Choosing the right generator for your home can be a bit of a challenge for the first-time buyer. Even harder if you’re also a first-time home owner. Budget considerations are, of course, a major factor but the main factor is not budget, it’s not the brand, it’s not the size.
First you have to determine; do you really need a portable generator or a permanently installed generator to power your whole house. Even though the budget is not the main consideration, you must have some budget to cover the generator cost that you determine is the right one for your situation. So let’s visit the budget first- based on the size of your home.
If you have determined that you “need” the whole house to be powered during a utility power outage, then you need to have a rather large discretionary budget to draw from. Or a large savings account that you are willing to take a chunk from. The 30 to 50 amp generators, installed, will cost you anywhere from $2800 to $7000 depending on the options you choose.
A fully powered house around 1500 square feet -with say three bedrooms, 2 baths and two car garage- will need a permanently installed 30 amps minimum of 240 volt emergency power. This is enough to power all your normal devices like refrigerator, well pump if needed, stove and oven, microwave, TV, and various lights around the house. Scale down the size for a smaller home or scale up for larger. For example, a 3000 sq foot home may need 50 amps of emergency power.
Most of us, however, do not “need” to have our whole house powered by an electric generator during utility power failures. Most will need some lighting, the well pump (if applicable), stove and microwave and refrigerator and freezer powered for outages lasting more then a few minutes. “Wanting” to have your whole house powered is an option but restated, it will cost you big-time! This article will focus on the group whose real “need” is a simple, inexpensive, portable generator that can be quickly and easily deployed in minutes following a utility outage.
Being ready to deploy in minutes is a crucial factor in determining the type of unit to purchase. The quickest deployment will be a fully-fueled gas, with electric start model that is already set up in a special dry place – outside – in a covered but not enclosed area, with a large cable connecting it to separate generator breaker panel next to your electrical panel that will quickly allow you to switch off utility power and switch on generator power to 6 to 12 circuits in your house. In less than 5 minutes you’re sitting back in your living room enjoying the storm with your favorite novel and plenty of light to read by.
In the portable generator arena there are two main situations when setting up and using them. Connected to your house or the other end of the spectrum is not connected. Connected means that your would deploy just as I described above. Not connected goes something like this.
When the utility power fails, you grab your flashlight and pull the portable generator out of it’s storage spot in your garage. You open the garage door and place your generator in the doorway with the generator’s exhaust facing outward. You get out all your main extension cords and start running them around the house from the garage with the main one plugged into the generator but with nothing plugged into the other ends of any of the cords. Next you start up the generator with the pull-start handle (recoil start) and then you walk around the house plugging in lamps, refrigerator, tv, etc until you have the areas lit that you want. You lay your flashlight down next to you and pick up that magazine you started just before the power went out.
For a typical home of 1500 square feet the connected option will run about $1200 including the electric start, 4000 watt generator, breaker box, cable and electrician tie-in labor to your house wiring. For the same size house for the not connected option, you’re looking at a total of about $550 on average for the recoil-start (pull-start) 4000 watt generator and extension cords.
A hybrid system will consist of your choice of generators with a permanently installed generator breaker box connecting that box to your house wiring. It then uses a special plug that accommodates a generator cord-set and allows you to plug the generator in when needed and unplug and store it when it’s not needed.
The size generator you choose for this will determine how many lights and appliances you can simultaneously run through this setup. Here’s a picture from our friends over at Generac that will help you determine the size you need.
Most people will find that a 4000 watt generator will suffice for needs during any power failure. Keep in mind, you’re not going to be running all the lights, or all the appliances at the same time. Spacing your lighting efficiently around your house will help keep the lights to a safe minimum. Remember your sump-pumps and well-pumps use a large amount of current so be careful if you plan to have your electrician connect these to your emergency power source.
4000 watt generators are the most common size and as such, give you the most power for your hard-earned dollar (watts per dollar). Every major manufacturer makes this size. What we have found by our own testing is that the typical person wants the best value. The best value for one person may not be the best value for another. Some want whisper quite and are willing to pay more to get it. Some want the largest wattage for the least money. Some want the longest lasting product. Others want what is easiest to use. So it would be tough for me to recommend one unit for all. But for most and I emphasize “most” the DuroMax 4400e is what we feel the best, overall. It’s not terribly noisy, it’s very long lasting, it’s easy to start because it’s electric start, it’s dependable and very easy to maintain. These are the main reasons we recommend this unit.
Taking this a step down, you could save some money going with the pull-start DuroMax 4400. Both units are identical other than the electric start.
Some accessories you may need, like heavy duty extension cords, etc can be found online with free shipping from places like Harbor Freight. Just search for “extension cords” on their site.
Other considerations include the fuel type. The units we recommend above are gasoline powered. The other options are dependent on what you have available at your home. There is propane (LP), natural gas, (NG) and there are even units that will use all three (one at a time of course!). Naturally, all of these are more expensive.
If you are new to portable generators, we recommend you stick with gas or propane as your choice. But keep in mind the price of gas and the price of propane can also be factors for ongoing costs. Natural gas is the least expensive resource but it is not available in all areas.
Some of the brands you may want to look at would include Generac, Honda, Yamaha, Chicago, Champion, HTP, DuroStar, Seemark, Powerland, Subaru, Hyundai, Powemate, Honeywell, Makita, Caterpillar, DeWalt, Sunshow, Bronco, Superpower, etc. You will find many names you have never heard of. But when you narrow down your search you will find that the reviews will tell you that the DoroMax and Generac lines are preferred over all the others, except for Honda – where you are privileged to pay lot more for a lot quieter generator!