A Homeowner’s Guide to Buying an Emergency Generator
Between increased instability from added demand, the constant threat of severe weather, and plenty of other factors that could contribute to an increase in power outages, emergency generators are rapidly growing in popularity. More and more people are choosing to install emergency backup generators to better prepare themselves for the event of an unexpected outage, and the market boasts many different makes and models to provide a ton of different options. However, buying the wrong generator can have some pretty disastrous consequences, so it’s important to focus on buying the right system for your needs.
To make this easier, we have created a simplified buyer’s guide that explains a few things you should know to make a better buying decision. Our hope is to empower you with the information you need to find the generator that fits under your budget while providing you with the functionality and options that you are looking for.
Standby vs. Portable Generators
The first decision you will come across is whether you want a portable generator system or a standby setup. Portable generators are what most people think of when someone thinks of a household generator: a generator system that isn’t permanently fixed or installed and can be moved to where you need it whenever you need it. They are ideal for things like powering a camping trailer or providing charging power when electricity is not easily available. And they come in a variety of sizes, generator capacities, and price points. Most portable generators run on standard gasoline, like the kind you use to fuel your car.
Portable generators can power your home as well, as long as you connect them to your home safely. However, many portable generators are far too small to provide you with enough power to run everything in your home like normal. At the most, you might be able to get enough power for a few lights, a fan, or maybe a space heater. However, they do have the added benefit of a much lower price tag in most cases. Larger portable generators are available, and these can provide you with even more capability, however their larger size and weight make them more difficult to move. Likewise, they do tend to cost quite a bit more.
Standby generators are systems that do not move and are instead installed for one purpose: to provide your home with emergency power. These systems are typically permanently affixed to a location right outside your home and are often protected by a plastic or metal box that protects the important components inside. As their name implies, these systems are always “on standby,” or at the ready to turn on and start generating power at a moment’s notice.
The benefit of this is that they simply fire up as soon as the power goes out, meaning your home is never without power for more than a few seconds. No fumbling around or struggling to pull out the generator, fuel it, or fire it up, and then keep it fueled while it is running in order to keep the power on. Standby generators are able to automatically start providing power thanks to a natural gas or propane connection that provides the fuel they burn to generate power.
Standby generators also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and that means they can carry a pretty widely varied price tag as well. However, most standby generators are larger than portable systems, and this means they are generally the more expensive option. But this does mean they can typically power more than a portable generator.
To summarize: portable generators are typically smaller, easier to move, and have a lower capacity, but do carry a lower price tag. For those who experience infrequent and shorter power outages, these are typically the better option. Standby generators are larger, turn on automatically, and carry a higher initial investment, and this makes them great for areas prone to severe weather and extended outages.
What System Size Should I Buy?
Once you have established whether you want to go the portable or the standby route, the next decision you will have to make is what size system you buy. Should you buy a smaller system with a lower capacity (and thus, lower price tag), or should you invest a little more for a generator with a bit more capability? If you go the standby route, do you want to be able to power your home as normal, or are you comfortable with a reduced lifestyle until power is reestablished? If you do want full capacity, what does that mean?
Portable generators come in a huge variety of sizes, but we’re going to break them down into roughly three groups: small, medium, and large generators. Small generators are anything with an electrical capacity of up to 3,000 watts. These will be your most affordable generator option, and provide you with enough energy to give you the use of your absolute essentials: a few lights, your refrigerator, or a small cooking appliance like an electric stove burner or a microwave. However, you may not be able to use all of these at once. These are ideal for locations with power outages that never typically last longer than a few hours.
Medium portable generators are anything between 3,000 and 6,000 watts. This gives you the ability to use most of your essentials simultaneously. For areas with basements protected by sump pumps, we recommend these generators in order to keep your home safe and free from flooding. These are generally the largest generators that can be easily moved.
Large generators are anything above 6,000 watts, with anything 10,000 watts and up being considered an extra-large generator. These generators, while still portable, are large, heavy, and difficult to handle. However, they provide enough power to run one or more of your large appliances. Extra-large generators may even provide enough power to run your heating and cooling equipment, and that makes them more appropriate for those who experience frequent, lengthy power outages.
For standby generators, the sky is the limit when it comes to capacity. You can buy a standby generator with capacities as low as around 8,000 to 10,000 watts, but as high as 60,000 to even up to 100,000 watts. However, for an average-sized home and an average family, 16,000 watts to 20,000 watts is typically more than enough to provide you with enough power to run your home as normal. If you have particularly high electrical demands, such as multiple electric car chargers or HVAC systems, you may want to consider bumping up to 25,000 watts or higher.