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Home generators are the ideal way to stay connected and comfortable, even during a power outage. These installed generators eliminate many of the headaches associated with the use of portable generators—like regular refueling, managing many feet of extension cords, and enduring the constant din of a noisy engine.
Standby home generators are an investment, but they offer increased power capacity and are ready to go when the power cuts out. They generally range from 7 kW to 22 kW of power or more when installed for home use. To keep important appliances like your refrigerator or your air conditioning running, home generators rely on a natural gas or propane connection. Alternatively, you can shop for diesel-fueled home generators, but be aware that additional codes may govern the installation of this type of home generator.
Home generators vary in wattage and you should factor in both starting watts and running watts for your home’s power supply needs. And keep in mind that standby generators should always be installed with a transfer switch to prevent back-feed that can cause harm to your home’s electrical system, the generator, or serious injury and death to utility workers.
Here, the top home generators for maintaining essential functions during a power outage.
Best Overall: Generac 10 kW Guardian Series Home Standby Generator, Model 7172
A whole-home generator offers the peace of mind that comes from knowing your most essential appliances and systems will remain running, even if the power goes out. The Generac Guardian series is one of the most popular lines of home generators on the market and a variety of models are available to suit your specific power needs.
The Generac Guardian Model 7171 is well-equipped for basic home use and is an air-cooled system. This generator is rated for 10 kW when using natural gas and 9 kW when using propane. Tool-less conversion capability lets you easily set up the generator for the fuel source of your choice. In addition, you can keep an eye on the status of your generator with the use of Generac’s Mobile Link Remote Monitoring System. With a Wi-Fi-enabled generator, like this model, you can keep tabs on the generator’s current operating status or receive maintenance alerts. However, don’t confuse this with a high-tech generator that allows you to remotely start or stop the generator’s operation via app control; the Mobile Link Remote Monitoring Service is simply a tool to provide status updates.
This home generator comes equipped with a 100W transfer switch that has space for up to 16 circuits. The transfer switch seamlessly switches your home’s power supply from incoming utility lines to the generator, preventing dangerous back-feed.
Best Budget: Generac PowerPact 7,500 Watt Standby Generator, Model 69981
Move up from a portable generator to this affordable whole-home generator from Generac. The PowerPact series is a budget-friendly choice that still affords you the peace of mind that results from having a standby generator ready to supply power to your home in the event of an outage.
The PowerPact model offers 7,500 watts of power and can operate using your home’s existing natural gas lines or a propane supply. Capable of operating up to 8 circuits, the PowerPact is not the most robust home generator on the market but it can be relied on to keep your most critical items in operation. In addition, this model includes a 50-amp automatic transfer switch that allows the generator to seamlessly take over if the power goes out. Instead of hauling out your portable generator, fueling it up, and running power lines to critical appliances, the PowerPact is a budget home generator that kicks into action quickly.
Best Quiet: Cummins 13 kW QuietConnect Home Standby Generator, Model RS13A
Enjoy power along with peace and quiet by shopping for a quiet home generator that won’t disturb your everyday routine—or annoy your neighbors. The Cummins QuietConnect RS13A Home Standby Generator offers a hard-to-beat noise rating of just 65 decibels, about the same volume as normal conversation. With a compact footprint, it requires just 18 inches of clearance from your home—which won’t be an issue given how quiet this generator is.
Like many other home generators on the market today, it offers less than 5-percent harmonic disruption for less strain on your home appliances. In addition, you can run access diagnostic information from your computer or smart device to monitor your generator anytime, anywhere.
Best for Small Homes: Briggs & Stratton 10 kW Automatic Home Standby Generator, Model 040375
No matter the size of your home, the convenience of a whole house generator can’t be overlooked. Small homes with fewer appliances and less energy-intensive heating and cooling systems don’t have the same power demands and a smaller generator, like this model from Briggs & Stratton is a great option.
Most notably, this standby generator for small homes has a compact footprint—it measures just 28 x 26.1 x 34.8 inches and can be installed with just 18 inches of clearance from your home’s exterior. At the same time, there’s no shortage of power inside this generator for small homes. It’s rated for 10 kW on propane and 9 kW on natural gas. Keep in mind that a transfer switch must be purchased separately.
Best Air-Cooled: Briggs & Stratton 12,000 Watt Automatic Air-Cooled Standby Generator
Heat is always a major concern with standby generators. For a machine with so many complicated moving parts, heat naturally builds up the longer a generator runs. In order to continue to run without experiencing major, permanent damage, a generator needs a proper cooling system. For most affordable generators, this system swaps hot for cool air with built-in fans.
The Briggs & Stratton 12,000 Watt Generator is all about efficiency and heat control in its design. With a small enclosure and effective air cooling system, the engine can run for long periods of time without overheating. The narrow footprint of the enclosure can even be placed up to a foot and a half away from the home if the landscape and local building codes permit. At 12,000 watts, the generator is meant for small-to-medium size homes.
Best Single-Phase: Generac Protector Series 15 kW Diesel Home Standby Generator, Model RD01525
When choosing between a single-phase and three-phase generator, you'll want to consider your power needs. Unlike your standard three-phase generator, single-phase generators produce one single voltage of power. While more energy- and cost-efficient in the long run, the levels can vary throughout the power cycle. This shouldn't be an issue for normal, residential operations, but if you're looking to power a larger building in a more metropolitan area, opt for a multiple-phase option.
The Generac Protector Series Diesel Home Standby Generator is versatile, adaptable, and easy to use. It comes with a set of pre-configured options that you won't have to bother messing with, and has an external viewing window for convenient monitoring. The multilingual LCD display lets you easily check in on generator functions, and the generator automatically conducts a weekly Quiet-Test™ to identify any issues. All in all, this is a great pick to save you money in the long-term. It's suitable for most residential operations and is built to last.
Best Liquid-Cooled : Generac Protector QS 22 kW Standby Generator, Model RG022
Liquid-cooled generators are generally quieter than air-cooled versions and reduce the risk of overheating, especially in hot climates. The Generac Protector series utilizes a closed coolant recovery system to keep interior components from overheating. A radiator and water pump work to circulate the coolant within the system, which may mean more maintenance over the life of your generator, but better cooling capability in return.
A large generator, like the Protector QS RG022, benefits from the liquid cooling system as it produces up to 22,000 watts of power using propane or natural gas. This model is sized right for large homes but is an investment worth making if you live in a warm climate and want the peace of mind that comes from a liquid-cooled generator system.
If you're looking for a well-equipped generator for your most commonly used appliances and conveniences, the 10 kW Generac Guardian Home Generator (view at Lowe's) is a good choice. It offers the power you need using either natural gas or propane and can be remotely monitored using Generac's Mobile Link Monitoring System. For a more affordable option, opt for the Generac PowerPact 7,500 Watt Generator (view at Northern Tools). You'll have to settle for fewer connected appliances, but it will keep your most essential items running during a power outage.
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For the last several years, Erica Puisis has been covering home appliances and tools that make everyday life easier. With experience investigating the best home generators and portable generators and developing buying guides that help consumers make informed choices, she is familiar with the features that matter and the brands that offer reliable performance.
Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Generator
by Erica Puisis
When the power goes out, a generator is a 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.