To install a stationary generator, get moving now

Town permits can add weeks or months to the process

Published: November 05, 2013 12:15 PM

Kohler 14RESAL stationary generator

Stationary generators have an important advantage over portable models—they switch themselves on in the event of a blackout and maintain readiness by running periodic self-diagnosis routines. But while you might prefer this hands-off approach, be warned: Depending on where you live, the process of buying a stationary generator and having it installed won’t necessarily be done in time for winter. The reason? Local ordinances for obtaining the necessary permits often require you and your installer to jump through bureacratic hoops to satisfy concerns about hazards, noise, and other factors.

In the best-case scenario, the installer you hire will have previously installed the model you’ve selected and be familiar with noise and setback requirements. Still, we recommend that before you make the purchase you get some reassurance that the model you’ve picked will pass muster with your municipality.

In our reporting, we found some examples of what a town might specify. Local installers should already be familiar with requirements such as:

  • Sound restrictions. Stationary generators we’ve tested typically range in decibels from the high 50s to the low 60s, measured from 50 feet away. But some requirements we saw tended to be not at 50 feet but at property lines, which could be closer than 50 feet away, and we saw nighttime restrictions as strict as 50 dBA. If your chosen generator runs louder, you might have to pay extra for special muffling.
  • Survey info. Some towns want a drawing to scale of the proposed generator site in relation to your electric and gas meters, especially lines located near the generator, and showing other structures such as an AC unit, shed, and pool heater—with distances from the site marked.
  • Setbacks. Even if town officials are familiar with your selected generator model and how far back from the house it can be situated, other setbacks are property-specific. For example, you’ll need to set the generator away from openings such as windows, doors, and vents. Some towns also confine generator installations to the back of the house where it can't be seen from the street.
  • Model specs. If town officials are unfamiliar with a given generator model, they’ll likely require specifications from a brochure, sales sheet, or other information.

From start to finish, the permiting process could take just a few weeks. Unfortunately, you and your installer can do everything right and still wait months. The necessary inspections and approvals, in a small town, can rely on a single building inspector. In such situations, the best you can do is work closely with the installer, follow procedures to the letter, make yourself available for site inspections, order the generator itself (if possible) before a major storm hits, and be very, very nice to that official.

Before you settle on a generator, see our buying guide and the video below on how we test. Then see our Ratings of mor than two dozen stationary and portable models, including the top-ranked stationary Kohler 14RESAL, $3,700, which comes with a transfer switch.

—Ed Perratore

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