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While it may be a rare occurrence, blackouts and power outages can happen, leaving homes in the dark for hours or even days. That's why it's important to purchase a standby generator: a dedicated power generator that can kick on seconds after the main power goes off with an automatic transfer switch.
For this reason, a standby generator is a great long-term investment for emergency situations. When purchasing a standby generator, it's important to consider the right wattage for your home, and whether you'd like it to power the bare essentials, or your entire home. Generators between 5,000-10,000 watts can power small devices, lights, and/or a couple of appliances, while 10,000-20,000 watts are required for more appliances or whole-home power supplies. The more you want to power, the more watts you will need.
With that in mind, here are the best generators for your home.
Even though standby generators can be difficult to install and set up at first, the best ones are relatively easy to maintain when not in use. That is because great standby generators are designed to run quietly and smoothly with only periodic maintenance if necessary. While the best standby generator depends on the size of your home and your power needs, this next one takes the top spot for most average-to-large homes.
The Genarac 22,000 Watt Generator is a large powerhouse that will automatically kick in during power outages. At 22,000 watts, this generator is powerful enough for large homes and can last several days before needing to be refueled. Genarac’s stellar customer service is also on hand 24/7 to help you maintain the generator during the times it is not in use or when it needs some upkeep.
The more powerful a generator is, the more heat it will produce. For commercial grade and high-end residential generators, air cooling just is not enough to keep temperatures down to safe levels. Instead, liquid-cooling systems are the only way to really keep a generator working at peak efficiency. Even though they cost more, these systems are essential for safety when more power is needed.
The Generac 48,000 Watt Generator is a borderline commercial powerplant that can be used on large homes as well. Despite the size and power, Generac has designed this generator to be as quiet as possible for residential use while remaining cool with its liquid-cooling system. At the 48,000 watt mark, the power plant is perfect for homes beyond 5,000 square feet, home businesses, and small retail stores.
Best for Small Homes: Briggs & Stratton 10,000 Watt Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch
If you have a small space or house to generate power during a blackout or emergency, you do not need a large generator to get the job done. Small generators at or under 10,000 watts are perfect for homes on the small-to-medium scale or that have smaller power requirements. When you only have a few appliances and devices to keep running, for example, you can get by with lower wattage at a more affordable price.
The Briggs & Stratton 10,000 Watt Generator is one of the smallest standby generators available that is designed for essential power coverage during outages. For an average home, the generator can handle two air conditioners and a small number of electric appliances from its 16-circuit coverage. Its small footprint also makes it easier to install the generator closer to the home in narrow and cramped yards.
Checking out the typical prices of a standby generator may come as a shock initially. Common generators are expensive, often costing thousands of dollars, but there are several great budget options to consider if you have a small home to power. Budget generators are often lower in wattage and are more suited for smaller homes or in emergencies where you only need to power a few devices and appliances as necessary.
The Generac 10,000 Watt Generator is a budget option small enough to fit into tighter outdoor spaces while requiring less concrete for the support foundation, saving you even more. The OHVI engine is designed to run for extended periods of time during power outages and other emergencies. Powering up to 16 circuits in the home, this generator supplies enough power for the most important things during an emergency.
Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Generator
by Erica Puisis
When the power goes out, a generator is the go-to choice to keep things up and running. Generators offer an on-demand source of power that can keep appliances or equipment operational in the event of a power outage. They also are relied upon in off-the-grid scenarios where you may need to operate power tools or small appliances, like when camping or on a remote job-site.
Most generators work by means of a motor fueled by gasoline, propane, or natural gas. This electric motor generates the power needed to operate items connected to the generator via heavy-duty extension cords or to give power to designated circuits on your home electrical grid via a transfer switch. When the fuel runs out, so will your power—so keeping a close eye on the gas gauge is important for uninterrupted service.
When shopping for a generator, you’ll want to consider the type of generator that is right for your situation—a home standby unit, a portable version, or an inverter model. Other important factors to weigh include wattage, fuel source, and budget. Whole home generators are the priciest—ranging from $3,000 and up. Portable generators generally cost $300 to $1,000 or more, while fuel-efficient inverter generators start at around $300 but quickly climb in price.
What to Look for in a Generator
Watts: The watts produced by a generator measure the power the unit will have available to operate whatever is plugged into it. This is one of the most important things to know about any generator you’re considering.
To know how many watts you’ll need in a generator, add up the wattage of the appliances or equipment you’re most likely to simultaneously operate. This will give you an idea of the load that your generator will need to be able to handle.
Pay attention also to starting watts versus running watts. Many appliances require a larger surge of power during start-up compared to their running energy consumption. If you don’t factor in the starting watts, you may overload the generator as you start up appliances or other items. Generally, you only need to add in the highest starting wattage to your total watts required—since you likely won’t be starting every appliance or device on your generator simultaneously.
Increased watts of power will generally equate to an increased cost when shopping for a generator, but it is better to have adequate power than to be left in the dark or having to decide between running your refrigerator or keeping cool with a fan.
Fuel Type: Generators generally are powered by one of three fuel sources—gasoline, natural gas, or propane.
Gasoline-powered generators are the most common, but also carry special cautions related to exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide poisoning. Always make sure to operate a gas generator outside of any enclosed structure (including your house or garage) where there is adequate ventilation.
You’ll also need to take measures to keep gasoline stored properly for long periods of generator inactivity. A fuel stabilizer is one method of ensuring that the gasoline in your generator remains ready for use.
Propane and natural gas are more commonly used for larger home standby generators. These fuels are generally also considered to be cleaner burning sources of fuel and provide an on-demand source of power.
An alternative to fuel-powered generators are solar or battery-powered models. The capabilities and run times of these machines vary greatly, but they may be the right match if you have more minimal power needs. Many battery-powered generators are also a safe indoor alternative for a supply of power.
Automatic Start: Some whole home generators will automatically kick in when the power goes out. This automatic start feature enables the generator to start supplying power to your home’s electrical grid without the manual start-up process often associated with portable generators.
Having a generator with an automatic start function may be especially valuable if you travel for long periods of time or have a second home. The peace of mind that comes with knowing your generator will automatically step in to keep vital systems functioning (like a sump pump, heating and cooling system, etc.) is worth the higher price tag that often comes with these systems.
Note that this isn’t the same thing as electronic start, which is the ability to start your generator with the push of a button rather than the recoil start typical of most small motor machines. In the case of a generator equipped with electronic start, you’ll still need to manually start the generator to begin the flow of power.
Transfer Switch: If your plan is to be able to use your generator to power hardwired appliances, then look for a machine that can be installed to work with a transfer switch. A professionally-installed transfer switch will safely disconnect your home from the power grid and supply power from your generator to designated circuits on your home’s electrical grid.
Never plug your generator into a standard electrical outlet—doing so can create electrical hazards, including back feed that can endanger utility workers that may be repairing power lines.
What Type of Generator is Best for Me?
Portable: One of the most popular types of generators, portable generators are relatively compact units typically mounted on wheels for easy positioning and mobility. They can be used for a wide variety of applications, including serving as an auxiliary source of power on job sites or during power outages to keep appliances and electronics working.
Portable generators use gasoline or propane as their fuel source. For this reason, it’s crucial that you never operate a portable generator inside an enclosed space—including your house, garage, or shed. Even with the windows open or other ventilation, carbon monoxide can quickly fill the space and cause a life-threatening situation. Even when used outside, make sure to place the generator a safe distance from windows and doors to prevent exhaust from infiltrating the house and affecting air quality.
This type of generator is best suited for powering an appliance or two and smaller tools or electric-powered items, like fans or lights. The higher the watts of the generator, the more load it can support. In general, portable generators will make life more bearable but won’t support all the creature comforts you may be used to during a power outage—such as a central air conditioning system, water heater, and other large appliances. It may, however, be able to keep your fridge operational while powering some fans and a few lights. Again, check the wattage of any model of portable generator you’re considering purchasing and see how it compares to your expected energy demands.
Never plug hardwired appliances into a portable generator or plug your generator into a standard electrical outlet. If you want to supply power to hardwired appliances, invest in having a transfer switch professionally installed by an electrician. You’ll need to manually flip a few switches to safely take your home off the power grid and switch to the generator’s power source, but this is the only safe way to supply power from a generator to your home’s electrical circuit and hardwired appliances.
Inverter: For an alternative to stationary home generators and noisy portable generators, consider an inverter generator. This type of generator is also powered by gasoline, but its claim to fame is increased fuel efficiency and cleaner emissions.
Typically more compact and rugged-looking than portable generators, inverter generators gained popularity for use in recreational activities like camping and tailgating. Today, though, there are a wide range of inverter generators on the market, including more powerful models that can handle supplying power to home appliances, lights, and other devices in much the same way as home standby generators or portable generators.
An inverter generator sips gasoline compared to the consumption rate of most portable generators. This is due to the fact that these generators adjust engine output to match power demands—when less power is required, the engine throttles down. As power needs increase, the generator revs up the engine to supply the increased power. As a result, the generator consumes less gasoline than if it ran at full power constantly. An inverter generator is also quieter when compared to many models of portable generators.
Consider an inverter generator if you want a compact, fuel-efficient power source for occasional off-grid activities or opt for a more robust model if you want to use it at home—but expect the weight and dimensions of the generator to increase significantly. Heavy-duty inverter generators can weigh several hundred pounds. The cost for an inverter generator is generally higher than comparable portable generators, but the fuel efficiency and reduced noise factor may make this a worthwhile investment in the long run. You can expect to pay around $300 for a light-duty, entry-level inverter generator and $3,000 or more for a robust model capable of powering home appliances during an extended power outage.
Home Standby: For the ultimate in on-demand power, consider a home standby generator. These installed large-capacity generators are ready to supply power for a few hours or a few days or more thanks to their readily available fuel supply and high wattages.
Standby generators are fixed units that are installed outside the home and are connected to a propane fuel tank or natural gas line. Propane tanks are generally anywhere from 500 to 1,000 gallons in size and can last up to a week or more, depending on power consumption. A standby generator connected to a natural gas line can offer uninterrupted power, as long as the flow of natural gas is available.
Standby generators will have considerably more watts available to power your home appliances, sump pump, heating and cooling system, and more. Most residential models of standby generators have anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 watts of power.
Whole home generators are the most powerful type of standby generators and typically start at about 22,000 watts of power. This will support most systems you’re used to having available in your home, including heating and cooling functions. But for the most uninterrupted level of power, some whole home generators offer up to 48,000 watts.
To safely use this power for your convenience and comfort in the event of a power outage, you’ll need to have the generator connected to a transfer switch—which will disconnect your circuit panel from the electrical grid before allowing power to flow from the generator through the circuits. Unlike portable generators which require you to manually initiate the power transfer, home standby generators equipped with automatic start and connected to a professionally installed transfer switch can make the transition happen seamlessly and without assistance from the homeowner.
If you experience frequent or prolonged power outages, a whole home generator is the most practical option. It will minimize or eliminate downtime and offers the longest run times. When professionally installed, a home generator also eliminates concerns over exhaust fumes and is safe from the elements inside its year-round housing.
For all these conveniences, though, you can expect to make a considerable investment. Home standby generators start at about $3,000, aside from the cost of installation, fuel tanks, and an installed transfer switch. High-end or high-capacity standby generators can reach $4,000 to $5,000.
Generac: Offering some of the most well-equipped generators for residential and commercial use, there are a wide variety of Generac models to choose from. The company produces everything from compact, light-duty inverter generators to robust portable generators and powerful, installed whole home versions with 12,000 or more watts of power. These generators are priced in the mid-to-high end of the generator price range but are known for being durable and having quality components.
Briggs & Stratton: A popular brand in the small motor space, Briggs & Stratton pairs its well-known motors with generators large and small. You can choose from portable models in a range of sizes to meet various household or light commercial needs. Or, opt for an inverter generator for more fuel efficiency at home or on the go. High-capacity home standby generators are also available, with a range of options from 8,000 watts up to 48,000 watts and beyond.
Champion: Champion focuses primarily on producing portable and inverter generators. There are a variety of models to choose from within both of these product categories, ranging from more modest power wattages to higher capacity models with increased watts. The company also produces some whole home generators, but the largest concentration of products is in the portable or inverter generator segment.
Maintenance and Warranties
While you may not be using your generator on a regular basis, you want to know that you can fire it up on any given day and it will be ready for use. To make sure that your generator is in tip top shape, you’ll need to perform basic maintenance.
The manufacturer of any generator you purchase should provide basic maintenance information, but in general it’s recommended that you do the following for most models of generators.
- Run the generator for at least 30 minutes once per month. Doing so will keep the motor and components from seizing up and becoming prone to breaking or failure. Make sure that you only operate the generator in a well-ventilated, open area—even during these short maintenance runs.
- Add fuel stabilizer to the tank when storing a gasoline-powered generator for an extended period. This additive will help ward off corrosion, rust, and sediment. Gas that has gone bad is a leading cause of small engine failure, so don’t neglect proper fuel storage.
- Regularly repair or replace motor components that are subject to wear and tear. Items like spark plugs, air and fuel filters, and more can become worn over time.
- Never let the oil run low in your generator. Doing so can cause major engine damage or even failure of the motor. Monitor oil levels and replenish as necessary.
The investment you make in a generator is often backed by a manufacturer’s warranty. Most residential portable and inverter generators are protected by a two or three-year warranty period that covers parts and labor. Standby generators, which are generally a larger investment, usually offer three or five-year warranty periods.
Some warranties will also cover travel costs for a technician to come and service the generator, but this varies by manufacturer and model so read the fine print closely to see what will be covered in this regard.