Installing Generators Safely with Trevor Tremblay
Trevor Tremblay, technical advisor at ESA, guides us through the current trends in generation installation and the common challenges Licensed Electrical Contracting businesses may face.
With climate change bringing about more severe storms, it’s no longer a matter of if, but when households will face more weather-related outages. The most recent windstorm in May is another stark reminder that homeowners and businesses need to be prepared in extreme weather situations.
That’s why Trevor Tremblay, technical advisor at ESA, said he’s seeing an increase in demand for the installation of generators.
“People are turning to whole-home transfer switches and generators,” Tremblay said. “Just to make sure that it's automatic when the storm happens, if they're not home, everything keeps running.”
In this episode, host Karen Ras discusses with Trevor how to safely install generators. They’ll discuss the different types of generators, the common challenges Licensed Electrical Contractors (LECs) may find in installation and the permit requirements to get the job done.
The basics of generator installation
There’s more than one type of generator, and if LECs want to be prepared to conduct a safe installation, they need to understand the differences.
The two main types of generators are portable and standby generators. Portable generators are limited to 12 kilowatts, and, if you have 240 volts, they need to be grounded to the frame. Standby generators, on the other hand, don’t face the same requirements.
“For standby, there is no limit in size and, essentially, it just has to be marked if the neutral is grounded to the frame or not. It doesn't have to be grounded,” Tremblay said.
Another important factor with generators is their location. You have to ensure that arcing and sparking devices are not installed too close to where your pressure relief valves for propane or natural gas are located.
“We do deem the generator an arcing and sparking device,” Tremblay said. “So that generator itself has to be at least one meter away for natural gas, and three meters for propane.”
Once you’re confident your client has the correct type of generator for their needs and safe installation location, LECs should start to think about what notifications may be necessary for the project, such as ESA permits.
The ESA recommends notifying the utility company if the generator is running in parallel with the utility. If the inverter has grid tie capabilities, then a notification should be issued.
“We will notify them with a connection order saying there is generation in parallel – even if it doesn't backfeed the grid, but has capabilities of it,” he said.
Permit requirements also depend on the project. If you have a meter mounted plug in transfer device , you don't need a permit but your local LDC may require one. But for more permanent generators – like those that are hard-wired or on standby – a permit is required to do the wiring.
Tremblay also reminds LECs that it’s required to go through ESA Plan Review for standby generators for life safety systems.
“It will save you a lot of money. A lot of times we get there and people have spent a lot of money on an installation and we're writing defects,” he said. “So it's quick, it's easy, it's cheap. And it's a requirement now in the Code.”
Once the installation is complete, it’s important to remember that generators need upkeep and maintenance to ensure they’re safe. Tremblay recommends continual testing in order to keep the generator functioning as it should.
“Maintenance is very important,” Tremblay said. “It should be done frequently, as per any other electrical equipment.”
Grounding and bonding
In his work, Tremblay is seeing a lot of issues with grounding and bonding in generator installations – especially with transfer switches to standby generation.
“Grounding and bonding across the board is probably the most misunderstood part of the code,” Tremblay said. “It's always changing and it seems everyone still thinks everything goes to ground. No, everything will use ground as a path back to the source to complete the circuit. Nothing essentially goes to ground if it doesn't have to. It's there as a safety measure.”
In 2018, the ESA code was altered to simplify the instances when neutral grounding is necessary. They introduced the term ‘separately derived system’, which means no hot or neutral conductors should be connected to hot or neutral conductors from the utility.
“You can interconnect the bondwires and grounding, but you can't interconnect the neutral and the hot conductors. So, essentially, what they want to do is make sure that you only ground a system once after you establish it.”
There’s more information available on separately derived systems on the website. Listen to the full episode to hear even more of Tremblay’s advice on safely installing generators.
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