Buying a backup generator on a budget

It’s no secret that backup generators can be expensive. In addition to the generator itself, homeowners must pay for installation, fuel, and maintenance and repair costs. Like any major purchase, backup generators should be seen as both a financial responsibility and an investment. For many homeowners, buying a generator on a budget takes a lot of saving and financial planning. Homeowners who plan for and purchase a generator, however, understand the benefits of safety and security it provides.

On average, a backup generator for a medium-sized home costs $12,250 to $27,150 upfront, plus $165 to $485 per year in maintenance and repair costs. For homeowners buying a generator on a budget, however, there are ways to lower the cost. Some types of generators are less expensive than others. Homeowners can also strategically size their generator to fulfill their minimum energy requirements without breaking the bank.

At AlltimePower, we understand the importance of buying a good, affordable generator that fits within a family’s yearly budget. To help homeowners find the right generator at the right cost, we created a free generator pricing tool. It will help you understand your home energy consumption and how much you can expect to spend on a generator. You will also have the option for generator dealers to compete to give you the lowest cost.

Finding an affordable generator

The biggest chunk of the cost is the generator itself. A traditional, fuel-powered standby generator for a medium-sized home will cost about $7,000 to $15,000, depending on the make, model, size, and quality of the engine. If you are trying to buy a standby generator on a budget, you’ll want to do some research and find an inexpensive make and model that meets your size requirements.

If you are on a tight budget, you may want to consider buying a portable generator instead of a standby generator. Portable generators cost between $200 and $5,000. They also do not require installation and are relatively inexpensive to maintain. This is a good option if you do not experience frequent or long outages in your area.

Portable generators do have some disadvantages. For example, you will have to purchase fuel for the portable generator yourself. Additionally, they must be connected to your electrical system manually, which translates to more work and inconvenience for the homeowner. Portable generators also have a lower capacity, meaning they won’t be able to run for as long or power as many appliances as a standby generator.

Sizing a generator

One of the best ways to ensure your generator is affordable is to buy one that is not larger than your energy needs. Larger generators, or generators that are capable of generating more energy, are significantly more expensive than smaller ones. If you’re on a budget, it’s thus important to make sure you buy a generator that meets your energy needs but is not larger than necessary.

The size of the generator depends on the peak load, or the sum of all of the appliances you would run during a power outage. When calculating the peak load, you’ll want to focus on how many watts it takes for an appliance to start up rather than run. For example, a refrigerator might take 1200 watts to start but only need 150 watts to run. For the generator to successfully start the refrigerator, it would need a capacity of at least 1200 watts.

Some homeowners want a whole-house generator, which would be capable of running all of the appliances in the home at once. If you are trying to keep the cost low, you will probably only want to run certain appliances. For example, you’ll want the generator to power the refrigerator or air conditioning, but you may be able to hold off on using the dishwasher or dryer until the power comes back on. In this case, you’ll only need a generator capable of starting some of the appliances. If you would like help calculating your home’s electrical needs, try using our backup power calculator.

Buying a used generator

Another way to cut down on the cost of a generator is to buy one second-hand. The simplest and least expensive way to do this is to buy a used generator from a prior owner without having its internal parts inspected or replaced. Though buying a used generator can save you a lot of money upfront, you run the risk that the generator may have a short lifespan or need repairs soon after you purchase it, which could cost you more money in the long run.

Another option is to buy a rebuilt generator. This means that the generator has been taken apart and rebuilt following the original manufacturer’s specifications. The quality of the rebuilt generator depends on how well it was rebuilt, but they are usually tested thoroughly and come with a limited warranty. A third option is to buy a remanufactured generator, which is similar to a rebuilt generator but is made to be as close to the original generator as possible.

Both a rebuilt and a remanufactured generator are less expensive than a new generator but more expensive than a used generator. However, they tend to be a safer bet than a used generator because their internal parts are inspected for potential problems before they are resold. When buying a generator second-hand, it’s always a good idea to buy one with a warranty in case its parts are faulty.

Generator fuel

Regardless of whether or not you buy a generator second-hand, you can save money by buying a generator that runs on a less expensive fuel. Generators can run on gasoline, natural gas, propane, or diesel. Generally, natural gas and diesel are the least expensive options, but comparing the two is tricky. The price of natural gas is generally lower than that of diesel, but it also has a lower energy density and burns less efficiently.

Though the net cost of natural gas and diesel can vary based on price fluctuations and individual energy usage, diesel tends to be the least expensive on average. Plus, natural gas generators must be connected to natural gas lines, which can add to the cost of installation. To be sure of which is the least expensive for your home, research the cost of natural gas and diesel per unit in your area, then compare that to the energy needs of your home.

Though cost may be a major concern if you are trying to buy a generator on a budget, you’ll also want to consider other factors when deciding what kind of fuel you want your generator to run on. For example, diesel burns less cleanly than other types of fuel, so engines may be subject to restricted run-times in some areas. You may also want to consider the convenience associated with different types of fuels: natural gas-powered generators are supplied through gas pipelines, but diesel, propane, and gasoline must be bought, stored, and manually fueled. Learn more about generator fuel.

Maintaining a generator on a budget

Though the bulk of a generator’s cost comes from the upfront costs of the generator and installation, generators must also be maintained. Like any engine, a generator must receive attention, or else it will wear down over time. To cut down on maintenance and repair costs, it’s important to regularly run and care for the generator yourself to keep the engine healthy and free from damage.

We recommend you run the generator at load (i.e., at full capacity) at least once a week for about 15-20 minutes. This allows the lubricating oil to heat up and circulate within the engine, which contributes to the strength of the generator. Double check that the generator has adequate fueling levels and no fuel links. You should also check oil and coolant levels about once a month and refill when necessary.

Even if you regularly run the engine, you’ll want to have a qualified technician perform a more detailed inspection of your generator about once every 6 to 12 months. The technician will lubricate the oil and oil filters and check for oil leaks. This will help stop any problems before they become too big or costly, keeping your overall repair costs down. Many dealers also offer maintenance packages with the sale of a generator.

Financially planning to buy a generator on a budget

Generators are not inexpensive, but with the right amount of planning, you can invest in your family’s safety and well-being with a generator. If you are not sure you can afford it, put aside a little money every month to go toward it. Many dealers also offer financing plans that allow you to pay for your generator over time. You may even want to cut down on your household’s energy consumption as a way to put money toward the purchase.

If you are interested in buying an affordable generator on a budget, find out how much you can expect to spend based on your household’s energy needs by using our generator pricing tool. If you choose, you can also have generator dealers compete to give you the lowest price on a backup generator.

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