Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

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hornet96
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Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:38 pm

I know there have been plenty of posts in recent years about whole-house generators, and I have read through most of them. To summarize, we are looking at getting one installed after having several multiple-day power outages on my street in the last two years, and were just informed my the power company that their project to bury the power lines has been suspended indefinitely. We are fortunate in that we can easily afford a whole-house system and are have already made a decision to go that route. I know that it's a luxury item and not really an investment that would necessarily add any value to the house.

I have received quotes from three different contractors thus far, which are summarized below (all will be powered via Natural Gas, so I know to subtract 2kw from the rated capacity below). A 16kw to 20kw unit will power everything in the house with some headroom; smaller units would need a load-shedding system for my house.
  • Generac - 16kw system with 200 amp Automatic Transfer Switch ("ATS"): $9,925
  • Briggs & Stratton: 12kw system with Symphony Power Management and 200 amp ATS: $10,826
  • Briggs & Stratton: 20kw system with 200 amp ATS: $11,489
  • Kohler: 14kw system with load shedding control and 200 amp ATS: $13,565
  • Kohler: 20kw system with 200 amp ATS: $14,130
ETA: Upon further discussion, the 20kw Kohler quote was revised down to $13K.
See this post


Questions:

1. Do these quotes generally seem reasonable for the mid-atlantic region (VHCOL)?

2. It seems that the vast majority of posters here (and folks around my neighborhood) have Generacs. Have you been happy with yours, or are there any particular quality/reliability concerns I should be aware of? Based on the interwebs, it seems that they are more cheaply made than the others (unstable power, excessive THD causing issues with electronics, etc.). But I don't know if that's really true.

3. Does anyone have experience with a Briggs & Stratton generator? I haven't seen much discussion on those units here at Bogleheads.

4. It seems that Kohler is the "premium" brand in this market. Is there any reason I should pay $4-$5K more for their unit compared to the others? (i.e. better service, longer expected life....other?)

5. Are there any other brands that would be worth my time in considering (e.g. Champion, Cummins/Onan, etc.)?

6. Finally, I had considered getting a smaller unit and using a load-shedding module, but it seems like the install costs are materially the same as the larger units (see above). Is there any reason (besides lower fuel consumption) I should still go with a smaller system in this case?

7. Anything else I'm not thinking about?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!
Last edited by hornet96 on Thu Aug 15, 2019 12:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

HomeStretch
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by HomeStretch » Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:47 pm

Are the more expensive Kohler quotes “apples-to-apples” with the other quotes?

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by megabad » Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:51 pm

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:38 pm
2. It seems that the vast majority of posters here (and folks around my neighborhood) have Generacs. Have you been happy with yours, or are there any particular quality/reliability concerns I should be aware of? Based on the interwebs, it seems that they are more cheaply made than the others (unstable power, excessive THD causing issues with electronics, etc.). But I don't know if that's really true.
I don't have a home generator, but at work we have these huge, ancient beasts that crank random voltages to the servers in our tiny little on site server room. The power supplies would shut down randomly when on generator power. I just told the techs to buy a bunch of TrippLite line conditioners. Never had a problem since. I think they run 100-150 a piece.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:53 pm

HomeStretch wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:47 pm
Are the more expensive Kohler quotes “apples-to-apples” with the other quotes?
As far as I can tell, yes. Both the Generac and Kohler quotes are “turn key” installations (they basically handle everything and the systems look comparable to me). The Briggs quote more or less is also turn key as far as I can tell, although to be honest they were the least detailed in their estimate and seemed a little less organized than the other two.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Ron » Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:33 pm

We had our Honeywell 20Kw unit installed five years ago. Generac/Honeywell have a cross-marketing agreement (since Honeywell makes the transfer switch) and the only thing that is labeled "Honeywell" is the logo on the outer skin. All internal parts are actually Generac.

The cost at that time for the unit, including the 200 amp switch, four load shedding modules and the services of an electrician and helper for 3.5 days cost us $9K.

We also spent an additional $9K to have a 500 gallon underground LP tank installed, with all the excavation, gas lines, and landscaping done to restore the lawn to its original shape.

Within about a one block circumference of our home, there are currently eight whole-house automatic generators (yes, we get our share of outages :| ). Seven are Generac, one is Kohler. The one thing that Kohler has an advantage is that the valves are hydraulic rather than solid. The Generac needs to have the valve lash adjusted after the first season, where the Kohler does not. Other than the original adjustment, I have not had to have the valves adjusted; we do have it serviced once a year. Many take care of their own maintenance, changing the oil and oil/air filters. However I want a "once over" annually to make sure the battery, gas pressure, and any other maintenance items are covered. I consider it cheap insurance to ensure that we have electric service (in an all electric home) regardless of the time of year.

FWIW,

- Ron

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Vanguard Fan 1367 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:38 pm

I have a Generac and it helped me get through a hurricane related power shortage in FL in 2017. We have fairly common short power outages and it is nice to have it kick on for those also.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by TomatoTomahto » Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:51 pm

I had a Koehler 20kw natural gas at our old house that was dependable and quiet. I bought a house with a Generac 8kw propane generator that is undependable and loud. The last thing you want to do when it’s polar vortex time is repeatedly try to get the generator cranking; it does eventually start. Funny thing, it always starts for the weekly test run and 6 month maintenance.

Small sample size, but if I were doing it myself, I’d spring for the Koehler. Since the generator is our second line of defense (solar + 32 kw battery is first line), I’ll keep it. If I relied on it, I’d replace it with a 20kw Koehler.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:55 pm

Our Generac has been problem-free since it was installed in 2013. We also live in the Mid Atlantic, and our total costs were about $11k, including 500 gallon propane tank, propane tank plumbing, and initial fill of propane.

Andy.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by umfan11244 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:22 pm

Is there a reason you're not looking at Cummins?

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:35 pm

umfan11244 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:22 pm
Is there a reason you're not looking at Cummins?
Not necessarily. I've gotten three quotes so far but am open to other suggestions if there is a compelling price/value reason to do so.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:39 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 1:51 pm
I had a Koehler 20kw natural gas at our old house that was dependable and quiet. I bought a house with a Generac 8kw propane generator that is undependable and loud. The last thing you want to do when it’s polar vortex time is repeatedly try to get the generator cranking; it does eventually start. Funny thing, it always starts for the weekly test run and 6 month maintenance.

Small sample size, but if I were doing it myself, I’d spring for the Koehler. Since the generator is our second line of defense (solar + 32 kw battery is first line), I’ll keep it. If I relied on it, I’d replace it with a 20kw Koehler.
Thanks Tomato! I seem to recall your participation in another thread, where you recommended the Kohler. My instinct tells me that it probably is a higher quality/more dependable unit, but am not sure if that quality is worth over 40% more for something that will (hopefully) be used sparingly. Then again, I take your point about not wanting to deal with issues in the middle of a polar vortex....
Last edited by hornet96 on Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Jim21713 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:39 pm

22Kw propane powered Generac installed in October 2014 at a total installed cost of $7300 in mid Maryland. Has been trouble free so far and usually is needed 3 or 4 times a year.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by umfan11244 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:41 pm

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:35 pm
umfan11244 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:22 pm
Is there a reason you're not looking at Cummins?
Not necessarily. I've gotten three quotes so far but am open to other suggestions if there is a compelling price/value reason to do so.
Honestly - the compelling reason would be that Cummins is the industry leader in all things diesel. They have been for quite a while. The 20KW system runs around $4500. I can't imagine your total install quote wouldn't be competitive with the others you have listed. May be worth looking into.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by glock19 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:18 pm

I installed a 22KW Nat Gas Generac about 18 months ago. I can't comment on your pricing because I did the install myself. The unit has worked every time we have had a power outage, but unfortunately, that is about the only positive thing I can say about it.

Generac generators produced over the past 3 years are not the quality of the older ones. While I will not go into the many issues I've had, the most frustrating aspect of the matter is Generac Customer Service, or lack thereof. I do realize since I was the installer, I took on a lot of warranty responsibility, and I understand Generac has no idea of my install techniques or ability to diagnose problems.

Basically, if you have a warranty issue it is handled through a servicing dealer, not Generac. They will not speak with you concerning anything but the most minor issue. I have been fortunate in that the third dealer that I requested to provide warranty work for me has been outstanding. Even though I did not purchase the unit from them they helped me get a brand new generator from Generac after I had the first one 8 months. Neither Generac or the dealer could get the generator to run correctly due to incorrect air/gas mixture issues.

Sadly, I had about the same issues with the second generator, but the good news is that after much personal research I think I may be on the verge of solving my problems.

I will close with saying the nice folks at the dealership that has helped me sell both Generac and Kohler. They claim to have much less problems with the Kohler units, and say that Kohler as a company is a dream to work with as opposed to Generac.

Pardon the rant here, but I just needed a platform to air my grievances. And remember YMMV.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by dpm321 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:40 pm

We're in southern New Hampshire, just north of Boston. After researching Kohler and Genrac, we installed a 14KW Kohler with load shedding circuitry and transfer panel for $7500 in 2016. One of the things that attracted me to Kohler is the fact that they make their own engines. Also, the construction is clearly superior to Genrac. The generator has gotten a lot of use, primarily in winter, and we have had zero issues with it. I'd definitely recommend Kohler over Genrac

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by ResearchMed » Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:46 pm

We've got a natural gas Generac. and it's hard to believe we've had it for more than a decade.

We had had several neighborhood power outages here, and the "utilities" were constantly digging up the street, almost always with zero notice.
And then there was hurricane Sandy. That didn't affect us, but it sort of put the fear of the Weather Gods in us.
We have a sump pump protecting an almost fully finished and furnished lower level. It's walk-out at one end, but not the other.
When we moved in, we had a dual battery backup put in, but... that's not going to last for "days", not even close, not without more batteries than we wanted, etc.
Plus, that would ONLY cover the sump pump... what about the pipes freezing if there is an extended winter storm, etc.?

So we had our HVAC "guy" get us an estimate. He's worked for us for quite sometime. We didn't think to do comps, which was foolish in retrospect. Fortunately, our little Generac has worked like a charm thus far.
In fact, IF we had done comps, we may well have paid more for a different brand, but we've had pretty much flawless performance from the Generac. I can't think of any complaint (and I rarely say that, ahem).

We HAVE had occasionally additional power outages, and the Generac worked just fine. We also have an automatic transfer, in part so we don't have to bother, but also because we travel, so if we aren't "here", we still want that generator to kick in, of course.

Ours probably isn't sufficient for "everything" if that includes the AC, so we didn't have that connected.
We plan to have the wiring changed to load shedding capabilities, so we could keep most of the rest "off" IF we wanted the AC. We didn't know about that, then (or perhaps I didn't understand when they were explaining various choices?).

Our main concern was, first, that sump pump (dual backup), and second, safety issues such as stairwells. And as long as we've got a generator, well, might as well get one TV and some reading lights, etc. We also included the main fridge/freezer and the microwave, but not the electric dryer or electric ovens. The stove is gas.
It's also connected to the electrical thermostats and the electric starters, even though both furnaces are gas.
The generator could clearly handle some of those, which is why we'll have the wiring redone.

We are surprised that apparently *none* of our neighbors have generators, for the stupid utilities or for heavy weather, even though this is a relatively affluent area (we are the "little house" in the neighborhood).
When there are outages, there's not a single other light on in any house nearby, as best we can tell.

It IS noisy. There is only one neighbor who would would be affected, and he's never complained. (Maybe he actually cannot hear it inside, as he's the cranky type...)
OTOH, we have a very old house, with single pane windows, and a window just above the generator. But this isn't something we are using as our regular power source, after all.
DH and I initially joked how the neighbors might come over during a long outage, at the least to charge their cell phones/laptops/etc.

It felt like a lot of money at the time (price range similar to your quotes), but now, quite a few years later, we feel that it was a VERY good decision, just for convenience. We haven't yet *needed* it for severe weather complications, but... that could happen at any time.

It does a weekly self-test, and because we aren't always home at that time (or even that day, etc.), we've got it set to send us a text message about the status. That's been reassuring, too, and minimal cost for that set up. (We'll be changing the phone numbers to add the new maintenance company, too.)

Thus far, the ONLY problem is that when snow slides off the roof, it can bury the unit, which would deprive it of oxygen, presumably.
So we arranged for our snow plow "guy" to shovel a narrow path to it, and then keep it clear, especially where there are vents. We keep considering having some little temporary "shed" built, but... haven't done anything like that. [Sheesh, some neighbors had little plywood tents over some special bushes; this is more important, so we probably *should* do it...]

Don't forget to have a nice solid/thick concrete pad installed to mount it on. I assume that's standard (?)

RM
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by ychuck46 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:49 pm

Live in TN. We have had a whole house Generac (20Kw) for about four years now, also tied into the natural gas line. It has worked flawlessly so I am really big on them. Our local installer also offers Kohler but I believe the vast majority of people still go with Generac. The price seems reasonable depending upon how much work they need to do. As a sidelight, we installed ours just a few months before a major ice storm in our area that left our street w/o power for 2-3 days, and some surrounding areas for 2-3 weeks. After the dust settled a number of our neighbors put in Generacs.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by aquaman » Mon Jul 29, 2019 5:50 pm

I've had our Briggs and Stratton standby generator with an automatic transfer switch and Symphony Power Management System for about a dozen years now. It is a natural gas powered one and has its famous Vanguard engine, which has never given us any trouble and has always performed flawlessly.

Our neighbor has a Kohler standby generator and also has never had any issues with it.
Last edited by aquaman on Wed Jul 31, 2019 8:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:09 pm

glock19 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:18 pm
Generac generators produced over the past 3 years are not the quality of the older ones. While I will not go into the many issues I've had, the most frustrating aspect of the matter is Generac Customer Service, or lack thereof.
Thanks for your feedback; this is exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about. Not only quality of the unit, but the quality of service. Seems like things have changed with Generac over the past few years.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by 9liner » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:09 pm

Your price seems reasonable. I am in the process of installing a 22kw Generac. I am in Maryland and paying $9233 which includes an "all in" installation by a Generac Dealer and a 10-year warranty. I just missed a Generac promotion which ended on June 30th which was giving out free 10-year warranties.

Do you plan on paying for a service contract? I'm curious as to how many generator owners have service contracts to maintain the generator. I've read conflicting information as to whether or not a service contract is required to maintain the warranty. Some literature says yes some say "evidence" of preventative maintenance. I could certainly do the maintenance myself as long as it doesn't have warranty implications.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:14 pm

dpm321 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:40 pm
We're in southern New Hampshire, just north of Boston. After researching Kohler and Genrac, we installed a 14KW Kohler with load shedding circuitry and transfer panel for $7500 in 2016. One of the things that attracted me to Kohler is the fact that they make their own engines. Also, the construction is clearly superior to Genrac. The generator has gotten a lot of use, primarily in winter, and we have had zero issues with it. I'd definitely recommend Kohler over Genrac
I was wondering about the engine manufacturing. Seems hard to find much current manufacturing info online without diving into electrician forums and the like. Did you also get the cold weather package? My tech actually says it’s not necessary for my location (DC area).

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by fru-gal » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:14 pm

I had a 16kW Generac, whole house transfer switch (I forget what this means), cement base, group 26r battery for standby generator (what this is I have no idea :-), cold weather kit, wireless load shed module (I think this is the thing that turns off the air conditioning if the house tries to draw too much power), wiring, plumbing for gas line, permits, delivery, installation, 1 year maintenance for $7800.

It has a module to communicate wirelessly, but I don't have wireless yet.

This is in Rhode Island.

It's gone on once for a power failure for 10-15 minutes, seemed to work okay. Does a weekly five minute test.

It is quite loud, however.

I have no complaints about customer service. I called them once because it possibly sounded odd to me during a test, but it actually was fine. They were out at the house within 2-3 hours. It is a Mom and Pop family business, so perhaps that matters to customer service.
Last edited by fru-gal on Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:17 pm

9liner wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:09 pm

Do you plan on paying for a service contract?
Probably, just to be safe. I can certainly do most of the basic maintenance myself as well (oil changes and the like), but this is one of those items that you want to know has been serviced properly, so it’s absolutely ready to work when needed.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by 9liner » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:26 pm

I was wondering about the engine manufacturing. Seems hard to find much current manufacturing info online without diving into electrician forums and the like. Did you also get the cold weather package? My tech actually says it’s not necessary for my location (DC area).
I was told the same. Not necessary for MD/DC.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by fru-gal » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:27 pm

Maintenance for mine will be $395 after the first year.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by fru-gal » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:29 pm

9liner wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:26 pm
I was wondering about the engine manufacturing. Seems hard to find much current manufacturing info online without diving into electrician forums and the like. Did you also get the cold weather package? My tech actually says it’s not necessary for my location (DC area).
I was told the same. Not necessary for MD/DC.
Have I or have I not seen pictures of DC snowed in.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by aquaman » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:00 pm

fru-gal wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:27 pm
Maintenance for mine will be $395 after the first year.
Perhaps they have it confused with a Maserati :mrgreen:

At least for my Briggs standby generator, I buy an OEM generator maintenance kit (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000O ... UTF8&psc=1) and then pay my handyman $40 to service it. We have low annual hours on ours, so all the maintenance techs have said that it's perfectly safe to service it every 2 years instead of 1 (the manual recommends annual service at 100 hours or once a year; 20 minute/week auto startup amounts to 17 hours per year; with periodic power outages, we end up with a grand total of 50 hours/year, so once every 2 years or so is safe). To be on the safe side, I get the generator battery replaced every 4 years or so. YMMV.

If I were to have a dealer come out, they'd also charge about $400, use the exact same OEM maintenance kit and perform the exact same service.
Last edited by aquaman on Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by 9liner » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:09 pm

fru-gal wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:29 pm
9liner wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:26 pm
I was wondering about the engine manufacturing. Seems hard to find much current manufacturing info online without diving into electrician forums and the like. Did you also get the cold weather package? My tech actually says it’s not necessary for my location (DC area).
I was told the same. Not necessary for MD/DC.
Have I or have I not seen pictures of DC snowed in.
It has nothing to do with snow, rather, sustained cold temperatures normally below 10 degrees. I would trust my dealer when he says he installs 25-30 per month in my area and never installs a cold-weather kit. This would otherwise be an easy source of profit for the dealer.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Bacchus01 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:21 pm

They are all going to be pretty good.

Kohler now uses alum housings that not only resist corrosion but are generally quieter than Generac.

Kohler is the only one that uses a U.S. built engine in their own factory. The rest use a Chinese engine that is bought. You decide if that’s imortant to you, but it is to many.

Cummins is a small player in this space and their Diesel business doesn’t really translate here as the unit you are looking at is not Diesel and is built with a Chinese Zongshen engine.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Boglegrappler » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm

I've had two whole house units at different locations. One was a Cummins Onan, and the other (current) a Kohler.

Both had initial issues. The Cummins transfer switch had a defective exerciser module that was dead on arrival when installed. It also had a unit in the generator that was somehow "fried" by a lightning strike in the general vicinity (but not direct), and required replacement. After that it ran just fine through several multiday outages, including one that lasted over a week.

The Kohler also had an issue with throwing a "low coolant" code that prevented it from starting up. After some fiddling around with various fixes, the coolant sensor was replaced and it's worked fine for over five years now.

You should be aware that if you are in an area prone to storms that knock out power for many people at a time, and if generators are prevalent in your area, the generator companies have a big problem responding to service calls when everyone's generator is running. They just don't have the staff to support their installed base. It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself. Obviously that's not always possible.

I avoided Generac when I bought because of reports of engine issue with oil consumption. Apparently it used to be that you needed to monitor the oil level closely if there was an extended run period. Maybe that's changed.

The Kohler and the Cummins both used a generic GM engine. I don't think Kohler made it. They buy it from an engine customizer shop. Its a pretty straightforward, reliable engine. The issues arise, when they do, from the electronics that control the startup and changeover switch.

Edited to add: The Cummins exhaust was up a pipe that extended upwards. The Kohler comes out a corner through baffles. The Kohler exhaust doesnt seem to agree with vegetation shielding the unit.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm

Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Gray » Mon Jul 29, 2019 8:31 pm

Our house came with a 11kw Generac connected to a nat gas line. It runs half the place, all the bathrooms, Internet, sump pumps, water heater, fridge, priority areas, including furnace heat, but not AC. We have a 10 yr warranty and have it serviced annually—new spark plugs, oil/filter, etc. No complaints.

I don’t pay for a service contract. I just pay a company $250 once a year to do the maintenance.

clutchied
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by clutchied » Mon Jul 29, 2019 11:47 pm

Bought a 20kW Honeywell/generac generator with 200 amp transfer for $3500 from Costco on sale. Hired a full service electrician and plumber to pipe and wire it in for $2700 all in with permits and one load shed.

They were done in a day and my power hasn't gone out in 6 months.... My wife loves it.

smectym
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by smectym » Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:40 am

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:35 pm
umfan11244 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:22 pm
Is there a reason you're not looking at Cummins?
Not necessarily. I've gotten three quotes so far but am open to other suggestions if there is a compelling price/value reason to do so.
Agree with the point behind the query: Cummins is a recognized leader in full-house home generators. So to exclude Cummins from ones shopping list flags an information deficit.

We live in a rural area subject to frequent outages. In 2011 we installed the notorious “Cummins Onan,” fed by a 500-gallon underground propane tank.

It has saved us on numerous occcasions, from epochal several-day outages related to snowfall or windstorms, to recent short but frequent and annoying “planned outages” by the local electric company to facilitate upgrades etc.

When your power goes out, the unit waits 3 seconds—then bang, your power is back. You did not go out to turn on the generator; it turned itself on. Your kids are not scared; you’re not scrambling for the flashlight. The generator powers the entire house: you can turn on all the lights and run the stove and boil water and watch TV and play video games or anything else, and with a 500 gallon tank you can probably do that for about two weeks; and the propane company is on call for a refill should circumstances require. Should no outage occur for a long time, propane is stable and does not degrade.

The entire installation was expensive but <$20K. In my opinion, if you’re in a situation where you can expect frequent outages, and the cost is not an insuperable obstacle, I’d recommend. If you’re the one who said “let’s do this,” I guarantee your family members will remember that and thank you when the first outage hits.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by smitcat » Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:46 am

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm
Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
Make sure your plan includes fuel - during Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast we lost most sources of both propane and natural gas in the first day or so of a 12 day outage. The larger the genset the thirstier it is so fuel becomes a big part of the planning.

NotHardly
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by NotHardly » Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:46 am

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:38 pm
I know there have been plenty of posts in recent years about whole-house generators, and I have read through most of them. To summarize, we are looking at getting one installed after having several multiple-day power outages on my street in the last two years, and were just informed my the power company that their project to bury the power lines has been suspended indefinitely. We are fortunate in that we can easily afford a whole-house system and are have already made a decision to go that route. I know that it's a luxury item and not really an investment that would necessarily add any value to the house.
If your generator is likely to run for multiple days as mentioned above, I would definitely consider a liquid cooled system.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by Boglegrappler » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:08 am

I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
The Kohler is pretty easy, imo, to grasp. On the transfer switch panel, there are a couple of button functions that allow you to reset the exercise time, and to determine whether the exercise occurs "offline" (transfer relay doesn't trip, so house stays on street power source), or "online"( transfer relay switches so generator runs the house during the exercise period--usually 20 minutes). Inside the generator enclosure is another control panel with an LCD display that you can toggle through to show recent faults, and a history log. It requires a little experience to understand it, but not bad for technically competent people. You can find the operator manuals online.

The good news is that, since you usually are on a one or two week "exercise" routine, most problems will show up then, and you can get them fixed before the true need for the generator arises. It did take a couple of service visits before we got the coolant sensor replaced.
Make sure your plan includes fuel - during Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast we lost most sources of both propane and natural gas in the first day or so of a 12 day outage. The larger the genset the thirstier it is so fuel becomes a big part of the planning.
This is important. We run off propane, and I have a 400 gallon tank installed. My neighbor, who was on planning and zoning wanted to explain to me why I didn't need one that large. He was a bit of a tree hugger who thought he know what everyone else ought to do. I noted that I wanted a generator that would back me up for true catastrophes, and not just for a day or two outage. Having a longer supply also means you don't get as readily gouged by the propane company if they have to deliver to you in a crisis time. My tank will run me for over a week, 24 hours a day. If you have a Sandy-storm type situation where the outside temperature allows you to shut it down overnight, you can make two weeks without a delivery, assuming you start with a full tank.

After your installation, you will need to consider which neighbors you will invite over to stay or shower in the event of extended outages. I'm aware that Sandy took certain areas out for about a week and a half, and longer than that for landline telephone and cable tv service, depending on the specific location.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by fru-gal » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:14 am

smitcat wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:46 am
hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm
Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
Make sure your plan includes fuel - during Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast we lost most sources of both propane and natural gas in the first day or so of a 12 day outage. The larger the genset the thirstier it is so fuel becomes a big part of the planning.
Hopefully not famous last words. I live in the NorthEast, and in the 15 years since I moved back here, there has not been a natural gas outage in my area, including during Sandy, which took power down for almost a week, cell phones and FIOS out.

fru-gal
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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by fru-gal » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:20 am

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm
Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
When my Generac was installed, the installer went over the procedures (messing with switches, etc.) for how to start things up again if the generator had shut down due to overload, and I carefully wrote all that down. His son who is taking over the business came out later and said Forget that stuff, if it shuts down due to overload and you reduce the load enough, it will come back on by itself in 5-10 minutes.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by smitcat » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:25 am

fru-gal wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:14 am
smitcat wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:46 am
hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm
Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
Make sure your plan includes fuel - during Hurricane Sandy here in the Northeast we lost most sources of both propane and natural gas in the first day or so of a 12 day outage. The larger the genset the thirstier it is so fuel becomes a big part of the planning.
Hopefully not famous last words. I live in the NorthEast, and in the 15 years since I moved back here, there has not been a natural gas outage in my area, including during Sandy, which took power down for almost a week, cell phones and FIOS out.
The natural gas failures were quick and widespread in most areas near us.
The natural gas pressurized system relies entirely on electric power from the grid for its dryers and pressurized system.
Once the grid experiences a failure the system begins having problems with water condensation in the gas , shortly after that the pressure will fall below distribution levels and shutoffs begin to close.
Even many days after the longer outage by Sandy (8 tp 22 days + dependent upon location) the water in the system caused all sorts of gas utility failures in homes that required service calls to correct.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by smitcat » Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:29 am

fru-gal wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:20 am
hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:58 pm
Just wanted to thank everyone for your responses so far. I knew I could count on the Bogleheads for good, straightforward feedback!
Boglegrappler wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 pm
It's somewhat important, IMO, to be able to troubleshoot basic operations and reset fault codes yourself.
I couldn’t agree more. I am definitely the type that wants to learn how his stuff works, at least to a degree, so that I can address the basic issues myself as they arise. Perhaps that raises another question: For your Kohler, how easy is it to find (and understand) documentation on things like fault codes, and what needs to be done in order to fix them?
When my Generac was installed, the installer went over the procedures (messing with switches, etc.) for how to start things up again if the generator had shut down due to overload, and I carefully wrote all that down. His son who is taking over the business came out later and said Forget that stuff, if it shuts down due to overload and you reduce the load enough, it will come back on by itself in 5-10 minutes.
When you have long term outages getting any sorts of service for these gensets becomes problematic.
In cased where you really want to have a secure backup it is important to know all areas of the machinery you have , have spares parts including oil changes, batts, solenoids etc and have the tools and knowhow to handle these tasks.
I am familiar with this as I have been a person who has been called when these gensets fail to operate during any 'extended' outage.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by aquaman » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:34 am

smitcat wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:29 am
When you have long term outages getting any sorts of service for these gensets becomes problematic. In cased where you really want to have a secure backup it is important to know all areas of the machinery you have , have spares parts including oil changes, batts, solenoids etc and have the tools and knowhow to handle these tasks.
I am familiar with this as I have been a person who has been called when these gensets fail to operate during any 'extended' outage.
That's a very good point. Since you are supposed to change the oil every 100 hours, an extended outage would cause you to exceed that time period. The service itself is very simple and does not require any particular expertise, but the parts may not be readily available during an extended outage.

I'll get an extra OEM maintenance kit and keep it around. This way, if there's ever an extended outage, I'll be protected. The OEM kit is only $50, so it's cheap insurance.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by queso » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:45 am

We have had a 20kw Kohler for about 3 years in the same metro area that you are in. I do all the maintenance myself with the Kohler annual maintenance kits sourced online (oil, oil filter, spark plugs and air filter). I keep 3-4 of them on hand for reasons the others posted up-thread (prolonged outage exceeding hourly service interval, etc.). No complaints whatsoever about the unit. It has worked flawlessly during weekly tests, has always started right away when we lose power and is easy to work on/maintain. If we move I'll probably buy another.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by smitcat » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:48 am

aquaman wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:34 am
smitcat wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:29 am
When you have long term outages getting any sorts of service for these gensets becomes problematic. In cased where you really want to have a secure backup it is important to know all areas of the machinery you have , have spares parts including oil changes, batts, solenoids etc and have the tools and knowhow to handle these tasks.
I am familiar with this as I have been a person who has been called when these gensets fail to operate during any 'extended' outage.
That's a very good point. Since you are supposed to change the oil every 100 hours, an extended outage would cause you to exceed that time period. The service itself is very simple and does not require any particular expertise, but the parts may not be readily available during an extended outage.

I'll get an extra OEM maintenance kit and keep it around. This way, if there's ever an extended outage, I'll be protected. The OEM kit is only $50, so it's cheap insurance.
FWIW - I keep spare oil filters in zip lock bags, spare spark plugs in zip lock, air filters, a method to jump a battery, and standard 'fail oriented' parts for the unit , spare oil in suitable sized containers. Any tools and supplies needed for the tasks needs to be there ahead of time as well.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by queso » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:52 am

Forgot to comment on the price. That seems reasonable for the DC area. Mine was a little cheaper (around 12k if memory serves), but that was a few years ago. That was for the genset, transfer switch and install. I think having Washington Gas out to install a split meter was like an additional $300 or so (so just under $13k all in).

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by ddurrett896 » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:11 am

hornet96 wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 12:38 pm
several multiple-day power outages on my street in the last two years, and were just informed my the power company that their project to bury the power lines has been suspended indefinitely.
We have above ground and while easier to knock down, it's also easier to located and fix vs underground lines. Plus they pose a risk to people so quickly fixed.

Do you plan on moving? If so, would you even consider a portable generator? They can be had for under $1,000 and can move house to house. (12) 5 gallons cost $300,filled once a year and stored a shed. Dump in car if not used.

Like other have said, natural gas can fail and leave you powerless. With gasoline, you are good plus the generator isn't tied to the home. If the whole home is the only option, look into having a propane tank buried.

Friend of mine has 500 gallons half buried and the top half surrounded by shrubs so you can't see.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by aquaman » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:34 am

ddurrett896 wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:11 am
Do you plan on moving? If so, would you even consider a portable generator? They can be had for under $1,000 and can move house to house. (12) 5 gallons cost $300,filled once a year and stored a shed. Dump in car if not used.

Like other have said, natural gas can fail and leave you powerless. With gasoline, you are good plus the generator isn't tied to the home. If the whole home is the only option, look into having a propane tank buried.

Friend of mine has 500 gallons half buried and the top half surrounded by shrubs so you can't see.
Although natural gas supply disruptions can happen, the likelihood of this happening is infinitely lower than the gasoline supply disruptions. It's not even a fair comparison.

A portable generator is fine in a pinch, but it's a far more inferior option to a standby generator with an automatic transfer switch. A portable generator is a lot cheaper, but that's where its advantages end.
Last edited by aquaman on Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:42 am

aquaman wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:34 am
ddurrett896 wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:11 am
Do you plan on moving? If so, would you even consider a portable generator? They can be had for under $1,000 and can move house to house. (12) 5 gallons cost $300,filled once a year and stored a shed. Dump in car if not used.

Like other have said, natural gas can fail and leave you powerless. With gasoline, you are good plus the generator isn't tied to the home. If the whole home is the only option, look into having a propane tank buried.

Friend of mine has 500 gallons half buried and the top half surrounded by shrubs so you can't see.
Although natural gas disruptions can happen, the likelihood of this happening is infinitely lower than the gasoline supply disruptions. It's not even a fair comparison.

A portable generator is fine in a pinch, it's a far more inferior option to a standby generator with an automatic transfer switch. A portable generator is a lot cheaper, but that's where its advantages end.
My thoughts exactly. I'm not nearly as worried as some are about a significant disruption in natural gas supplies. Not saying it can't happen, of course, but to me that risk is not worth the added significant costs and hassle of having a propane tank installed as a secondary fuel source, just in case the natural gas black swan happens. I am basically looking to reasonably insure against the outages that I know happen quite frequently, rather than every possible black swan risk that is out there.

While it's possible we will move someday, we have no plans to do so for the foreseeable future. We have a child who will be starting kindergarten next year, which was a significant factor in deciding where to buy our house in the first place.

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:53 am

ddurrett896 wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:11 am
We have above ground and while easier to knock down, it's also easier to located and fix vs underground lines. Plus they pose a risk to people so quickly fixed.
I would also argue the opposite, based on very recent experience from a couple of months ago. It took the power company two days to clear out the fallen trees and debris behind my property, locate and clean up a downed transformer, drive their bobcats through my yard ( :annoyed ) to install a new pole and transformer, and finally restore power to our block. If the lines had been buried and the transformer(s) placed on the front sides of the houses, the trees wouldn't have knocked them out in the first place. But if there was a problem for some reason, they could have just parked in front of my house and fixed everything from the street instead.

All of that said, and without intending to change the direction of this thread, I recognize that locating the problem spot could in theory be harder if the lines are buried. But based on what I saw with the recent storm damage, I think that premise is questionable. I do, however, believe that burying the lines wouldn't necessarily solve all of our neighborhood outage problems, as the entire system around our area would need to be buried in order to be truly "immune" from downed power lines causing outages. (Using the word "immune" loosely of course.)

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Re: Whole-house generators - Generac, Kohler, or Briggs?

Post by hornet96 » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:56 am

queso wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:45 am
We have had a 20kw Kohler for about 3 years in the same metro area that you are in. I do all the maintenance myself with the Kohler annual maintenance kits sourced online (oil, oil filter, spark plugs and air filter). I keep 3-4 of them on hand for reasons the others posted up-thread (prolonged outage exceeding hourly service interval, etc.). No complaints whatsoever about the unit. It has worked flawlessly during weekly tests, has always started right away when we lose power and is easy to work on/maintain. If we move I'll probably buy another.
Thanks for the info Queso! Did you also shop any other brands (Generac, Briggs, others)? If so, what made you decide it was presumably worth spending more on the Kohler?

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