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What Size Should An Emergency Home Generator Be, How Many Watts?
With the hurricanes of recent years many homeowners are realizing just how fragile our power grid is and that they need to have a backup source of power. What size should your backup generator be?
First lets look at the different kinds of emergency backup generators for your home.
Portable Generators. Which Sized Portable Generator Do You Need?
The most economical way to provide backup power to your home is to buy a medium sized portable generator of at least 4000 watts or more and use heavy gauge extension cords and splitters to power your refrigerator, TV and a few portable lights. While this is the cheapest way it does have some drawbacks, mainly having to set up cords and run them through windows and doors.
The next way, which costs a couple hundred dollars plus electricians fees, is to have an electrician install a transfer switch and plug. A transfer switch allows you to plug your portable generator (sized properly) into your home electrical system and isolate your home system from the electric grid so that no power company workers are shocked. All you have to do is wheel your generator to a place with adequate ventilation, roll out the cord and attach it to the plug below the transfer switch and power it up.
You will want to turn off any high load circuits such as pool heaters and central air conditioners depending on your generator's wattage.
A 5000 watt portable generator with 6000 watt surge capacity will power a fridge, TV and your home's lights but not much more. Those in the 8,000 and up range will power almost your whole house except your central heat or multiple window units.
What Size Permanent Generator Do You Need?
For generators large enough to power the entire home consider a permanently installed models. These are always ready to go and start automatically after the power has been off a few seconds.
The best way to power them is to hook them up permanently to propane or natural gas. Permanent units start at $6000 and up.
To determine the wattage needed for your home you should contact an electrician who can help you determine the amount of all the loads on your breaker box.
Summary Of What Size Should Your Backup Generator Be
Basically, for a simple home emergency generator system you can spend well under a thousand dollars for one big enough to run most of your home's needs. For less than $1000 you can have a good generator plus a transfer switch.
If you go this route I recommend that you buy the wheel kit for your generator and depending on your physical condition, one with electric start. Briggs and Stratton make some good generators in the 6000 watt range for less than $700.
The Briggs and Stratton models are cheap and reliable provided that you keep clean fuel in them. Always allow them to run out of gas so there is none left in the carburetor to gum up when you store the and be sure to check the oil when running them for multiple days and to change the oil when you are done. If you service them, including cleaning the air filter they will last several years.
For those with a tractor you have the option of a PTO or "Power Take Off" mounted generator. These save you the expense of paying for a motor and allow you to use your tractor, with a larger diesel tank, to power the unit. These are typically higher in wattage and very reliable.
Noise and California rated generators.
Many of the cheaper portable backup emergency generators are not legal in California because of emissions and noise requirements to check before buying one. For a model legal in California you will have to spend as much as 40% more.
Keep in mind that the cheaper portable generators are noisier, in some cases twice as noisy. However you can alleviate some of this noise by facing the exhaust away from your neighbors. Do not place them in the garage since deadly carbon monoxide fumes can enter the home.
Finally, don't think that you can just buy a 1000 watt camping generator and use it to run your home. You will go crazy unplugging the fridge to watch TV, etc. You need at minimum 4000 watts. A 6000 watt generator will handle most emergency situations with power to spare. Small camping generators were never meant to run for days on end.