Along with the blackouts and hurricanes that sweep Florida regularly, a huge problems for condo communities are non-functioning emergency energy systems. Subsequently, Florida enacted legislation requiring residential buildings over 75 feet tall to install generators and fuel tanks with a minimum operating capacity for several hours. According to the law, generators must be housed in a four-sided structure, and fuel tanks must be buried.
Today’s standby power systems normally provide backup power for fire pumps, emergency lighting, alarm systems and life-safety loads, says Bob Birdsong, president of OK Generators, headquartered in Deerfield Beach. “All the high-rise condo associations in South Florida are required to have standby power systems. Normally the power is required to last for 24 hours, but often it ends up lasting an excess of 48 hours. After that, you run out of fuel. The thought is you will get fuel delivered within that period,” he says.
Most of the backup systems are powered by diesel, “Natural gas has to be approved, because you are relying on an off-site utility for fuel,” Birdsong continues. “In Florida, natural gas is only available in certain areas, and you still have to get permission to use it because it is an off-site utility.” Diesel is probably used in 60 percent of condo associations in South Florida, while propane and natural gas are probably found in 20 percent in each amount.
If the power goes out, a signal is relayed to the generator and then the power transfers over to the generator. Therefore, it is critical to have a high-quality transfer switch and sufficient fuel to run the generator.
Backup power purchases should be made taking into consideration what needs to be powered during a power outage and for how long. For condos and HOAs, this might be hallway lights, emergency lights and exit signs, and fates, for example.
Birdsong advises condo associations looking to purchase a backup system to ask neighboring condominiums for recommendations. “If you are a smart condominium and do this the right way, one company can do the installation, complete turnkey,” says Michael Jansen, owner of Miami-based Megawattage, a turnkey provider of emergency power in South Florida. The generator needs to be installed by a licensed contractor. The condominium should hire a consulting engineer who can design a system and write the specification for competitive bids, Birdsong says. The contractor they select should provide a turnkey installation. Permits have to be submitted for review by the municipality.”
Community associations also have to take other factors into consideration, such as selecting the right contractor, and assessing local zoning and fire codes to secure the correct location of the generator. The installation process will be tailored to the needs of each community, but there are a few general steps that need to be taken:
“First you have to do an engineering design, then you have to get permitting for your design,” Jansen says. “After the city and county and environmental groups approve the plans, you have to do a concrete slab installation. You pour cement and put the generator and the fuel tank on top of that slab of cement. (The fuel tank could go somewhere else.) The mechanical piping connection needs to be made between the generator and the fuel tank. Electrical wire installation needs to take place from the generator to the automatic transfer switch and to the main distribution panel for the condominium.”
If the generator is properly installed, then they will have a long shelf life, up to 20 or 30 years, if properly maintained, Birdsong says. Condo associations should take out a service contract with the company that performed the installation for continued maintenance and service.
Electrical or mechanical failures can happen, although most are correlated to an under-performing battery. However, in most cases, well-maintained generators can last a long time.