Master electrician Heath Eastman discusses what factors to consider when selecting a generator, such as fuel or electrical load, and the available options.
Do You Really Need It?
Heath’s first question he wants homeowners to consider is if they really need a generator. Do they live in an area that loses power a lot? Are there people in the home that require electricity for health concerns? Heath says it’s a big investment, so homeowners need to make sure it’s worth it.
Take Comfort Level Into Consideration
When choosing a generator for their home, homeowners should consider what their desired comfort level is. For those who just need to heat the home and turn on a few lights, a portable generator will usually do. However, for those who want whole-home power when the grid fails, an automatic standby generator will be more suitable.
How Much Do Home Generators Cost?
Homeowners need to consider their budget when choosing a generator. If the budget is tight, a portable generator is a good fit. These machines cost $1,000 to $1,500 and can supply the home with enough power for heat, a well pump, and refrigeration. Larger budgets ($3,500 to $7,000) might allow for an automatic standby generator, which can run almost all of the devices and machines in the home, save for large air conditioning units in the dead of summer.
Portable vs Automatic Standby Generators
There are pros and cons to both generator types.
- Portable generators require a space to store them. In a power outage, they have to be pulled out of that space, filled with fuel, started, and connected to the home with a special cable. Someone also has to check on the fuel level and fill it with gasoline or swap propane bottles. Also, they’re rarely able to run everything in the home. The trade-off, however, is that they’re affordable.
- Automatic standby generators have a switchgear that detects when the grid power drops, turns on the generator, and then transfers the home power to the generator. They’re expensive, but many can run on natural gas, ensuring there is fuel for the generator in most situations.
There are typically three popular fuel sources: gasoline, natural gas, and propane.
- Gasoline is common for portable generators, with propane also becoming more popular.
- Natural gas is the most common fuel source for automatic standby generators but they may also be hooked to large propane bottles. Natural gas and gasoline provide more power than propane.
Non-Fossil Fuel Power Backup
With more and more solar power systems and increasing battery technology, there are alternatives to fossil fuel generators. Homeowners can have battery banks installed that can store electricity for a power outage and even recharge during the day with solar.
These systems have automatic switchgear that turns them on and off like an automatic standby model, as well. However, to run an entire home comfortably will require a lot of batteries, making it somewhat impractical in most cases.
Portable Generator: a plug-in generator with a gas tank that can be hooked up to the system’s main panel and manually operated during a power outage.
Automatic Standby Generator: a hard-wired unit that permanently lives as a structure next to the house, like an HVAC compressor, and automatically switches over to generator power in the event of a power outage.
For fully electric houses, options include getting a portable generator and keeping it filled and maintained with gas. Another option is getting a solar and a battery storage system.