Emergency Generators Great Source for Backup Power

Generators are a great source of backup power during an outage and this guide will help you find an emergency generator to suit your needs.

| February/March 2008

  • power outage
    A good generator can help keep your home well-lit and cozy when the power supply from the grid is disrupted. 
    Photo courtesy of Generac Power Systems
  • backup generator
    Generators are a wonderful solution to coping with power outages, but safety precautions and correct use are critical to a positive experience.
    Photo courtesy of Generac Power Systems
  • portable generator
    For many situations, a portable generator can provide adequate power to get you through a blackout.
    Photo courtesy of Honda

  • power outage
  • backup generator
  • portable generator

A good emergency generator makes your home blackout proof. It’s relatively inexpensive insurance against complete loss of household power. Plus, portable units are convenient when you need electricity beyond the reach of an extension cord.

All generators combine an internal combustion engine with electrical components to create electricity for powering appliances and tools. Choosing an emergency generator involves several key decisions. How much power do you really need? How often do you expect to use it? Will it be for emergency backup power? For tools? Both? What level of quality makes sense? What kind of fuel? How will you get the power from the generator to items in your home?

More Power to You

The first thing to consider is generator output. What size is right for your situation? This sounds simpler than it really is because not all items on your wish list are going to be used all the time or at the same time. Also, some appliances (such as furnace fans, sump pumps, washing machines and refrigerators) require more start-up power than their specified ratings.

Generator output is measured in watts, a unit of power derived by multiplying electrical flow rate (amps) by electrical pressure (volts). One typical household outlet, for example, delivers a maximum of 1,800 watts (15 amps x 120 volts), or the equivalent of a small portable generator. Many people buy a small generator but regret it later because they didn’t understand the basic issues. I’m one of those people.

The backup generator I’ve used for the last 20 years has a maximum rated output of 3,500 watts. That seemed like enough when I bought it, but it’s proven barely adequate for emergency power. By the time the submersible well pump kicks in (1,500 watts at start-up), the basement freezer is running (800 watts) and a few lights are on (100 watts for several compact fluorescents), there’s not much power left for other things. If we want to use the microwave or toaster oven, we have to make sure that most other items are switched off. For sample wattage data for common appliances, see How Much is Enough?. (Guardian has an online calculator to estimate the size of generator that’s best for you. Visit Guardian and click “Which One Do I Need?”)

There’s also the issue of sustained output. When a manufacturer rates generator output, it usually refers to a maximum, short-term level only. In practice, most generators can sustain only 80 percent of their maximum rating for the long haul. If you continuously demand more than this, you’ll shorten the life of your investment. Unless stated otherwise, always consider advertised generator output as overly optimistic and apply the 80 percent rule.

1/7/2016 6:43:08 PM

Automatic standby systems are becoming more and more essential. Backup home generators are great because they manage power for the whole house with a switch, or you can select critical loads and just focus on those needs with a pre-wired auto-transfer panel. The fact that they work with both propane or gas makes it appropriate for any home too. in Eugene, Oregon, we have a wealth of professionals like Balanced Electric, Inc (http://www.balanced-electric.com) which is comprised of a handful of electricians with over 20 years in the electrical industry. They offer free quotes, inspection, design, construction, installation, maintenance, etc. I like small businesses like that since they build a relationship with you and make sure you understand the mechanics of your generator(s).

12/17/2014 3:12:05 PM

The Guardian hyperlink goes to a login page. This address gets you to the calculator is: http://www.generac.com/for-homeowners/home-backup-power/build-your-generator

1/9/2009 9:13:41 AM

Teddi makes a good point, there are folks out there that have situations in which being without electricity for long periods of time could be dangerous or some of the older fashioned solutions might not be a good idea. I did not see where the author was stating that a generator is going to be used to keep every light in the house on while running 3 computers, 4 TV sets, a stove, washing machine and dryer, refrigerator and freezer all at the same time. The piece is about EMERGENCY *BACKUP* power. Relegating everyone with health problems to the center of large cities living next door to hospitals is irresponsible, ignorant and just plain silly. If someone needs something like CPAP (a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea) they are not to be sent off to live in a nursing home! It must be nice to live in such a black and white world of the healthy and capable versus the infirm. What a small minded world view. I thought Mother Earth News is about the principle that we ALL can do things to impact our world less. Some of us are able to live like Daniel Boone, and I applaud them, but some of us can only do the best we can by making the best choices we can, and being aware of the things that we do. It does not have to be one or the other: everyone can do SOMETHING, but not everyone can do EVERYTHING and there is nothing wrong with that. Mother helps us to learn about the "somethings" that we can do. Thank you.


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