How to buy a generator

Purchasing a generator gives you peace of mind that your lights and appliances can continue to operate in case the power goes out temporarily. To decide which generator to buy, consider your individual needs and which generators are suited for particular tasks.

>> How much power do you need?

When learning how to buy a generator, make a list of what devices or appliances you must keep on during a power outage, and their power requirements in watts. Make a second wattage list of the devices or systems (like central AC) you might like to power. Add up the wattages of each list, and use them as a guide as you shop generators to select what types of generators are right for you.

Small generators put out about 900 -2,000 watts, enough to run a few appliances (a furnace, a refrigerator and a small pump) for emergency purposes or camping. A medium sized generator gives about 3,000 -5,000 watts, enough for you to power many appliances or use as a work or shop generator or in an emergency situation.

A large generator can put out about 6,000 -9,000 watts, more than enough to power almost your entire home, providing light, heat, refrigeration, radios, computers and everything you need to keep your family comfortable and entertained. These types of top-rated generators use manual transfer switches to work most efficiently, removing the tangle created by multiple extension cords.

An extra-large generator produces over 10,000 watts of power. This is enough to power everything in your home, including a central air conditioning system, usually the largest power requirement in any home. This is the maximum power you can get in a portable unit.

A standby generator creates 8,000 -22,000 watts of power and needs to be professionally wired directly into your home's electrical grid. A standby generator clicks on as soon as your power blinks out, allowing very little loss of work flow or power. They are well suited to businesses, home offices or homes that need to use electrically powered medical equipment on a consistent basis.

>> Comparing inverters and regular generators:

Inverter Generator Draws power from a battery only when needed Uses fuel and must run constantly Portable Portable or stationary depending on type Lightweight Heavier Ideal for small energy loads Can handle larger wattage items Quiet Loud Useful for powering computers, microwaves, camping equipment, cell phones Useful for powering pumps, furnaces, household circuits, refrigerators >> Portability vs. power

Think about the trade-offs between portability and power in your generator. Standby generators are relatively quiet and powerful enough for an entire home or building, but they are the most expensive option and must be professionally installed. Portable generators are more versatile in an emergency or for outdoor activities but have less power. Smaller inverter generators can be stored in your car to power things like cell phones and laptops on the road.

Also, knowing the space you have to store your generator when it is not in use will help you determine which generator sizes to consider.

>> Noise considerations

A final consideration when deciding how to buy a generator is the noise level of the machine. Generators are rated by decibel A-weighting (dBA) rating. Generators range in decibels from around 55 dBA for top-rated generators to about 90 dBA for noisier models. Check your town's noise regulations before shopping. Remember that portable generators get louder as they get more powerful. Inverter generators tend to be very quiet.

Keeping a generator on a level, padded surface reduces its sound footprint. Also, proper maintenance of the generator engine and ensuring that all bolts and attachments are tightly connected to the generator's frame and in good condition will keep the noise level lower.
>> Adding accessories to your generator

Wheeled frames, manual transfer switches, generator batteries and extension cords are all useful accessories that can be used with your generator. A wheeled frame makes it easy to move a portable generator from room to room. Manual transfer switches attach to the electrical panel in your house and allow you to use a single extension cord to run all the appliances and lights in more than one room at the same time. If you purchase an inverter, extra batteries ensure that you won't need to recharge frequently And, top-rated generator cords are essential for plugging in all your appliances and switches.

>> Operating and maintaining your generator

Follow the guidelines in your owner's manual to operate your generator safely. Make sure the generator is grounded. Portable generators burn fuel and thus produce carbon monoxide (an odorless, colorless and deadly gas), so do not use a portable generator indoors or in an enclosed garage.
Also, the power created by any generator size could possibly backfeed into the local power grid. This extra energy can be magnified by a utility's transformers. This increased voltage is enough to harm utility workers fixing downed lines nearby or even miles away. For this reason, plug your generator only into a heavy duty, outdoor-rated power cord. Make sure any electrical cord you use can handle the current load. Also, before hard-wiring a manual transmission switch into your home circuit, notify your utility company, and then hire a professional electrician to do the work.

Proper maintenance is important to increase the life and maintain the efficiency of your generator. Inspect your generator regularly, checking for corroded elements, fraying wires and loose connections. Make sure the generator stays clean and is stored in a dry place when not in use. Have your generator serviced every six months, and keep a list of repairs and service dates.

Learning how to buy a generator can be a smooth process. Thinking through some basic considerations in this generator Guide will help you find the best generator to buy for your needs.

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