Generator Tips and Recommendations for Builders and Contractors

Observations of a Gulf Coast-area generator dealer

Like so many in the New Orleans area, Deryl Boudreau, general manager of Pan American Power Corp., has some Katrina stories to tell. His 24-year-old family owned company, which sells generators, marine engines, and Caterpillar engines, is located in Covington, La., less than 40 miles from the heart of New Orleans.

"Power was out in our area for 21 days," says Boudreau. "We didn't get a lot of calls from people [for generators] because the telephone lines were down, but people actually tracked us down and came to the shop to arrange for a generator to be installed."

In fact, between the time Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005 until 2008, Pan American Power installed about 700 standby generators. Boudreau estimates that 35 percent to 40 percent of those use propane as their energy source.

"It's a fear-driven purchase," says Boudreau. "People are afraid that Katrina could happen again."

While no one likes the idea of trading on something as tragic as Katrina and other more recent storms, it's clear that there is customer demand in hurricane-prone areas for the kind of peace of mind that a standby generator can offer. Builders, general contractors, and other construction professionals would be wise to keep generators in mind when prospecting for work this summer. And not just the kind of gasoline-powered generators you can pick up at a big box store.

"In other areas of the country, people want to keep the refrigerator, lights, and TV on," says Boudreau. "Down here, those days are gone. People tell us, 'I have to have air conditioning; I'm not going to sweat like I did after Katrina.' So, if you tell me you want to run your AC then you'll get the size generator that can run an entire home."

Pan American Power, an authorized dealer for Briggs & Stratton, Eaton, Generac (including Guardian), and Kohler Power generators, is also seeing more interest from new home builders that offer a generator as part of their package. "Most people that are building homes today are putting in a generator or preparing for one," says Boudreau. "A lot of them just put in the transfer switch and have the wiring done, which is relatively cheap. The generator can come later."

While the pace of generator installations has slowed since the aftermath of Katrina, Pan American Power still does a brisk business, especially considering the Gulf Coast's rocky economics. "We still move about 200 to 250 a year," says Boudreau.

To learn how to incorporate propane products into your next project, be sure to check out our free online CEU courses, available at the Propane Training Academy. The categories mentioned in this article are discussed in the following training courses:

Specifying Propane Standby Generators: Installation and Value Considerations 

Community Propane Systems: Economic, Environmentally Responsible Energy Solutions 

Propane Gas Underground Systems: Residential Infrastructure Requirements and Energy Benefits

Go Green with Propane: An Overview of Propane Gas Systems for Green Residential Construction 

Why Standby Generators Are Better

Builders and other pros are likely to get questions about why an automatic standby generator—rather than a portable, gasoline-powered generator—is the best bet. According to Generac, an automatic standby generator provides numerous advantages over a portable generator:

  • The American Red Cross recommends permanently installed generators as a safer way to provide backup power to a home than a portable generator.
  • With a standby generator properly installed outside, homes are protected from deadly carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  • Using a home's natural gas or propane supply, it is less expensive to run than a gasoline-powered portable generator and doesn't need refilling.
  • Standby generators start automatically within seconds of a power outage, and eliminate the need to haul a portable generator outside or run extension cords throughout the home.
  • Protection is supplied 24/7, even when homeowners are away. Standby generators turn themselves off when utility power returns so there is no need to monitor the unit during an outage.

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