From hurricanes to ice-cold winters, the changing seasons can result in powerful weather that threatens electricity outages. As a result, homeowners often utilize power generators to keep food from spoiling, their family from freezing, and basic power running. Texans, in particular, remember the severe winter storm of February 2021 that left millions in a blackout for days. Generators are a smart safety precaution, but how do you know which one to buy? Are they safe and reliable? What size do you need for your home?
As winter approaches, read these guidelines on finding the right generator for your home for greater peace of mind and preparedness.
Types of Generators
Residential power needs are different from industrial needs, so where do you start? First, consider these three most popular types of home generators:
- Small portable generators: Fueled by gasoline, propane, or solar energy; best for camping, single appliances, or keeping in the car for emergencies
- Inverter generators (whole-home or portable models): Uses a computer-controlled inverter for power flow; fueled by gasoline, diesel, or propane; provides stable energy output; more quiet and efficient to operate
- Whole-house standby generators (aka stationary): Permanent or semipermanent and the size of an A/C unit or larger; commercial-grade engine and large tank with high fuel efficiency; fueled by natural gas, propane, or diesel
Less common are generators that run on solar power or hydrogen, which you can read about here. These types have their individual weaknesses, including high cost, low availability, or ill-equipped for extremely cold climates.
Determining Your Back-Up Power Needs
When the power goes out, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to keep your whole house running. Food refrigeration, medical needs, phone chargers, and a little heat or cooling can keep most homes going and families safe during outages. To determine the size generator to buy, estimate your power needs by:
- Create a list of necessary items requiring power.
- Write down starting wattage (to turn on item) and running wattage (for use). You can usually find this information on the product, in the owner’s manual, or online.
- Calculate your total power requirement. You can also use this power calculator to estimate the kilowatts required by your appliances.
- Estimate your generator needs with Consumer Reports’ interactive tool for showing how many appliances can be powered by which type of generator. Experts recommend choosing a generator with 10-20% more capacity than required to help reduce risk of overload and less maintenance.
From hundreds of watts to 20,000 watts, determining your power needs helps you shop for the size of generator suited for your home. The cost of generators varies, ranging from $450 to $8,000-plus depending on the type, as do operating costs (think fuel costs and efficiency). This generator guide from Consumer Reports is helpful, offering recommendations based on if your home has frequent, occasional, or rare power outages.
Do You Need a Home Standby Generator?
You alone can determine if this initial investment of thousands of dollars is worth it — for your peace of mind and your resale value. Beyond what portable or inverter generators power, standby generators seamlessly keeps these things running in the event of a power outage:
- Heat, air conditioners, and water heaters (your home’s top energy users)
- Large appliances (refrigerators, microwaves, stoves and dishwashers)
- Home security systems
- Sump pump, well pumps and plumbing fixtures
- TVs, radios, computers and personal devices
If you live in a rural area that has less reliable power or an area with frequent power outages, a whole-house generator may be a wise investment. Experts estimate a 3%-5% added value to your home, and Remodeling Magazine reports a 54% return on your investment on your whole-house generator (eg, if you spend $10,000, you’ll regain approximately $5,000 back in resale). Homeowners should ask these questions before installing a standby generator.
Generator Safety Reminders
For home generators, practice these life-saving safety tips:
- Buy a generator with CO safety features. Look for carbon monoxide detection and auto shutoff features.
- Never run generators in an enclosed space (including an open garage)! Keep it at least 20 feet from the house with the exhaust directed away from the house. Deadly CO poisoning is a risk from the odorless gas and can be fatal within a few minutes.
- Don’t run it in the rain. Get a portable cover that still allows ventilation.
- Install a transfer switch to connect your circuit panel to your generator. This helps you use the generator without
- Store gas properly and let it cool between refueling.
- Avoid electrical fire hazards.
- Test your generator several times a year. Let it run 20 minutes to reach operating temperature. You want to make sure it’s in good shape before you need it!
Finally, seek out an expert electrician’s advice, evaluation, and/or installation when needed. It’s always better to be safe when it comes to electricity.
If you’re looking for reliable, affordable power in Texas, consider Payless Power’s prepaid electricity plans with no deposit and hassle-free payment options. Enter your Texas zip code to see if your home is in our coverage area.