Choosing a Generator for Your Home

Summer is coming, and for many areas of the country, that means hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and power outages are on their way. If you live in an area where outages are to be expected, a generator is a valuable tool to have at your disposal. And if you’re considering the purchase of a generator, it’s important to choose one that will meet your unique needs. Here are some factors to consider:

How Much Wattage Will You Need?

The average home requires several thousand watts of electric power, but the amount you’ll need can vary greatly depending on your home’s needs – and your wants. If you want to be able to power your home’s central air conditioning, for example, you’ll need a more capable generator. If you’re more concerned about powering individual devices such as a refrigerator or computer, your needs will probably be much less.

Thankfully, there are many calculators online that make it easier for you to estimate you much wattage you’ll need to accomplish your goals. You’ll find a great example here at Consumer Reports. Calculators such as these help you balance the convenience you’ll need against the additional cost you’ll need to pay for a larger generator and more sophisticated connection.

Standby or Portable?

Once you’ve determined the wattage you’ll need, you’ll have a better idea of the generator you’ll require. The two most common choices are portable and standby generators.

If your needs are basic, and you’re interested in powering smaller, select items in your home, portable generators will get the job done. In these cases, items can be connected to the generator via extension cords. The largest portable generators can produce up to 10,000 watts, and are capable of powering entire homes; providing power to household systems or outlets requires a special generator connection through the home’s electrical panel.

In order to establish the right kind of connection, an electrician will need to install a manual transfer switch or generator interlock kit onto your home’s electrical panel; these devices allow you to manually switch between generator and utility power, and ensure that both cannot power your electrical system at the same time. Failing to do would be a violation of code and potentially dangerous.

If you’ve found that you need more power than a portable generator can provide, you’ll want to consider a standby generator. Larger generators can deliver up to 22,000 watts (22kW); this is enough power to meet the needs of a larger home, including household systems like central heating and air. As you might image, the cost to purchase and install a standby generator will be much more than for a portable system.

The Price of Convenience

Once you’ve established a minimum of what you’ll need to power – and a maximum of what you hope to power – generator pricing can help to clarify your decision. Portable generator prices start in the hundreds for smaller models, and can reach up to $3000 for models that may be able to power a home. Standby generator cost roughly double or triple what you would pay for the largest portables.

Storms are coming, and so are power outages, so don’t wait. Take the next step, and get that generator before you need it – and not after it’s too late.