsourced just before landscaping goes in. “I prefer that the generator company do the entire permit and electrical,” Benhamu says. Other Miami builders, such as Mike Cogdill of Cogdill Builders of Florida, sub out the work to an electrician. Cogdill, whose homes cost $300,000 and up, says about 10 percent of his customers ask for a generator.

With most standby systems ranging in price from $9,500 to $22,000, plus $400—$550 per year for service and monitoring, according to Merenfeld, it’s no wonder they’re more common in high-end homes. However, that may be changing, too. Today’s generator systems have budget-conscious “smart modules” that allow homeowners to purchase a smaller unit than the house’s load calculation calls for without fear it will fail if it’s accidentally overloaded. This “load shed” technology allows generators to automatically shut down appliances that aren’t priority. “It’s been around for about five years but continues to evolve,” Mills says.

Smart, affordable generator systems, combined with reliable access to clean-burning propane, should become increasingly attractive to a wider range of homeowners in the coming years.

Lead photo: High-end Miami custom builder Conkreta installs generators for about 90 percent of its customers.

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Cheryl Weber