Standby Generator Brands : GE, Generac other?

junkjonNovember 22, 2011

Any opinions on standby generator brands? I know Generac is the leading brand, but was wondering if there are any opinions out there for the GE Symphony units or other makes. After about 3 weeks without power in the past 2 years, I ve finally caved in to look into a generator solution. GE seems a bit more cost effective in that one doesn't need a whole new electrical panel and the load seems to be managed "intelligently" while using less fuel than a Generac. This deosn't help, of course, if the unit isn't reliable. Any thoughts, opinions would be appreciated.

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Since when does a generator require a whole new electrical panel??

Most major brands now have intelligent load shedding transfer switches. Generac, Briggs, etc.

I haven't seen nor heard of one GE unit like you describe being installed, so I really can't comment on them.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 3:39PM
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"I know Generac is the leading brand..."

True, Generac probably sells more homeowner grade optional standby generators than anyone else. But take a drive around your community and notice what you see at places where standby power is serious business, like 911 centers, fire stations, hospitals, telephone exchanges and so on.

Then bear in mind that "leading brand" and "best" are not always mutually inclusive properties.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 7:36PM
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Wayne, RARELY are leading brands and "best" one in the same.

At the places like you describe money is rarely an issue. So getting a commercial grade generator for twice the price of a residential grade is not a problem.

The newer Generacs are great value for the price.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 7:42PM
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And considering how many people shop in Home Depot, Target and walmart, sadly price is OBVIOUSLY a huge consideration to most Americans.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 7:43PM
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No need to SHOUT, my hearing is fine. I will concede that the quality of Generac sets has improved some over the years. But they (or the sets Generac makes for Honeywell, Bryant, B&S etc.) are far from a "great value" in my opinion.

There are all manner of stories on the web about low hour Generacs suffering various issues including catastrophic failure. I expect my 27 year old "other" brand set will still outlast 1 or 2 new Generacs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Generac info

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 8:06PM
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A) I was not shouting. ALL CAPS in all words IMO is considered shouting. I was using one word here and there for emphasis. This site only uses manual HTML tags and I don't feel like using them.
Sorry if I hurt your ears.

B) I only skimmed that message board, but I see A LOT of complaining about Guardian, Centurian, and older Generacs (like even 4-5 years old).
I SPECIFICALLY stated "newer" Gneracs, like in the past year or two, since they went independent. These units are identical to the current Eaton units and a VERY nice.
They ARE a great value, yet are only a few hundred on average less than many Kohlers and Onans.

Older Generacs, and ANY Guardian or Centurian, are pretty much junk IMO.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 8:56PM
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When a number of those new Generacs have exhibited relatively trouble free service for a few years, I may change my opinion. Today, I wouldn't use one for my house if Generac installed it for free.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 9:49PM
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Hi Mr. JunkJon,

I feel your pain. It looks like what you are interested in is a backup solution for power failures like the Snow and for hurricanes like Irene.

Good generators are expensive, and an easy way to tell how "good" one is, is to look at the weight. Heavy is better. This is because heavy means more copper, more chunky engine, better enclosure etc. Unfortunately weight also means more cost.

Generator solution wise there are three broad solutions:
1) Petrol based, on wheels, up to 7kw, $US 2000-5000
2) Propane, not portable, lawn mower engine, up to 14kw, $US 8000-14,000
3) Propane, not portable, car engine based, water cooled 20kw and up, 1,800 rpm. $US 15,000 to $US 25,000

The prices are all in for the project. Which includes genset, instalation, permits, heavy lift, wiring, transfer switch, panels, gas line, trenching, propane tanks etc.

Brand wise for small petrol ones, Honda is best. There is a 6.5KW inverter one $US 4,500, which is expensive but has nice features.

For the propane powered ones, Cummins Onan and Kohler make good units with prices to match. Over the years they have made "cheaper" units to compete in the home backup market. Cheaper means lawn mower engine based. The best units are car engine based. These are expensive to buy and expensive to install, but are the most reliable. for Cummins at a good price, check out the Costco Web site. Cummins and Kohler are the units often run at hospitals, prisons and airports.

Generac also make a range of gensets. Home Depot / Lowes are at their cheaper range, but they also do make higher priced ones.

The most popular solutions are the petrol ones because of the overall cost. However they do require you to be physically fit in wheeling around a genset and messing about with petrol cans. Often the decision on the solution is dependent on age, who is around in the familly, and things like will my basement flood due to sump pump failure.

Hope this has been of some help.

Warmest regards, Mike.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 9:18AM
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Thanks Stinkytiger. I'd be using propane but there do seem to be many of the air-cooled (i.e. not car engine)standby units with 15k-20k (100-200amp) output. For the other commentators, I appreciate your input but it does seem like know one has heard anything about the GE units? Also, since there were negative comments on generac, particularly the older (>3-4 yrs old) models and guardian, did generac buy guardian? they seem to have a line called guardian which is air cooled? Thanks again for the feedback

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 11:58AM
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Guardian and Centurion are/were the lower end line of older Generacs.

Pretty much ALL units 20kW and under are air cooled with lawn tractor type engines. They don't make car engines small enough to power units this small.

Keep in mind, most major brands have better units. A 1750rpm unit is better than a 3600rpm unit. Quieter too, and more expensive.
20kW to around 30kW you can get air cooled and usually water cooled models are offered, at a much higher cost.

Your comment "15k-20k (100-200amp) output" is not even close to accurate. A 15kW unit will put out 62 amps @ 240v and most manufacturers recommend staying within 80% of full load for extended periods. To get 160A (generator full load for a 200A service) you'd need a 40kW generator.
Not that anyone with a typical home would need a generator that put out 160A @ 240v.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 12:31PM
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A propane based lawn mower engine based system is a good choice. I think these can give you from 10kw to 17kw output. One thing worth bearing in mind is that manufacturers tend to push that output number because that is a number which home owners look at. You can design a gen set with that "target" peak output number, however you will compromise reliability. In general over install / specify and under use will help reliability.

A useful question to ask is how big a generator set will I need. I am guessing that you are thinking of "100-200amps" is because that is the Amperage on "standard" breaker panels you may have in your basement.

A propane unit of 12-14kw power I think is good for "most" people. Your mileage may vary on this but I think it will give you power for:

1) Sump pump
2) Well
3) Ejector pump
4) Furnace controls and furnace start
5) Air handlers (air pumps which blower air around your home for heating)
6) Fridge
7) Lights in important areas like the bath room.
8) TV (a luxury, but you sure miss it and it only uses a small amount of power so nice to have, make sure you have a real antenna somewhere, cable tends to fail in blackouts)

roughly in order of importance. Your exact set up may vary.

Things I would avoid trying to power are Whole house Air conditioners, electric clothes dryers, electric ovens. For these you need a bigger genset in the 20kw and over range.

For your $US 12-14 k, the instalation may look like:
1) genset, lawnmower engine based, air cooled, 3,600 rpm
2) transfer switch, automatic in that it switches 20 seconds after power failure, with power back online in under 60 seconds.
3) Propane tank perhaps 500 gallons, 400 gallon useable.
4) Instalation, trenching, wiring, permits

The auto start feature is nice in that other familly members may not be as "techical" as you. So in event of a power failure, and you are at work, the genset will look after itself.

Best, Mike.

P.S. a useful formula to know is:

Power in Watts = (Volts) * (Amps)

For example your genset is 12 kw so the amps it can supply is:

Amps = 12,000 / 240 = 50 amps

A bit more technically difficult to understand is that although your home appliances are typically 120v, we use 240v here because there are two "Phases" (typically) in a US home. So that is 50 amps per phase, where each phase is 120v.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 10:07AM
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"Things I would avoid trying to power are Whole house Air conditioners,"

Rather throw all my perishable foods than go without air-conditioning
here in Texas. YMMV!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Same here. My first standby set installation was along the lines "stinkytiger" suggests. The first time the utility was off for a significant period, I found that I missed HVAC, substantial meals and clean, dry clothes more than anticipated. That quickly led to a more substantial generator.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2011 at 5:49PM
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HVAC is something that people miss dependent on climate and location. I must admit I do have 1/2 of my HVAC connected up, the smaller compressor uint. You may need a larger genset though to handle the HVAC compressor starting amps.

A solution to this is that some people buy an additional window HVAC unit. These units only cool one room, but do not require such a current draw. So you sort of have one room which is nice where the family can hang out in for the duration of the power outage. I guess New Jersey / New York summers can get sort of sticky and hot.

Best, Mike.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2011 at 4:33PM
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Sticky and hot in New York? Certainly in NYC and environs. It is a big state and it is a lot less stick in the North.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 4:47PM
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Generac's current line of air-cooled generators is greatly improved over what they were selling in 2000. I've owned both.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 10:03AM
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Chiming in here - we were without power for Ten days in a freak October Snow dumping 2 feet on the ground. I will tell ya that there were fights in gas lines, at stations that actually had power and gas. And the lines were long. After day 3, I actually found a generator. A generac 8000 XP, for 1200 bucks, a steal compared to some popple like my brother who bought a no name brand 6000 W for a grand off the back of a tractor trailer.
Now we had a generator and had to find fuel, driveing an hour and waiting a hour to fill up 100 bucks of fuel was bbnot a pleasant experience ( my car still stinks). Anyhow being that I had to half ass wire everything and scroung for recepticals I was able to get up and running. The generac ran 14 hrs on 8 gallons of fuel and never skipped a beat. It now has 60 hours on it and was able to let family and friends have hot showers, hot coffee, lights and charge their phones laptops and whatever they needed. Kept my freezer frozen ad refridgerator cold.
This is an really nice generator, fuel filters, oil filters, low oil warnings, protection up the kazoo. My brothers no name started to rattle a bit towards the end, has no protection, I will even bet it does not have a cast iron sleeved motor.
But considering what I went through, and the pain in th butt it is to get fuel during a power outage, and filling it up, and chaining it up, hearing nothing else but this thing running I see the money being better spent on a propane powered, whole home automatic one. For 3 k you can get set up with a real decant one. ya a bit more but time is money.
Also being it would be enclosed, and run on propain whatever brand it would you would never have a problem. Propain is so much cleaner, the built in is so much quieter if I were you I would invest right.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 11:06PM
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"For 3 k you can get set up with a real decant one. ya a bit more but time is money. "

$3k is on the bottom of the low side to have even the smallest one installed.
I just ordered an 8kW Generac with a 10cct transfer panel. The gen package alone was $2159. And that was considering no tax and free shipping.
If you think you are going to get the gas and electric hooked up to that for another $800 you're sadly mistaken.
If you do it yourself then sure.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 7:33AM
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I have a 20KW GE (i probably only needed 14k)but I like it. Its a re branded Briggs and Stratton and GE slaps a 5 year warranty on there which is good. I know a few guys with Generacs and they have had problems with them. Kohler also makes a very good unit, at the time (2011) Kohler only had a 4 year warranty.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 4:32PM
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Let me first say that I actually work for Briggs and Stratton Standby Power. We build and sell the Briggs and GE models. That being said, my paycheck is my money and I spend it on what I want. I have a GE 20 kw unit on my home. I looked at the Generac and Kohler products and there is no comparison. The GE 5 yr warranty is parts and labor, while the Generac is no labor on yrs 3, 4 and 5 assuming you purchase their extended warranty. Parts on yrs 4 and 5 with Generac are selected. No comparison. When it comes to Power management, the GE is the only one that actually truly manages the loads. Generac and Kohler just shed everything. Very problematic and costly. Not to mention the Generacs just arent reliable per reviews and ratings.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 5:40PM
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Ron Natalie

Your paycheck gives you the right to come here and lie about your competition apparently?

GENERAC covers labor for the three years. I've had my GENERAC for five years and not needed to avail myself of the warranty.

The "shedding" feature has nothing to do with the generator. There is NO STANDBY GENERATOR that I know of that has any clue about shedding loads. You exceed their capacity and they are going to trip or otherwise fail.

Now the TRANSFER SWITCH is another story. Yes, the GE symphony switch is nice in it's priority shedding feature. This is the only practical way to get a undersized generator on an ATS.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 4:00AM
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Unless the money is there to buy a really high end generator it is pretty tough for most to justify throwing the money out there for something that might only be used a week or two every couple years unless a deal floats by.

If you want 'real' run time and longevity just get a microturbine. I know some that I have been around don't need anything but air filter maintenance and the air compressor oil changed to supply the air bearing like 30,000 hour interval before rebuild. They sell used and sometimes really reasonable.

Here is a link that might be useful: Microturbines

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 11:31PM
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Ronnatalie: be careful accusing people of lying. I suggest you go back and look at their warranties across the board. Generac warranties are not what you think. I hear it from dealers I speak to every day. Better read the fine print. This does vary with some models but overall their warranties are weak.

As for " Load Shedding" we don't do that. We load manage. Big difference. If the Generac unit reaches its threshold, it drops all the loads and will shut down with a 5minute reset period, and starts again bringing on loads. If this happens a second time, the reset time is 30 minutes.

The GE Symphony is the only system that truly manages load by using inexpensive modules and we communicate by a priority signal that goes out from the transfer switch. The Generator is part of this equation. Controls have to communicates . We monitor what we are producing from output and what is in demand constantly to make load decisions, then we manage how the loads are brought online. The customer has the say on what they want and when. Unique system, inexpensive and reliable.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:22AM
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I have a Briggs and Stratton small 7KW natural Gas Generator. I got mine 5 years ago and it has failed on me every time there was a power outage even though it was cycling fine. It got recalled about 18 months ago and my dealer gave me a new one which was supposed to not have this cold weather issue. It cycled fine as well but always failed within 15 minutes of a power out. The first few times it was due to a too high RPM error and shut down. The last time its a Low Voltage error. By last time , I mean the last time! I am so fed up with this unit I am looking for a different brand, different installer, different experience. I say stay away from the Briggs. I have had 5 years of bad luck with it. No offense to joe1264 but there is no way on this green earth that I will ever drop a penny on a Briggs product again.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 5:52PM
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