With load shedding continuing to take a heavy toll on the country, residential generators are a permanent feature in the homes of many South Africans. The problem is that these devices are loud and can be dangerous, especially if they are not looked after properly or installed incorrectly.
In South Africa, any generator installation should adhere to the South African National Standard (IS0 SANS 8528 series of standards). Although one need not concern themselves with ALL the requirements of the act, consumers should ensure that requirements for such installations are compliant with the act as well as other requirements such as the health and safety regulations because the main responsibility of such installations rests with them.
Although the SANS provides rules and regulations that need to be adhered to, it is important to take into consideration that different municipalities might have different laws regarding the installation of generators, contained in their bylaws. These bylaws were established to regulate how Eskom supplies electricity to households and what changes can be made to the existing electrical structure. On top of municipal bylaws, some suburbs, complexes, and estates have specific regulations for the use and installation of generators. Make sure to talk to trustees or the body corporate of your neighbourhood before purchasing a generator or installing it.
Generator installation procedures
When installing generators, it is important to note the two main differences between a backup generator and a standby generator. Backup generators are independently run and are not installed or connected to the home electrical system. Therefore, during power interruptions, the generator would need to be plugged in and started manually, with specific appliances then getting connected to the generator by the consumer. A standby generator is directly linked to the main switchboard. An automatic changeover switch will activate during power interruptions, ensuring a steady supply of electricity. This installation should be undertaken by a qualified electrician and a certificate of electrical compliance (COC) be issued.
Regulations for using a generator for your home
When making use of a generator in your home, the following should be considered:
- Both backup and standby generators need to comply with South African National Standard (SANS 10142-1:2003).
- Make sure that the generator you buy complies with the IS0 SANS 8528 series of standards or ISO 8528.
- Confirm when generators can be used in your neighbourhood. Your neighbour could lodge a noise complaint if your generator is disturbing an otherwise quiet time. For example, in City of Cape Town, noise exceeding residual levels by five decibels can result in a notice asking you to cease using the generator. The rules relating to noise levels do not mention specific times, which makes this a bit of a judgment call.
- Fuel storage should be positioned and secured in a place that reduces the risk of fire and away from children’s reach.
- The fumes from a generator should not enter the doors or windows of a neighbouring building. Vertical exhausts can displace the fumes upwards to avoid this.
- Beware of carbon monoxide levels. A typical 5,5 kW home generator can produce as much CO as six idling cars.
- Some sectional titles and residential estates will have their own rules regulating the use of generators, over and above the municipal bylaws. Check with your body corporate, suburb association or estate committee before buying or installing a generator. If you are in the process of buying or renting a new property, or looking to move, you should ask about any rules relating to generators before making your decision.
Things to consider when buying a generator
- Which size generator should I purchase?
Generator capacity is dependent on the total sum of the maximum load expected at any given time by electrical loads that require to be powered simultaneously. This is measured in watts, and can be achieved by calculating all the loads that you would want to run simultaneously in your household. As a precautionary measure, identify which electrical units require the most electricity and add the amount to your total. This is to help ensure that your generator can serve larger units that require extra electricity to prevent system overload. Find out more here.
- Which electrical loads should I consider powering with the generator?
- Kitchen, bathroom and sitting room lights
- Garage door
- Security (alarm system or electrical fencing)
- Do I need an electrician to install the generator safely?
A licensed electrician is only required for a standby generator and should provide you with a valid electrical certificate of compliance. To check if an electrician is registered, one may contact their local Electrical Contracting Board of South Africa to verify these credentials. A backup generator doesn’t require installation.
- Can I plug my generator into a wall socket?
No. This would be regarded as backfeeding, which is extremely dangerous and illegal. For example, when earth leakages are left on, they may damage your generator when the power grid returns, which could potentially cause electrical and other hazardous fires. Additionally, should the option to switch off the earth leakage be considered to prevent this issue, it would be important to consider that the electrical system would not have earth leakage protection and could result in high electrocution risk for you and your family.
Safety tips to be kept in mind
- Have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house when using a generator. Check that they are working regularly.
- Keep the generator approximately five meters away from the house to reduce the risk from carbon monoxide and fumes. This can also help with the noise level.
- Never fuel a generator while it’s operational or when it’s hot to eliminate fire explosions.
- Ensure that the generator is operated under an open, well-constructed canopy-like structure. The structure should be on a dry surface, away from water contact.
- Never operate the generator with wet hands.
- Be careful with extension cords! Make sure they aren’t sitting in water, and that they are not damaged by doors or windows closing on them.