Good Vibrations: Everything You Need to Know About Generators

Since Irene and Snowtober, residents are getting their back-up power on.

Home Depot in Hackensack said it's the new black. Not shovels, not paint, not hammers. Generators. Yes, generators are the new black in Bergen County.

Lowe's and Sears Hardware said there was no doubt—it's absolutely true. Even New Milford's Building Department confirmed it. Since Hurricane Irene and Snowtober, the number of people purchasing and installing generators in their homes is on the rise. 

"There were a lot of serious weather events that left people without power last year," a salesman from Home Depot told Patch. "People don't want to be left in the dark again."

Whether you are in the market for a generator, or considering purchasing one, there are a few things you need to know. Patch consulted New Milford's Fire Marshal, Alan Silverman, for information on what you need to consider when purchasing and installing a generator in your home.

Essentially, there are two types of residential generators: portable and standby. Silverman cautioned that whether you choose a portable or a standby generator, generators can never be located inside your house. They must always be installed outside. 

Portable Generator: This is the most common type of generator—it is affordable and can be taken almost anywhere. They are designed to be used with appliances with cords connected to them and come equipped with 120-volt outlets. If you purchase a portable generator with a manual transfer switch, you will need a permit from the Building Department. 

It is important that a generator not be connected to any electrical wiring unless it is done by a licensed electrician and inspected by the local fire inspector. Improperly connecting a portable generator to electric wiring can produce “back feed” — a dangerous current that can result in electrocution or critical injuries. 

Since portable generators commonly operate on gasoline, Silverman said it is important to note that a maximum of five gallons of any fuel source can be stored on premises. It must be stored in an approved fuel container and it must be stored outside of the house, in a shed or detached garage. Any amount in excess of five gallons needs to be stored in a flammable liquid cabinet

Standby Generator: A standby generator is installed outdoors and linked directly to your home’s permanent fuel supply. This generator is pricier than a portable generator, but it is powerful enough to keep your house humming when everyone else is in the dark. The major advantage of a standby generator is that it has an automatic start—it can automatically detect a power outage and start right up.

It works on a transfer switch. A transfer switch immediately senses when power is interrupted and transfers power from the original power source to the generator. It also senses when power is restored and transfers the load back to the utility source and signals the generator to shut down. Transfer switches are permanently hard-wired to, and installed, near the breaker panel in your home.

If you are connecting your standby generator into your current natural gas line, you must complete a PSE&G Residential Gas Load Data Inquiry form to make sure enough gas is being supplied to support the generator.

Unlike most portable generators, standby generators require professional installation with the proper permits from the Building Department and a fire inspector must come and inspect it. 

Silverman said, "Failure to obtain a permit will result in a fine."

According to the Building Department, a permanently engraved sign that reads "Caution: Second Power Source Available Generator" must be obtained for all generator installations. The sign should be red with white lettering, the lettering should be a minimum of 3/4" high and mounted on the house next to the meter. 

Jeffrey DelVecchio February 07, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Very nice, informative article. Too many ran out after the recent storms and bought generators without any knowledge as to how to properly hook them up. This can be dangerous not only to the occupants but also to unknowing line men trying to restore power.
Ann Piccirillo February 08, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Thanks Jeff. In addition to NM's fire marshal, I also spoke to some firemen who told me generators pose a potential danger to them, especially since many are improperly installed because purchasers are often not well-informed. That's why the sign indicating that a house has a generator is extremely important so that all first responders--police, fire and ambulance-- are aware before entering a house during an emergency call.
Jeffrey DelVecchio February 08, 2012 at 01:30 AM
We have similar signage because of our solar panels for the same reasons.


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