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The Best Generator for Your Home - A Buying Guide

Summary

Electrical storms, hurricanes, and other weather events and natural disasters can plunge your home into darkness for extended periods - even for weeks. Without power, you'll lose all the convenience of electricity, and perhaps even hot water, heating, and cooling for your home. You may be wondering how best to provide backup power in the event of power outages.

In this article, we'll examine important points you should consider when deciding what type of generator is best for your needs.

Table of Contents

Power outages can be an inconvenience at best and a dangerous situation at worst. Having a standby generator for your home can mitigate the harmful and inconvenient effects of a power outage. But making the decision that you want a generator for your home is only the beginning of the process. Standby generators come in many different types. They're designed for different uses, powered by different fuels, and have different power outputs.

Keep your power on

In this article, we'll cover a lot of useful information about generators. How to decide what you need from a generator, how powerful a generator you need, the pros and cons of portable generators and whole-house standby generators, how to connect them to your home, and much more.

What are the different types of generators?

There are four options to consider when purchasing a generator. Home standby generators, portable generators, inverter generators, and portable battery power stations. Let's examine each type.

Home standby generators

Home standby generators (also known as whole-house generators) are permanently installed and wired into your home's electrical system. These stationary generators are designed to supply power reliably and without fuss when power outages occur. In most cases, they'll even turn on automatically when they detect a power outage.

A whole-house generator requires professional installation, which can increase labor costs, and you may also need a permit for installation, depending upon local building codes.

Standby generators are usually powered by propane or natural gas. Propane tanks can hold large amounts of fuel, and natural gas supplied by your home's natural gas line can provide fuel indefinitely, so they're excellent for long-term use. Additionally, these fuel sources are much safer than the gasoline used by gas-powered portable models.

Whole-House Standby Generator

Portable generators

Portable models provide a lower-cost option to a whole-house generator. These generators are typically mounted on wheels and can be moved to different locations on your property, or used in remote locations, such as for tailgating or camping.

Portable generators usually run on gasoline, although dual-fuel generators that use gasoline or propane are also available. Since these generators are not permanently wired into your home, power connections are made through the use of extension cords, or via transfer switches or generator sub-panels.

Portable generators should be used with care to prevent injury from electrical shock or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Portable Generator

Inverter generators

You'll be hard-pressed to see the difference between a regular portable model and an inverter generator at a glance. But while the differences are "under the hood," the performance issues are readily apparent.

Inverter generators have a more complex engine that runs quieter than typical gas-powered portable generators, plus have a more sophisticated exhaust design for quieter operation.

Because of this, you can expect to spend more on an inverter generator than you will on a regular portable. However, the operation is virtually the same.

Inverter Generator

Portable power stations

Portable power stations don't use gasoline, propane, or natural gas. They're actually large-capacity batteries combined with inverters that can produce household AC current.

Since they don't generate their own electricity, power stations need to be recharged. You can do this with solar panels or by connecting the station to another power source.

Portable power stations run quietly, but don't have the power capacity of regular generators. In addition, they're more expensive, although the capabilities of the batteries they use are improving rapidly.

Portable Power Station

How powerful a generator do I need?

A key measure of home and portable capability is the wattage capacity of the generator. Generator capacity is measured in watts and the difference in power between a small portable generator and a large whole-home backup generator can be substantial.

The wattage output of most portable generators is in the 1000-3000 watt range, while whole-home generators can boast a capacity of 10,000 watts or more. You'll want to determine how much power your standby generator can produce to get the best generator for emergency use.

How to calculate your power needs

Every appliance in your home needs electrical power. Add to that the electrical requirements of your heating and air conditioning system, water heaters, and other devices, and the amount of power to fully power your home with a portable generator or standby generator can add up quickly.

You may decide that you want to fully power your home during a power outage, or you may feel that you can get by with a generator that provides less power output. Making this decision is the starting point for calculating how much backup power you need.

Prioritizing your power needs

In the event of a power outage, how much electricity do you think you need? Are you only concerned with keeping on a few lights and perhaps powering a refrigerator or freezer? In this case, portable generators might be all you need.

If you want to be able to meet all of the electrical requirements of your home, and tap into power from any of your outlets, you'll want to explore the more comprehensive service provided by home standby generators.

What size generator do I need for emergency use?

The power output of generators is measured in watts. The more watts, the more devices you can power. Depending on the size of your home you may need a generator that can provide a power output of 5,000 to 10,000 watts to power everything in your house.

The first step you need to take is to make a list of what you want to have operating when there is a power outage. These are some rough estimates for power consumption for normal essentials:

Refrigerator or freezer: 600-800 watts

Portable heater: 1,000-1,500 watts

Central air conditioning: 3,500-5,000 watts

Window air conditioner: 1,000-1,500 watts

Lamps: 5 to 75 watts per bulb (LED lights will use significantly less power than incandescent bulbs)

Computer or laptop: 60 to 250 watts

Wireless router: 5 to 20 watts

Computer or laptop: 60 to 250 watts

Flatscreen TV: 100-150 watts

You may add other items to your list. You can find estimates of the power consumption of electrical equipment by searching online or checking the data plate on the back of your appliance.

Once you've decided on what devices you want to be powered, add the wattage requirements of the devices together to determine your power requirements.

Can you power your whole house with a portable generator?

Unless your backup power needs are very small, it's unlikely that a portable model will be sufficient to power your home, particularly if you need the power to operate air-conditioning, electrical heat, or an electric water heater. But, depending upon your needs, a portable may be sufficient for your home.

Going small - the pros and cons of portable generators

After considering our discussion so far, perhaps you've decided that a portable generator is the way to go. Let's dive a little deeper into the pros and cons of portable generators.

Pro - They're cost-effective

Portable generators are certainly a less expensive option than permanently installed generators. Depending upon the size of the generator, you'll spend a fraction of what a whole-house model will cost.

Pro - They're versatile

You can use a portable for many uses. Take them on your camping trip, to the tailgate, or power tools at a work site. There are a lot of different ways that you can use them.

Pro - They're ready to use right away

For basic use, all you need to do is get the generator out of the box, add some oil and fuel, and fire it up.

Con - Limited usage

Most likely your portable model won't be able to power all of the devices in your home. In the event of a prolonged power outage, you'll need to make hard choices about what to power.

Con - Limited fuel capacity

Your portable will need frequent refueling. If your area has been hit by a major disaster, fuel supplies may be unavailable.

Con - Noise and exhaust

It can't be stressed enough that portable generators need to be carefully situated to avoid the dangers posed by CO. Portable generators are typically much noisier than standby models, too.

Features to look for in a portable generator

Not all generators are the same. There are a number of features you should look for in a portable generator that will make it run more safely, efficiently, and make it more convenient.

Automatic CO detection and shutoff

Carbon monoxide (CO) buildup and poisoning are real dangers when using a portable generator. Models with automatic CO shutoff detect high levels of CO and shut down automatically, preventing potentially dangerous situations.

You'll also find some models that feature engines that produce less CO. This doesn't eliminate the risk CO poses but does mitigate it somewhat.

Electric push-button start

Probably the last thing you want to be doing during a storm is pulling a cord to start a recalcitrant generator. Models equipped with electric start will make it much easier to get your backup power flowing.

Dual-fuel capability

While most portable generators run on gasoline. There are some models equipped to operate on both gasoline or propane. This versatility is very useful, and it also makes storing extra fuel much safer.

Fuel gauge

Having a fuel gauge lets you see at a glance how much fuel you have left in the tank.

Multiple outlets

If you're not using a transfer switch or generator interlock, having more outlets on your portable generator will make it easier to power multiple devices.

Whole-home power - the pros and cons of standby generators

Perhaps the idea of a whole-home standby generator is the best generator for home use. In this section, we'll examine their pros and cons, plus features you should look for.

Pro - Peace of mind

With a properly installed standby generator, you've got one less thing to worry about during a power failure or natural disaster. You know that you've got a dependable, long-lasting source of power ready to step in at a moment's notice.

Pro - It's automatic

Standby generators are designed to come on automatically during a power outage. Even if you're away from home you won't need to worry about frozen pipes in the winter or spoiled food in the summer.

Pro - They can power your entire home

When properly sized, your standby generator will provide all the power your home needs. You won't have to juggle the power demands of different parts of your home.

Pro - Reliable fuel supplies

Standby generators usually run on propane or natural gas. Propane storage tanks can be quite large and hold sufficient fuel supplies for extended use, and if your natural gas-powered generator is connected to a natural gas line you'll have a dependable fuel supply for the duration of your needs.

Cons - Professional installation required

You'll pay more than the sticker cost for a standby generator, since they usually require professional installation for connection to your home's electrical system, hookup to natural gas lines, or installation of a propane storage tank.

Cons - Regular maintenance is required

In much the same way as your home HVAC system should be checked regularly, you should schedule regular maintenance and checkups to be sure your house generator is ready to go when you need it to be.

Cons - You'll pay for the convenience

You will pay more for a home standby generator than a portable. Balance that against the

Features to look for in a standby generator

If you've decided that a whole-home generator is the way to go, let's examine a number of features you should look for.

Automatic shutoff

Your standby generator should have an automatic shutoff to turn it off in the event of overheating.

Weather-resistant enclosure

Since your generator will be outside all of the time, the enclosure needs to be constructed of durable, corrosion-resistant materials. You may want to inquire about soundproofing for the enclosure as well.

Inclusive warranty

Be sure that your new generator has a warranty that will be sufficient. Most new models come with a 4- to 5-year warranty.

Sufficient capacity

When in doubt, it's best to overestimate the amount of power you'll need when purchasing a backup generator. Your electrical needs may grow, after all.

Connecting your generator to your home

The best generator in the world won't do you much good if you can't get the power from the machine into your home in a safe and convenient manner.

Let's examine how you can use your generator to meet your home's electrical needs.

Extension cords

Extension cords are at best a stop-gap measure for use in an emergency. And they're only going to be used with a portable generator. If your power needs are limited, such as running a refrigerator or a few small appliances, it may work for you. But you should be cautious when using extension cords for several reasons.

Extension cords multiply the risk of electric shock, particularly if they have to be run across wet ground. Light-duty extension cords may overheat, melt their insulation, and create sparking - a fire hazard. And numerous extension cords can create tripping hazards, particularly in a dark house.

Generator interlocks

A much wiser solution is installing a generator interlock on your circuit breaker panel. When a generator interlock is properly installed, you can feed power into your home's circuits via an outlet, then choose what circuits to power. The interlock prevents backfeeding into utility lines, so there's no risk of electrocuting electrical linemen or backfeeding your generator when the power comes back on. You can learn more about generator interlocks in this article.

Generator transfer switch

An optimal solution is the generator transfer switch. In this setup, a separate fuse panel is installed that feeds power to the portions of your home you've selected for use with your generator. These also prevent the backfeeding of utility lines.

What type of fuel should my generator use?

You have some options for what fuels to use for your generator. Let's examine them.

Portable generator fuels

The most common portable generator fuel is gasoline. While gasoline is usually readily available, it may not be during an emergency. And if you choose to stock up on gasoline before an emergency, storage can be space-consuming and potentially dangerous. If you decide to store gasoline long-term, you'll need to add a fuel stabilizer to prevent it from going bad.

Another option for portable generators is propane. While propane doesn't provide quite the same amount of energy as gasoline, it's much more stable and can be stored safely for long periods of time. Dual-fuel generators offer the option of using either gasoline or propane.

Whole-house fuels

Natural gas is an optimal fuel for a standby generator. If your generator has access to a natural gas line, you'll be able to keep the power on for extended periods of time, barring any supply problems with the natural gas system in your area.

Propane is an excellent second choice if you don't have a natural gas line. A large propane tank can hold a large quantity of fuel for use in an extended power outage.

For the best results, hire the pros

Whether you're buying a backup generator or having a generator interlock installed, hire a professional to do the job. They’ll have the background and knowledge to ensure a safe and smooth installation. In addition, professionals that specialize in whole-house generator sales and installation can assist you in choosing the generator that best suits your needs.

Don't let the prospect of generator installation costs dissuade you. Knowing that your whole-house generator has been installed properly and will run safely and efficiently is worth the extra installation costs.

Talk to Team Enoch

Do you want to know more about backup power to your home? Contact us, our service professionals are happy to talk about the options for home generators that are available to you, and they can help you get the new generator you need.

Contact us for all your plumbing, HVAC, roofing, and electrical needs. Remember, estimates are always free!


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