What is a CARB-compliant generator?

What is a CARB-compliant generator?

For many Americans, fuel-powered generators provide security, comfort, and peace of mind in the face of power outages and natural disasters. When the power goes off, generators allow life to continue as normal. Unfortunately, fuel-powered generators can also produce potentially harmful toxins and greenhouse gases. To balance the need for economic efficiency with environmental and health concerns, government agencies, including the EPA and CARB, set restrictions on what kinds of generators people can buy and sell and the quality of fuel they run on. Thus, CARB-compliant generators meet CARB restrictions.

Every American homeowner must follow EPA regulations. Residents of some states, however, must follow somewhat more strict regulations imposed by CARB, or the California Air Resources Board. CARB is a government agency in California that was founded in 1967 by then-governor Ronald Reagan. At the time, the primary purpose of the agency was to reduce high levels of smog and air pollution, especially in Los Angeles. The agency has since grown in its size and its purpose. It regulates all sorts of internal combustion engines, including generator engines, and aims to promote clean air and reduce levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere linked to climate change.

Any company or individual living or operating in the state of California must follow CARB regulations on generators. Several other states also use CARB regulations as a baseline, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia. Exact regulations vary from state to state, but CARB-compliant generators will generally meet regulations in any state.

To find reputable CARB-compliant dealers and learn more about your energy needs, try using AlltimePower’s free backup power calculator. We’ll find the perfect generator for your home based on your budget and energy needs. You’ll also have the option to have generator dealers in your area bid to give you the lowest price.

The purpose of CARB regulations

Though CARB regulations may seem unnecessarily restrictive, they serve a purpose. Running a fuel-powered generator inevitably results in the release of some potentially harmful air pollutants, including carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. CARB regulations require that generators produce fewer of these harmful pollutants than might be economically efficient, which helps protect the air quality and the environment.

Carbon monoxide is one of the most harmful emissions contained in generator exhaust. Colorless and odorless, carbon monoxide is nonetheless deadly. Each year, homeowners die from carbon monoxide exhaust, often because they operated their generator in an enclosed space, such as a garage or shed. In some cases, carbon monoxide can also contribute to temporary air pollution, especially in cities. Of course, since cars are much more numerous than generators, cars contribute much more than generators to this form of pollution, but CARB regulations apply to generators as well.

Another pollutant that generators produce is sulfur dioxide. It is not as dangerous to your health as carbon monoxide, but it can cause irritation to your respiratory system. It sometimes becomes more harmful once it reaches the atmosphere. When sulfur dioxide comes into contact with water droplets in the air, it turns into sulfuric acid. Although in small quantities it causes little or no harm, in higher quantities it can fall to the earth as acid rain and cause some damage to the environment.

Diesel-powered generators also produce nitrogen oxide, which can contribute to ozone depletion that allows harmful UV rays to more easily penetrate Earth’s atmosphere. They also produce some known or suspected cancer-causing substances, including formaldehyde, benzene, and arsenic. CARB-compliant generators produce these substances in much smaller quantities, resulting in a safer generator and cleaner environment.

Meeting CARB regulations on generators

As a homeowner, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you purchase a CARB-compliant generator. The generator dealers themselves are responsible for making sure the generators they sell to people or companies who live in California or states that follow CARB regulations are compliant with regulations. Once you purchase and install the generator, however, you should also understand CARB restrictions on when and how you use your generator.

According to the California Air Resources Board, CARB allows homeowners to use generators during Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). This may occur when a utility service shuts off power to reduce the risk of a wildfire during certain weather conditions. During a PSPS, there aren’t any CARB restrictions on using a smaller, portable CARB-compliant generator. However, larger generators with a capacity of 37 kW or larger are subject to certain CARB restrictions, even during a PSPS. Contact your local air district to learn more about these regulations.

CARB also has a Fuel Enforcement Program that controls the quality of fuel sold in the state of California. Depending on the composition of hydrocarbons, a fuel may burn cleanly, producing fewer pollutants, or it may burn less incompletely, which would produce more pollutants. Higher quality is cleaner and better for the environment. CARB’s fuel enforcement program ensures that fuel providers in California only offer fuel that meets certain quality standards.

How does CARB differ from the EPA?

The EPA and CARB are both government agencies that regulate the sale and use of fuel-powered generators, but CARB regulations are stricter. As a result, some engines may be legal to run in every state except for California. Equipment sold or used in California must be both EPA and CARB certified and require separate applications.

Before an engine can be certified by the EPA, it must pass all tier regulations: EPA Tier 2, EPA Tier 3, EPA Tier 4i (EPA Tier 4 Interim), and EPA Tier 4F (EPA Tier 4 Final). These all relate to the use of off-road engines, including generators. They tend to focus most heavily on diesel-powered engines. EPA Tier 4 Final regulations relate specifically to diesel engines and apply to diesel-powered generators.

While other states follow CARB guidelines to reduce air pollution, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to own a CARB-compliant generator. Check individual state regulations to find out whether you need to meet additional regulations beyond those imposed by the EPA. In some states, including California, you will also need to check with local county or district codes that may regulate when, where, and how you use your generator.

Finding a CARB-compliant generator

If you purchase a generator through a reputable local dealer, that dealer should be well-informed about CARB and other regulations. If you are purchasing a generator online or from a dealer outside of your state, be sure to ask whether the generator is CARB compliant. Even if you purchase a non-CARB-compliant generator outside of California and later operate the generator in California, you can still be subject to heavy fines. Thus, if you plan on moving to a new state and bringing your portable generator with you, make sure it is compliant with regulations in both states.

If you want to buy a used or second-hand generator, you should have it inspected by a professional to ensure it is CARB compliant and in good condition. Older generators may have been manufactured and sold before current restrictions were put in place. If the generator is not CARB-compliant and there is not a simple solution to make it CARB-compliant, it’s generally best to look for a different generator.

For some homeowners, buying a CARB-compliant generator may be worth it even if they are not required to by law. CARB-compliant generators burn more cleanly, which is good for the environment but can also help protect your health. They may burn gas more efficiently, which could help you save money in the long run. Depending on the generator, a CARB-compliant generator may also be quieter than average.

Are CARB-compliant generators more expensive?

CARB-compliant generators are generally more expensive than non-CARB-compliant generators. The technology needed to produce power while meeting CARB regulations simply raises the price across the board. In the case of fuel-powered generators, there is a tradeoff between economic and environmental benefits, and California and other states that follow CARB regulations chose to err on the side of protecting the environment.

Some homeowners may find the cost of CARB-compliant generators frustrating, especially when added to the already high cost of living in California. The extra cost may be at least partially negated if the CARB-compliant generator burns the fuel more efficiently, which could save you money on fuel costs. Additionally, there are ways to cut down on the cost of a generator in other areas and find a reasonably-priced, CARB-compliant generator.

When looking for the right generator, first be sure to find the right size for your home. Use an online tool such as AlltimePower’s backup power calculator to determine how much electricity you need to power the most important appliances in your home. You may also find that buying a portable generator is more within your budget than a backup generator. In any case, be sure to treat buying a CARB-compliant generator as a significant investment, and save up and plan financially as you would for any major purchase.

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