How to Choose a Backup Generator for Your House

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A backup generator can make a huge difference during a power outage, and it could even mean the difference between life and death during a natural disaster. A generator becomes even more important when used to run life-saving equipment during a power outage, such as an oxygen machine, heart monitor, or even the central heat and air. And while choosing the best backup generator might seem confusing, this article can help you decide what type you need.

Develop a Backup Generator Budget

Before you even start looking for a backup generator, determine how much you can or are willing to spend. Generator financing represents one option if you find yourself strapped for cash.
Some sites that offer generator financing include Generac, Electric Generators Direct, and Briggs & Stratton.

Determine Your Household Power Needs

When choosing a generator, you need to decide what size and power you’re looking for. To determine your power requirements, calculate how much power you need based on the appliances you absolutely must have if the power goes out. Add up all of the wattage from the appliances, systems, and lights you plan on using during a power outage and multiply the result by 1.5 to get the minimum wattage you need in a generator.
Common wattage requirements include the following:
Wattage Requirements of Common
Household Appliances
Appliance or System Wattage Requirements
1/3-hp sump pump 800
10,000-Btu air conditioner 1,500
Freezer 500 - 1,200 (depending on size)
Lights 60 - 600 (depending on
the number of lights used)
Laptop computer 250
Microwave 600 - 1,200 (depending on size)
Portable heater 1,500
Refrigerator 700 - 1,200 (depending on size)
Television 300
Washing machine 1,200
Window air conditioner 1,000

A Stationary vs. a Portable Generator

Next, determine if you need a stationary or portable generator. The difference in price is substantial, with a stationary generator serving as a longer-term solution over a portable one. While a stationary generator does cost more money, it does usually provide more power and is designed to start automatically when the power goes out. A stationary generator costs anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and requires professional installation.
A portable generator, on the other hand, is great if you need to provide power to different areas of your home or if you want to take it with you when you go camping and do other outdoor activities. While not as strong as the most powerful stationary generator, portable generators cost less, ranging from from $400 to $1,000.
In addition to power output, many generators, both stationary and portable, come with a wide variety of features. Some of the more popular backup generator features include:
  • Automatic start: A common feature on stationary generators is an automatic start, which means the generator automatically comes on when the power goes out.
  • Alternative-fuel capacity: While many portable generators only run on gasoline, some can also run on propane or natural gas — or at least they have the option to be converted with a kit if necessary.
  • Electric start: While many portable generators use a pull-start method to get them going, some offer an electric-start option. Keep in mind that the battery needed for an electric-start system usually has to be bought separately from the generator.
  • Fuel gauge: A fuel gauge allows you to easily check fuel levels on a portable generator. It is surprisingly not a common feature on some models.
  • Inverter technology: An inverter allows a generator to meet the power output of sensitive electronics without burning them up. Generators that come with a power inverter also run more quietly.
  • Low-oil shutoff: A common feature on stationary generators, low-oil shutoff protects a generator from overheating when its oil level gets too low. Some portable models are starting to offer this feature as well.
  • Multiple outlets: A generator with multiple outlets allows you to spread out the wattage load to the various outlets on the generator. A transfer switch might work better for generators that carry larger power demands.
  • Removable console: A removable console allows you to connect appliances and other devices to a generator without having to run extension cords to the generator’s location outdoors.
  • ** Wheels:** Believe it or not, some portable generators do not come with wheels, making it harder to move them.
Choosing the right backup generator for your needs is easy as long as you know how much wattage it needs to supply. In addition, you should seek out generators with the features you want, keeping in mind your budget and power needs.

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