Choosing the right backup generator for your home

Spring in Texas means powerful thunderstorms, and this year has been a rollercoaster. When I moved here a few years ago from Minnesota, an in-house electrician convinced me to buy a portable generator. I’m glad I did. Just last week, I ran my machine for two days after trees toppled power lines across the city. I have used generators on construction sites for years, and would never have a home without them.

No matter where you live, occasional power outages are not uncommon. Florida is suffering from hurricanes, California is suffering from wildfires, and everyone is facing the possibility of changing weather patterns. Having a secondary way to get energy can be a game-changer when faced with the cost of replacing spoiled food, finding a powered place to work, or just staying cool during periods of 100-degree weather.

When purchasing a generator, you have two broad options: a portable model that you stash in your garage or dispose of and drag outside for emergencies, or a whole-house version that is always on standby and turns on automatically when the lights go out. Below, I’ll talk about the differences, including price, and what I’ve learned over the years working with these helpful energy providers.

What is a portable generator?

TMP Studio

A portable generator is a small, portable power source that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. You fill it with gasoline or propane and start the engine manually when the power goes out. To power your appliances, you need to either run extension cords from the generator to individual appliances or have an electrician install a manual transfer switch subpanel that allows the generator to power certain important circuits in your home. The first option is the easiest and cheapest.

Basic portable generators start at a few hundred dollars for less than 200 watts of power, but I’d save them for camping trips. For home use, you’ll need a generator that delivers thousands of watts. Expect to pay between $500 to $5,000 or more, depending on how many things you need to power. To put things in perspective, a 4,500-watt dual-fuel generator costs about $1,000, and kept my refrigerator, window air conditioners, computer, TV (and more) going after last week’s storm.

What is a standby generator?

Choosing the right backup generator for your home Illustration of a backup generatorTMP Studio

A standby generator, also called a whole house generator, automatically senses when the power is out — and you don’t have to do anything. They may not be towed from the garage after a storm, nor may gasoline or propane be stored. The fuel is stored in an underground tank or provided by natural gas in your home. Standby generators are larger than portable generators (7,500 watts to 48,000 watts or more) and are more expensive, with prices ranging from $5,000 to more than $25,000.

Backup generators must be professionally installed by a licensed electrician. Some can power your entire home, including central air, kitchen appliances, submersible pumps, and other vital energy needs simultaneously. They’re quieter than portable generators, and you don’t have to worry about running extension cords.

What size generator do I need?

Generators are not cheap, and power outages are temporary. Before you run out and buy the biggest (or smallest) generator you can find, figure out what you want to run when the power goes out. Include essential items like a refrigerator, microwave, sink, well pump if you have one, and, if it’s Texas in July, an air conditioner. (If you were in my old home state of Minnesota, air conditioning probably wouldn’t be such a big deal.)

Computers and television don’t require a lot of effort, but boredom is real, and you may have to work. Include those as well. Next, walk around your home and look for the label on each appliance or appliance – they should have a label. It will tell you the wattage needed to operate it. If you only see amps listed, multiply the amps by 120 volts to get the watts. Write these numbers down and add them.

Wattage of common appliances

Here’s a general idea of ​​the electrical power requirements for your devices. Keep in mind that newer devices will be more efficient than older models, and brands may vary widely.

Microwave: 800 to 1200 watts Refrigerator: 300 to 800 watts TV: 50 to 200 watts Laptop: 50 to 100 watts Window air conditioner: 600 to 1500 watts Sump pump: 800 to 1000 watts

These are the running watts; Appliances with motors, such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and submersible pumps, will also have a starting watt, which is a short spike that occurs when the device starts up. To make sure you have enough extra power from your generator to start and run your appliances, multiply the watts by 1.5, and purchase a generator of at least that size.

Running the generator at full capacity will wear it down, so try to keep the load at or below 75% of its capacity. Getting one that is a little bigger than you need is better than getting one that is too small.

Which generator is right for me?

It’s just a matter of preference and your individual needs. If your climate is fairly stable, and you rarely need emergency power, a mid-range portable generator will likely be adequate. It doesn’t take up much space, and you’ll be glad to have it during a prolonged power outage, no matter how rare. If you think life is too short to mess around with extension cords and gallons of gas, and you can make a significant investment in your home, a standby generator is for you.

Another consideration is the health and safety of your family. If you have people at home with critical medical needs, you don’t have to worry about running dialysis equipment, operating a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or keeping medications cold in the refrigerator.

If I were building a new house today, I would 100% put in a backup generator for the whole house. Here in the land of frequent storms, they are all too common in new residential construction, and I’ve wound up enough bulky, tangled extension cords at work to last a lifetime. For now, the portable generator meets my needs, but my next project is to install a transfer switch subpanel to make my life easier.

If you need any help knowing what to buy or how to install and operate a generator safely, contact a licensed electrician. That’s why we’re here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *