Generlink vs. Traditional Generator Panel

When Generlink was approved recently in New Brunswick I was excited until I saw the price tag. For a 30 amp system which will facilitate most generators under 8 kW the price is about $1500. You will also need a permit which is $115.00 and with installation it comes in around $1950.00 plus HST. We have been installing generator panels for about $1000 – $1200 including labour and materials which is quite a bit less. Is it worth the extra $700 to $950 for the Generlink? Initially I thought no but after considering the advantages of the Generlink solution in most cases you can justify the premium.

Ease of Installation

The Generlink system is fairly easy to install. In New Brunswick the electrical contractor has to coordinate the installation with NB Power and the local electrical inspector.  The actual installation should only take about hour if everything goes well. After the meter is removed the electrician has to run a wire from the meter to the electrical panel.  This is fairly straight forward if the meter and panel are close together which they usually are.  That is the most time consuming part of the installation.  After that you mount the Generlink module (basically a transfer switch), pop the meter back on and then test it out.  Nice and easy.  Usually, but there are a few things you should be aware of before investing in the Generlink system.

First of all, you need to make sure your generator is compatible.  They have a compatibility chart which you can check if you already have a generator (http://www.generlink.com/files/123356851.pdf).  If you don’t have a generator yet no problem, just make sure before you buy it is compatible.  If your existing one is not compatible then you will need to buy a new one.  Second, a slight modification needs to be made to your generator which your electrician will complete (must have floating neutral….ask your electrician).  Make sure they can do this before going forward.  Third, on rare occasions NB Power will not put the meter back on your house because the meter base is corroded.  Again this rarely happens (I have seen it once) but if it does replacing the meter will cost an additional $300 – $600.  Finally, some meter bases are not compatible and cannot be used so make sure your electrical contractor checks this.

Installing a traditional generator panel requires you have suitable space beside your main electrical panel. Then you need to take out the circuits you want to put in the gen panel like lights, plugs, well pump, heaters, etc. Finally, you need to run a wire from the generator panel to a generator receptacle to the location where you want to run your generator. If the path to this location is through finished spaces it can be tricky and will increase the cost of the installation.

Flexibility

With a traditional generator panel you need to decide which circuits you are going to move to the gen panel from the main panel. You are limited as to what you can move over as most gen panels are limited to 60 amps. You can do a lot with 60 amps and get most what you need during a power outage. Nevertheless, when the power does go out there is always something that would be nice to be able to have on but didn’t make the list when you installed the gen panel.

With the Generlink system your entire panel is available to be run on generator power although not all at once. You do have to carefully manage what is on at any one time so as not to overload your generator. You will need to become knowledgeable about what you can and cannot run together and there is a learning curve to this. However, once you do figure it out this flexibility will come in handy when the power goes out. For instance, wouldn’t be nice to have a hot shower during a power outage? Or, turn on a baseboard heater in a certain room for part of the day and then another at a different time? This is not an option with a traditional generator panel because you are limited to the circuits you decide on when it is installed.

Final Thoughts

My initial reaction with the sticker price of the Generlink system has been tempered after considering what you gain over a traditional generator panel. One thing to keep in mind when purchasing a Generlink system is the length of the cord used to connect your generator to the Generlink base. The cord that comes with the Generlink unit is 20 feet long which means you will have to run your generator within 20 feet of your hydro meter. In many cases this will be suitable but not always.

You can actually purchase a longer cord from Generlink however, even 20 feet of cord is quite heavy and a little unwieldy because of the size of the cable. There are ways to extend the reach of the cord without getting a longer cord if you don’t want deal with a cable longer than 20 feet.

If you want to run a portable generator instead of a home stand-by generator there are some definite advantages using Generlink over a traditional generator panel.  Before investing make sure you review all the options and check if your existing generator is compatible. Again there is a premium however, my father always reminds me that the first thing you forget about after buying something is the price.

Attila Fust

Owner, Red Seal Electrician

Wattsource Electrical