If you’ve ever experienced a power outage, you know exactly how disruptive they are. After spending hours or days in a steamy house while your food slowly spoils, you might find yourself wanting to avoid the same misery in future by purchasing a generator for your home.
If you’re considering the investment but aren’t sure where to start, we can help. Here we’ll explain how to assess your home’s needs, how to choose a generator, and how to get it properly installed.
Tips for Choosing the Right Home Generator
There are several factors to consider when selecting a generator for your home. How much power do you need? Do you want a portable unit or a permanently hardwired system? What’s your budget? The answers to those questions will help you select a generator that meets your needs.
Determine How Much Power You Need
Generators, also called inverters, are categorized (and priced) according to their power output. So while you don’t want to go too small, getting too large of a system will cost more than necessary and be more expensive to operate.
Calculate Starting & Running Wattages
Determining how much power you need is easy. Make a list of all the devices in your home and pay special attention to the most vital – such as sump pumps or CPAP machines – and calculate the starting and running wattage of each item. You can find the information on either the appliance label or an online wattage estimation guide. Then, add it all up. The total will tell you how much power you need your generator to produce.
Tip: If you’re unable to find the starting wattage, multiplying the running wattage by three is typically a good estimate.
For example, let’s say you wanted to power the following devices with their starting and running wattages listed, respectively:
Starting wattage: 3,000w, Running wattage: 750w
Starting wattage: 8,750w, Running wattage: 3,800w
Starting wattage: 4,500w
Running wattage: 4,500w
The total starting wattage (the power needed to start the device) is 16,250 watts, or 16 kilowatts, and the running wattage (the electricity needed to keep the device running) is 9,050 watts, or about 9 kW.
So you would need a generator capable of producing at least 16 kW. If you had other devices like laptops, televisions, or an electric stove, those would need to be added, too. Knowing how much power your devices require is essential to selecting the right generator size for you.
Types of Generators
Generators come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve probably seen small portable units designed for camping and you may have also heard the larger models once or twice near a construction zone or other industrial area.
Aside from their size, their power output is the detail that sets generators apart. This is measured in watts or kilowatts and tells you how much electricity the unit can generate. Too small, and it might not handle all your needs. Too big, and you’ll pay more than necessary for the unit and its operating costs.
Although solar generators exist, the devices we’ll talk about in this article operate on propane, natural gas, or diesel fuel.
These small units are budget-friendly, easy to carry, and great for camping or meeting basic power needs during an outage. Producing up to 2,000 watts, they can power a refrigerator, lights, and another small device or two. They range from a few hundred to about a thousand dollars, and some models can be paired together to increase output.
These slightly larger units can power everything a portable generator can plus another appliance, such as a window-mounted air conditioning unit. With output up to 3,500 watts, they’re suitable for 110-volt devices with a standard two- or three-prong plug. While this is enough for many situations, it’s not enough for well pumps or heating and cooling equipment. They typically range in price from $1,000 to $2,000.
Large Portable Inverters
Producing up to 8,500 watts, these generators are equipped to meet nearly all of your home’s power demands. They cost between $2,000 and $8,000 and connect to your home’s breaker panel (meaning they require professional installation). They can do everything midsized inverters can do, as well as higher voltage chores like powering a water heater or sump pump. Beware, however, that they’re large, noisy, and require you to keep stabilized gas on-premises.
Home Standby Units
Want to go all out? These are some of the most powerful home generators — and the most costly – with outputs of up to 20,000 watts. Prices for these generators can range from $2,000 to $6,000, not including installation (which can bring your total up to $10,000 – $20,000). Unlike the larger, portable inverters, these devices are permanently installed and can’t be moved. They’re connected directly to your home’s electric service panel so that you can power outlets in your home — no extension cords necessary. Even better, they can be configured to turn on automatically so they keep everything in your home running just as it would if you were using power from your retail electricity provider.
Buy Your Generator Before You Need It
Generators are best purchased before you need them. Don’t wait until a storm or outage is approaching or has already hit. That’s a heightened time for accidents involving generators, and a new user set up in challenging conditions is at an even greater risk. Plus, if the weather causes road closures, you may be unable to leave to purchase any necessary supplies, much less a generator. The best option is to purchase, install, and understand how to use it before you need it, so all you need to do is flip a switch.
Hire a Licensed Electrician for Installation
A whole-house generator has a higher price tag because you need to hire a qualified professional to install it. Setting up and connecting high-voltage equipment can be a dangerous task that’s not appropriate for DIY. Do your due diligence in finding several electricians in your area from whom to request itemized quotes. Ask about their experience installing similar systems and check out references from past clients. The last thing you want during an outage is to discover that something doesn’t work as expected.
Choose a Generator That Meets Your Needs & Operate It Safely
One of the first rules of investing in a generator is to buy the one that meets your needs. It’s tempting to install a mini-power plant, but large installations come with hefty price tags and require a lot of fuel to operate. If an outage becomes prolonged or gas isn’t readily available, a basic but efficient system that’s light on fuel will keep your power on a lot longer for a lot less.
Additionally, operate it safely and in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. Never put a generator in your home; always run them in areas with plenty of airflow and ventilation. Don’t run them in your garage or next to open windows or vents, as the wind can direct exhaust into your home. They run on gas and produce carbon monoxide — a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that can be lethal.
By purchasing a generator that meets your needs and operating it safely, you and your family will get through the next power outage with minor disruption.