Buying the Right Electric Generator
What Kind of Generator Do I Need
We’ve all felt the need for a generator at one time or another. During a sweltering hot summer power outage. When your TV went out in the last few minutes of a nail-biting football game. The time your phone died on a camping trip in northern Wisconsin and you had no way of charging it…
Being without power stinks, and you might be considering an electric backup generator to avoid living through that again. However, if you’ve never owned one, knowing what to look for in a generator might be difficult. In this generator buying guide, my goal is to help you shop with confidence.
Ask yourself the following questions before purchasing a generator:
What Will You Use Your Electric Backup Generator For?
There are many different reasons people get generators, and you’re probably not going to have them all. The first step is defining what you intend to use your generator for.
If you only need a generator for emergency backup and live in an area without many power outages, then a standard portable generator should serve you just fine.
However, in areas with frequent, extended blackouts such as hurricane zones, you will want the permanence and reliability of a standby generator.
For recreational activities such as camping or fishing, compact, quiet inverter generators are best for powering sensitive equipment and not exceeding decibel limits.
You can’t decide based on this question alone, but it’s the logical starting point.
How Much Power Will You Need?
The main question you must answer before buying a generator is how much you want to power. Generators don’t just magically create infinite power. Each one is rated to produce a certain amount of electricity or wattage.
If you only need the refrigerator, some lights, and a sump pump, then a small or mid-sized portable generator will work. If you want to automatically back up your whole house, including the central air conditioner, then a standby unit will be required.
In fact, air conditioners are often the deciding factor on whether you will need a portable or a standby. A central air conditioner requires a standby generator, while you can get by with a portable generator for a portable air conditioner.
You also need to consider starting watts, which are the initial higher surges of electricity demanded by an appliance at startup. For example, an air conditioner uses more power when it first turns on versus when it stabilizes. If your generator can’t handle the starting watts, your A/C won’t work.
It’s up to you what you need during a power outage. Check out wattages of common household appliances here.
How Long Do You Expect to Be Out of Power?
You can’t predict the future. A disaster can strike tomorrow that leaves everyone dark for weeks. But if you’ve lived somewhere for a few years, you have an idea of how long you can expect to be out of power.
For example, if you live on the coast, you can reasonably expect hurricanes and extended outages every year. If you live in the plains, you might have a few small outages per year that last only a few hours, depending on the age of your infrastructure and other factors.
Portable generators last anywhere from hours to a couple of days. For multi-day or week-long power outages, though, you need a standby.
What Kind of Fuel to Use?
There are different fuel options available for generators. Propane, gasoline, and dual fuel are common choices. Larger generators even use diesel or natural gas.
Propane and dual fuel generators are particularly useful in emergency situations when there might be a gas shortage. At the same time, gasoline provides more power than propane.
Research the price of fuel in your area to figure out what’s most economical or realistic for you. If you already use propane for everything, you might as well stick with it for generators. For the ultimate flexibility, choose a dual fuel generator where you can switch between propane and gas depending on the situation.
Aside from the above questions, there are a few other factors that might impact your generator buying decision.
If you want automatic protection against power outages, then a standby generator is for you. It will detect a utility blackout and switch on for as long as needed. When it detects utility power is back on, it will switch off.
You won’t have to mess with manually starting up a standby like you would a portable. As long as it has enough fuel, a standby or whole-house generator will run for days or weeks.
A generator transfer switch connects a generator to your home’s electric circuit board. There are two types:
Manual transfer switches are manually connected and activated during a power outage. They are used for portable generators and, by directly powering entire circuits in your home, eliminate the need to run individual cords to the unit.
Automatic transfer switches connect a standby generator to your home’s circuits and automatically switch on during a blackout. You don’t need to do any manual work, other than flipping on a light switch.
If you’re shopping for a standby generator specifically, load shedding can help you save money and power. A load shedding generator will regulate electricity draws so you can more efficiently power everything you need.
For example, if your generator doesn’t have enough power for the air conditioner to start up, it will temporarily cut power to less important appliances until the air conditioner power needs are met. Once it detects there’s enough power, it will turn everything on again.
With load shedding, you can buy a smaller, less expensive standby generator because it will use its available power extremely efficiently.
Power Up Your Life
Now that you know how to buy a generator, you’re ready to shop. As always, our experts are here to help you at (866) 554-4328 if you have any unique needs you’d like to discuss.