Power Options

Gasoline-powered generators are rated according to the number of watts of electricity they produce. The most popular size for home-emergency use is a 5,000W unit ($600 to $2,000). Smaller, more affordable generators are available, but they can only handle one or two small appliances. A 5,000W unit is large enough to power several circuits, including most refrigerators and freezers, and it will run up to 10 to 12 hours on its 7-gallon tank of gas.

On the downside, these generators are heavy and noisy compared with the type you might have used to run a small power tool. Most 5,000W generators weigh between 150 and 200 lbs., making them virtually impossible to move by yourself. Some manufacturers sell a bolt-on wheel kit (starting at about $40) that makes it much easier to move the unit.

The most common way to use a portable generator is to place it outdoors, then run an extension cord through an open window or door to the chosen appliance. (Generators produce deadly carbon monoxide gas, so you should run your unit only outdoors and never in an enclosed space, including a garage or basement.) That approach works well, but it's very limited because you can only plug in one or two items. Plus, the extension cord can't be plugged into a furnace, well pump, or ceiling-light fixture.

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