A whole house generator is an amazing addition to any home, especially a second home, but they are expensive to operate. Not only do running hours mean more maintenance, but fuel is expensive and running the generator for hours at end uses a lot of it.
So how do you know if your home is on grid power or generator power?
The Automatic Transfer Switch
Most whole house generators have an automatic transfer switch, or cutover switch, which will move the house from grid power to generator power automatically when the power goes out. This is an amazingly feature to have, but it means that it’s not easy to know which power source your home is using. Of course, that’s the goal of a whole house generator — to have normal (or near-normal) household function when the power is out in our area.
Even so, if you are at works and your second home gets hit with a wind storm or ice storm and the power goes out in your area, you might want to know if your generator is running or not.
Of course, if your home has a manual transfer switch, you’ll know if your home is on generator power but you put it there!
If You Are At The House
If you are at the house, it’ll be easier to tell if your home is on generator power because there will be clear signs.
Do You Hear It?
The first and most important indicator: you’ll hear your generator running. If everything is working properly and your generator is running then you house will be using generator power. The only exception to this will be if your generator is running its exercise, which is to say that it’s running its weekly test cycle which will keep the fluids moving and the give the engine some activity.
Check The Circuits
Second, your generator might not power all the circuits in your home, so if you can determine which those are, you can simply test if devices on those circuits are working. For example, you might not power your television or entertainment area with the generator, so if you want to know if your generator is running, just try to turn the TV on when the home otherwise has power. If it doesn’t turn on, but important things like your kitchen lights are running, then you are likely on generator power.
More sophisticated generator setups will have indicator lights near the circuit breaker panel that will let you know if your home is on generator power or grid power. These are very simple: two lights with one connected to one source and one connect to another. When the power flips from one to the other, the indicator light changes accordingly.
If You Are Not At Home
This is the real question: If you are away from your home, how do you know if your generator is running? You’ll want to know this because you might need to call the power company and explain that the power in your area is active, but your home lost power. In this case, the utility might not know about the outage but you’ll be burning through lots of fuel.
So how do you find out the generator status?
Kohler On-Cue Plus Or A Generator App
It’s 2022, so of course your generator is “smart” and it has an app. Using your generator’s smart app you can check the status, as well as any number of other statistics and data points about the generator.
You should note that older generators won’t have this feature and the upgrade process to get it can cost upgrades of $800 (usually about $400 in parts and $400 in labor based on our research.
If your generator is running you just might be able to hear it. Your home monitoring tools, like your video cameras or alarm system, might be able to pick up the sounds of the generator running. You’ll likely need an outdoor camera to do this, as you indoor camera might not have the sensitivity level to pick up the generator’s running noises. You can also try to turn up the audio levels on the camera to listen more intently, then you just might be able to tell if the generator is humming along.
If you don’t have all the circuits on your home running off the generator, you can check for something, like a video camera, that’s on one of those circuits. This is only a directional way of telling, as the camera might be out for other reasons (they aren’t all that reliable!) but it’s a helpful data point.
You can also log into one of your video camera and then see if a circuit is running based on the video evidence. You might notice the that a light that should be on is off or that the clock on your oven is off, which means it’s missing power.
Internet Outage Alerts
If you get an alert from SimpliSafe or a similar service that your internet has gone out and then a moment later that it’s been restored, it’s a good indicator that you lost power and then that the generator kicked on and your modem/router reactivated. And then when the same process happens again a few hours later, it should mean that your power is back.
Again, this is a directional indicator, but it’s another good data point in an imperfect situation.
How Do I Know Utility Power Is Back On?
OK, so your generator is running, but when do you turn it off?
You can call your electricity supplier or check their online map to see if power is restored, but these tools aren’t accurate in remote areas. So what do you do?
Using a similar logic, some people have circuits dedicated to each power source. That is to say, some lights that only run off the generator and some that only run off the grid. This is basically the same point as the “second” one above. This will let you know which power source is active, but also it has one more cool feature: you can know when the utility power is back. You’ll know this because — when running generator power — you can test the dedicated utility power with something as simple as a small light. If the light turn on the the utility power is back and you can turn your generator off.