Why install a home generator?
If you live in an area that frequently loses electricity, you know the inconvenience and discomfort that accompanies a power outage. Without power, you cannot charge your devices, your food will start to rot, you'll lose hot water, your security systems may fail, and of course, the lights will go out. If you work from home or depend on power for medical support, electricity becomes even more important. That's where home generators come in.
Home generators are stationary engines that automatically power your home when electricity from the power grid is shut off. They are stationary and usually run on a fuel source such as diesel, natural gas, or propane, though some are powered by solar energy. Standby home generators differ from portable generators, which run on gasoline and must be connected to your home's energy supply manually during each power outage.
Installing a home generator is an investment. Home generators often come with a high price tag, much higher than most portable generators. For many homeowners, though, the consistent and high-quality power of a home generator is worth the extra cost. When making your purchase, you'll want to balance your energy needs with your budget. To learn more about your energy needs, try using AlltimePower's free Power Calculator.
How home generators work
Before buying a home generator, you should understand how it works. In essence, a generator is an internal combustion engine, similar to the one found under the hood of your car. It converts the energy stored in fuel into mechanical energy by causing a piston to rotate. This energy is then converted into electrical energy that can power the devices in your home. For this reason, standby generators must be connected to your home's electrical wiring by a professional electrician during installation.
When buying a home generator, the most important thing to consider is the generator's electrical capacity, commonly referred to as its size. A larger generator "one with a larger size" will be able to power more devices in your home, while a smaller generator may only be able to power a few devices in your home. If you want a whole-house generator, or a generator that can power your entire home, you'll need to buy a larger (and more expensive) generator.
Many homeowners choose to buy a partial-home generator, which is smaller and more affordable. Partial-home generators can only supply enough electricity to power some of your devices. Which devices you choose to run is up to you. For example, you may want to keep the lights on and the hot water flowing, but you may be able to do without your dishwasher and washing machine. If you choose to go with a partial-house generator, be sure to install a critical load panel, which will automatically direct power to your most important appliances.
Calculating generator size
Whether you go with a whole-home or partial-home generator, you'll need to calculate the size of your generator before making a purchasing decision. To do this, add up the starting wattage of every appliance you would want to power during an outage. Starting wattage refers to how much energy it takes to start your device. Since an appliance's starting wattage is generally higher than its running wattage, it's wiser to calculate size using it.
The number you come up with your ideal electrical capacity. When buying a generator, be sure not to go below this number. Buying a generator that does not meet your electrical needs is dangerous because it could overload your electrical system, which might damage your generator and appliances. Buying a generator that exceeds your electrical needs, however, could cost you more money than needed.
To double check your ideal size, use an online calculator such as Alltime Power's free Power Calculator. You may also want to do this if you can't find the exact starting wattage of some of your devices. Keep in mind, however, that online calculators can only give you an estimate. For the most accurate calculation, hire a professional electrician to calculate the ideal size for you.
Choosing the right home generator
Calculating the ideal size of your generator is only the first step in the process of choosing your generator. You'll also need to make a few other decisions, including the fuel source, brand, and added features. When it comes to fuel source, natural gas-powered generators are the most convenient choice because they connect directly to your natural gas lines; however, you'll need to pay an expert to connect the natural gas lines to your new generator.
Diesel-powered generators are the most efficient and cost-effective choice. You can find diesel packaged in containers at locations across the U.S., but because diesel is highly flammable, there are restrictions when it comes to storage. Propane-powered generators are slightly less efficient, but propane is easier to store. You can find propane in the familiar metal cylinders often used to power outside grills. Read our blog post to learn more about generator fuel sources.
Once you know the type and size of generator you want to buy, you'll need to find a generator dealer in your area. You can find generator dealers online, but you should always want to make sure they are reputable. To verify a generator dealer is legitimate, ask them to verify information about the generators they sell and ask to meet a representative online. You can also find reputable generator dealers through a service such as Alltime Power, which will match you to high-quality generator dealers in your area that meet your needs.
What to know before installation
Once you have your generator picked out, there are a few things you should know before you have it installed. First, be prepared for the installation process to take several days and cost you a significant amount. As a rule of thumb, home generator installation usually costs about 75% of the cost of the generation. The installation process requires a lot of experienced labor and electrical rewiring.
You should also make sure you install the generator in the right location. Keep in mind that generators can be loud, so you'll want to install it away from bedrooms and other areas you want to keep quiet. Be sure to check local regulations and codes to make sure you don't violate any restrictions on where you place your generator or how loud it can be. It's hard to imagine a worse scenario than installing a generator only to learn that it violates a code and must be moved.
Finally, once your generator has successfully been installed, be prepared to keep up with generator maintenance and repairs. To keep your generator ready to run at peak performance, you should run your generator for 15 to 20 minutes every week and regularly check oil and coolant levels. Every 6 to 12 months, you should hire a professional technician to perform a more detailed inspection. When budgeting for your generator, keep in mind that the fuel costs and maintenance costs can add a few hundred extra dollars to your yearly expenses.
Alternatives to home generators
Though home generators provide peace and mind for many homeowners, they are not the right option for everyone. Some people prefer portable generators because they are less expensive and easy to move around. If you choose a portable generator, however, keep in mind that you will likely not be able to power as many of your home's devices. You'll also need to use a transfer switch to manually connect your portable generator to your home's electrical system.
Another alternative is to install a backup battery system. Instead of using fuel as the power source, a backup battery system charges from the power grid. During an outage, the battery supplies power to the home's devices. This is a clean and effortless way to keep the lights on during an outage; however, unlike fuel-powered generators, a battery backup system can only supply power for so long until its battery is depleted. You can get a free estimate on a home battery system from AlltimePower.
Finally, some homeowners choose to use solar power as a form of backup power. Solar panels can be used to supply power to a generator or a backup battery system. In either case, they provide a clean, quiet, and environmentally-friendly source of power. Unfortunately, solar energy is generally less powerful than traditional sources of power, and the energy can only be supplied when the sun is out.
Your next steps
Congratulations! You've taken the first step toward investing in a home generator: learning the basics. Now that you are armed with an understanding of how to find the right generator for your home, you can begin to calculate your energy needs and search for the right generator dealer.
Calculate your home's energy needs manually using the method described in this article, or try using Alltime Power's Power Calculator. If you use our service, we'll match you with reputable generator dealers in your area. You can also choose to have generator dealers compete to give you the best price for your needs.