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Selling whole house generators?

May 7, 2014
Our involvement with automatic whole house generators as a subcontractor has been to run the propane or natural gas lines Automatic whole house generators suffer from lack-of-maintenance issues Sizing is often dictated by the heat pump or central A/C condenser If you can service your garden tractor, you can service a generator’s engine There’s more to whole house generators than meets the eye

Stormy weather ahead! Question: What’s the No. 1 problem that causes home generators to lock out or underperform? Read on for the answer my friends.

What a brutal series of storms we all experienced this past winter. Once again, our home was without power for more than five days, and, once again, I rolled out our portable generator. Power cord to transfer switch and throw the switch to power up selected circuits: heating, refrigerators, lights, and the TV. Ten gallons of gasoline each day. Shut down to refuel (safety issue). Drive to refill the five gallon cans. An automatic whole house generator has always been tempting and our involvement with them has been as a subcontractor to run the propane or natural gas lines.

Our neighbor had a whole house generator that would automatically exercise itself on Saturday afternoons. After less than six years, it was removed. What happened? As it turned out, the installer did not offer annual service and the engine was ruined from neglect.

Honeywell studied this lack-of-maintenance issue surrounding automatic whole house generators. Apparently electricians like installing generators, but aren’t very fond of providing annual maintenance or repairs. HVAC contractors, on the other hand, are well versed in service-after-the-sale, and Honeywell’s study revealed that most provide annual service for heating and cooling equipment. Why not develop a branded line and train the HVAC contractors?  Honeywell chose Generac and added some features exclusive to the Honeywell line.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Back to school and training on the Honeywell line of stand-by automatic generators. Sizing, as it turns out, is often dictated by the heat pump or central A/C condenser because you need to match the in-rush current required to start the compressor motor, which equals the locked rotor amps listed on the equipment’s tag. 

Question: What about inverter mini-splits or central system inverter units?  Reaching beyond the classroom, the answer came back from Fujitsu via email: “Our inverters start at 60% of their rated capacity and then ramp up or down as necessary.” OK Mr. & Mrs. Jones, if we install a 14-kW generator instead of the 20-kW model you need to have your central A/C, we’ll toss in an inverter mini-split for free, and you’ll save money each time the generator runs because the 14-kW model uses less fuel.

There are other options available to tweak sizing. You can do what we did when sizing our portable by using a transfer switch with selected priority circuits or you can use a whole house smart switch that incorporates all but the largest loads, which are connected to switches that are automatically turned off if the system begins to approach the generator’s total capacity.

Worried about your generator’s health? Incorporate the Mobile Link accessory, which is a cell-based communication, and if a change in health occurs, your customer and you will receive the information by e-mail or text. You can view the status, upcoming maintenance required, set the exercise schedule, and review any maintenance history.  As with anything electronic these days, changes are coming to enhance the ability to delve deeper into the operations and troubleshooting remotely.

If you can service your garden tractor, you can service a generator’s engine for routine annual service. If, like me, you feel the need to be able to repair and truly offer full-service for Honeywell (and Generac) stand-by generators, you must attend a two-day hands-on class. Toss in the first night’s homework assignment and it’s more like a 2.5-day class!  Trust me on this: you will learn to navigate the service book manuals and become familiar with service issues.

There’s more to whole house generators than meets the eye! We did have fun tearing down and digging into the mechanics and the electronics. Reminded me of the muscle car era where friendships and fellowship were shared under the hood while working on our cars. The only thing missing was the beer, but beer and exposed 240-volt connections would have led to a sobering conclusion. No horsing around either and that gets you tossed from the class. No different, really, than working on live circuits while troubleshooting any of the PHVAC equipment you already service.

In some respects, troubleshooting the electrical side is easier than much of the newer HVAC equipment and there’s even room inside the panels to access the individual components without having to move anything out of the way. The No. 1 issue that causes the most problems resulting in a safety lock-out or underperformance? Undersized gas lines.

Our instructor took great pleasure in creating mechanical and electrical faults we had to resolve to pass the class and as time passed, the number and complexity multiplied like rabbits! Add another notch to the tool-belt and one more group of items to sell while building your service-contract base.

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Website is protected by Copyright 2014. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].  

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