As smart, internet-connected technologies proliferate throughout the home, savvy homeowners expect to be able to monitor and control vital home systems.
Standby generators are no exception. In the last few years, generator manufacturers have rolled out mobile-app monitoring systems to reassure owners that their system is primed for action should the power grid go down. Cellular options such as Kohler’s OnCue, Briggs & Stratton’s Infohub, and Mobile Link by Generac alert customers like clockwork when self-diagnostics are run, when it’s time for maintenance, and when the power goes out and their backup kicks in.
For builders and remodelers, touting these new technologies provides another way to start the conversation with homeowners about how their home is protected in the case of an unexpected outage. And that’s particularly true now for homeowners using propane, as the newest development is a mobile app feature that tells owners how much propane is in the tank. In a service set to roll out this summer, Generac’s Mobile Link will sync with technology from Tank Utility, which provides propane monitoring for both consumers and fuel delivery companies through its own mobile app and cloud platform.
“A propane tank is typically separate from the generator because it’s a pressure vessel,” says Amos Epstein, CEO of Tank Utility. “Generator monitoring systems don’t touch the tank. This partnership allows consumers to view their propane levels through Tank Utility in the Generac Mobile Link.” Generac dealers will sell and install the service, using a device that attaches to the tank with a magnetic mount.
“People are buying reliable power when they purchase a generator, and the reliability of the system may include a propane tank,” says Tony Pisani, Generac’s senior manager of strategy and technology for remote monitoring. By pairing the two products, “we’re democratizing the information for consumers, and distributors have better information to service their customers.”
Standby generator monitoring in the commercial and industrial world has long been standard because of the critical systems they power, says Brian Northway, product manager for Briggs & Stratton standby generators. But it wasn’t that long ago that residential customers had to walk out to their generator and lift the lid to make sure the indicator light was on. As electronics have evolved, so has the demand for instant information. “The first iteration of home monitoring was to apply commercial-grade monitoring to the home,” Northway says. “Where the industry missed was in the overload of information to the customer. There were too many things to adjust that only experts should be doing, so we started paring it back.”
Many Briggs & Stratton customers opt to pay the monthly fee for cellular monitoring, since Wi-Fi goes down during a power outage. However, Northway says that Wi-Fi technology is starting to emerge with battery backup or a cellular chip in the router. As the residential market for standby generators grows, he predicts standard Wi-Fi with cellular backup will become the norm.
That’s good news for owners, especially those who have generators on second homes. John Taggart, principal of Power Now, a Briggs & Stratton dealer in Cypress, Texas, tells customers that a 250-gallon propane tank will run continuously for five to seven days, depending on the load and outdoor temperatures. “We love propane; it makes the generators run much better,” he says. “A typical 20-kilowatt generator will produce 17 to 18 kilowatts on natural gas and 20 kilowatts on propane.”
Taggart estimates that roughly 15 percent of his residential customers use the company’s cellular monitoring system. For him, the technology is a no-brainer. “It’s a 30-minute job to wire in the monitor equipment and another five minutes to program it on a computer back at the office,” he says. “When the generator exercises, it sends them a text; when power is out, it sends them a text. The ones who have it love it.”