What is a natural gas generator?
If you’re in the market for a generator, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options available. From a generator’s brand to its electrical capacity to its noise reduction features, you have a lot of flexibility in choosing the right generator. One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make, however, is fuel source. Standby generators traditionally run on four types of fuel: Gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas. A natural gas generator is simply a generator that is powered by natural gas.
You probably already use natural gas for other appliances in your home. Most homes in the U.S. are connected to underground gas lines, which power appliances such as water heaters, stoves, and sometimes other appliances, such as lighting fixtures or clothes dryers. A natural gas generator must be connected to the home’s gas lines by a professional. When the power goes out, the generator uses the natural gas to automatically power your home.
For many homeowners, natural gas generators are an excellent choice. Before you buy your generator, however, you’ll need to determine the electrical capacity or size of your generator. Try using AlltimePower’s free Backup Power Calculator to discover your electrical needs. You’ll also be able to find reputable generator dealers in your area that meet your needs and budget.
The advantages of natural gas generators
Natural gas generators have several advantages over other types of generators. The most obvious advantage is convenience. Unlike other generator fuels, which must regularly be bought, stored, and connected to the generator, natural gas is automatically supplied to the generator through gas lines. This also makes natural gas generators safer than other types of gas-powered generators since natural gas does not need to be stored, which would be a fire risk.
In addition to ease of use, natural gas generators have the added advantage of running more quietly and smoothly than other types of generators. Natural gas is also a cleaner fuel than either gasoline or diesel, making it more environmentally friendly. If you live in an area with strict environmental or noise regulations, a natural gas generator may thus help you meet local codes and avoid penalties.
Finally, natural gas generators are less expensive to run than other types of generators. In fact, natural gas is only about 1/10th the cost of diesel. Of course, since natural gas generators must be connected to gas lines by a professional, installation costs tend to run high; over time, though, the lower cost of gas can more than make up for this additional cost.
Comparing natural gas to other fuel sources
Though natural gas generators have certain advantages, they are not the right choice for everyone. If you don’t have gas lines or would prefer not to attach them to your generator, a propane generator might be a good choice for you. Propane can be bought in metal cylinders in many stores across the country and safely stored at home. Though more expensive than natural gas, they burn slightly cleaner and have a very long shelf life.
Diesel and gasoline have a shorter shelf life than propane. Gasoline is a common fuel source for portable generators, but for standby generators, gasoline tends to be an expensive and impractical option. Diesel, however, is a powerful and efficient fuel source for home generators. Diesel generators tend to last longer and require less maintenance and repair than other types of generators, including natural gas generators. Read our blog post to learn more about generator fuel options.
In addition to traditional, fuel-powered generators, you can also opt to buy a solar-powered generator. These are generally portable generators that come with solar panels. Though environmentally friendly and easy to run, they are significantly less powerful than fuel-powered generators. Another option is to install solar panels on the roof along with a home battery system. Though expensive, this is an excellent, clean alternative to traditional generators.
Some generators are able to run on both natural gas and another source of fuel, such as gasoline or propane. This is called a dual-powered generator, and it is most often a portable rather than a standby generator. This is because a portable generator that ran exclusively on natural gas would be difficult to fuel consistently, since natural gas is difficult to obtain outside of gas lines.
Dual-fuel generators are useful for homeowners who want to choose their fuel based on their current needs, such as noise level or power output. For example, if you have a dual-powered generator that can run on natural gas or gasoline, you may use natural gas when you want it to run more quietly and smoothly and gasoline when you need a greater electrical output. Fuel availability may also be a factor. If you run out of natural gas but have more gasoline on hand, for example, a dual-powered generator can save you from having to go out and find more natural gas.
Natural gas generator installation and maintenance
Connecting and securing a standby natural gas generator to your energy lines can take a professional up to six hours to complete. That’s on top of about 18-20 hours of work by electricians to connect the generator to your home’s electrical wiring and perform necessary electrical tests. The skilled labor, materials, and overhead required for natural gas generator installation can cost about 75% of the generator itself. The cost may be even higher if the house’s electrical circuit needs to be updated.
Once the generator has been installed, you’ll need to perform some routine maintenance to make sure your generator is constantly ready for peak performance. Ideally, you should run your generator every week for 15 to 20 minutes. This allows the lubricating oil to heat up and circulate around the engine. About once a month, you should also check fuel and coolant levels. Every 6 months to a year, you need to hire a certified technician to perform a more detailed check.
Expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars per year on maintenance and fuel costs. Repair costs are difficult to estimate in advance, but always be prepared for larger expenses, especially when the generator is later in life. Natural gas generators can last for decades with proper maintenance, but over time the engine gets worn down, leading to necessary repairs.
Is a natural gas generator right for you?
Once you fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of a natural gas generator, you’ll need to decide if it’s right for your home. People who buy a natural gas generator tend to live in areas with frequent or long power outages that affect their daily lives. People who live in areas that frequently experience natural disasters may also benefit from a natural gas generator; however, if you live in an area with frequent earthquakes, which can damage gas lines, a different kind of generator may be a safer bet.
Buying a home generator is a significant investment. In addition to researching on your own, you may want to talk to a professional electrician or generator dealer about what kind of generator would best suit your home’s individual needs. Some prospective buyers find it helpful to talk with homeowners in their area who already own a generator. Finally, you will need to check local codes and your homeowners association’s rules to make sure the generator you choose does not violate any regulations.
Sizing a natural gas generator
If you decide a natural gas generator is right for you, the next step is to determine the right size. This is an essential step when buying any home generator. If you buy a generator that is too large for your home, you will end up spending more money than necessary on your generator. On the other hand, if your generator is too small for your electrical needs, you run the risk of overloading your generator and damaging your appliances.
To correctly size your generator, start by deciding which appliances you would want to run during an outage. If you want to run all of your appliances, you’ll need a whole-house generator. For a less expensive option, consider buying a partial-house generator, which will only power your most important appliances. A critical load panel will automatically direct generator power to the most important devices, thus preventing an overload.
To calculate the size of the generator you need, find the starting wattage of each appliance you will want to power during an outage. You may find this number on a tag on the appliance or in the owner’s manual, or you may be able to find an estimate online. Add up the starting wattage of each device, and this will give you an estimate of how much electrical capacity your ideal generator will have. For a more exact estimate, consider hiring a professional electrician to calculate this number for you.
Alternatively, you can use AlltimePower’s free generator calculator to get a clear understanding of your power needs and how much you can expect to pay. We’ll also match you with reputable generator dealers in your area. If you choose to participate, local generator dealers will compete to give you the best price for a generator.
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