Most of us depend on electricity in a big way, and that's why generators matter. They provide electricity during blackouts or when you need power away from electrical outlets. I've owned and tested and used generators.
This article is the online version of what I explain to people when they ask me how to choose a generator wisely. There are more options available at better prices than ever these days. But you need to understand the choices if you expect to choose well.
By the time you finish this article, you'll know how to choose the size of the generator required to meet your needs
Select the type of generator that makes the most sense for you to identify the quality level of a generator, that matches your expectations.
Table of Contents
How a Generator Works
All generators have an engine that runs on fuel to create electricity independent of an electrical utility. There are three main reasons for owning a generator:
- Emergency Backup
- Tools & Equipment
- Off Grid Power
It is supplying emergency household power during a blackout. Operation of tools and equipment away from electrical outlets. Periodic maintenance of electrical appliances and hardware in homes and cottages that aren't connected to an electrical utility.
Though most people buy a generator to provide electricity during a power failure. It's surprising how many other applications come up when you've got access to independent power.
The building at the cottage, running the block heater, or charging the battery on a vehicle that's too far from an outlet, lighting at amateur sporting events, and more. The first step to buying wisely is deciding how much power makes sense for you.
How Much Power Do You Need
Generator size is always described in watts of output. The more power you plan to use at any given time, the higher the wattage of the generator required.
A 1200 watt model, for instance, provides the necessary power for lighting and charging in an easily portable generator package.
A 3500-watt generator provides the basics for household lighting, a sump pump, refrigeration well pump, and simple cooking with a hot plate or microwave though not all these things at once.
A 9,000-watt unit can power more household functions, including a toaster oven, kettle, and range-top. A 12 and ½ kilowatt standby generator can keep most homes running as usual during a blackout.
As you'd expect, the higher the output of a generator, the more substantial and more costly it is. Add up the wattage of all items you plan to use at any one time, add 20% and that's the size of the generator you need
Remember, the more electricity you demand from your generator, the more fuel it'll burn though there's more to fuel consumption than just the amount of power you use.
Open Frame or Inverter
When it comes to portable generators, there are two main types, open frame, and inverter designs. Open frame generators provide the highest wattage for a given purchase price.
If your primary objective is essential backup power protection for your home with no need for the quietest operation or variable engine speed. Then an open frame is probably your best bet.
Inverter generators cost more per watt of output, but they're quieter, and they use less fuel because engine speed varies with the amount of electricity demanded.
If you need power in a trailer park or while camping, you'll appreciate the lighter weight quieter operation and more economical fuel consumption of an inverter.
An emerging configuration of the generator is called the digital hybrid. It has the looks and lower cost of an open frame model but the quieter operation, lower fuel consumption, and more refined electrical output of an inverter.
Standby generators, sometimes called backup generators are large permanently installed units connected to the wiring of your house. They come on automatically when the grid goes down then switch off again by themselves when the power comes back.
Low Price or High
You won't shop for a generator very long before you notice a wide range in the cost of different brands. Some brands cost more than twice as much as others for a given size of output with the same features, and this naturally raises a question. Is the extra cost worth it?
The price of generators has dropped a lot. Even expensive one's today are cheaper than they were in the 1990s, and while this is a good thing, you do need to be careful. T
he low price doesn't necessarily mean good value if reliability and efficiency aren't also there. What's the point in having an economic generator if it won't work when you need it.
The first thing to understand is that it's possible to buy too cheaply. I own half a dozen generators, and I've tested many different brands over the last 30 years. Some of these are expensive and excellent while others have been cheap and disappointing.
Currently, the best combination of economical price and quality. I've seen it comes for a North American company called champion. Although their units are made overseas, they have a proven track record of reliability going back to 2003. Another thing that impresses me is their 24/7 customer service system.
Champion specializes in over the phone troubleshooting for US and Canadian owners. I've checked things out in detail, and their goal is to get you up and running without you having to drag your generator to a service center.
Whether you're new to generators and the fix is merely flipping on the ignition switch that you forgot, or the solution involves installing a new carburetor or adjusting valves. The people at championship out repair parts and explain how you can fix them.
If there's another generator company that works so closely with customers on a technical level, I haven't seen it yet. Buying a generator is the cheapest insurance you can get to protect against power failure in your home.