What is the real cost of a whole house generator?
The average cost of a whole house generator
Despite the relatively high cost of a whole house generator, many families are beginning to realize they are necessary to provide safety and comfort to the home in areas with frequent outages. There is, however, some confusion around the actual cost of a whole house generator. Different sites provide different price estimates. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of a generator is about $4,074. But this may not reflect the full cost of a generator, especially if you want your generator to provide power to your whole home.
Though there are less expensive options, we estimate that the average cost of a whole house generator for a medium-sized home is $12,250 to $27,150 upfront, plus $165 to $485 per year in maintenance and repair costs. Understanding your individual circumstances and needs is vital to understanding how much you can expect to pay. At AlltimePower, we provide a tool that estimates the cost of a generator based on your individual needs. This article explains in depth how we determine the cost and gives you a way to understand the process yourself.
The cost of the generator itself
The most obvious cost when it comes to installing a generator is the cost of the generator itself. If you want to install a traditional, fuel-powered backup generator, the cost for a medium-sized home runs from $7,000 to $15,000. A lot of factors go into determining the cost, including the make, model, and quality of the generator.
Fuel-based generators are not your only option. Recently, many people have begun to install home battery backup systems, such as Tesla’s Powerwall. These batteries run on power from the electrical grid, but costs run higher: about $10,000 to $20,000 for a medium-sized home. Solar-powered batteries are even more expensive, typically around $20,000 to $40,000, while battery backup systems that rely on a combination of solar, battery, and fuel can cost as high as $50,000.
Why capacity determines cost
When determining the cost of a whole house generator, the most important factor to consider is the capacity of the generator. Capacity refers to the amount of power a generator can produce at a given time to start up and sustain electrical applications in the home. If the generator does not meet your home’s electrical requirements, it could put undue stress on the unit and may even cause damage to some of the devices connected to it.
The higher the capacity, the higher the cost. Though larger homes typically have greater electrical needs, this is not always the case. A smaller home in a cold climate that needs a lot of heating may require a generator with a higher capacity than a large home with minimal electrical needs. Additionally, you may find that you only need certain appliances to run during an outage.
You can determine your ideal capacity by adding up the amount of power it would take to start up each appliance you’ll need. This is different from the amount of power it takes to maintain an appliance. For example, it takes about 2,800 watts to start up a refrigerator, but only about 700 watts to keep it running. You can use an online calculator to estimate the wattage of each appliance.
Cost of whole house generators versus partial house generators
The cost of a whole house generator is often much larger than a generator that only covers part of the electrical needs of your home. Whole house generators provide the most consistent and reliable power. They allow you and your home to function as if the power had never been shut off. This may be the best option if you live in an area that experiences extended outages lasting more than a day. It’s also a good form of protection against natural disasters such as hurricanes, which could shut off power for days or even weeks.
Backup generators that do not have the capacity to provide power to all of your appliances are a less expensive option. You will still be able to run appliances that are most important, such as heating, refrigeration, and water heating, but some convenience may have to be sacrificed. For instance, you may have to limit shower time or wait to wash clothing or run the dishwasher. This may be a good option if you live in an area that experiences frequent outages of a shorter duration.
Cost of installation for a whole house generator
Another cost you will have to take into account is the cost of installation for a whole house generator. Installation costs vary based on the size and make of the generator, as well as other factors such as where you live and the hourly rate of the electrician. A good rule of thumb, however, is that installation costs about 75% of the cost of the generator itself. So if the generator costs you $10,000, you can expect to pay about $7,500 in installation costs for a total of $17,500.
If the electrician has to make electrical upgrades to your home before installing the generator, the cost may be higher than 75%. Backup generators require safe and effective electrical wiring that connects to the existing wiring of your home. The cost of installing a subpanel and wiring the home runs from $500 to $900. Other upgrades may be necessary as well. If your home has a fuse box rather than a circuit breaker, for example, the electrician may have to upgrade the home to a circuit breaker for the new generator to work properly.
Some homeowners with technical experience may be tempted to install the generator on their own to save money. Unless you are a qualified professional, however, you should not attempt this. Backup generators require sophisticated electrical wiring and gas hookup. Any mistakes could be costly, dangerous, and even life-threatening.
The cost of standby generators versus portable generators
If you are looking to offset the installation cost of your backup generator, consider buying a portable generator instead. Portable generators have a lower capacity of just a few hundred watts to 7,000 watts, but they only cost $200 to $5,000. They do not require installation, and they are easy and inexpensive to maintain.
You will, however, have to purchase fuel to power a portable generator. It must be stored indoors separately from fuel, which translates to more work for the homeowner. Once the power goes out, you will have to take the portable generator outdoors, add fuel, set up the electrical connection, and start the generator. It’s also important not to start a portable generator indoors, in a garage, or anywhere the carbon monoxide could pose a threat to your health.
Standby generators, on the other hand, have an automatic switch, meaning they will automatically kick on once the power goes out. They can also provide more power to the home than portable generators. Depending on your individual needs and budget, however, a portable generator may be a better option. For more information about the differences between standby and portable generators, check out this blog post.
Cost of whole house generator maintenance and repair
The cost of the whole house generator and installation makes up the bulk of the cost of a whole house generator. But once the generator is installed, there are other smaller costs to take into account. To properly maintain a generator, you should run it at least once every week. The cost of fuel to run a generator for 15 minutes is no more than $5. This means that, without accounting for the cost of any outages, you will be paying about $100 per year in fuel costs to maintain the generator. During an extended outage, fuel costs will run up to about $30 a day.
Every 6 to 12 months, you should hire a technician to perform a more detailed inspection of your generator. This costs about $65 to $85 per hour depending on the hourly rate of the technician. If your generator requires any repairs, it may cost more, typically about $75 to $300 for minor repairs. Properly maintained, backup generators last at least 20 years. Look for extended warranties to make sure your generator lasts.
Evaluating the overall cost of a whole house generator
Backup generators are impressive machines that generate electricity for a home separate from the electrical grid. Buying such a machine and the comfort and safety it affords is not cheap. For many households, purchasing a generator requires financial planning and budgeting. It is thus vital to have a grasp on how much the ideal generator for your home will cost overall.
Though various websites attempt to give you an estimate, this does not always reflect the actual cost of a whole house generator. Many factors go into determining the overall cost, from the capacity and quality of the generator to installation and maintenance and repair costs.
Based on our estimates, you can expect to pay anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 for the generator itself, $5,250 to $11,250 for installation, $0 to $900 in electrical wiring, and $165 to $485 per year in maintenance and repair costs. This adds up to $12,250 to $27,150 upfront, in addition to $165 to $485 per year. These costs change if you consider alternatives, such as a portable generator or a battery backup system.
To get a better handle on your individual power needs, try out our generator pricing tool. The Power Calculator uses similar metrics to the ones explained in this article to give you an accurate sense of how much a whole house generator will actually cost you.
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