Whether you’re dealing with severe thunderstorms, natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes or even an overworked electrical grid, there’s a lot of ways you can lose power in your home and there’s no telling when it might go out. In the first six months of 2014, there were 130 reported grid outages. Additionally, power outages are costing American businesses as much as $150 billion per year, the DOE reported, with weather-related disruptions costing the most per event.
When and if that happens, you want to make sure you’ve got a way to get power. A good way to do this is by getting a home generator. There are many types of generators available and it’s important to know the differences in them to figure out which one best fits your needs.
To determine the size of the generator needed, total the rated watts of the appliances and fixtures you will want to operate during an outage. Some loads are easy to determine—a 100-watt light bulb, for example, uses 100 watts. Ten 100-watt bulbs would require 1,000 watts or one kilowatt.
You want to make sure you go through your house entirely and figure out exactly how much wattage you need from your generator. Most of your major appliances will have a label that provides important details such as wattage requirements. Once you’ve calculated the wattage, multiply by 1.5 to give yourself some extra power since you will need it.
Some common wattage requirements include:
- TV: 300 watts
- Laptop: 250 watts
- Microwave: Anywhere from 1,200 watts
- Refrigerator: Anywhere 700 to 1,200 watts
- Freezer: Anywhere from 500 to 1,200 watts
- Washing machine: 1,200 watts
- A/C unit: 1,500 watts
One option when you’re shopping for a generator is buying a portable one. This type is plugged in with extension chords is a very simple way to generate power to your appliances. As far as cost goes, it’s also one of the least expensive ways of generating power. If you do use a portable one, it’s common to put it in the yard (at least 10 feet from the house) and run extension chords into your home to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Portable generators provide power, but be warned that many of them are only equipped with a certain number of outlets. So that means not only will you have extension chords running through your house, you might have to be very choosy about what you’re plugging into the generator.
Portable generators range in cost from $500 to about $1,500 depending on the wattage. You want to make sure the extension chords you use can carry enough power and when you have the generator, you want to be careful not to overload it.
Unlike portable generators which have to be maintained when they’re turned on, standby generators turn on automatically when there’s a power outage. Many types of standby generators have more than enough power to power your high-wattage appliances and are noticeably quieter than a gas-powered portable one.
A big difference between the two is the price you’ll pay. If you choose to go this route, you’ll have to have the generator installed along with a subpanel and a transfer switch, which will generator installers to install all three. The transfer switch monitors power, so if the power does go out, the switch flips the generator on. When power is restored, the switch flips the generator off.
When it comes to cost, expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $$15,000 depending on the wattage.
Whole House Generator
As helpful as standby generators are, they can’t power everything at once. A whole house generator can do that, as if power was never lost at all.
Whole generators are fuel-efficient and run on a high-quality automotive-style engine. Whole house generators are liquid cooled rather than air cooled and can run longer between maintenance periods. Another benefit of a whole house generator range in capacity from 22 to 48kW, compared to 9 to 20kW range of a standby generator. The added power allows all your household appliances to run at once.
Depending on the size and power, whole home generator pricing can run anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000.
Regardless of which generator you choose, take time to calculate the wattage in your house and determine which one will work best for your needs.