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Buying A Power Generator For A Home Or Business

Updated on February 3, 2016

A Power Generator Keeps The Lights On During A Blackout

Extreme weather around the world has caused many people to consider buying a power generator for their home or small business. The following are some tips and advice for anyone considering buying a power generator to generate electricity for their home or business on-site.

Portable Generator

A Typical Portable Generator
A Typical Portable Generator

Portable Electric Power Generators

The least expensive (as far as the up-front cost) and most practical way to produce electricity on-site is to purchase a portable electrical generator that is powered by one of the following fossil fuels: gasoline, propane, or diesel. Each type of fuel has its plusses and minuses, including.

  • Gasoline Power GeneratorsPlusses: easy to purchase in advance of a storm and has a higher energy content than propane (which delivers more electricity per energy unit consumed). Minuses: can be difficult to obtain if widespread power outages affect an area, carries a risk of fire if not handled properly around a hot generator, requires proper removal of gasoline from generator when not in use, must be used within a few months before it degrades, and therefore cannot be stored for long periods of time.
  • Propane Power GeneratorsPlusses: easy to purchase in advance of a storm, does not have the cleaning and storage issues that gasoline or diesel generators have, can be stored for long periods of time without degrading, can be stored in large quantities for extended use. Minuses: has a lower energy content than gasoline (which delivers less electricity per unit consumed), can be difficult to obtain if widespread power outages affect an area, carries a risk of fire if not handled properly around a hot generator.
  • Diesel Power GeneratorsPlusses: easy to purchase in advance of a storm and has a higher energy content than both gasoline and propane (which delivers more electricity per unit consumed and allows a generator to run longer). Minuses: diesel generators cost more than gasoline or propane generators, can be difficult to obtain if widespread power outages affect an area, carries a risk of fire if not handled properly around a hot generator (although less of a risk than gasoline and propane generators due to diesel’s higher flash point), requires proper removal of diesel from generator when not in use, must be used within a few months before it degrades, and therefore cannot be stored for long periods of time.

Stationary Standby Generator

A Stationary Standby Generator looks a lot like an central air conditioner unit alongside a house or building.
A Stationary Standby Generator looks a lot like an central air conditioner unit alongside a house or building.

Stationary Standby Electric Power Generators

Another option for home and business owners that want to generate their own electricity on-site is stationary standby electrical generators. Although considerably more expensive than portable electrical generators, stationary electrical generators offer some conveniences and benefits that some home and business owners may find worth paying more for, including the elimination of the need to constantly refuel the generator and automatic generator activation that provides electricity immediately after an electrical grid power failure is detected (without the need for human intervention).

Stationary electrical generators can be set up to obtain the fuel they need to operate from either a continuous source, such as a natural gas connection, or a large refillable source, such as a large propane tank. Unless one is handy with electricity and working with natural gas or propane, stationary electrical generators need to be installed by a licensed electrician and plumber, which includes wiring the generator into the main circuit breaker box to provide power to a home or business’ internal electrical supply system and connecting the fuel source (natural gas or propane) with proper connection hoses and fittings. Plan on spending a few thousand dollars for a professional installation. Stationary electrical generators look like central air conditioner units and are typically placed next to a building.

What Size Electric Power Generator Is Needed For A Home Or Business

Portable and stationary electrical generators can be purchased at many hardware and home improvement stores, either in-store or online. Both types of generators can be operated by just about anyone; however, it is important to follow safety instructions regarding where to locate generators and how to safely operate them, as they carry the risk of explosion, fire, and asphyxiation from carbon monoxide, if not located and used properly.

The main benefit that portable electrical generators have over stationary models is that they are much less expensive to purchase and can start delivering electricity on demand quickly once they are assembled, fueled up, and electrical cords are run from the generator to either appliances and lights or to a main circuit breaker box via a transfer switch (if the circuit breaker box has been wired by a licensed electrician to accept power from a generator, which could cost up to $1,000).

A typical 2,000 square feet home would need a portable electrical generator that has a power output between 5,000 to 8,000 watts to provide power for critical needs and some conveniences, such as a refrigerator/freezer, furnace/burner, television, computers, and a limited number of lights. Portable electrical power generators with power output between 5,000 to 8,000 watts cost between $500 and $1,000.

It is important to note that at these power output levels, you cannot run all the electrical appliances and lights in your house, or else the generator will shut off and the appliances and lights connected to the generator could be damaged. When calculating the size generator that you need, take into consideration only appliances and lights that are critical during a power outage. Add up all of the wattage from each appliance and light that you assume will be needed during a power outage, keeping in mind that many appliances produce an electricity demand spike when they start, which your generator needs to be able to handle. Electrical generators have two ratings, their running wattage and their starting or peak wattage. Take the number you calculated for your total wattage needs (which is the maximum running wattage you need the generator to run at) and add the highest starting / peak wattage of the appliances you will use during a power outage (use only the highest for this calculation, do not add up the starting / peak wattage of all of your appliances) to determine the starting / peak wattage amount that you need from a generator. For example, if you calculate that your appliance and lighting needs are 4,500 watts, and you determine that your furnace has the highest starting / peak wattage demand of all your appliances, which for this example we will say is a starting / peak wattage demand of 2,300 watts, then you need a generator that is rated for 4,500 running watts and 6,800 starting watts. It is highly recommended to build in some additional wattage for a safety buffer, so using the example above, it would be prudent to purchase a generator that is rated for 6,500 running watts and 7,500 starting / peak watts.

Stationary electrical generators provide higher power outputs between 7,000 to 25,000 watts or more (if needed), and cost between $2,000 and $5,000 or more (if needed), depending upon the power output and features desired. Since stationary electrical generators require professional installation, the additional cost of installation needs to be factored into the overall cost, which could be several thousand dollars.

Electric Power Generator Features, Accessories and Other Purchase Considerations

Important features to consider when purchasing a portable or stationary electrical generator include: whether the generator has a built-in inverter to provide smooth electricity output that electronic devices, such as computers, need to operate correctly; and if the generator has safety features, such as an automatic shut-off, if the oil level is too low to operate safely. Careful consideration should also be given to the number and type of outlets provided by a generator, since the outlets are what will allow you to connect your appliances and lights to the generator.

For those who do not want to pull a cord to start their generator, a battery-operated electric-starting mechanism is a feature that is worth getting. Also, to save on energy usage, automatic idle control is a worthwhile feature that idles the engine to lower operating speeds when demand is low or non-existent, which increases fuel efficiency and extends a generator’s length of operation. Noise is a big concern with power generators, and therefore the noise level rating of a generator and noise cancellation features should be considered before a generator is purchased. Buying a portable generator with a wheeled frame is highly recommended since the larger models can weigh well over 100 pounds and are difficult to move without the assistance of wheels.

Generators that are wired to a main circuit breaker box require an electrical device called a transfer switch, which costs a few hundred dollars, and several hundred dollars more for a professional installation by a licensed electrician. Stationary standby electrical generators can be set up to work with either with a manual or an automatic transfer switch. An automatic transfer switch detects when power supplied to a location from an electrical utility via the electric grid has been lost and automatically switches to generator power, without human intervention. Besides the convenience that an automatic transfer switch provides, it may be well worth installing since it will ensure that a home or business is switched over to generator power and critical appliances, such as refrigerators/freezers and sump pumps are running, even if nobody is at the location at the time of the loss of electric grid power.

Generators buying guide from Consumer Reports

Comments

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    • angelsteelrolln76 profile image

      angelsteelrolln76 

      5 years ago from Alabama

      Rock_nj the price will also rise when demand goes up as well.

    • Rock_nj profile imageAUTHOR

      John Coviello 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks mperrottet and angelsteelrolln76. Yes, the time to get a generator is before hurricane season, because once another hurricane is approaching they may not be available.

    • angelsteelrolln76 profile image

      angelsteelrolln76 

      5 years ago from Alabama

      Hurricane season is one month away, great info.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      Great comprehensive hub for those who have decided to get a power generator and need some good advice. Generator sales really soared in my area (New Jersey) after Sandy. I own a Champion 4000 which we use for camping, but it could also keep our refrigerator and some other stuff running if we needed it. Voted up and useful.

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