We’ve been lucky this year that we have not had major thunderstorms or heat waves that have caused massive power outages. But you know the next emergency could be just around the corner. And if you don’t have a backup generator to keep your refrigerator cold and your computers and lights running, you could be in trouble. And if you wait for that emergency to hit, you could end up making a panicked and wrong decision.
So here are some thoughts on buying a backup generator.
Determining your power needs
The first step is to determine how much power you need. That may help determine the type of generator you need. Figure 5,000 – 6,000 watts to cover the basics. Some guidelines:
- Refrigerator: 600 watts
- Sump pump: 750-1,500 watts
- Portable heater: 1,500 watts
- Window AC unit: 1,000 watts
- Lights: 60-600 watts
- Computers: 60 – 300 watts
Types of generators
There are three types of generators.
- Home standby generators are permanently installed, run on natural gas or propane, and kick on automatically. This is the safest choice, as they turn on automatically and you don’t risk losing power when you are not at home. They provide 5,000 – 20,000 watts. The bigger ones may be more than you need, which is why it is important to take the time to identify how much power you need. They are also expensive, costing $3,000 to $6,000 just for the generator. Plus, you need to have a professional electrician install it.
- Portable generators can, as the name suggests, be moved around anywhere outside your home. They are generally smaller and less expensive than standby generators, providing from 3,000 to 8,500 watts with a price range of $400 to $1,000. Most models run on gasoline, but some come equipped to run on propane or natural gas. Additionally, some come with fuel gauges so you can check to see how much fuel you have left. These models can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide, so make sure you situate it at least 15 feet away from any structure, with the exhaust facing away from your house.
- Inverter generators are quieter, run more efficiently and produce fewer emissions than portable generators. They also can cost more than portable generators – $500 to $4,000.
Other features to consider
- An automatic start ensures the generator goes on whenever there is a power outage, whether you are home or not.
- Electric start. Several models have a push-button start, in addition to the pull-start.
- Four or more outlets allow you to spread the wattage.
- A removable console connects to the generator so you can plug in appliances without running extension cords outdoors.
- Consider installing a transfer switch, which connects your generator to your circuit panel via one cable. You should have a licensed electrician install it.