Buying a Generator: What You Need to Know

Most people consider a generator when they need one, forcing a hasty decision on a unit that might not be the right fit for their needs. It also means people are purchasing generators and then operating them for the first time, by flashlight, in crisis mode. This could lead to damage to your generator, your home’s power circuits, or even carbon monoxide poisoning.

Here are a few things to consider so you can take your time and decide which type of generator is the right fit for you.

power out - choosing a generator

First of all, decide what your power priorities are. If the power goes out, are you interested in keeping a few things running, or are you interested in a whole-home power solution? What do you expect your generator to do for you? Are you looking for a minimalist solution or a holistic one?

Make a list of your needs and wants and figure out what it will take to keep them powered. Your refrigerator, for example, will need 600 watts while a portable heater will require about 1,500 watts. Begin adding computers and you could be looking at an additional 200-1,000 watts. The number of watts you’ll need to keep your desired number of appliances running will give you a good place to begin shopping for generators. Any electrician would be able to help you figure out a load calculation of how many watts you need.

choosing a generator - assess your needs

Next, there are two basic types of generators: a portable generator and a home standby generator. Again, figuring how many watts you need your generator to produce will largely determine the type you need.

  • PORTABLE GENERATOR: Cost-efficient and versatile, the portable generator can push 3,000 to 8,000 watts. However, a portable generator requires regular maintenance and a store of gasoline to be sure it’s ready for action. Gasoline storage can be dangerous and also tricky, so be sure to store it properly and to add a stabilizer if you plan to store it for up to a year. A portable generator should also be used with extreme caution. The generator must be stored and operated in an area protected from rain, snow, and other elements. However, it must NOT be operated within 15 feet of the home, any doors or windows, or in an enclosed space as the carbon monoxide emissions from a gas-powered generator could poison anyone who might be exposed to its fumes.

  • STANDBY GENERATOR: The home standby generator is your largest-capacity generator and can push anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 watts, depending on your model. These units are designed to be permanently installed by a professional electrician, a cost that must additionally be factored in when considering one of these generators. However, what you get is a system that kicks on automatically when the power goes out and can run using propane or a direct hookup to your home’s natural gas line, making them easier to use, and safer than their gasoline-only counterparts.
power out - portable generator

Finally, if you’re planning to purchase any generator to power your home, you should have a licensed electrician install a transfer switch. This is a single cable that connects your generator to your home’s circuit panel. It is a great idea for myriad reasons but the biggest is that it’s much easier. By installing this switch, you are helping to protect yourself and anyone in your home from the risk of electrical shock. 

power outage - choosing generator for your home

If you have an electrician you trust, have them walk through your home with you to help assess your energy production needs. They can also recommend generator types and models that would work best for you. Additionally, they can install your transfer switch and help walk you through the proper care and safe operation of a home generator system. 


Jul 30th 2021

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