Choosing a Generator: The Ultimate Guide

In 2018, Americans experienced electricity disruptions totaling an average of 348 minutes. This was down from a high of 470 minutes in 2017 but still higher than the previous average of 120 minutes a year.

Across years and regions, the frequency and duration of power outages vary. However, the threat of disruption remains. Due to hurricanes and tropical storms, tornadoes, excessive heat, winter storms, usage patterns, or fallen trees and chewed power lines, power outages happen daily.

When they inevitably happen to you, you can be prepared. Choosing the right generator for your needs is the best step to ensure that disruptions to the power grid don’t disrupt your life.

Read on to learn more about choosing a generator for your specific needs.

What Type of Generator Do You Need?

As you investigate generator options, you’ll find four main types available. These include home standby generators, large inverters or portables, midsized inverters, and recreational inverters.

Key differences across these types — and factors to consider when purchasing them — include size and portability, output and efficiency, noise level, and cost.

The largest and most expensive generators with the greatest output are standby or stationary. These generators are installed permanently on your property and can take over seamlessly when the power goes out.

Recreational generators are the smallest and most portable. They are also the quietest. However, they are not designed for heavy or long-term use.

As the name suggests, many families purchase “recreational” generators for their recreational needs. So if you’re wondering how to choose a generator for camping, recreational generators may be the way to go.

However, when choosing a home backup generator, your needs will likely exceed a recreational generator’s output. Therefore, many people opt for a midsize or large inverter, or portable. While portable, these units can temporarily power essential appliances in most homes.

How to Choose a Home Backup Generator

Once you’re familiar with the main types of generators, the most important and primary factor to consider in choosing a generator for your home is size. As you select a size, you should ask yourself several questions:

  • How often do I experience power outages?
  • What size generator can my property accommodate, and what size can I physically manage?
  • What do I want or need to power?

Frequency of Power Outages

A standby or stationary generator may best serve your needs if you live in a region where power outages, especially lengthy power outages, are common. However, these units are large and installed in a permanent location, so they are not suited to every property owner.

Personal, Property, and Community Considerations: What Kind of Generator Can You Accommodate

Depending on your type of residence, your generator options may be more limited.

You’ll likely be limited to the smallest options if you live in an apartment, condo, or other multi-family dwellings. Before purchasing, you should also investigate building or community regulations regarding generator use. If you are physically unable to move a mid-sized or large inverter or portable, those options are also unlikely to serve you well.

A final, personal preference and community consideration is noise. Aside from large stationary generators, which are relatively quiet, larger portable generators can be pretty noisy. So as you decide how to choose a generator for your home use, you’ll need to weigh these disruptions in your “peace” against disruptions in your energy supply.

Power Needs

For most people, avoiding disruptions in energy supply to essential appliances is the most critical consideration. Therefore, choosing a generator comes down to calculating your power needs.

1. Make a List of Essential Appliances

Experts recommend beginning your calculations by making a list of your essential appliances. In a power outage, what appliances can you simply not live without? What appliances will you use the generator to power simultaneously during an outage?

2. make a note of Each Appliance’s Maximum Total Power

With your list in hand, note each essential appliance’s maximum total power requirement in watts. You can find this information on the back or bottom of the appliance, nameplate, or data plate. It is also available in the manual. If all else fails, you can locate this information for most major appliances online.

When noting an appliance’s power requirement, remember that you need to determine its maximum power requirement. The maximum power requirement is the power required to start an appliance, which can be 3 to 4 times higher than the power necessary to run the appliance. Your generator will need to start your appliances before it can run them. Therefore, your calculations of power requirements must include starting watts.

The data plate or manual lists are starting watts for some but not all appliances. If you can’t find this information, contact the manufacturer or retailer, or use a wattmeter. A generator specialist can also help you determine starting watts from the size of the appliance’s motor.

3. Calculate Your Total Power Needs

Add up the watt usage for all appliances on your list. Now you’re ready to choose a generator that meets these needs.

4. Convert Generator kVA to Watts

When you explore generator options, you’ll notice that a generator’s output is given in kilo-volt amps (kVA). To express this number in watts, multiply the generator’s kVA by 0.8.

Therefore, a generator that produces 5kVA would provide 4000 watts of power (5kVA x 0.8 = 4kW, or 4000 watts).

Although most generators can produce more power for a short time, this number is the generator’s rated output, and you should think of it as its maximum output in your calculations. So, for example, if your power needs are near or even slightly above 4000 watts, you’ll likely need a more powerful generator than in the example above.

While every home’s needs are different and generator options vary, this simple equation can help you narrow your options and choose the best generator for you. If you’ve ever wondered, “What size generator do I need for my business,” a similar process can also identify the ideal generator for you there.

Do the Math: Choosing a Generator

Choosing a generator for your house involves weighing various factors, including the frequency of disruptions, your preferences, and your needs. Ultimately, choosing a generator is a matter of math. It would help if you had a generator that could produce power equal to that required by your essential appliances.

This guide helps you make those calculations. Also, check out our blog for valuable information on improving your home and lifestyle.


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