Things to Know Before You Buy

Buying a generator can be a daunting process. However, you can take control by being informed and getting organized. Here is a simple checklist to use to help in choosing the correct generator to protect your home and family.

    • Determine Wattage Needs

      Determine how much power you need for the items you care about. For help, try our power selection worksheet.

    • Understand Electrical Terms

      You’ll see a lot about watts, volts, amps and more. Review the glossary for definitions.

    • Decide: Standby or Portable?

      Considering your budget, convenience, and power needs, choose which type of generator you want. If you decide to purchase a portable generator, don’t forget you will also need a transfer switch to safely power the circuits in your home.

    • Consider Additional Costs

      How much more will it cost for installation by a qualified professional? Will you need an accessory like a cover for protection from the elements or a transfer switch?

    • Perform Product Comparisons

      Compare power outputs, run times, and prices, as well as what’s included in those prices, such as accessories, warranties, support and installation.

    • Consider Included Items

      Does the generator come with warranty or maintenance package? What about a power cord, oil, wheels, and funnel?

    • Take Care Of Home Power Issues

      Locate your existing electrical service panel and gas line to target any potential problems before buying a generator.

    • Establish Your Budget

      Generator prices fall across a wide range, so determining how much you’d like to spend is important.

What Features and Accessories Do I Need?

Aside from pure power production, there are some useful features and accessories to consider when buying a generator.

Transfer switch – If you want to use your generator to power part or all of your home, you’ll need a sufficiently sized generator and a transfer switch. The transfer switch safely closes off the utility power line to your house’s electrical system and opens a direct line to the generator and reverses the process when utility power is restored.

Standby models can work either with a manual or an automatic transfer switch. The benefit of an automatic transfer switch is that it senses when utility power has been lost and automatically switches to generator power.

Wheeled Frames – As the name suggests, portable generators can be transported to different locations. The smallest portable generators are comparatively light–perhaps 50 pounds–and can be carried. Larger models can weigh as much as several hundred pounds, making a wheeled frame essential for moving it out of the garage or shed to power up when you lose power.

Noise – Generators aren’t necessarily quiet. Some offer extra features to reduce the noise created during operation. Look for large mufflers if noise is a concern.

How Do I Install and Operate a Generator?

Standby Generator

Standby generator: Standby generators are wired directly into your current electrical system and generally require professional installation. Installing a standby generator by yourself may void the unit’s warranty or violate local building codes, so research these issues before you begin. The basic steps are as follows.

First, mount the unit outside your home on a concrete pad or plastic mounting pads that come with the generator. You may need a contractor to pour the concrete foundation and mount the generator.

Next you’ll need to contact your gas or propane company to connect the unit to its fuel source.

Last, you’ll have to call an electrician to hook the generator up to your home’s electrical system. Some generators come with pre-wired kits that make it easier for the “do-it-yourselfer” to do the wiring. In most cases, it’s probably safest and best to have this work done for you by a licensed professional.

Once installed, operation depends on whether you’ve used a manual or an automatic transfer switch. With an automatic transfer switch, if the generator senses a disruption in utility power, it turns itself on and takes over power production until utility power resumes. With a manual transfer switch, you have to handle these chores yourself.

On a standby model, you’ll have to change the oil and filters on a regular basis. Many manufacturers provide maintenance kits to make this easier.

Portable Generator

Portable generator: Setup for portable generators is easy. Just make sure to keep the exhaust port pointed away from your house, and to have the proper distance from your windows and other house openings. If you’re not planning to hook your portable generator into your home or building’s electrical system, there is not a lot of setup involved other than finding a safe place outside your home for the generator. Because portable generators create carbon monoxide, you should never run them inside a building, beneath a window, or near any opening to your house (doors, vents, etc.).

Once situated, fill the generator with the required type of gasoline and oil and start the unit. Startup can be as simple as pressing a switch, but on some you’ll have to yank a manual recoil pull-cord.

Of course, you will have to plug the appliances you want to power into the generator, refuel it as necessary, and shut the generator off when you’re finished with it.

If you want to connect your generator to your home’s electrical system, you’ll need a manual transfer switch. Make sure your generator’s manufacturer supports connecting your model to a transfer switch. If supported, comply with your model’s safety and warranty guidelines as well any local building codes during the installation. In general, it’s best to hire an electrician to handle the wiring of your home to the generator and transfer switch.

However you use your generator, over time you’ll have to change filters, oil, and spark plugs. Plus, you should not store gasoline in the generator when you’re not using it. Either run the generator empty or add a gasoline stabilizer that will prevent the gasoline from “gumming” up. Many manufacturers sell tune-up kits for their models.Follow the instruction manual closely.