If you need power during blackouts and emergency events, consider getting a standby generator. Unlike portable gas generators, these beasts automatically run after sensing a power outage. They also run weekly self-tests to ensure proper responses to outages. Most standby generators run on liquid propane gas, diesel, or natural gas.
Read on to learn more about standby generators and what they can power. We’ll also cover what to consider when buying a backup generator for your home.
What Is a Standby Generator?
Also known as backup generators, stationary generators, and whole-house generators, standby generators are backup power solutions that provide power to homes and businesses. They are permanently installed outside your house like air conditioning units and automatically turn on when the power is out.
How to Connect a Generator to Your House Without a Transfer Switch
There are many sizes and types of generators. Some can power your whole house or office, while others only provide enough power to keep the refrigerator or lights running.
How Do Standby Generators Work?
Standby generators have two main parts: the generator itself and a transfer switch.
When a blackout happens, the transfer switch immediately senses the power loss and transfers the electrical load to the generator. The generator then starts supplying power to the circuits.
When power returns, the transfer switch transfers the electricity back to the utility and tells the generator to shut down. It will then return to standby mode.
Standby Generators vs. Portable Gas Generators
Like portable gas generators, standby generators can be used to run offices and homes. However, there are some major differences between the two:
|Parameter||Standby Generator||Portable Gas Generator|
|Noise level||Less noisy thanks to insulated weatherproof housing||Noisier|
|Usage||Starts immediately once the power goes out||Must be turned on manually, so you must be at home to get the power started|
|What it can power||Everything in your home or office at once||Depending on the power rating, it can power everything in your home or just a few appliances|
|How much does a standby generator cost?||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Power||Produces more power||Produces less power|
|Use cases||For homes and offices||For homes, offices, and outdoor gatherings like concerts|
|Fuel options||Usually runs on propane and natural gas||Usually runs on gasoline, although they can also run on propane and natural gas|
|Maintenance costs||Installation and maintenance costs can be high||Generally doesn’t require installation or maintenance|
|Run time||Days or weeks (propane) or indefinitely (natural gas)||Eight to 20 hours|
What Can It Power?
Standby generators can power a wide range of appliances, including:
The best home standby generators can power almost any appliance, including:
- Electric stoves
- Sump pumps
- Air conditioners
- Microwave ovens
The wattage of your backup generator will determine how many appliances you can power at once:
|Wattage of generator||What appliances it can run|
|7,000 to 9,000 watts||A freezer|
A sump pump
A microwave oven
|10,000 to 13,000 watts||All of the above|
Electric hot water heaters
|14,000 to 15,000 watts||All of the above|
Multiple kitchen appliances including:
electric fry pans,
and coffee makers
|16,000 to 22,000 watts||All of the above|
Multiple large air conditioners
Multiple hot water heaters
Multiple well pumps
|22,000 watts and more||All of the above|
Every appliance and electrical system in large, luxury homes
Besides appliances, standby generators can also power electronics. However, you must ensure that your standby generator produces pure sine wave power before using it on sensitive electronics like televisions, phones, and computers. Generators that don’t produce pure sine wave power can destroy sensitive electronics.
Lastly, standby generators can power central air conditioners. For reference, a 14,000-watt backup generator can power a four-ton central air conditioning unit, while a 17,000-watt model can run a five-ton central air conditioner.
What Should You Consider When Buying a Backup Generator for Your Home?
As you can see, backup generators are incredibly powerful. However, as with all products, some models are better than others. Consider the following factors when buying the best backup generator for your home or office:
Industry Standards and Costs
First, you need to consider your generator’s industry standards and costs. Specifically, you need to look at your generator’s size and wattage.
Standby generator sizing varies greatly. Smaller models have lower wattages and can only power a few appliances at once, while larger models have high wattages and can run multiple large systems and appliances simultaneously. Some can even power luxury homes for weeks.
Generator size also has a large impact on price. Small units usually range from $2,000 to $5,000, while large models can go up to $20,000.
To determine the best size generator for you, ask yourself the following:
- What appliances are you powering?
- How much space do you have for installing a standby generator?
- What is your budget?
To determine the wattage you need, think about the appliances, electronics, and air conditioners you want to power. Then, add up their wattage.
For example, let’s say you want to power all of the following simultaneously:
- A 3,500-watt air conditioner
- A 300-watt furnace fan
- A 177-watt humidifier
- A 1,000-watt hair dryer
- A 4,500-watt water heater
- A 1,450-watt microwave oven
- A 440-watt refrigerator
- A 340-watt freezer
- A 4,900-watt clothes dryer
- A 512-watt washer
- A 500-watt home computer
- A 300-watt television
- 10 40-watt lightbulbs
This adds up to 18,319 watts. As such, you should look for a standby generator with at least 18,500 watts. You don’t have to go above 20,000 watts, though, unless you want more legroom to power more appliances in a pinch.
Not sure how many watts you need? Use our generator wattage calculator to plan your next generator purchase.
Besides industry standards and costs, you must also consider your standby generator’s fuel option or source. Like portable generators, standby generators can run on natural gas, diesel, or liquid propane. Some can even be powered by all three.
Natural gas is one of the best fuel sources. Like liquid propane, it runs quietly and burns quickly. It also doesn’t require storage if it comes from a pipeline.
Unfortunately, pipeline gas isn’t available everywhere. It may also be cut when disasters happen, leaving you with no alternatives for emergency power if your standby generator only uses natural gas.
- 4650 Peak Watts & 3600 Rated Watts (Gasoline); 4650 Peak Watts & 3240 Rated Watts(Propane); 4 Gallon Fuel Tank (with Fuel Gauge); Up To 14 Hours of Run Time Per Tank
- Features One 5-20R 120V Household Duplex Receptacle, One RV-Ready TT-30R 30 Amp Receptacle, and One L5-30R 30 Amp Receptacle; All Outlets Have Rubber Covers for Added Safety
- Plug-and-Play: Comes with Oil, an Oil Funnel, a Tool Kit, and a User's Manual to Get You Started Right Out of the Box (Minimal Assembly Required)
- Powered by a 212cc Westinghouse 4-Stroke OHV Engine Featuring a Long-Lasting Cast Iron Sleeve with Automatic Low Oil Shutdown
- All Westinghouse Portable Generators are Functionally Tested in the Factory and May Contain Minimum Residual Oil and/or Fuel Odor; EPA and CARB Compliant; Backed by 3-Year Limited Service, Labor, and Parts Coverage with Nationwide Customer Service Network
Diesel is the safest fuel source for your standby generator. Compared to natural gas and liquid propane, it’s not very flammable. It’s also the easiest to obtain since it’s available in all gas stations and can be stored for one and a half to two years.
Diesel also boasts the following advantages:
- The ability to power multiple high-wattage appliances simultaneously
- Lower maintenance costs
However, it also has the following disadvantages:
- Not good for smaller energy needs due to diesel’s short shelf-life
- Higher noise levels
- Higher emissions
- Reliable Power Backup: The Generac 7172 10kW generator provides a dependable power backup solution for your home during outages
- Seamless Transfer: Equipped with a 100-Amp transfer switch, it smoothly transitions your power source to the generator, ensuring uninterrupted electricity for your essential circuits
- Clean and Quiet Operation: The inverter technology and quiet design of this generator deliver clean and quiet power, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use
- Easy Monitoring: With the Mobile Link Wi-Fi feature, you can conveniently monitor the status of your generator from anywhere using your smartphone, tablet, or PC
- Peace of Mind: Generac offers a 5-year limited warranty, providing you with long-term protection and confidence in your standby power solution
If you’re concerned about the environment, propane standby generators are for you. Like natural gas, propane burns cleanly, making it more eco-friendly than diesel. Additionally, propane is more easily stored in tanks and has a longer shelf life. Propane-run units also often run quieter than other standby generators.
Unfortunately, propane has a few disadvantages. For one, you need large pressurized cylinders to store propane. Not only is this unattractive for small homes and offices, but it can also be hazardous. Additionally, propane-run generators:
- Require specialized maintenance
- Tend to be more expensive
- Have a fuel-to-consumption ratio that is three times higher than diesel
Last but not least, some standby generators run on all three fuel types. Known as triple fuel generators or tri-fuel generators, these babies allow you to switch between fuel sources if you run out of your main fuel.
These generators use carburetors that don’t get clogged, making fuel switching quick and easy. All you have to do is turn the lever on the selector valve, which is usually located above the low-pressure regulator.
It’s worth noting, though, that most tri-fuel generators are portable, not standby. As such, finding a suitable tri-fuel standby generator may be a time sink.
Fuel Consumption Rates
After picking the ideal fuel source, you must consider fuel consumption rates. If you buy a generator with a high fuel consumption rate, you’ll quickly deplete your fuel.
To determine a standby generator’s fuel consumption rate, look at the owner’s manual and product information. Natural-gas standby generators can run indefinitely if you receive natural gas through pipes to your home or office. Meanwhile, liquid propane generators typically use two to three gallons of propane per hour, which means a 1,000-gallon tank can last two weeks of outages.
As for diesel tanks, they come in a range of sizes, with sub-base tanks storing less than 1,000 gallons and underground storage tanks often storing over 1,000 gallons. Diesel-run generators typically consume around 0.40 gallons of diesel per hour, which means a 1,000-gallon tank can last approximately 17 weeks.
The average cost to install a standby generator varies. However, a quick Google search reveals that the average installation cost ranges from $6,000 to $11,000. The larger and heavier a standby generator is, the higher the installation cost.
Most standby generators on the market are incredibly reliable, especially if they’re from industry leaders. Generac, for instance, has addressed the following reliability issues through superior product design:
- Fuel failures: Generac generators run on natural gas and diesel at the same time, extending the runtime of on-site fuel to be four times as long.
- Lack of maintenance: Generac’s backup generators have advanced controls, including predictive maintenance algorithms that tell you when maintenance is needed.
- Connection, sensors, and circuit board failures: Generators often fail due to oxidation and deterioration. Generac prevents this from happening by using advanced generator controls and advanced controls for vibration immunity.
Another factor to consider is technology. Some standby generators, especially higher-end ones, have state-of-the-art carbon monoxide detection and energy management features.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas formed by incomplete fuel combustion. When people are exposed to CO gas, they can fall ill or die. According to Penn Medicine, CO poisoning is the leading cause of poisoning death in the U.S.
- CO detector alerts with a loud 85dB warning signal indicating dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home
- Plug-in that still works during a power failure - 2-AA batteries (included) provide backup for your CO alarm in the event of a power outage
- Easy & quick installation - plugs into any standard AC wall outlet
- Purchase multiple alarms for whole-home detection - place 1 carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home & outside each sleeping area to help protect against poisonous CO gas
- Kidde is the #1 most installed fire safety brand in North America* - and a trusted leader in fire safety for more than 100 years
To prevent CO poisoning, get a standby generator with built-in CO detectors. These sensors trigger an automatic shutoff if CO builds up to dangerous levels. Some units also have engines that emit less CO.
Here’s how you can get a standby generator with CO safety features:
- Look for keywords like CO Detect, CO Protect, CO Guard, and CO Shield
- Ensure that the generator meets at least one of the following CO safety standards:
- ANSI/PGMA G300 Certified & Performance
- ANSI/UL2201 Certified for Carbon Monoxide Safety
Energy Management / Eco-Friendly Tech
Besides CO detectors, your ideal backup generator should also have energy management or eco-friendly features. These include:
- Solar-powered panels: Solar-powered generators run on energy collected from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels instead of fossil fuels. They don’t release any emissions when generating power.
- Wind turbines: Some standby generators have wind turbines for collecting energy. The turbine blades connect to the generator through various gears and the shaft. As the rotor spins, the generator creates an electric current. Like solar panels, wind turbines create electricity without emissions.
Generator Ratings and Reviews
You also need to consider your generator’s ratings and reviews.
Don’t just read one or two reviews — you should read at least 25% of the reviews. Otherwise, you won’t get a good idea of the product’s pros and cons. Also, pay close attention to how the product works in real life. User reviews often provide more context about a generator than you can get from the marketing materials and descriptions.
Once you have a clear idea of how a generator works, look at its rating. Generally, if a generator’s rating is lower than four, it’s probably not worth your salt. You should also be wary of products with:
- A substantial number of one and two-star reviews and ratings: If a product consistently gets low ratings, chances are, it has a lot of flaws.
- Very few reviews: A reliable product should have at least 20 reviews from generator owners.
- Fake reviews: Unfortunately, many large online retailers have been flooded by fake reviews. According to a study by UCLA and the University of Southern California, as many as 4.5 million sellers got fake reviews from Facebook groups in 2020. To tell whether a review is genuine, look for the following:
- A detailed breakdown of why the customer did not or did like the product: Genuine reviews usually have detailed pros and cons lists. Meanwhile, someone paid to write a quick five-star review would probably just leave a three or four-word comment.
- Photographs and videos: Fake reviews won’t have videos and photographs.
Lastly, you need to consider your chosen generator’s complete warranty details. Remember, a standby generator is a long-term investment for your ownership experience. What’s more, a full-home generator can add value to your home if you choose the right full-home generator and you’re in an area prone to power outages.
Here’s what the ideal generator warranty should cover:
- All parts without any exclusions: Many warranties are limited and exclude certain parts that may need to be replaced during the warranty term. To avoid paying out of pocket, pick a warranty that provides coverage for every piece of equipment and part that you may need to replace.
- The complete replacement and removal of your generator: The process of turning diesel, propane, or natural gas into electricity involves multiple controlled explosions. As such, it’s easy for parts to break down. A good warranty should cover the complete replacement and removal of your generator in the event of an electrical failure or mechanical breakdown.
- At least 10 years of coverage: Commercial standby generators are expected to work for over 10 years. However, many home generators only offer two years of protection. Avoid those — a two-year warranty doesn’t cover many running hours. Most breakdowns also happen after the two-year mark.
Power Your Appliances and Home During Outages With the Right Standby Generator System
Standby generators are the most reliable way to keep your home running during blackouts, severe weather, and other emergency situations.
However, picking the right standby generator is often easier said than done, especially if you’ve never bought one before. You need to consider a wide range of factors, including:
- Industry standards and costs, including generator size and wattage
- Fuel source
- Fuel consumption rates
- Installation costs
- Technology such as CO detectors and energy management/eco-friendly tech
- Generator reviews and ratings
Once you’ve considered all of these, it’s time to make a chart featuring “must-have” versus “nice-to-have” features. Here’s an example:
|Low fuel consumption rate||Dual-fuel or tri-fuel engine|
|CO detectors||Low installation costs|
|At least 15,000 watts of power|
Next, determine the perfect standby generator cost by looking at your budget. If you have a large budget, you can get a generator that fits all of your requirements. However, if you have a limited budget, think about which “must have” features are actually “nice-to-have.” Then, get a generator that fits all of your “must have” requirements.
Most standby generator brands provide 99.8% reliability. You can boost reliability up to 99.9% by paralleling two or more generators. You can do this by integrating the paralleling controls directly into one of the generators and using digital communications and controls for interconnection.
On average, backup generators can last up to 3,000 hours for medium-sized homes. This amounts to 50 years if you average three outages per year and use your generator for 30 hours per outage.
A mechanic’s your best bet for standby generator installation. However, if you want to save money and you have the tools and experience to install generators, here’s how you can install a standby generator:
1.) Pick a suitable area for installing your generator. The generator should be at least five feet away from all doors and windows.
2.) Put the generator on top of a concrete pad supported by a gravel bed.
3.) Use stainless-steel bolts to secure the generator to the pad.
4.) Get a plumber to connect a natural gas line to the generator.
5.) Hire an electrician to run a line-voltage cable to the standby generator.
6.) Install a transfer switch beside the electrical meter. It will send electricity into your home or office whenever the power goes out.