In the Dark? Power Up with a Portable or Standby Generator

Save your ice cream as well as your sanity with our guide to buying an electric generator.

By Lisa Marie Conklin

 

Sure, there’s something old school and romantic about having no electricity — until it gets dark and cold (or hot), and the batteries on your devices start dying. It’s only then that you start thinking about buying a generator. Why not be proactive instead, and buy a generator for your home before the lights go out? This guide can help you decide what kind of generator is best for your home’s needs.

 

Watt’s in it for you?

It’s all about wattage when it comes to generators. For the basics, a 5,000- to 7,000-watt generator will cover most household essentials like lights (60-600 watts), a computer (60 watts), a refrigerator (600 watts), a sump pump (750-1,500 watts), a portable heater (1,500 watts), and a window air conditioner (1,000 watts). If you want to live a little higher on the hog, you’ll need 10,000 watts or more to run a central AC unit, electric range, and washer and dryer. Make a list of must-have items you want to be powered and identify the wattage for each item. Tally up the wattage to look for the appropriate size generator.

 

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Portable Power

Portable generators run on a range of 3,000 watts to 8,500 watts. They use gas or propane, something to keep in mind, as you’ll have to store it safely until you need it. (A stabilizer is required if you’re storing gas.) The generator must run outside when in use and be at least 10 to 15 feet from your home. If it’s raining, it will need to be covered. Extension cords must be 14-gauge to carry the power to appliances, or a manual transfer switch can be installed. These units cost around $600 to $1,500.

 

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Standby Unit

If you lose power a lot and want hassle-free standby power, this may be for you. The wattage range is generally 5,000 to 20,000 watts. This unit automatically comes on when the power goes out via a transfer switch, which powers the circuits in the subpanel. It’s quieter than a portable unit, and there’s no extension cords, gas cans, or propane tanks to store. It runs off your home’s natural gas supply or a propane tank. They’re more expensive than a portable until and should be installed by a pro. These units will generally set you back $2,000 to $8,000 depending on wattage. Installation charges will vary by contractor.

 

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Flip a Switch

A transfer switch for a 5,000-watt portable unit will link it to the circuit panel via a cable. Instead of just powering individual appliances with extension cords, the transfer switch works by powering entire circuits in the house via one cable. Once professionally installed, you flip a few switches by hand to activate it and flip the same switches back when the electric grid comes back online.

 

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Features Worth Considering

  • Smartphone monitoring on standby models.
  • Electric push-button start on portable models. Easier to start than the pull-start method.
  • Inverter technology to keep your sensitive electronics from frying.
  • A fuel gauge on portable units so you’ll know if you’re getting low during those long blackouts.
  • Wheels on portable units make it easier to maneuver. Otherwise, you’ll need extra muscle to move and maneuver a 200-pound model.

 

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A portable or standby generator may seem like a luxury but if you live in an area where the power often goes out, it will save your ice cream and more importantly, your sanity.

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of www.shutterstock.com and Kinsleyanalytics

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