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4 Big Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Home Generator

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 4, 2020 9:15:00 AM / by Jaron Henkel

In the market for a new home generator? Sometimes it’s hard to know where to even start. Liquid propane or natural gas? Wattage? Standby or portable?

In this post, we’re digging into four huge questions you should ask yourself before choosing the best generator for you. 

1. How much power do I need?

The first step to helping you choose a generator is assessing how much power you will need in the event of an outage. Grab a piece of paper and list the appliances you’ll be running (i.e. refrigerator, freezer, garage door, stove) and the necessary amount of power it requires to start and keep running. 

Now total up all these calculations to determine the necessary wattage. To calculate the number of watts needed, use the formula: watts = volts x amps.

Use the following estimates as a general rule:

  • 5000-7000 watts for essential home functions (this range will probably work for most Florida homeowners)
  • 3000-5000 watts for power tools at a job site
  • 1000-3000 watts for tailgating, camping, or other recreational use

Sound like a lot of work? Check out our “Generator Sizing Made Easy” blog for resources for finding the common wattage needs of most everyday household appliances. cummins-home-standby-generator-in-yard

2. Should I get a standby or a portable generator?

Automatic generators start on their own when the power goes out and are referred to as backup or standby generators. 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 unit. Since they are wired into your electrical system, they do not require you to run extension cords throughout the home. On the other hand, because they are permanently installed fixtures, they are typically more expensive than roller units. 

In contrast, portable generators are not automatic. You must always 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. They have a wattage capacity of anywhere from 1,000-8,000 depending on the model, but they are not approved for long-term run-time (such as a few days at a time). Still, they are relatively easy to move around and start and are often a more affordable option for short-term power needs.

A few more questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you require smooth power?
  • How long does the generator need to be running? 
  • Do you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach?

We break down all these questions and which generator type is better for each in our “Backup Generator Guide” blog.

3. Which fuel type is better?

A portable 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 it outside of the home to prevent deadly carbon monoxide exposure. Furthermore, in the event of a long-term power outage, it may be difficult to acquire the necessary fuel to keep your home running. 

A standby generator can save you from those fuel hassles because they run on natural gas or propane and often have larger tanks or an unlimited underground supply.

We have a great resource for comparing the difference between propane vs. natural gas generators here, with pros and cons for each fuel source, that you should definitely check out!

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4. How long do you need it to run?

If you want a generator just to get your through a few hours of down power, a portable generator could do the trick. The problem arises when the power is out for days on end and you need a constant source of energy to run your electronics and home. 

Standby generators are usually the smarter option for long-term runtime, but these generators vary depending on if you choose a liquid propane vs. natural gas model. LP-powered units can typically run up to 200 hours continuously without problem, but you’re at the mercy of your fuel tank size and the propane company’s delivery availability. A NG-powered generator, however, taps into an underground fuel line with unlimited access to natural gas.

Learn more about the factors that influence a generators runtime by reading our other blog. 

Starting Your Generator Hunt

Now that you’ve learned a little about the type of generator that’s best for you, start looking for the right brand. Check out our helpful generator comparison guide, where we compare Generac vs. Kohler vs. Briggs & Stratton generators

While you’re at it, download our free resource, The Battle of the Home Generator Guide, which compares three popular wattages of the top three generator suppliers to help you choose the right model for your Florida home.

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Topics: Home Generators, Generators, How Do Generators Work

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