Generators are lifelines for many homeowners. When the power goes out, they can keep perishables in your refrigerator and freezer cold, keep your lights on, and power the devices you need to stay connected to emergency services. There are a variety of generator options to choose from, so be sure to pick the one that best addresses your needs.
How much power do you need?
The first step towards a generator purchase is assessing how much power you will need in the event of a power outage. Grab a piece of paper and list the appliances (i.e. refrigerator, freezer, garage door, stove) and the necessary amount of power it requires to start and keep running. If the appliance doesn’t list the watts, kilowatts, or volt-amps, consult the appliance manual or call the manufacturer.
Next, calculate the amount of power needed to run household items without motors, such as light bulbs, coffee makers, and televisions. To calculate the number of watts needed, use the formula: watts = volts x amps.
Now total up all these calculations to determine the necessary wattage. For a general guideline, use the following estimates:
- 5000-7000 watts for essential home functions
- 3000-5000 watts for power tools at a jobsite
- 1000-3000 watts for tailgating, camping, or other recreational use
Remember, never operate your generator at full capacity for more than a half hour. This can damage your generator or appliances. 90% watt usage is a safe operating capacity.
Generator Types: Automatic vs. Standby
Automatic generators start automatically when the power goes out. They have a wattage capacity of 10,000 - 15,000 watts and are permanently installed on the outside of the home, like an air conditioning unity. Since they are wired into your electrical system, they do not require you to run extension cords throughout the home. The automatic generator is fueled by natural gas or propane.
Standby generators are not automatic, but they are relatively easy to move around and start. They have a wattage capacity of anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 depending on the model, but they require the homeowner to run extension cords to individual appliances. They are less expensive, but they require a constant supply of fuel and they cannot operate long in bad weather. Remember, never use one of these inside a garage or indoors because the fuel releases toxic exhaust.
Questions to answer before purchasing a generator
Wattage isn’t the only consideration you need to make before purchasing a new generator. Here are a few additional questions you can answer:
- What’s your capability? As the name indicates, automatic generators start automatically when your home loses power. Standby generators, on the other hand, require homeowners to take the generator out of storage, fill it with fuel, run the appropriate cables to the home, move appliances so they can be connected to power, and finally, pull-start the generator (not all standby generators are push-start). If you want ease of use, invest in an automatic generator. If you want versatility and don’t mind the extra work, choose a standby generator.
- Home Storage Availability: Although a standby generator is great for its versatility, you will need extra room for storage. If you don’t have enough space in the garage or storage shed, an automatic generator will be a better option. Automatic generators are permanently installed outside of the home, so you never need to worry about storage.
- Fuel Source: A standby generator requires a constant fuel source, whether that be gasoline or diesel fuel. This requires you to not only store fuel in your garage in the case of an emergency, but you must also run the generator outside of the home to prevent deadly carbon monoxide from harming your health. Furthermore, in the event of a long-term power outage, it may be difficult to acquire the necessary fuel to keep your home running. Automatic generators save you from those fuel hassles because they run on natural gas or propane.
When in doubt, always call a professional
Since both types of generators have definite advantages and disadvantages, it may be best to consult an electrical professional. They can help you calculate necessary wattage and determine which model will best fit your needs. If you already know you need an automatic generator, trust your home and your family’s safety to a professional; during that next outage, you won’t regret it.