Portable and Standby Whole House Generators

Buying a generator can be an intimidating process. However, you can take control by being informed and getting organized. Here is a simple checklist to use to help in choosing the correct generator to protect your home and family.

What Types of Generators Are There?

Generators come in two basic types: standby and portable. The source of backup power you ultimately choose will be determined by many factors, including your power requirements.

Standby or Whole House Generators: Standby generators are like mini power plants. These permanent generators are commonly fueled by natural gas or propane. The electricity is then routed into the home or business through an automatic transfer switch, which also automatically starts and stops the generator.

A standby generator is permanently installed outside your home or commercial building and wired directly into the electrical system to provide power to some or all of your home’s circuits during a disruption of normal utility power. They produce consistent and stable power that computers and other sensitive electronic equipment can use safely. Standby generators can run for extended periods using the natural gas or LP fuel supply.

In a power outage, a permanently installed standby generator returns your home or business to power within seconds, even when you’re away.

There are no extension cords to run and a fully automatic standby generator senses an outage and begins producing power immediately. When power returns, the generator shuts itself off automatically and returns to standby mode. Because the generator is hard-wired into the electrical system of your home or business, appliances and devices such as furnaces, well pumps and lights will operate in addition to plug-in items.

  • Standby generators create from 5,000 to 25,000 watts or more of power. You’ll have to choose a generator that supplies sufficient peak and continuous wattage for the appliances on the circuits you need to power
  • A home standby generator system consists of two products: a standby generator unit and an automatic transfer switch. The two work in concert with your home to ensure when power is lost, it’s only for a matter of seconds before backup power kicks in.
  • You can choose between an air-cooled and a liquid-cooled model standby generator. Generally, liquid-cooled models are bigger and create more power.

Depending on the model, they may start automatically when the power goes out and stop when the power returns. Standby generators are fueled by liquid propane or natural gas and require professional installation, often with a permit.  The number of circuits to which a standby generator can provide power is determined by the power capacity of the generator.  Standby generators are typically fully enclosed and vary in size.

A standby model may cost as little as $2,500 or as much as $10,000 or more–the greater the power capacity, the higher the cost.  Standby generators are wired directly into your current electrical system and generally require professional installation.

Automatic standby generators provide 24/7 blackout protection whether you’re home or away. It automatically supplies power within seconds of a utility outage Installing a standby generator by yourself may void the unit’s warranty or violate local building codes, so research these issues before you begin.

Portable Generators: Portable generators are versatile, they are all about mobility.  You can use them for emergency power at home, for power in remote locations where utility power is unavailable, or for recreational purposes, like boating or camping. Portable generators are becoming extremely popular with homeowners tired of power outages. They generate enough electricity to help you weather most storms.

Portable generators are fueled by gasoline and include 120-volt power outlets like the ones in the walls of your home. When the generator is running, you can plug appliances and tools directly into these outlets. Some generators also include 120/240 or 240-volt outlets. These are especially useful for running powering into a transfer switch.

These generators will cost about $300-$1,500.  Most portable generators run on unleaded gas and can be used for limited home standby power, portable jobsite power or recreational power. If you plan to transport your generator regularly, you should consider weight, dimensions, wheel type and handle style to determine ease of mobility.

  • A small 1000-watt portable generator may be all you need for some purposes.  You may need up to 8,000 watts if using a generator to power some tools on the jobsite.
  • Because you plug appliances directly into a portable generator, you’ll also want to make sure that yours has the number and type of outlets you need. The size of the fuel tank also is crucial. The bigger the tank, the longer your generator can run without refilling and produce power.
  • If you want to use a portable generator to power specific circuits in your house, a transfer switch is required. For running an entire house, follow the guidelines for choosing a standby generator.

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Generators range in cost between a few hundred dollars for portable units to several thousand dollars for standby units depending on the capacity and features. To choose a generator that is right for you, consider whether you need backup power for your home or business, for camping, recreation or a jobsite.

Having a generator keeps you out of the dark and allows you to run essential appliances when the electricity fails.  Anyone who has wished they had electricity when no power was available can appreciate the value of having a generator available for use.

When a storm strikes, portable generators are one of the first items to sell out in a Lowes store.  Shoppers who wish to be prepared in the event of such an occurrence can benefit from having a generator sitting in the garage or a standby unit switching on within moments of power loss.

By Victoria Stone

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