Blackouts are bad. We all agree about that. Power outages force us to change plans, worry about our appliances, and desperately try to figure out a solution. It’s easy to get caught off guard by a surprise blackout. You hadn’t planned on a power failure, and you suddenly realize nothing works. Your freezer, fridge, heating or air conditioning, lights, security system — all kaput.
A sinking feeling fills your gut. Your food will spoil, the warm or cold air outside will creep in, and you feel unprotected without your security system. But then you remember. You did plan ahead. You got an emergency backup generator just for this occasion. That was a close one.
This scenario always beats the one involving candles and flashlights. Don’t let a blackout get the better of you. Getting a generator is the smartest way to combat the potential disaster of a blackout. If you’re wondering how to buy a generator, well you’ve come to right place. We’re going to answer all your questions, such as:
- What are the best generators for home use?
- How big of a generator do I need to run a whole house?
- What size generator do I need?
We’ll also cover how to pick and size a generator. Yes, all these questions and more will soon get answered, but first, let’s ask ourselves the most basic question.
What Kind of Generator Do I Need?
Good question. We’re glad you asked. This one you’ll need to answer for yourself. In fact, the entire purpose of this guide lets you discover which generator best suits your needs. As you learn about generators and their features, continue to ask yourself questions about your particular situation and how to choose a generator based on your needs.
For instance, how frequently do blackouts or grid problems occur in your neighborhood? We all experience the occasional power problem during a storm or extreme weather event, but many people endure blackouts more often.
Blackouts on the Rise
In fact, the entire United States experiences an ever-increasing number of annual blackouts. The International Business Times claims that 285 percent more blackouts occur in the U.S. now than in 1984. This trend only increased in more recent years.
The website insideenergy.org reported that from 2000 to 2004 an annual average of 44 grid outages occurred in the United States. Then, from 2005 to 2009 that number jumped to 100 per year. It doubled again from 2010 to 2013. All evidence shows this trend has only gone up in the past four years. Regrettably, this phenomenon will likely only get worse in the coming years.
Aging infrastructure and lack of proper repairs created the present conditions. The overall demand for energy also increased by 10 percent in the last ten years, according to IBT. Increasing strain on an outdated and poorly maintained infrastructure clearly contributes to the boom in national blackouts.
To these factors, add an increase in extreme weather events. You only need to think back to Super Storm Sandy to remember an unpredicted, catastrophic storm that caused a major blackout in New York and the surrounding areas. Despite repeated attempts to modernize the current system, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.
We don’t know the level of your power situation, but we sympathize with anyone forced to experience blackouts. You’re also not alone. This problem affects millions of people every year.
Consider your situation with regard to the generators we’ll discuss. If you experience a greater need for electrical relief, a more heavy-duty generator will provide you with the best solution.
How Many Watts Should a Generator Produce to Run a House?
It’s important to assess your power consumption when choosing a generator. If you use a lot of power, you’ll need a hefty generator. If you enjoy a more modest lifestyle, a smaller generator will suffice.
For many people, simply contacting their utilities providers will answer the question of their usage. Also, most utility bills display the amount of power used in the pay period. If you accomplish the task of receiving a specific number, compare it to the national average to see how you stack up. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says in 2015, the average U.S. house used 10,812 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power, or 901 kWh for each month. So, if you feel average, maybe you use something similar.
A better strategy than relying on a hunch involves investigation. What do you use and how often? Take an inventory of which appliances and electrical devices you use on a daily basis. Next, calculate their average energy needs, and multiply that by the average length of blackout time you experience or might expect.
Performing this basic assessment also helps you think about which appliances you need in a blackout. You’ll obviously need your basic appliances: lights, refrigerator, stove, microwave, water heater and heater/ air conditioner to work. But you may also want your television, stereo and computer to receive power as well.
To get you thinking, consider the following average appliance energy usages:
- Computer: 280 watts
- TV: 165 watts
- Freezer: 400 to 1,200 watts
- Refrigerator: 450 to 2,400 watts
- Microwave: 750 watts
- Central Air Conditioner: 4,400 watts
How to Determine What Size Generator You Need
Look behind each appliance and check for the specific wattage. Most appliances have a sticker on their back or beneath them. These stickers usually tell you the make, model number and wattage requirement of that appliance. Make sure to check all your most important appliances and record their wattage. After you compile and add up their combined wattage, you’ll command a much better estimate as to your generator needs.
Naturally, in a power outage, you want everything to still work. Nowadays, there’s such a large variety of power generators to choose from, you have many options in a blackout. The choice comes down to your desire for comfort. Of course, you at least need a basic generator to power your core appliances. Beyond that, the necessity for larger generators depends on your average power usage, the frequency of blackouts, and your aspirations to achieve normalcy in an unpleasant situation.
Types of Generators
Now you know what you need. But what’s the best generator to meet your power requirements? Let’s start by laying out the two main types of generators — portable and standby.
It’s likely you’ve seen portable generators before. The look like a large motor on wheels with wheelbarrow-style handles, encased by a metal bar. Portable generators represent the more basic type of generators available. These typically sit on your front lawn during a blackout and dispense power through a selection of outlets on the side of the generator. From these outlets run a number of extension cords, which bring power into the house. It’s a little inelegant, but it does the trick.
On the plus side, portable generators typically kick out between 3,250 to 10,000 watts, depending on the unit. This allows you to power your essential appliances. But don’t plug in the amps and start your band practice. Take it easy on a portable generator, and it’ll likely provide you with enough power to weather a blackout.
Another advantage of portage generators is the price tag. They represent the least expensive generators available. If you inhabit a low blackout risk area, don’t enjoy lavish tastes, and don’t belong to a large family occupying the same residence, then an inexpensive portable generator might suit your needs. Of course, they range in voltage output and price. Weaker generators tend to go for around $400 to $500, while more high-end ones cost $1,000 to $1,500.
The Cons of Portable Generators
However, there are several downsides to using a portable generator. The central drawback concerns how portable generators get their power — gasoline. A gas-powered motor spits out a heavy dose of exhaust. In these fumes lurks the toxic chemical carbon monoxide. Exposure to these exhaust fumes can lead to nausea, headaches, dizziness, fainting, permanent bodily harm or even death.
If you do decide to get a portable generator, make sure to follow basic procedural guidelines:
- Always put the generator on a flat surface at a distance of more than 10 feet away from your home.
- Keep a careful eye on open doors and windows when the generator is working.
- Make sure you didn’t accidentally put it near your air conditioner or heat intake vent. You’d literally be fumigating yourself.
Use extreme caution when operating a portable generator. It presents a constant danger by its very nature. However, if operated correctly and given constant vigilance and a healthy dose of precaution, it offers an acceptably safe option.
Another aspect to consider concerns the nuisance of the extension cords. It can get chaotic with a dozen cords snaking their way through your windows. On top of that, each cord needs a 14-gauge minimum in order to sustain the electrical requirements of the generator. Examine the wattage rating for the cord to ensure it will work with the generator.
Gas Demands of a Portable Generator
Portable generators also eat up a ton of gas. Depending on how long you run the generator for, you will need to constantly refill the gas tank. Picture yourself in the middle of using your stove when the coil goes dead. Your generator outside is empty. The unwanted risk of interruption makes a lot of generator seekers choose other options. It’s important to depend on your generator during a blackout.
That said, many portable generators run between 6 to 10 hours uninterrupted. If you time your generator right, it’s possible to work refueling times into your schedule in a seamless way. It just takes a little extra effort.
The gas demands of portable generators also mean keeping large amounts of gasoline in reserve. You’ll need sufficient space to store all these cans of gas, just in case of a blackout.
As you see, there are lots of advantages and disadvantages to portable generators. The choice comes down to what you need. If, through the course of our portable generator talk, you were dreaming about something more powerful and dependable, maybe our next style of generator will suit you better.
Features to Consider for Portable Generators
It’s easy to overlook some aspects of a portable generator when making a selection. For instance, does the generator come with wheels? Occasionally, you need to purchase these vital accessories separately.
Another feature to consider is whether the unit comes with a fuel gauge. This helps you determine when to refill your portable generator. Without a fuel gauge, it’s easy to forget about how much fuel your generator has — and then suddenly it shuts off when you need it. Inspect the unit to determine whether this convenient accessory is included.
Multiple outlets are another handy perk. They allow you to spread the wattage load a bit more, without tripping over a mess of cords.
Check for these features, among others, when making a purchasing decision.
These generators literally operate on standby, just waiting for a blackout. Stationary generators come equipped ready for action the second a power outage hits. Once the normal power drops because of a blackout, they sense the occurrence and kick into action. These no-muss, no-fuss generators do all the work.
Essentially, they eliminate all the legwork and effort required by portable generators. They save you the hassle of positioning them correctly, attending to their gas needs, maneuvering extensive electrical cord systems and so on. They make short work of blackout headaches.
Another bonus, besides the convenience and comfort, involves noise. Portable generators chug and whirl as they turn gas to power. Alternatively, standby generators quietly work away. You hardly even notice them or the blackout, for that matter. The key to their silent behavior lies in how they work.
What Is a Standby Generator and How Does it Work?
Standby generators are stationary generators that get permanently installed beside your home. Instead of a supply of manually administered gas, they tap into your home’s natural gas or propane tank. This provides the fuel the generator burns to produce electricity.
Occasionally, people don’t already have a propane or natural gas tank on their property. No problem. If you’re interested in getting a standby generator just ask us for advice on finding a gas supply, and we’ll answer your questions. You have a variety of options we can discuss at length.
The Advantages of Standby Generators for Home Use
Standby generators pump out a ton of power. They carry enough juice to power most anything in your house. This includes even your central air conditioner or heating and security system.
Standby generators rely on the use of a transfer switch. When a blackout occurs, this triggers the transfer switch, which starts the generator. The generator feeds directly to your home’s subpanel. This directs the power to all your normal circuitry. This makes everything easier.
For instance, with a portable generator, you often end up plugging a lamp into an extension cord fed through your open window. Unless you have a transfer switch installed that plugs into your portable generator, then it’s a tangle of cords. With a stationary generator, there’s no need to wrangle a bunch of wild extension cords.
Stationary generators offer a much safer option than their portable counterparts. As we mentioned, portable generators create airborne poison. Needless to say, it’s not a great feature of portable generators. Thankfully, for anyone interested in a stationary generator, no noxious fumes get pumped into your nearby air.
Avoiding Power Surges and Attempting Installation
Another drawback of attaching a portable generator to your home’s electrical system involves the risk of producing a surge. You need to ensure you never put your generator on when a blackout hasn’t occurred. Without following proper precautions, it’s possible to send a spike of power into your neighborhood power grid. This can potentially hurt a utility worker if they happen to be doing work when your accidental surge occurs.
Ensure you have a trained professional install a transfer switch for your portable generator and brief you on the proper procedure to avoid causing a surge. Your standby generator will require expert installation also.
It’s an incredibly technical process to install a standby generator. Not only will the technician need to access your power, but they’ll also need to attach your propane or natural gas tank. In addition, each standby generator requires a transfer switch and subpanel installation.
Cost to Install the Best Whole House Generator
Unfortunately, there’s no a quick and fast answer for a whole-house generator installation cost, because it depends on your home and how it’s already set up. Don’t get discouraged. There’s an easy way to find out the cost. Call us at Bruni & Campisi for a free assessment. Once we see what your needs entail, the details of your property and which particular unit you want, we can give you a total cost assessment.
When it comes to the benefits of owning a reliable standby generator, price pales in comparison to what you get with a stationary generator. A standby generator increases the value of your property. If you ever consider selling your property, the presence of a quality stationary generator will increase your asking price. A good standby generator is an investment for you, your family and the desirability of your house down the line.
What Size Generator Do I Need?
The best standby generator for home use entirely comes down to you. As we discussed, weigh your needs and preferences. Both portable and standby generators come in a variety of sizes. Let’s explore some options for what size generator would work for you.
Whole-House Generator Sizing
An excellent approach for thinking about whole-house generator sizing relates to choosing between air-cooled and liquid-cooled standby generators. Among standby generators, two options exist for how to cool the unit. Air-cooled generators pump out a reasonable quantity of power. These champions easily cover the power demands of most average households, especially in a blackout.
Liquid-cooled generators represent the top of the line. These behemoths produce an incredible amount of electricity. If you require a generator for a large house or a business, the more productive liquid-cooled generators might satisfy your needs.
In addition to this general distinction, there are other factors to consider besides size, such as which brands offer the most reliable quality.
Best Brands of Generators for Your Home
We at Bruni & Campisi proudly stand by our selection of top-notch generator brands. We recommend the products we retail from Generac, Honeywell and Kohler. These well-built and reliable brands offer an incredible variety of models, sizes and styles to suit your need, whatever it is.
Get an Estimate on a Generator Today With Bruni & Campisi
Now you’ve learned enough to continue with your search for the perfect generator and probably have a good idea of what type will work best for your home. If you’re the areas of Westchester County, NY, Stamford, CT, Greenwich, CT, and the surrounding regions, come and check out our selection of Generac, Honeywell and Kohler home standby generators. We can also provide estimates for the cost of installing your reliable new standby generator.