Various pages on this site provide in-depth guides on the operation, selection and sizing of different types of emergency home generators. However, I realize many folks don't have the time or desire to read long guides and would like to see just the conclusion. Some people feel so confused when it comes to buying a generator that they would prefer that someone just tell them what to choose. This guide provides quick practical recommendations
on the selection of a generator for power outages as well as my picks. I will show what options are available-- you will still need to decide what level of protection you want and how much money you are willing to spend. For the detailed information and step-by-step guide all in one place you can then get my ebook
CHEAP PORTABLE FOR A FEW CRITICAL APPLIANCES
For under $400 you can get a basic bare bone small portable device that provides 120V with up to 4,000 watt. It can run 2-3 “cord and plug” devices (such as a fridge and a room a/c). Just do yourself a favor and don't buy a gasoline-fuel model- gas may not be available in your area after a major natural disaster. A Consumer Reports survey of owners of portable models revealed that 22% of them ran out of fuel during storm Sandy. For this budget I would choose a propane-powered
genset Sportsman GEN4000LP
. Dealers often keep filled BBQ tanks in stock and their refill does not require electricity.
- Low cost;
- Can be used right out of the box.
- With this size you may not get 120/240V (usually only 120V);
- It won't energize hard-wired appliances and lights unless you install an additional changeover system. And if you do install it, you will feed only half of your lines;
- You will need to move around a few hundred pound device and run extension cords through your windows or doors.
MID-SIZE PORTABLE FOR SELECTED DEVICES AND LIGHTS
You can buy a 6 to 8 kW genset for under $1000. It will provide 120/240V and can power most home appliances, except for high-power ones (such as central a/c). In this category my pick used to be 7000 watt propane-powered Sportsman GEN7000LP
. Right now for about the same price you can get a tri-fuel Powerland model PD3G8500E
. If you hook up this portable to natural gas line you won't run out of fuel. You can use either of these devices with extension cords just like the smaller one in the first option. However, for extra $500-$1,000 or so you can have a manual interlock
or a transfer panel installed in your basement. It will be pre-wired to both selected home lines and to an outdoor inlet
. This arrangement will allow you to run most hardwired devices and lights just by plugging your generator into the inlet (after you started it up of course).
For Home Generator Selection, Sizing and Connection Get My Complete Guide and Review
- With a transfer system you'll have to connect a single generator cable rather than many extension cords;
- You can energize fixed appliances and lights;
- Models in this range provide both 120V and 240V.
- Higher cost;
- It takes a certain amount of time to get a required permit and to do the interlock wiring.
. As I said above, I don't recommend gasoline-fired models. But what if you already have a gas genset and you worry that the fuel will not be available after a storm? If you are mechanically inclined and you don't mind forfeiting the manufacturing warranty, you can get a third party kit that converts a gasoline-powered engine to a multi-fuel one which can run additionally on propane and natural gas. Search web for the companies that sell such kits and check if they have one that would work with your particular model.
WHOLE HOUSE AUTOMATIC SYSTEM
If you prefer a convenience of fully automatic operation with no refueling, and can spend overall from $5,500 to $12,000, you can go for a standby home generator
system with an auto transfer switch. The generator is installed outside and will run from the fuel line you use for your home's heating, such as natural gas or propane. The transfer panel is mounted indoors. Residential grade stationary systems (8-20 kW) start at about $1,900 and may cost up to $5,000 depending on wattage and options. You will also need to spend several thousand dollars for electrical wiring and connection of the fuel line. The actual installation cost will depend on the project complexity, the length of the lines, and of course on the contractor you chose- get estimates
from several installers. Bear in my mind not all otherwise good electricians know what it takes to properly integrate a generator into a home and are truly familiar with the generator-related codes. When you interview them, among other things, be sure to ask how many gensets have they installed during the last year.
For the basic household needs I would choose Generac PowerPact 7,000 watt model 6519
It is one of the cheapest automatic home generators on the market, if not the cheapest one. If you want to run a central a/c up to 5 ton you may likely need a 15-17kW system. In this power range I would consider 17,000 watt Generac Guardian 06461
. Be sure to check the capacity of your gas service meter- it should be imprinted on its nameplate. Older ones may have 250 CFH or less. This may not be enough if you picked a genset rated above 12 kW (see this chart
for CFH requirements). Your utility may charge you anywhere from $100 to $5,000 to upgrade your meter- call them up to find out their fees. Some may waive the charge if you are also installing a standard appliance that needs high gas flow rate.
- Hands free operation;
- Practically unlimited run time (except for maintenance shut down).
- Highest cost;
- Requires expensive installation and possibly the meter upgrade;
- Setup and permits obviously take time.