If you’re in the market for a home generator, you probably want to make sure you get the best one for your needs and budget. With so many options out there, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which generator is right for you. At Electric Ninjas, we’ve helped hundreds of homeowners find the perfect generators for their homes. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when choosing a home generator so you can make the best decision.
Table of Contents
Determine Your Power Needs
The first step is figuring out how much power you need your generator to produce. Consider which appliances and electronics you want to be able to run during an outage. Fridges, freezers, furnaces, sump pumps, and lights are common necessities. Make a list of everything you want to keep powered and determine each device’s wattage requirements. Add up the total wattage to determine the minimum generator capacity you need.
Also factor when you plan to use the generator. Running high-wattage devices like air conditioners requires a much larger generator than just running the fridge and lights. And remember, generators produce less power at higher elevations, so account for that if relevant.
Fuel Type Considerations
The fuel source your generator uses can impact convenience, operating costs, and maintenance needs. Here are some key factors to consider for each main type of fuel:
- Gasoline – Easy to obtain and works for most portable generators. Requires proper fuel stabilizers and routine maintenance.
- Propane – Clean burning and convenient when tanks are handy. No fuel stabilizers needed. Propane’s energy density is lower than gas, which affects runtimes.
- Diesel – Efficient and low maintenance for larger standby units. Fuel can gel in very cold weather. Can have loud engines.
- Natural Gas – Connects to your home’s gas lines for automatic fuel supply. No refueling or storage needed. Available for standby units. Requires professional installation.
- Think about which fuel type best fits your needs and limitations. Many homeowners opt for gas-powered portable generators as a flexible and affordable option.
Portable vs. Standby Generators
Portable generators offer flexibility in use cases and locations. They can be wheeled outside when needed and stored safely away when not in use. However, they require manual start-up and refueling. Most plug into a transfer switch to power your home’s circuits.
Standby generators are permanently installed outside and connect directly to your home’s electrical panel to provide automatic backup power during outages. They are more powerful and convenient but also a major investment. A licensed electrician is required for proper installation.
Consider your budget and how seamlessly you want the generator to operate when the power goes out. For occasional outages, a portable unit is usually sufficient. Those wanting automatic, whole-home power backup will need a standby generator.
Output Wattage Needs
Once you know your required running watts, add up the starting (or surge) watt ratings on motorized devices too. Things like the refrigerator, furnace, and well pump require extra wattage for starting up than continuous running. The generator must provide enough starting watts to power those surge loads.
Also factor in future plans like adding an AC unit down the road. Get a generator rated for your current needs and expected demands. Undersizing your generator’s wattage capacity is a common mistake that leads to frustration.
Key Features to Consider
Here are some key features to look for based on your needs and budget:
- Electric start – Allows easy, convenient start-up instead of strenuous manual pulling.
- Transfer switch – Safely delivers power to your home’s electrical system. Required for standby models.
- Weather protection – Metal enclosures protect components in outdoor standby units.
- Noise level – Important for portable units used near living spaces. Compare decibel ratings.
- Runtime – Bigger fuel tanks and efficient engines provide longer run times between refueling.
- Outlets – More standard household outlets allow powering more devices simultaneously.
- Maintenance alerts – Handy indicators remind you when to change oil, air filters, etc.
- Warranty – Standby generators often come with 5-10 year warranties on major components.
Carefully compare specifications between models to get the right generator with the features you really need.
Top Home Generator Brands
Sticking with an established, reputable generator brand ensures you get a quality product that’s been tested for safety and performance. Here are some of the top brands recommended by consumers and experts:
- Generac – A leading brand of residential standby generators that offers options for any size home and budget. Reliable, efficient, and full-featured.
- Champion – Well-known for their affordable and versatile portable generators suited for job sites and home backup.
- Honda – Renowned for extremely quiet, fuel efficient, and durable portable inverter generators. More expensive but worth it for many.
- Kohler – Primary maker of whole-house natural gas generators installed by professionals. Known for reliability and performance.
- Caterpillar – Commercial-grade diesel generators adapted to demanding home standby needs. Powerful and sturdy.
- While price and specific features may vary, you can be confident purchasing from one of these reputable generator manufacturers.
Installation and Maintenance
Proper generator installation and maintenance ensures your safety and its longevity. Always follow all manufacturer safety guidelines and operating instructions.
For standby generators, hire a licensed electrician for installation to safely integrate with your home’s electrical system. They can also help determine the optimal generator size and features for your needs.
Test portable generators outdoors in a well-ventilated area away from doors or windows to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup. Never plug a portable generator directly into your home’s wall outlets.
Routinely check fuel and oil levels. Change oil, filters, and plugs as directed. Inspect hoses and connections for leaks or issues. Test and run generators monthly to keep parts lubricated.
Taking care of your generator with regular maintenance and protection from the elements will help it start reliably whenever you need it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do home generators cost?
Home generator prices range widely from $500 to $5000 or more, depending on the fuel, power output, and features. Basic gasoline portable generators start around $500-1000. High-end standby whole-house generators can cost $5000+ with professional installation.
What size generator do I need?
Add up the running wattages of everything you want to power simultaneously, plus at least 30% more as a safety buffer. Also factor in starting watt surges for motorized appliances. Consult an electrician to be sure your generator can handle the household load.
Where should I install my generator?
Always run portable generators at least 20 feet away from your home outdoors, with exhaust pointed away from doors/windows. Permanently installed standby generators are outside, often along the home’s exterior wall for direct wiring into the electrical panel.
How long do home generators last?
With proper maintenance like oil changes, fuel stabilizers, covering from weather, and operating it monthly, a quality home generator should last 10-20 years for portables, and up to 25 years for standby whole-house models.
What fuel is best for home generators?
Gasoline is commonly used for affordable portable generators, while propane or natural gas proves more convenient for permanently installed whole-home standby generators. Diesel offers long run times well-suited for commercial use.
Do I need a transfer switch for my generator?
Yes, a transfer switch safely delivers power from your generator to home circuits by preventing backfeed. Manual transfer switches work for portable units, while automatic switches are standard for standby generators.
Ready to Find Your Perfect Home Generator?
Hopefully this guide has helped you feel knowledgeable and empowered to choose the ideal home generator to keep your family comfortable and safe during power outages.
Remember to determine your home’s power requirements, choose between portable or standby models, compare key features within your budget from reputable brands, and plan for proper installation and maintenance.
The generator experts at Electric Ninjas are always available to answer any other questions and provide personalized advice to find your perfect generator solution. Contact us today to get started!