With increasing power outages, more and more people are purchasing generators as a backup power supply. Whether you want a generator to act as a backup power supply to your whole house, just need to power the essential appliances like your refrigerator and microwave, or want a power source for when you go RVing or tailgating, there is a huge range of generators on the market. Picking which type and size to purchase can be overwhelming, until now. This guide outlines the different considerations to make when purchasing the best generator for you.
What are the types of generators?
Standby generators – These are typically for larger power demands and offer higher reliability and value. Conveniently they constantly monitor your home power supply, automatically switching on in the event of a power outage – often in just a few seconds. Depending on the model and wattage produced, on the smaller end of the spectrum they are capable of running several large appliances. On the upper end of the spectrum they have the ability to power your entire home. They are typically the quietest generator (excluding solar generators) which is desirable if you need to run the generator for hours or days at a time. One downside is an increased price, however they are a smart investment choice for those requiring comprehensive protection against power outages.
Portable generators – These offer the distinct flexibility of being mounted on wheels allowing you to move them as desired. Requiring a manual start, they range in power capabilities of 750 watts to 10,000 watts allowing you to run a range of appliances. These offer the advantage of being able to be used with your RV or on a camping trip. They are typically lower cost with many models available for less than $1000 offering great value. They generally use gasoline or propane which means there is a need for fuel storage. Other drawbacks are higher noise levels and more maintenance requirements.
Inverter generators – These are different to regular generators in that they produces direct current (DC) which is then converted to alternating current (AC). This offers a distinct benefit in that when you convert DC to AC, you produce a much more stable current making it perfect for use with devices such as computers. In addition while portable generators constantly produce power while switched on, inverter generators are far more efficient, offering on-demand electricity. This means that they will only produce the required electricity when your devices are plugged in. They are also quiet generators.
Solar Generators – These harness the power of the sun offering clean and cheap energy. They generally have three parts. The first is the solar panel also known as the photovoltaic module which captures the sun’s energy. The second part is a battery which stores the energy when sunlight is unavailable. As energy stored in a battery is direct current (DC), an inverter is required to convert the direct current to alternating current (AC). This is the third part in the system. While the wattage produced is small, solar generators are still able to power basic appliances and may be a viable option when going RVing or camping.
Guide to finding the best generator for you
There are a large variety of generators on the market, so there are a few considerations to make when selecting which to purchase. You will need to consider what the purpose of the generator is, how much wattage you require, whether or not you want the ability to move the generator around, noise levels, potential maintenance requirements, included features, and of course the cost.
First and foremost you need to decide on what the purpose of your generator will be. These can typically be categorized as follows:
- To power your entire home in the case of a utility power outage
- To power only a few home appliances in the case of a utility power outage
- To power appliances when out of the house, for example when working with tools outside or for recreational uses such as RVing
When picking a generator it is important to consider which appliances you will be using it for, and therefore how much electricity supply you need. If you only need to power a fridge to ensure your food doesn’t spoil or to keep those beers cold, then you might only need 400W depending on the refrigerator. Or if you are going tailgating and want to run a television, sound system and refrigerator you may need slightly more wattage. Or if you want to be able to supply your entire home with electricity should the utility power supply fail for days or weeks at a time, then you are going to need a generator capable of producing significantly more wattage. Learn more about watts here.
The easiest way to determine your wattage requirement is to write a list of all the appliances you want to power. You can then establish what each appliance will need in watts (this information should be displayed somewhere on every appliance), and then add it all together. Once you have a total, it’s a good idea to multiply it by 1.5 as appliances use more power when starting up. Now you should have a total wattage requirement which is the minimum needed from your generator. Note that all generators will have two wattage ratings: ‘rated’ or ‘running’, and ‘maximum’ or ‘starting’. The ‘rated’ or ‘running’ wattage is the amount the generator will produce continuously over a time period. The ‘maximum’ or ‘starting’ rating is just the additional power it creates at start-up which only lasts a few seconds.
If you decide that you want the ability to power your entire house you will need to reference your utility bill history or contact your utility company directly to establish how many watts you need. Keep in mind your watt usage will vary throughout the year seasonally. As in indication of how much power the average US household used in 2014, click here.
The next consideration is the flexibility you require. If you want the ability to move the generator around, you will need a portable generator as opposed to a standby generator which is fixed in place. Furthermore portable generators come in different sizes and styles which will influence the ease of movement.
Another important consideration is the noise level the generator produces. If you are running a portable generator at home, odds are you won’t want to have to shout to be heard by your family. Or maybe you need a generator for a work site and noise isn’t as important as pure grunt power. Each generator will have a specification as to what noise level it produces in decibels (dB). As an indication, a thunderclap produces a noise level of 120dB, conversational speech 60dB, and a pin dropping 10dB. Want more information on how the decibel scale works? It is explained nicely here. For more information on noise levels and generators, see our quietest generators page.
All generators will need some level of maintenance. Whether this is a regular oil change or a higher level service, you may want to consider each manufacturer’s maintenance advice and always refer to the user manual.
For many, the most important aspect when picking a generator will be the price. With such a large variety of types and sizes of generators on the market, the price range varies. Portable generators range from around $200 to $4,000, inverter generators range from $300 to $3,000, solar generators range from $400 to $3,000, and standby generators have a large range in price starting at around $2,000 with the higher end models going for as much as $18,000. For full pricing please see the individual generator type pages.