Where Is the Best Place to Put My Backup Generator?

June 20, 2024
Backup generator installation

Having a backup generator is a great way to ensure your Seattle, WA, home will always have electricity in the event of a blackout or power outage. When installing a backup generator, carefully consider where to put it. We’ll explain the general rules and code requirements for where a backup generator can be installed and the other factors to consider when choosing the best location for your machine.

General Rules for Installing a Backup Generator

The location of your backup generator is subject to some specific rules that you must follow. Some of these rules are based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes. These codes state that a backup generator must be at least 1.5 feet away from a house or any other permanent structure like a shed or detached garage. This is to prevent the generator from potentially catching any structures on fire.

For the same reason, there cannot be any type of vegetation that’s more than 12 inches tall within 3 feet of the generator. You also need to provide sufficient clearance between the generator and other equipment, such as your air conditioner or gas meter.

NFPA rules also stipulate that a backup generator cannot be located within 5 feet of any exterior door or window in an occupied building. This includes a house, detached garage, workshop, etc. The generator must be positioned where its exhaust pipe is facing away from the building. Both rules exist to help prevent the exhaust from the generator from getting inside, since this could result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

While 5 feet from windows and doors is the minimum, you’ll want the generator farther away if you live in a windier place. If not, the wind could still end up blowing the exhaust back into your house. No matter what location you choose, it’s also essential that you have carbon monoxide detectors inside your home.

Another thing to consider is that a backup generator should never be installed underneath an awning, roof, or any other type of overhang. This could result in the exhaust fumes getting trapped and create a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if you were to stand near the generator when it’s running.

Manufacturer Recommendations and Local Code Requirements

Even though the NFPA code says that a backup generator must be 1.5 feet away from any buildings, some manufacturers increase that distance to at least 5 feet away from buildings. This is to ensure that the generator receives proper airflow to prevent it from overheating. It’s important to follow whatever the manufacturer’s recommendation is in this regard. Otherwise, the warranty on your generator will likely be void.

The local and state codes in your area may have specific rules for how close a generator can be to any combustible materials. This includes how far away its exhaust port must be from windows and doors. For instance, the requirements in Washington are that you must follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. If the manufacturer doesn’t have any specific recommendations, then the generator just needs a minimum of 5 feet of clearance.

Most places have specific setback requirements for backup generators, which are how far away the generator must be from your property line. These zoning setbacks are sometimes different from the general building clearance setbacks or how far your home must be from the property line.

As such, it’s important that you know what the local regulations are. You could be forced to move your generator and possibly face a fine. The easiest way to ensure that your generator complies with all relevant regulations is to choose an experienced, local electrical contractor to install the unit. They will know all the specific requirements.

Noise Considerations

Although most backup generators are quieter than portable generators, they can still be somewhat noisy. Many people choose to install their generators farther from their homes so that they won’t be able to hear them running. That said, many places have noise ordinances that govern decibel ratings. These rules are usually based on the sounds you can hear from the generator, either out in the street or from an adjacent property.

Some locations instead base it on the level of noise you can hear from a certain distance. In this case, you’ll need to pay attention to the decibel rating of the specific generator you choose to ensure it doesn’t make more noise than what your local regulations allow.

Fuel Source Location

You can choose to connect your backup generator to either your home’s natural gas supply or permanently install a large propane tank to power it. If you choose the second option, you need to make sure there is sufficient distance between the propane tank and the generator. If you opt to connect it to your natural gas supply, it’s generally best to choose a location that is as close to your gas meter as local regulations allow. Choosing a location that is farther away will increase the installation cost a bit. You’ll need to have a longer gas line installed from your main gas line to the generator.

Another thing to consider is that the natural gas or propane line will sometimes need to be installed underground. This means that the location of the generator may be limited depending on the location of any other underground utilities.

Soil Conditions and Stability

A backup generator requires a stable base to sit on, which generally means it needs to be installed on a concrete slab or a composite pad. As such, you’ll want to choose a location where the soil is stable, so the slab or pad doesn’t settle or shift over time. The generator must be level to work properly. It’s also important that the soil drains well and that the location you choose isn’t near any source of water such as a downspout.

If the ground around your home doesn’t drain well, you may need to make changes to your landscaping to ensure the area near your generator has sufficient drainage. Another option may be to dig up the area where you plan on installing the generator and replace the soil with something that drains better, like sand or gravel.

Maintenance Considerations

Your backup generator should always be maintained and inspected every year by a licensed electrician. You’ll also need to have the oil changed at least once every two years. That means you want to choose a location that is easily accessible.

A final thing to think about is that you will need to clear a path around the generator any time it snows. If the generator runs when snow is piled around it, it can block the air intake and cause the unit to shut down or overheat. This means that you may want to choose a location that is close to an exterior door. This way, you can quickly clear around the generator as needed without having to traipse through deep snow.

Since 1987, Brennan Electric has been helping residents of the Seattle area with all their electrical installation and repair needs. We specialize in installing backup generators, and we can also help you wire a portable generator to your electrical system.

To schedule a service call, or get more information, contact our team at Brennan Electric today.

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