Gas Up Your Power Generation with a Natural Gas Generator
We at Ongaro and Sons are big fans of whole house generators, if only because generators keep your fans and air conditioning running in the event of power shortages that are becoming an increasing occurrence here in the Bay area. One thing people sometimes forget is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch—the whole house generator runs when your electric power is out, but to power the generator you need an alternative source, in many cases a dedicated natural gas line.
Maybe you are on the fence about whether you actually need a whole house generator. Your answer likely depends on how often you lose power. You might also think you can get by with a portable generator, but even a portable generator needs a power source, in this case gasoline. And as we discuss below, you probably don’t want to hassle with gasoline (bad enough you need it for the lawn mower) when a dedicated natural gas line is more convenient and efficient, not to mention safer.
In this post we take a look at:
- The advantages of natural gas generators vs portable generators
- Portable generators with a transfer switch option
- The need for dedicated gas lines to supply natural gas generators
- How a natural gas generator works with your HVAC system
- Professional installation of whole house generators and dedicated gas lines.
The Advantages of a Natural Gas Generator
So why do people have a whole house generator? Of course, uninterrupted power is the obvious advantage. Failed air conditioning during the summer months is not only uncomfortable, it can literally be suffocating. The problem is in the midst of rising temperatures everyone turns on their air conditioning for relief, putting further strain on the power grid and increasing the chances of outages.
There are two kinds of generators: whole house and portable. A whole house generator is permanently wired to your electrical system and is designed to start automatically – usually within 30 seconds – following a utility outage. As soon as power comes back on, the generator shuts down automatically.
A portable generator is powered by gasoline and lacks the power of a whole house generator. Typically it can only power a few appliances or rooms, not the entire house.
Overall, if it is within your budget, we recommend a natural gas generator for your whole house. If you want to keep the inside temperature at a certain level and continue to purify your inside air, you are going to need a unit with capacity to power your entire HVAC system, not just a few appliances.
There are further advantages between a whole house generator and a portable one. Let’s take a deeper dive into why a natural gas generator for your whole house is the better choice.
A natural gas generator automatically detects loss of electricity and switches on to provide virtually uninterruptible power. Many homeowners won’t even know that power from the electric utility has shut off.
If you’re relying on a portable generator, you’ll know that the power has gone off. Then you have to go outside (maybe in the middle of a storm) and manually engage the portable generator.
Natural gas generators are connected directly to your natural gas or liquid propane source. They are not going to run out of gas like a portable generator. No need to go outside (possibly still in the middle of that storm) and refill the gas tank on the portable generator.
Power the Whole House
There’s a reason they’re called “whole house” generators. Portable generators are limited to powering a few key appliances. If you don’t want to make a choice between keeping your refrigerator running or the television and gaming console on, a whole house generator powered by natural gas is the better choice.
Sump Pumps Keep Pumping
If you’re in a storm and your cellar is prone to flooding, your sump pump must operate continuously. Otherwise, you wind up with a basement pool. A natural gas generator ensures your sump pump keeps pumping without interruption, even during the heaviest downpours and the longest power interruptions.
Connect to Your Generator
Away from home and need to check in to make sure your whole house generator is up and running? Many premium whole house generators offer remote access from a computer or smartphone to instantly check generator status. The generator can even notify you when utility power is restored.
Portable Generators with a Transfer Switch Option
Despite the many advantages of a whole house generator over a portable generator, not everyone wants to spend the money on a whole house generator. To keep certain critical items running during a power shortage, such as your refrigerator and lights in the family room, a portable generator might suffice.
It is possible to run extension cords from the portable generator to the appliances you want to keep running. However, think about walking about in a dark house and the possibility of tripping over an extension cord on your way to the kitchen. That’s probably not something you want to think about.
To eliminate the hassle and possible hazards of extension cords, you can connect a transfer switch to a portable generator. This is a device attached to your electrical circuit box to allow the generator to power the designated appliances and/or rooms when needed. You need a qualified electrician to install a transfer switch.
Dedicated Gas Lines for Natural Gas Generators
For a whole house generator to provide power during an electrical outage, an alternative energy source is required, either natural gas or propane, depending on what is available. There are also battery operated generators, though if power shortages extend into days, the battery drains and can’t recharge until electrical service is restored. Some models do claim to last for as long as 10 days to power certain appliances.
If you have access to natural gas, you avoid the need for a separate propane tank. In either event, you’ll need a licensed plumber to install the dedicated gas line. Once connected to a gas meter and tested in conjunction with your electric panel, your generator is ready to standby in case of the next power outage.
How a Natural Gas Generator Works with HVAC
If you do decide on a whole house generator with the expectation it can keep your HVAC running during a power shortage, it is important to determine the start up amps required by your outside unit. If you have a combination gas and electric system, the outside unit is a heat pump. If your system is all-electric, the outside unit is a condenser.
Both systems require power to the outdoor unit and the blower motor inside to move air throughout the home. There is usually a higher amp draw to initiate the start up of the compressor and fan motor on the outdoor unit. Too high a start-up load can trip the breaker and your generator will not be able to produce the power needed.
If your electrician and/or certified home generator contractor says the start up amps are too high, your HVAC professional can install a Soft Start Kit. This kit reduces the initial load amps up to 68 percent, allowing the HVAC system to start up in stages.
Once the system starts up, the running amps are lower than the start up amps. You just need to make sure your generator can handle the running amps while still powering the other desired items in your home as needed.
Professional Installation of Natural Gas Generators
Your HVAC professional can help you decide on the right generator to meet the specific needs you have, ensuring the system pairs with your new whole house generator and still achieves the heating and cooling you need to stay comfortable as well as stay safe. If you need a dedicated gas line for your whole house generator, a licensed plumber can install it.
You can also look into a multi-stage heating and cooling system that comes with the capacity to start in different stages to allow for a lower initial amp draw and lower running amps. Do not forget to ask for upgraded in-home purification and filtration systems to help with smoke particulates from wildfires that are a continuing problem here in California.
Finding a certified contractor that can install the correct sized generator for your home is very important. Ongaro and Sons wants to keep you cool and safe at all times, regardless of the situation.
We can provide you with a gas line for the generator as well as consult on your HVAC operation during power outages. Keep on the lookout for Ongaro and Sons electrical division coming soon to provide you with a one-stop shop for whole home electric generation.