Avoiding pitfalls in generator installation

Generators can help make life easier after a storm, but if it's not installed correctly you may have more problems than benefits. A generator specialist tells us what to look for if you are considering a generator as you prepare for hurricane season.

Hylton Petit is a hurricane veteran. "When your power goes out it takes a long time to get it turned back on," Petit said. He bought a generator after Katrina, but didn't think he needed a lot of research. "I had a friend of mine who does this for a living, an electrician, who told me he could give me a good deal"

"After Katrina we probably put in about 50 generators, after Gustav we probably put in about five times that many. Our customer base on generators today is triple what we put in," Barry Couvillion said. Couvillion is certified in generator installation and maintenance. He said the boom in generator use is great for business, but he is finding, "After Gustav we had a lot of calls from Generac that consumers called them and said my generator don't work," said Couvillion.

Couvillion said it's not the generators that are bad, but there are placement issues, the fuel lines are too small and he is even finding disconnected batteries. Petit has a major placement issue, "After about the second or third day this air conditioning unit went out and we didn't know why," said Petit, "The heat from this generator was hitting that air condition and burned the motor up."

You have to make sure to limit the chance for flooding. Generators should be above base flood elevation or level with the finished flooring of the home. Couvillion said asking the right questions could save you thousands of dollars in repairs and could possibly save lives. "It's kind of like backing your car up against your front door or against your side door and letting it run all night," said Couvillion. Even whole house generators expel carbon monoxide so you have to be careful about how close they are to doors, windows and vents.

Some things Petit's installer got right, but others he needs to correct before hurricane season when he may need it most. "You got to keep them away from this thing because they put out a tremendous amount of heat when it's running as I found out the hard way," said Petit. Couvillion tells us it is essential to make sure you have a transfer switch. He says some installers teach customers how to shut off a series of breakers instead, but if that is done incorrectly electricity can leave your house travel through power lines and transformers and allow thousands of deadly volts back into the power grid endangering workers.