Choosing the right generator

Using a small standby generator for electricity during an outage can keep your home and business running smoothly. In a power failure, plug your generator into the panel with a special power cord and then switch the circuits from utility to power to your generator.

Generator basics

Types: the two main types of residential generators are portable and permanent standby.

Sizes: standby generator sizes range from an output of 1 kw to over 100 kw. If you plan to run a few lights and minimal appliances, you can use a smaller model, but if you intend to run all your lights and several major appliances, you will need a permanent standby model.

Fuel: engines usually run on gas or diesel, but models are also available for propane or natural gas.

How to choose a generator

Get power for the basics. Smaller, portable models will power basic needs and cost $1,000 or less.

Match the size of your generator to your electrical needs. Operate it at no more than 75% of its capacity.

Calculate your generator size. Total the wattage of the appliances and other items you want to simultaneously power and then double that number. Most homeowners will need a 5-kilowatt portable generator to power a heating system and a few other appliances.

Consider a manual transfer switch. It costs around $500 and should be installed by a licensed electrician.

Safety tips

  1. Store your generator outside in a dry location to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  2. Never plug a generator into any electric outlet in your home or business. It can be deadly.
  3. Follow all instructions on properly “grounding” the generator.
  4. Turn off the generator for at least five minutes before fueling to avoid fires.
  5. Keep extension cords out of the way so they don’t present a tripping hazard.

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Backup Electric Generator Fact Sheet
Backup Electric Generator Fact Sheet

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