How to pick a generator is the first step in hooking up a generator to your house. Here's my experience in figuring out what kind and size portable generator you need to power your home during a power outage.
Figuring out how what size or wattage generator to buy a is the first step in the how to pick a generator process. To determine the size of the generator you need, you have to figure out what you want to power in your house during a power outage. This power number, or watts, also will determine the size transfer panel you will need. In addition to buying a generator you will need generator transfer switch. Here is a link to our post about transfer switch installation.
Based On My Experiences...
This post is about portable generators, the kind on wheels that you pull outside, connect to your manual transfer panel, and power your home. Standby generators, the kinds that sit on a cement slab next to your house, are not covered here. This is based on my experience as a homeowner, I am not a licensed electrician.
First, buy a name brand generator. Cheap generators will cause you problems if you ever need to service it. This came back to burn a friend of mine when he needed to replace a carburetor.
Second, perform regular maintenance on your generator. I run mine for about 15 minutes every month.
Third, use gas stabilizer. Add this to all the gasoline you use for engines around the house. It will save you a lot of headaches and repairs.
Start by going through the house and think about what you and your family want to be able to use in a power outage. Then re-think about what you really need, and what you can live without.
Why? Because the average portable generator/transfer switch setup will not run everything in your house. It will run the essentials, however I think you'll find that you don't need to power your whole house.
Your portable generator will probably not run your 240 volt appliances. These include electric clothes dryer, electric stove, electric furnace, electric baseboards. It will run your deep freezer, refrigerator, and microwave oven and most of the lights in your house. It all depends on how the house is wired and the size of your generator transfer panel.
After making a list of of what is essential in your home, find out the amps or watts that each appliance uses. Don't forget the furnace, well pump, etc. This is usually on a label somewhere. Now convert amps into watts with this equation:
amps x 120 = watts
I imagine you will get a number ranging from 3,000 - 6,000 unless you have lots of large TVs.
How To Pick A Generator, Watts & Amps:
A typical home can use a generator in the 3,000 to 6,000 watt range. Because you will probably not be running all the appliances at once, you don't need a generator that exactly matches how many watts all the appliances require. The biggest draw on the generator will be the well pump, if you have one, second comes the furnace. Rarely would all of your appliances need power at once.
The question of whether to get a gas or propane powered portable generator depends on your location and preference. The small 20 gallon propane tanks are easier to deal with than carrying around gasoline, but if you run out of propane, how far do you have to drive to get more tanks? You could also get larger propane tanks, as some generators have a gas line hookup. I have a gasoline powered generator, and have been happy with it.
The downside of the gasoline generator is you can splash gas when filling the tank, and you must put gas stabilizer in the fuel. But you should treat all the gas you use for small engines with stabilizer, in my opinion.
You will need to buy and install a manual transfer panel that matches how many circuits you plan on using in the house. That is, how many of the circuit breakers on your panel need to be fed power from the generator. If you need to power 6 circuit breakers of your house panel, you will need a transfer panel with 6 breakers. Most household manual transfer panels have 6 to 10 breakers. If you have to power more than 10 circuits in a power outage, its time for a standby generator. Here is a link to our post about generator transfer panel installation.
You might think, how can I get by using only use 6 circuits in my house? You'd be surprised at how you can. Your family will be happy that they can take hot showers and charge their devices, and the food in the freezer isn't melting.
I have a 6,500 watt portable generator, and it runs my entire house with power to spare. The generator surges when the well pump kicks in or the furnace turns on, but that's about it. The power meters on our transfer panel rarely move past 25%.
My point here is you probably don't need a large generator to survive a power outage, so save some money and buy a less powerful generator. My house would do fine with a 3,000 - 4,000 watt generator.
Below is video about transfer panels and generators, here is the link again to our post about transfer panels. I hope this has answered some of your questions about how to pick generator.
In the plus column for propane fueled generators, the fuel doesn't go stale and it is much simpler to swap out the propane tanks and not have to fiddle around with pouring fuel into a gas tank at 3 AM when the fuel runs out/low. I've done both and I much prefer the simplicity of unscrewing the empty tank and attaching the new one. An alternative for me that I've not done yet is to have a hook-up installed to my main propane tank, which would keep the generator running for days if need be.