Home generators provide power during an electrical outage. In particular, generators enable homes to power either their entire house or certain appliances during an outage. Generally, homeowners choose from a couple of options. Primarily, standby and portable generators.
Prior to deciding on a home generator, homeowners must determine a few critical elements and ask yourself a few questions.
- What do you want to back up during an outage? This helps determine whether you need a standby or portable generator.
- Can you use a pull cord to start an engine? This helps determine whether you need a generator with an electric starter.
- Do you have sufficient space (equivalent to a central A/C)? This helps determine whether your home supports a standby generator.
Additionally, standby (or whole house) generators require fuel, such as natural gas or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas. As a result, homeowners must decide about the gas source. For example, these generators either connect to your natural gas line or rely on propane tanks. Finally, many standby generators leverage a built-in transfer switch, which makes the generator automatically kick in if a power outage occurs.
Finally, homeowners should note that installing a home generator requires professional assistance. For example, plumbers and electricians connect the unit to its fuel source and power supply, respectively. As a result, hiring qualified plumbers and experienced electricians remains an important step during the installation phase. Plus, check with the utility company because some locations require approvals.
Types of Home Generators
Although there are multiple names for home generators, there remain three major types of generators. For example, generators may run on propane, diesel or natural gas. Plus, generators are frequently referenced as whole house generators, backup generators or standby generators. Ultimately, the standby generator, portable generator and inverter generator provide homeowners with the best options.
Standby (Whole House) Generators
Standby or whole house generators provide power to your entire house during an outage. These generators require professional installation outside of your home (just like a central A/C). However, with the increased and professional installation, comes more power. Plus, standby generators turn on automatically within second of a power outage.
For more highlights, Consumer Reports provides additional details about standby generators.
- Requires professional installation, which means labor costs.
- Standby generators start automatically when outage occurs and supplies more power.
- Run self-diagnosis tests and inform homeowners when maintenance is needed.
- Provides multiple fuel options like propane or natural gas. Propane remains less risk in storage. Conversely, natural gas provides an unlimited supply.
- Range from about 5,000 to 20,000 watts.
Standby generators remain the ideal option for whole house protection. The ability to power via natural gas and automatic starting means continuous power! During summer and winter storms, this means constant heating or cooling. Plus, power to sump pumps, well pumps and even security systems.
Finally, experienced electricians typically help pull local permits, address noise restrictions and finds the proper location. As a result, you can rest assured your family is safe and protected during any power outage.
Portable generators provide limited supplies of power and flexibility around your home. Compared to standby generators, portable generators provide power to specific appliances, such as the refrigerator, stove or necessary outlet. These generators, which are less expensive than standby generators, do not require professional installation, but include specific operating instructions for safety.
For more highlights, Consumer Reports provides additional details about portable generators.
- Requires gasoline, liquid propane or natural gas. For gasoline, stabilizer would be needed for prolonged storage.
- Portable generators include pull cords or electric starter options.
- Power specific items and appliances, not the entire home.
- Range from about 3,000 to 8,500 watts.
Additionally, although portable generators work anywhere on a property, they must be at least 15 feet from any structure. In particular, use portable generators away from your house, doors or windows. Plus, these generators should not be used in an enclosed space and should always point the exhaust away from your house. As CR notes:
“These models produce potentially deadly levels of carbon monoxide, a gas that kills approximately 149 people each year in the United States. If it’s raining, you must use a tent or cover.”
Inverter generators, which are similar to portable generators, also provide power to specific appliances. Compared to portable generators, inverter generators leverage more complex engines. Although inverter generators provide roughly the same amount of power as portable generators, they typically cost more. However, inverter generators throttle power to match demand, which means they are more efficient and quieter.
Consumer Reports explains how inverter generators operate.
“Inverter generators are much quieter than their conventional counterparts because they throttle up and down to match demand rather than run at full power all the time. They also have more sophisticated exhaust systems which also help tamp down noise. They run more efficiently and produce fewer emissions.”
Finally, inverter generators must follow the same safety precautions as a portable generator.
Things to Know about Home Generators
In general, once you install or understand how your home generator works, then keeping your family safe and electricity running during an outage remains pretty seamless. However, in preparation, there are a few things to consider and note.
Automatic Transfer Switch
For standby generators, the automatic transfer switch (ATS) acts as the operating system of the generator.
“During an outage, it automatically transfers power from the utility to your generator. And when utility power is restored, the ATS turns off your generator and returns your home’s power to the utility grid.”
Understand Your Power Needs
In general, homeowners purchase generators based on the amount power needed during an outage. Therefore, generators are sold by power output because that determines how many appliance are supported. Additionally, the output determines the quality and consistency of the power.
As a result, Consumer Reports notes that homeowners list their power requirements. To help, they provided a general list of the main home appliances and standard usage.
- Refrigerator: 600 watts
- Sump Pump: 750 to 1,500 watts
- Portable Heater: 1,500 watts
- Window Air Conditioner: 1,000 watts
- Lights: 60 to 600 watts
- Computers: 60 to 300 watts
Finally, during consultation with a qualified electrician, ask about the outlets and appliances controlled by each circuit breaker. This helps determine how much power is needed and select the best home generator for your family needs.
More About Watt Size
In order to determine the proper size home generator (small, mid or large), it is important to understand the power outage required in your home.
“To determine generator size, the easiest way is to add up the wattages of everything you want to power in your home. Keep in mind that some appliances, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and sump pumps, require more wattage (called surge watts) when they’re cycling on. It can also be difficult to gauge how much power certain hard-wired appliances, such as your furnace, require.”
As a result, experts recommend selecting a generator that accommodates some additional usage. Undoubtedly, any generator must handle your current needs, but as generators ideally last many years, include some extra capacity for any future needs.
Finally, as Consumer Reports also recommends, install an ATS, for both standby and portable generators.
“Plan to spend a few hundred dollars to install a transfer switch, which allows easier connections for a portable generator (standby generators often come with one. Whenever using a portable generator use a transfer switch. This is the safest and easiest way to transfer power into your home and it protects any utility workers who may be working on the line.”
Generator Features and Options
In addition to watt size and ATS installation, generators also include some additional options. During your due diligence phase, consider these features and options.
- Electric Starter – Certain portable generators include a push-button starter compared to a pull-cord starter.
- Alternative Fuel Capacity – For portable generators, certain models include the option to run on a propane or natural gas. Conversely, standard portable generators run on gasoline, although certain models include conversion kits.
- Fuel Gauge – For many people, the fuel gauge will be mandatory. The gauge enables homeowners to check how much fuel remains in a portable generator.
- Low-Oil Shut Off – Increasingly common on standby and portable generators, the low-oil shut off prevents engine damage. This feature ensure the engine shuts off if the oil level falls below a minimum amount.
- Removable Console – Enables homeowners direct connection between the generator and appliances, so you can plug in and run without running (potentially risky) extension cords outdoors.
The Right Time to Buy
Many people rush out to the store to purchase a home generator at the wrong time. Yes, homeowners seek generators right before or after a major storm.
If you make the decision to purchase a generator, take the time to conduct proper due diligence and determine the right type and size generator that meets your needs. Additionally, this time helps work with the proper professional personnel to install and teach you how to use your generator.
As a result, you’ll be comfortable with your generator and ensure you’ll enjoy it for years to come!
Home Generator Safety Tips
During severe weather and storms that cause prolonged power outages, home generators enable some sense of normalcy. Ensuring your family lives with power (especially to major appliances) means cooking, cleaning and bathing remain the same.
However, generators are also dangerous. In particular, portable generators, which produce carbon monoxide are quite lethal (if proper safety precautions are not followed). For example, as Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), notes:
“Portable generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide, a deadly, odorless, and colorless gas.”
Additionally, the CPSC estimates roughly 50 people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning due to improperly using a generator. In addition to carbon monoxide incidents, generator misuse leads to various injuries from close calls and burns. As a result, proceed with caution and take safety seriously.
Never Run Portable Generators Inside
As noted, most injuries and deaths involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces. These enclosed spaces include basements, garages or any space that captures carbon monoxide. Therefore, it is never too often to remind people that generators should always be placed at least 15 feet from the house and away from doors and windows.
Never Backfeed Your Home
Backfeeding means powering your home electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Not only is this reckless and dangerous, but this also presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. Additionally, backfeeding bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices. Therefore, you risk potential damage to electronics or starting an electrical fire.
Install an Automatic Transfer Switch
Transfer switches connect the generator (either standby or portable) to the circuit panel. The ATS power hardwired appliances while avoiding the safety risk of using extension cords. Plus, many ATS help avoid overload by displaying wattage usage levels.
Avoid Electrical Hazards
For generators without an ATS, utilize the outlets on the generator (only if you follow any listed safety precautions). However, if an extension cord is used, it should be a heavy-duty cord made for outdoor use. Plus, the cord should be rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Finally, ensure that the entire cord is free of cuts and that the plug has all three prongs, which are critical in protecting against a shock if water collected inside the equipment.
Avoid Running a Portable Generator in the Rain
Unless you cover the portable generator with a tent, it is not safe in the rain. However, may brands offer specific tents (or generic covers) that protect the generator. Also, note that spilling gasoline on a hot engine possibly ignites. Therefore, before refueling, turn off any gas generator and ensure the engine cools.
Store Gasoline Properly
Generators provide power during prolonged outages. Therefore, homeowners likely want extra fuel on their property. For safety reasons, store gas only in an ANSI-approved container in a cool, well-ventilated place. Plus, adding stabilizer helps the gas last longer. However, store gasoline safely and away from any potential sources of heat or fire (or inside the house).