What it’s like to have a whole-home generator installed in Houston

My wife and I first began thinking seriously about a whole-home generator last August, as Hurricane Laura barreled into the Gulf of Mexico and threatened Texas. Since we built a new home in League City in 2017, this was the first time a major wind storm threatened the upper Texas coast, and the fading memory of extended power outages during Hurricane Ike came back to me. Alas, the process of purchasing and installing a generator takes advanced planning, and it’s a big decision.

Eventually, we decided to go for it. So earlier this year I reached out to Reliant to inquire about a whole-home generator that is powered by natural gas. As a reminder, Reliant is the multi-year sponsor of Space City Weather. To note, I did not receive this generator for free, and I chose to purchase it with a portion of Reliant’s annual sponsorship fee. So, you can rest assured that my experience should be similar to yours.

Buying a generator capable of powering your entire home is a major investment. For the average homeowner in Houston, it will likely cost between $10,000 and $15,000. But for many, it may be a worthwhile investment—especially following the recent winter storm and annual threat of hurricanes for our area. With this post, I am going to describe the installation process and what you can expect if you decide to purchase a whole home generator.

We needed to put the generator on a stand to meet local code.

The process begins with a home visit by a generator technician. Reliant works with a Houston-based company, Quality Generators, and they sent Mike to my home in mid-January. Over the course of nearly an hour, Mike and I discussed my home’s power needs, existing power and natural gas lines, and potential solutions. I really knew nothing about this, so it was great to have Mike help us navigate the process. He explained all of the costs and fees associated with buying the generator and installing it.

On February 1, we agreed to contract, and I signed it. I paid half of the purchase price up front. Then we put stakes into the ground, an outline of where a platform would be built, and where the generator would go outside my house. We tentatively planned an installation later in the month. And then, the Valentine’s freeze came to Houston. We lost power for days. I remember standing in my darkened home office, as the temperature plummeted into the teens, looking out the window at those stakes.

After the freeze ended, installation began in March. All of this work was communicated well in advance, with a schedule clearly laid out. Any time I had a question, I would call Mike. I appreciated that there’s a local service phone number that a real person answers. I received regular updates, by phone, of what to expect, and when to expect it. Then, after each job, someone would check in to make sure I was satisfied.

First, a team of workers built a stand, which took a couple of hours. (Sometimes, a generator is installed on a concrete pad, instead). A few days later came the installation itself. This process was more laborious and lasted most of the morning. It involved power being disconnected to the home for about two hours, which I was told of in advance. But after this, the generator was ready to go.

Houston, we have a generator.

A whole home generator is a back-up plan. When the electricity goes off, for whatever reason, the generator kicks on within seconds. The lights come back on. Depending on the size of the generator it can power some, or all, of your home’s electricity needs. Theoretically, it should provide continual power through an ice storm, a hurricane, or any other type of disaster. I have fortunately not had to test that yet, but it is comforting to hear the generator fire up once a week to ensure its readiness.

And that really is perhaps the biggest benefit of having a generator. You never know when the power is going to go out, especially in a region prone to severe storms. Every time there is inclement weather in the forecast, there will always be a little bit of concern. When you have a whole-home generator, it takes the anxiety away. And reliable power is especially important considering that during inclement weather we want to continue providing you with timely updates on Space City Weather!

The bottom line is that buying a generator is costly, and a big decision to make. But if you’re considering it, you want to make sure you’re working with a company that is experienced and established. My referral from Reliant for Quality Generators was a painless process. The people I worked with were friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to answer all my questions. If there’s a problem, I’m confident they’ll be there to help.

If you’ve been considering a whole home generator, Reliant customers can receive 10 percent off with the first year of maintenance free. Learn more here.

70 thoughts on “What it’s like to have a whole-home generator installed in Houston”

  1. If enough people get natural gas powered generators and there is a widespread power failure (perhaps caused by failures in the system of supplies of natural gas) and all of these people’s generators click on, will the system hold up to a load it presumably wasn’t designed for? It seems that an individual solution to a collective problem may only be locally optimal and even then only under certain assumptions.

    • Being in the industry, it is a huge issue having a highly combustible wooden rack as shown in the picture. Texas code requires 12″ from generator to wood. A metal stand meets code or a 12 inch metal stand on top of the wood structure. Houston permitting would not approve the application shown in the picture. Huge Safety hazard for the recipient of that install. Safety first.
      That is not a good example of of a safe generator install.

  2. I ordered a Generac generator in February after the freeze. I don’t expect to receive it until July or even August due to the backlog of orders. I will use my own electrician and plumber for the installation and do my own maintenance which will save significant money.

  3. We had a whole-house generator installed two summers ago and it was the best decision we’ve made. I wasn’t as worried when it looked like Hurricane Laura might hit Houston and it ran for three days during the freeze. The power literally comes back on within seconds of an outage. We got ours through Centerpoint’s program and ARK Generators, but it sounds like our experience was similar.

      • Our bill for February was $125 which was only about $50 more than our January bill. The guy who installed it said to expect about $50 per day if it runs continuously but I think the impact was less in this case because our gas heat would have been running a lot either way. I have a feeling it would have been a bigger difference if it was running for several days in the summer when our normal gas bill is about $20.

  4. “I remember standing in my darkened home office, as the temperature plummeted into the teens, looking out the window at those stakes.” That might be the saddest line you’ve ever written.

    How loud is your generator?

    • All air-cooled generators are pretty loud is you are outside. In the house it’s not particularly disturbing.

    • Not to bad really. Don’t place it by any bedroom Windows. Yes, you can hear it running inside your house & likely so can your neighbor, but it’s really not too objectionable. We can hear TV over it just fine.

  5. Did they put the generator that far off the ground because of potential flooding problems?

    • In low lying parts of League City they have to. A storm surge + a running generator = zap!

    • I have a coupla concerns about home generators…I’m not knocking them, these are just concerns.

      First, how well are the emissions controlled? CO, SO2, NOx, PM, and VOCs. I’ sure they are low, but on a per unit of electricity generated, how do the emission rates compare to the standards applicable to the electric industry. If the answer is “well, the home generator operates so seldom, so what?” Maybe. But the more home generators that are installed, the more more they contribute to our ozone alert days. And I guess if the answer is still all about how few hours the home generators actually operate, then I start to wonder why I’d even invest in one. I ran the numbers. In my 65 years, I’ve gone without electricity at my home(s) for about 20 days of those 24,000 days. Thirteen after Alicia, three after Ike and estimate all the other onesies-twosies might add up to another four 24-hour periods.

      Second, I’ve compared the City of .Houston residential noise ordinance and checked into some of the db ratings of the generators. They are dang close to being in violation, and likely are unless you have a large yard or if they placed at the center of the yard, maximizing the distance to the fence line where the noise level is measured to meet the ordinance restrictions. I agree that the noise would be less indoors…assuming windows are closed. While my windows were closed in February…so I didn’t have to hear my neighbors generator…they are opened wide following hurricanes which is really when I expect extended electric outages. Once every 20 to 25 years or so. Then I will clearly hear them drone on hour after hour, for potentially days on end.

      Just a couple of concerns I will explore before I make the leap.

      • The emissions from coal or diesel-powered electrical plants are worse. NG burning is about as efficient as it gets (keeping a propane tank at your house might be slightly better). Other than wind or solar, there is NO “free lunch” when generating electricity!

        • No diesel in Texas. NG as efficient, no doubt. I’m asking about pollutant emissions. I will check. Agree about no free lunch. Just reminding folks that there’s more to this than convenience and comfort.

      • I wonder if a cost-benefit analysis should be based only on the number of hours one would potentially use a generator. There are health considerations for the frail (that could apply to helping one’s neighbors as in the case of the four day outage we encountered in February, since several of my neighbors who were without heat are infants or disabled), the cost of spoiled food, the cost of making bad decisions in the dark (!), lack of water for those of us with wells and pumps, burst pipes as in February (although we ourselves avoided that by having one small propane heater and completely draining our water system, no thanks to advice from Centerpoint). I might think of more after I post this!

        The question is complicated by the shocking absence of leadership from the our energy industry during those four terrible days. They had three days lead time to identify or establish warming centers, to get the best advice on saving our pipes out to us, even possibly to arrange for additional deliveries of propane to the area. We had a battery driven radio and were listening to the Houston- based weather station as it tried in vain on Day 2 to get in touch with Centerpoint. There was no Centerpoint presence in my rural community the entire four day ordeal. It was and is disgraceful. Only a generator and full solar installation would be enough to cancel Centerpoint.

  6. I ordered a generator about two weeks ago. They came out yesterday and set it. The whole process will take about two and a half weeks. I was happy to get one installed so quickly after ordering it.

  7. Thanks Eric. Our experience using Ark Generator Svc. out of Conroe exactly parallels yours, five stars throughout. One thing you didn’t mention is that you just don’t call up a generator company and get one in just a few days. Plan on it taking a few months, yes, plural. We had a Generac installed in 2018. Ordered it in June and got it in mid August. About $10,000 total plus an annual service contract, which is pretty much required unless you’re a gear head. The maintenance is more than just changing the oil & filter and we did need to get approval from our HOA, But aside from writing the check, the whole process was painless and it sure saved our bacon back in February. Our electricity (and Internet) was out for a total of 49 hours. Highly recommend.

  8. I bought a home generator from Quality Products last October. Truly a turnkey transaction. Everything went smoothly. I lost about 20 seconds of power during the freeze. If you order, just remember that it is loud (like a motorcycle); so, be considerate of your neighbor in the location of the generator. It tests for about 5 minutes every week.

  9. Thank you for including approx initial cost. What does the maintenance and upkeep involve? How long is a model like this expected to last before needing replaced?

  10. We got a whole house Generator after we moved back in from Hurricane Harvey. Best decision EVER, it was on for several days when the freeze hit.

  11. How long will a generator run without maintenance if there is an extended power outage? During the winter storm, power officials were saying we could have been without power for months if they had not acted as they did. In that kind of situation, there may be no service from your generator vendor.

  12. We have an all-electric home. Does this mean we would not be able to have a whole-home generator?

    • With an all electric home, you either need to run a natural gas line or drop a propane tank. Running new natural gas service can be REALLY expensive. When our house was built, there was was no gas service to this subdivision. It was going to cost close to $14,000 to run a line from the street to the house. A propane tank is much cheaper, but depending on where you live, your homeowner’s association might object. Ultimately, we decided we would just buy a dual fuel (gasoline/propane) portable generator and stock up on propane tanks for hurricane season. We got a huge one on sale for less than $1500. It comes close to powering the entire house, so we found it to be a good compromise.

    • no, you most likely will be able to unless you have a reallllly huge house

    • Yes, you can. You may need a higher capacity unit than most who have some gas appliances

    • We are all electric also and there are no natural gas lines out in the country where we live. You can get a generator that is equipped to run on propane or LP. You’ll have to buy an appropriate size tank and talk to the propane company about where it can reasonably be placed. They can’t be near where power comes into your house and they can’t be near a window that opens. The tank needs to be in a place where the propane truck can reach it to fill it. But it’s doable. Propane is, however pretty expensive. But the alternative for us in the country is a gasoline-powered generator which has to be fed constantly and if the power is out you’re not going to be able to find any gas stations open or they’ll be out of gas.

  13. I don’t have a whole house generator – I just couldn’t justify the expense. But I do have two 9500KwH portable generators. I figure with two, I can run one at a time for 8-10 hours, then switch, allowing the other generator to cool down/rest. Definitely more work than a whole house generator, but two of them cost me $1500.
    We had one during this winter’s freeze, and we were able to keep our fridges running and our bedroom somewhat warm.

      • You can store it in an insulated garage, inside a $20 cover. You can also get a GenTent to run it in the rain. Most of those portable gasoline generators can be converted to run on propane or natural gas. You can also wire them into the house via a transfer switch, but you’ll only be able to power 8-10 circuits.

  14. Another option is solar panels plus a battery backup. We installed this kind of system through Tesla and had continuous power through the February freeze. It has the added benefit of reducing your mind they electric bill and most months we actually produce surplus electricity and feed that back into the grid and get paid for it! A little more expensive in the short run than a generator, but there are a number of tax incentives that can reduce the cost by 30%. Much less maintenance and convenience than a gas generator too.

    • Jason, when you say ” a little more expensive in the short run” what do you mean? Can you give a $$ amount? How you seen a substantial difference in your electric bill?

        • The solar panels would pay for themselves in 7 to 10 years. The battery cost is tricky. If you were to install battery with solar (get federal credit) … You could possibly install a ~ 50kWh battery for around 10k (similar to generator cost). Depending on what you want to run, this could provide 1 to 3 days of back up with the solar panels replenishing it. And you could use the battery to also improve your solar ROI.

          Basically it is a big investment upfront, but in the long run should be comparable or cheaper than generator (especially considering the maintainance and fuel costs of the generator).

    • I put in solar panels a year ago but didn’t get the battery backup. It was to reduce my electric bill. I was looking at the gas generator as that is what we had on my mother’s home. Now I’m wondering if the solar battery a better option to tie in with the existing solar panels? Was it an easy install?

    • How big is your house? Do the solar panels generate enough power for summer time?

  15. Interesting account. Thank you. Would like to hear a bit more about noise and maintenance requirements. Also would be interested in alternative power sources–propane for the generator; viability for Tesla-like backup battery systems/with or without solar panels. I guess that’s enough for a separate blog, sorry;)

    • Once a week for between 5 and 10 minutes. I set mine to coincide when my yard is being cut.

    • It must vary because ours runs once a week for 20-25 minutes. We set ours for noon on Saturday. We figured the neighbors should be awake by then 🙂

  16. We installed a generator after Hurricane Ike. After 12 days without electricity, it’s easy to prioritize. Best home investment ever! We use propane.

  17. I had a generator installed during home construction and have found it is well worth the cost.

  18. We’ve had a Generac whole house generator on a concrete slab from Quality for several years. When we realized our home was going to flood during Harvey we went out and shut it off outside. No need for electricity in an evacuated flooded house. Flood waters ran through it and around it and when we were able to get back we called Quality and they came out to service it before turning it back on. Not a problem…..cranked right up! We were so happy to have it running our home during the Valentine freeze. We also have the service contract and Quality just comes and services it and checks it without our having to think about it. Highly recommend them.

    • Natural gas fueled generators (like the one described in this article) are connected to the home’s natural gas supply line. So long as Atmos (or whomever owns the natural gas service to the home) has fuel, the supply lasts. For propane or gasoline fueled generators, the answer is basically “how much fuel do you have on hand divided by the hourly consumption rate of the generator”.

  19. We bought our whole house generator after Harvey and the installation (on a concrete pad) went smoothly. We pay $444 for annual maintenance, which is worth it for us. During this year’s Winter Storm we “only” lost power for about 20 hours, but I was interested to see that the increase in our natural gas bill was only about $20, not a huge price to pay for the added comfort and safety.

  20. Thanks Eric! I live in a townhouse and have looked into smaller generators but there is a lot to study about them, and I’m not sure I have the expertise to understand them well. Would be great if you could do a column at some time about the smaller generators for townhomes and which ones seem to be the best for a townhouse that is all electric and no gas.

  21. I called Reliant about this and the person I spoke to told me that “their new partner on this was called Quality, and they had not been able to reach them on the phone. But here’s the number if you want to try.” I had a very bad feeling about this and abandoned the effort.

    • Call Grasten power technologies, they have been in the area for 13 years and they answer the phone 24/7 . They were awarded top 5 dealer in the country by Generac.

  22. I got a back up generator installed this month ..I did wait 6 months for the install ..I did not cover the whole house I was more concerned about cold weather and no AC in the hot weather ,,plus I am 70 yrs old and I know one day I probably will need power
    for medical needs ..before this I ran a gasoline powered generator to power the fridge and run a fan in the summer ..I did not like
    have to store and handle gasoline

  23. We bought one in late 2019, a Generac that looks identical to the one you pictured. We have two central heat & cooling systems in our home. During the big freeze we were able to keep our house warm with both heat units going as well as lights and TV. Since our home stayed warm we had no frozen pipes. Our power was off for 38 hours, we had little or no water pressure for 24 hours but were able to melt snow for flushing toilets and boil water for cooking/drinking. I highly recommend getting a generator in our area. If we lose power in the summer we will only be able to run one central AC Units since cooling takes more electricity, but that would feel like luxury if we were to lose power in a hurricane or storm.

  24. You are lucky to find a generator right now. Most are sold out and they do not know when they’ll get them back in stock

    • It depends upon the generator, but yes, some models can be adapted to run on propane. The process is sometimes referred to as “re-jetting” the generator (it involves adapting the fuel delivery mechanism in the engine intake).

  25. With the portable gasoline fueled generators the say never place it near a bedroom window. Does that restriction apply equally to a natural gas fueled generator?

    This is relevant to people who live in a townhome or patio home without lots of open space.

    • The concern about placement is because of the exhaust fumes, which can contain high levels of carbon monoxide (CO). Regardless of the fuel (gasoline, natural gas, propane) there is a risk, and the generator exhaust should be placed so that it does not enter the home.

    • Yes. I don’t remember specifics, but ours did have to be placed a least a certain number of feet from any windows or doors.

  26. We had a full-home 25KW generator installed for about $7500. There is always a comforting feeling when the power goes out and that generator kicks in automatically. When the freeze hit, every appliance, furnace, and other electric item were all available and fully functional. We never missed a beat and were grateful to provide a warm place for family and friends.

  27. We put in a similar Generac about 2 years ago. Saved our bacon during the freeze. Our neighbor and her cats came over to stay. Power in our neighborhood kicked on and of for five +days, some down times lasted over 12 hours. Our entire house was warm, and appliances worked. Pricey but worth it.

  28. There are many reputable companies in/around Houston for installation for a whole-house generator. I interviewed about 5 different companies and decided on the one that seemed the best for me – Fish Electric. They explained the whole process, the choreography between their installation and what would have to be done for changing the gas lines, the electric connections, etc. It was well worth the investment for them to provide a seamless, turnkey operation. I researched the two most common brands for this part of the country – both Generac and Kohler and went with the Kohler unit. Slightly more expensive, but rated better overall on dependability which is what you want with a generator, right? Do your research – talk with neighbors that have units and already had them for some time and get their recommendations. One other thing to consider: It is recommended that the oil level be checked every 8 hours when the unit is running continuously. Sometimes that can’t be done if it’s in the middle of a hurricane or pouring down rain. At any rate, it’s not completely care free, as it is like checking and possibly adding oil to your car, just more often if the unit is running. During the freeze (I was without power cumulatively for approx 48 hours), I did check my unit, added oil, etc. So – you may have to consider that too. I looked at the picture of the unit that Eric had posted and I wondered immediately how one would climb up to do the necessary maintenance since it was so high up.

  29. Best investment Ever..!! Mine was installed October 2020..,, kicked on during the power loss in February… it’s a costly investment BUT worth every penny especially in our area during storms,freezes etc.

  30. I had my generator installed last spring. My experience was similar to yours, smooth sailing although I used a different supplier Storm Guardian Generators, it includes the first year’s maintenance visits for free (2). While my neighbors were without power during the ice storm in February, I was nice and comfy. I did send a couple of thick gauge extension chords over the fence to my adjacent neighbors so they can at least can power the basics. It is a large investment but well worth it.

  31. Reliant/Quality installed our whole house generator 3 years ago. It was a sizeable investment, but we are very pleased with the Quality Group’s installation & maintenance. So much in fact, that Quality recently installed a water conditioning system. It also is a selling point when you decide to sell your home.

  32. Bought a Generac as well. After the freeze where ERCOT shut us down for 43 hours, I decided the generator wasn’t as expensive as I thought. Generator Supercenter in Tomball set me up and they delivered in 5 weeks when I thought it would be 5 months. Now I’m ready for hurricanes or ERCOT shutting us down again. That can happen in the summer too folks.

  33. Home generators are great but keep in mind that this last freeze gas supply was also effected. So definitely way the cost and gas availability.

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