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A Buying Guide for Handy Backup Generators

With severe weather becoming more and more common, more homeowners are looking for ways to ensure they’ve got much-needed power in case of an emergency.

Power generators are incredibly handy, and not just for when the lights go out. They’re portable and flexible for a variety of uses.

To help you find the best generator for your needs, here’s a buying guide for these handy backup energy suppliers.

Why Generators Are Worth It

Here are some of the many reasons why it’s worth having a generator to rely on in times of need.

Inclement Weather

All types of inclement weather can cause power outages—as can animals and human error. And with these power outages comes safety risks to you and your home, along with significant inconveniences, especially if you work from home.

Portable Power Option

You can bring your portable generator with you wherever you go—whether to a new home, the cottage, or on a camping trip. No matter where you are, if you need power, your trusty generator will supply it.

Ready for Emergencies

Generators provide backup power in emergencies. So even if the power goes out, you can stay comfortable at home with the lights and heat on, and you won’t have to worry about your food spoiling in the fridge.

How Big Of A Generator Do You Need?

To figure out the size of the generator you need, list the size of the appliances you need to use in the event of an emergency power outage. And then calculate the total wattage these appliances will use.

Most household appliances can be powered with 3,000 to 6,500 watts. But keep in mind that larger appliances, like computers and refrigerators, use more start-up wattage than their general wattage, so you will need to account for extra wattage to use these appliances.

You might be happy with just enough energy to run some lights, charge your phone, and keep the fridge running. Or you may want to have no interruptions to your day-to-day home comforts, such as being able to do laundry and run your air conditioner.

Also, consider these three essential factors when deciding on a generator size:

  1. Your home’s water source. If you use well water instead of city water, your well pump will need a 240-volt generator that is 3,800 watts or more.
  2. Your home’s heating system. Forced-air gas or oil systems only need 2,500-watt generators, depending on the size of the furnace fan motor. Electric furnaces and heat pumps require 15,000 watts or more, which cannot be provided by a portable generator.
  3. Your home’s hot water system. Gas- and oil-fired water heaters use less power (2,500 watts) compared to electric water heaters (minimum 4,500 watts).

So if you use city water and have a small furnace, a generator between 3,000 and 5,000 watts may cover your needs. But if you have a well pump and/or a large furnace, you’ll need a larger generator—between 5,000 and 6,500 watts.

Once you’ve figured out how much power you will need to run your desired appliances, choose a generator size based on your needs.

A small portable generator—between 3,000 and 4,000 watts—should be enough to power the basic home essentials, such as some lights, your refrigerator, microwave, sump pump, and TV.

A medium-sized portable generator—between 5,000 and 8,000 watts—will provide more power so you can keep your home heated with portable heaters and run more electronics, such as your computer.

A large portable generator—up to 10,000 watts—will keep your air conditioning unit and range working.

Lastly, a standby generator, which is permanently installed with your home, will be able to provide enough energy for all of the above plus energy to run your washer and dryer.

What To Look for When Buying A Generator For Your Home

To find the best generator for your needs, also consider the following when shopping for generators:

Power and Outlets

Generators have two types of power ratings:

  • The maximum power, which is the maximum wattage they can produce and usually for 30 minutes; and,
  • The rated power, which is the power a generator can produce for long periods—which is usually 90% of the maximum power.

To find a generator that will meet your power needs continuously, look at the rated power when shopping for generators.

You’ll also want to consider the number of outlets you’ll need. Smaller generators tend to have two 120V AC outlets and USB ports. And 4,000-plus-watt generators will have more 120V outlets along with 240V plugs.

If you want an electrician to wire your generator to your electrical panel, you’ll need a generator with a 240V plug. Also, look for generators with GFCI-protected outlets for safe use outdoors.

Fuel Type

Gas generators are the most common type of generator, and gas is a convenient fuel to source. There are also diesel generators available that have better fuel efficiency, but higher upfront costs.

Propane generators are another option, as are gas generators that can convert to propane use.

Battery-powered generators recharge using solar panels. They are silent with no emissions. However, they recharge slowly, cost more, and tend to produce only 1,800 watts.

Fuel Tank

The size of the generator’s fuel tank will determine how often you’ll have to go outside and refuel your generator. An average generator will run for 7 to 9 hours at a 50% load, or longer if you use less power and shorter if you use more.

Start Type

Generators either have electric start engines or engines that require you to pull a recoil cord. While pulling a cord can be satisfying, consider how much time and energy you want to spend on starting a generator.

Noise Level

Smaller generators can be quiet. But once you move up to 4,000-watt generators or higher, you likely won’t find quiet generators. And diesel generators are louder than gas generators.

Whether you opt for a portable Honda generator to stay comfortable during a power outage or one to tailgate and camp with, consider the type and size to suit your power needs.

Power outages or other disasters don’t have to be a complete write off if you have a handy backup power source by your side.