Table of Contents
- Standby Generator Buying Guide
- Who Needs a Standby Generator?
- Is a Standby Generator the Same As a Whole House Generator?
- Do Standby Generators Add Value To a Home?
- How to Choose the Right Home Standby Generator For You
- Types of Standby Generators
- Sizing Tips For Home Standby Generators
- Essential Features And Considerations For Home Standby Generators
- How Does a Standby Generator Work?
- Standby Generator Safety Tips
- Review of the 5 Best Standby Generators
- Final Word
A standby generator will prevent food spoilage and keep your family safe and comfortable during a power outage. Find out how you can choose the right one for your home.
Whether it’s predicted or happens without notice, a power outage is an unpleasant experience. It can mean spoiled food, a dimly lit home, and having to do without many of your usual comforts. After carefully assessing the toll, it will make sense to invest in a home standby generator.
Dubbed the ‘next must-have appliance’, there can be little doubt about the utility of a home standby generator. What you may find yourself less sure about is which among the options available is the best standby generator for your home.
Today we will answer the main questions you have about standby generators and help you choose one that’s right for you. We will focus on the best standby generators for home use.
There’s a lot to get through, so let’s get cracking.
Standby Generator Buying Guide
Who Needs a Standby Generator?
A home standby generator is a backup electricity source that powers your home when you lose grid power. The generator is hardwired into your home’s electrical system and kicks into action when grid power fails so life goes on like the outage never happened.
Home standby generators are permanently installed outside the home. Larger than portable generators, they can supply the entire house. So anyone who works from home or whose life will be adversely affected by a blackout will find a standby generator a necessary investment.
Is a Standby Generator the Same As a Whole House Generator?
Standby generators and whole-house generators are both designed to restore power after a grid outage. However, home standby generators are generally identified as those only big enough to power your essential circuits, not necessarily the whole house.
A standby generator literally is ‘on standby’ waiting for that moment when your normal electricity supply is cut. ‘Whole house’ implies the generator can supply enough power that there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference that you have switched from grid power.
If you have an automatic transfer switch installed, the transition from the grid to standby power should only last a few seconds. You will be back working or watching that football game mere moments later. Your fridge will barely stop working.
Do Standby Generators Add Value To a Home?
Though you are unlikely to recoup the full cost of the generator if you sell the house, Consumer Reports found that a standby generator will add 5 percent to a home’s value.
In terms of ROI, figures as high as 150 percent have been quoted. However, the ultimate figure depends on the type of property and the size of the standby generator.
You could also say that a standby generator makes a home more desirable in the eyes of potential buyers. Knowing that a standby generator is one less thing you have to worry about after moving in will make you look at a property with different eyes. It may even be enough for you to overlook a slightly higher price than you had budgeted for.
Depending on your insurer, installing a standby generator can also earn you a discount on your home insurance premiums. With standby power, you can protect your home from damage resulting from vandalism, fire, and bad weather, which means fewer claims on your insurance policy.
How to Choose the Right Home Standby Generator For You
The convenience of a standby power source does not come cheap. As with any other big-ticket item, it is important to do your research before buying a standby generator. By doing your research, you know what’s out there and how those different options fit your needs.
There are critical questions to answer on the size of the standby generator you should buy and the fuel type that’s best for you. Neglect these questions and you either buy a standby generator that does not meet all your power needs or one that’s too expensive to run.
Types of Standby Generators
Standby generators are marked by the types of fuel they use. Fuel type has big implications on how much the generator costs to buy, how much it costs to operate, and how much maintenance it will require. A properly chosen standby generator will be one that produces the most power at the lowest running costs.
Gas standby generators
Gas standby generators run on propane or natural gas. Natural gas is the cheaper, more preferable of the two. And even though your home will have to be connected to a gas line, it would ensure a continuous fuel supply.
Gas generators have a shorter lifespan and require more maintenance than diesel generators, but they tend to be cheaper. Propane burns cleaner than diesel and stores longer and more safely. Compared to diesel generators, propane standby generators are also easy to start in any weather.
Where you can connect to a pre-existing gas line, gas generators do not need dedicated fuel storage. This is good for safety and also guarantees continuous power to your home since you don’t have to manually stop the generator to refuel it.
If you are not connected to a natural gas line, you can also install a gas tank and schedule regular deliveries to your home. The benefit of this is that propane is more readily available and can be easily accessed during times of crisis.
The downside to connecting to a gas line is you can end up in a situation not too dissimilar to a power outage if your supply is somehow interrupted. Because gas is so flammable, gas lines are usually shut down whenever there is potential for leaks. For example, during a violent rainstorm or major accident, which are times you are most likely to experience a grid outage.
It helps that many gas generator models take both propane and natural gas. This makes bi-fuel gas generators an excellent choice for home use.
Diesel standby generators have a sturdy build and will last many years with very little maintenance. In terms of a standby power option that is completely independent of the power grid, diesel generators are your best option.
What you will find less appealing about diesel standby generators is their price and the constant refilling if an outage lasts for an extended period. Diesel generators also tend to be quite loud.
Bi-fuel standby generators
The best of both worlds in one package, bi-fuel standby generators give you the advantage of using one of two fuel types depending on what’s readily available at the time. That flexibility is useful in disaster situations where one fuel type may be hard to source.
While it is possible to retrofit a propane or diesel generator to give it bi-fuel capability, some models come with the specification right from the factory. Generac was the first manufacturer to introduce truly bi-fuel standby generators.
Sizing Tips For Home Standby Generators
After deciding on the best type of standby generator for home use, you have to decide on the size. The size of the generator you buy determines how much power you will get.
Unless constrained by budget, most people want a generator with the capacity to supply the whole house. To work out what size that generator needs to be, you have to be clear about your needs. That is to ask, what do I need to power?
Some appliances like central air conditioners draw a lot of power, which calls for a bigger standby generator. If you have a basement, you need a sump pump for the odd flooding emergency.
Make a list of the circuits you rely on to keep your home safe, comfortable, and functional. For the average homeowner, primary items that will make your list include:
- Refrigerator (600 watts)
- Air conditioner (3,500 watts)
- Sump pump (1,500 watts)
- Well pump (1,000 watts)
- Stove (3,000 watts)
The above items draw the most electricity, but there will be many other items that don’t consume a lot of power individually but do so collectively. These include lights, TV, home theater system, security cameras, access control system, gate openers, computers, medical devices, and your mobile devices.
Check your appliances’ data plates to get their wattage ratings. By adding everything up you get the wattage for your total power needs. To that figure, add a 15 percent allowance for emergent power needs, like a bigger fridge or more powerful sump pump you may buy in the future.
Standby generators can produce between 5 and 20 kilowatts of electricity, which should be enough for standard home use. This is the range you will be shopping in. Generac has a handy standby generator sizing calculator here.
Accounting for the extra watts electrical motors require to start
Electrical motors need more power to start than they need to run. Those starting watts are referred to as surge or peak watts. For some appliances, that peak wattage can be as high as three times the running watts.
So to get a more accurate figure for your total power needs, use peak instead of running watts when calculating your total power needs. The easiest way of determining peak watts is by multiplying the running watts for all appliances that use electric motors (like refrigerators) by three.
Standby generators are rated by output, which is measured in kilowatts. That total output gives you an idea of how many appliances you can run at the same time. A kilowatt equates to 1,000 watts, so 14,000 watts becomes 14kW.
Essential Features And Considerations For Home Standby Generators
It’s time to consider the features your home stand generator must have. These features make standby generators safe and convenient to operate.
Automatic transfer switch
Portable generators are such a hassle. You have to get it out of the garage and away from doors and windows, add fuel, and have it set up. Given that routine, you pray that power never goes out at night or in rainy weather.
Now that you are investing in a standby generator, you should never have to go through the above routine. At least if you use an automatic transfer switch (ATS) that monitors the power level and automatically starts the generator when it detects a power outage. When grid power is restored the generator turns off automatically and reverts to standby mode.
With an automatic transfer switch, the generator will also automatically turn itself off if it overheats or short circuits. Automatic shutoff ensures safe operation and protects both the generator from damage.
Another big advantage of an automatic transfer switch is you will not have to worry about the power going out when there’s no one at home. As long as there’s fuel, the generator will turn on and off, all on its own. Make sure to consult with your electrician about what size of ATS you will need as well as what location is best for it.
Standby generators are typically installed outside, a safe distance from the house. This is because generators that burn fuel produce harmful fumes and therefore need enough ventilation. That the generator will live where it’s installed should help with ventilation, but it does mean that it is exposed to the elements.
To protect it from both the sun and the rain, the generator will need a weather-proof covering. The best standby generators have a durable, corrosion-resistant aluminum shell, but with some, you may have to fashion some kind of canopy for extra protection.
Liquid cooling system
Standby generators are less reliable when the weather is hot. The last thing you want on a sweltering hot day is for your standby generator to fail. To prevent this from happening, choose a liquid-cooled generator over an air-cooled one.
Liquid-cooled generators require more maintenance than their air-cooled alternatives. They are also more expensive. But, crucially, they are more reliable. They also make less noise.
Liquid-cooled standby generators have superior noise dampening capabilities. Forget your ‘peace and quiet’, your neighbors aren’t going to appreciate being kept awake at night by your noisy generator.
Fortunately, compared to the diesel generators of old, modern standby generators run much more quietly. Most are equipped with sound-absorbing features, like a foam-lined cover or a low-tone muffler. You can also plant shrubbery and incorporate landscaping features that dampen the noise coming from your generator.
Regular maintenance is essential for the long service life of your standby generator. But between work and family commitments, it can be hard to find the time to do all that you have to do to keep your generator in tip-top condition.
The best home standby generators have a self-diagnostics feature that will let you know when maintenance is due. We have come across wifi-enabled models that will notify you via text or email alerts.
Most standby models now also come with a low-oil shutoff feature that automatically turns the generator off when the oil level drops too low. Still, it is advisable to check for this safety feature.
With generators, it generally follows that the larger their capacity the bigger their size. So a 22kW generator would be the size of a small truck, right? Thankfully, no.
Modern standby generators aren’t just compact, some have quite sleek designs too. No such monstrosities as a large industrial machine with open sides that reveal large oily pipes and electrical cables. If we have to say so, the best standby generators will even enhance your property’s curb appeal.
While most portable generators don’t require any special setup and installation, standby generators do. Make sure you use a professional, accredited installer, especially with the fuel and electrical connections.
The location and proximity to the existing electrical panel and the natural gas line (if that’s your fuel source) and the distance from the house are also critical. Make sure they comply withlocal and federal laws.
Importantly, choose a location that’s high enough to protect the generator from flash flooding in case it rains heavily. Also, make sure the generator will be easily accessible for repair and maintenance.
Standby generators must also be installed on a sturdy and level platform. In most cases, this has to be a concrete slab, but some generators come with a composite slab.
All told, installing a standby generator, with the electrical wiring, plumbing, and gas piping is not your typical weekend DIY project. The transfer switch, in particular, can pose safety dangers and cause the generator to malfunction if not properly installed.
How Does a Standby Generator Work?
Using an automatic transfer switch, a standby generator is designed to monitor the voltage coming into the home’s electrical system from the grid. If it senses the power supply has stopped, it will wait 10 to 20 seconds before automatically turning on the generator.
In the same seamless sequence, the automatic transfer switch shuts down the power connection from the grid and opens one to the generator. With a manual transfer switch, you have to pull the switch yourself, which isn’t ideal.
A transfer switch ensures there is no back feed into the grid that may endanger other households and people that may be working on the power line. The sequence is reversed when grid power is restored.
Standby Generator Safety Tips
Thanks to the permanent installation and the automatic transfer switch, standby generators are generally safe to operate. You don’t have to worry about the dangers of back-feeding as all the connections are done for you at installation. However, there are standby generator safety tips you should be aware of.
Avoid overloading the generator
Forcing your generator to supply more appliances than it has capacity for will cause it to overheat. Over time, this stresses the generator, shortening its lifespan.
To prevent overloads, choose a transfer switch that displays current usage. This way you always know how much power you are drawing and can make sure your total power usage stays within the generator’s capacity.
Do not refuel the generator while it’s running
A good habit to adopt is to periodically check that there is enough fuel on hand. If you have chosen a diesel generator, make sure it has a fuel gauge that clearly displays the fuel level. This ensures that the generator does not drop too low that you have to refuel while it’s running.
Refueling a generator while it runs is dangerous. If something goes wrong, you could start a fire. When you refuel before an outage when the generator is off, it also means the generator engine is cool and won’t burn you.
Still, on the subject of fuel, make sure you store it safely. Whether it’s diesel or propane, use approved storage containers and make sure the seals are tight and not broken. Keep the fuel away from living areas and any fuel-burning appliances. Also, check with the local fire department for how much fuel you are allowed to keep at home.
Review of the 5 Best Standby Generators
Even though you may prefer a whole-house standby generator, you may not afford it. That forces you to choose a generator that only can supply your essential circuits and just a little extra to add another appliance or device on occasion.
This Champion 12.5kW home standby generator is designed with such needs in mind. To ensure the project stays on budget, the generator comes with a 100-amp outdoor-rated automatic transfer switch.
What’s great about a generator this size is, if yours isn’t a large property with many circuits, the 12.5kW may be enough to supply your whole house. For this reason, this Champion generator is our pick for the best generator for managed whole-house coverage. But with the ATS having just 16 circuits to work with, you have to plan your load carefully.
On first impressions, the generator seems well-built, with a NEMA 3R rated enclosure that prepares it well for outdoor use. It has a sleek design, too. The innovative gull-wing design ensures easy access to the onboard control panel and the engine.
Fully automatic, you don’t have to worry about manually turning the generator on and off. An onboard battery charger guarantees that there will always be enough power to start the unit. The Champion 717cc OHV engine runs on either natural gas or propane, with the latter producing slightly more power.
The Generac 7043 is a whole-house standby power solution with most of the functionality and features homeowners desire. You will barely notice that power has gone out nor have to forgo your usual comforts.
With the 200-amp automatic transfer switch and 22kW capacity, this generator can power the entire house. That’s 24-hour protection and comfort for as long as the outage lasts. While that happens, you have easy access to the generator’s current operating and maintenance status, thanks to the remote monitoring capability. With Mobile Link™, you can monitor your generator from anywhere using your smartphone, tablet, or PC.
On the generator itself, a multilingual display gives quick access to the battery status so you can stay confident that the generator will start when it needs to. The Evolution Controller also tracks maintenance intervals so you are always aware of when it’s due. After a year of use, the generator will flash a yellow light to signal that an oil change is due.
The patented True Power technology delivers clean power with less than 5 percent total harmonic distortion. So you can use your sensitive medical equipment without worrying it may get damaged. The pressure-lubricated G-Force engine is specially built to perform consistently, no matter what the conditions are outside.
Assembling its generators in the USA means that Generac can more closely control quality. It shows with the build quality, which is complemented by the choice of materials, like the corrosion-resistant aluminum enclosure and its powder-coated finish.
We did, however, come across a few negative reviews of the generator stopping after 5-6 hours. According to one reviewer, this is because these people wired the battery charger incorrectly.
There is quite a lot you can power with 24kW of electricity. For most households, that equates to the entire house. It’s unlikely that you will be running everything at once, so you should also have the energy to spare at any given time. You, thus, should never have to overload the generator and risk it overheating.
On the build quality and features, this 24kW Generac isn’t much different than the Generac 7043. The two generators use the engine and automatic transfer switch. The dimensions too are the same and this one isn’t any noisier either.
The 22kW and 24kW generators look the same, with the 24kW weighing just 10 lbs heavier. The extra capacity is thanks to a larger alternator assembly. What sets the bigger capacity generator apart from its stablemates isn’t that it is Wifi-enabled, either. It is the home energy management system that Wifi connectivity supports.
Accessible through an app on your phone, the Generac PWRView gives you live data on how you are using the power the generator is producing. This helps you understand your home’s energy usage so you can keep your consumption in check and save where you can.
Power outages tend to happen during seasons when you need your essentials powered at all times. During hurricane season, for example, your sump pump must have its power as the heavy rainstorms mean chances of basement flooding are high.
Whether you are deep in winter or sweating through a hot summer, the appliances you need to stay safe and comfortable also happen to use the most energy. Whatever those are, your combined energy consumption isn’t likely to surpass 20kW, which makes the Generac 7077 about the right size for a whole-house standby power solution.
The Generac 7077 is a good generator that benefits from the best features of the Guardian Series. Not least of these is the Mobile Link cellular remote monitoring system, the purpose-built G-Force engine, the Evolution Controller with tri-lingual display, and an aluminum enclosure that can withstand 150 mph winds.
What the Generac 7077 lacks, which makes it a more expensive option, is an automatic transfer switch. The larger capacity Guardian Series generators have one. As well as the battery, you will have to buy the ATS separately, which adds to the project’s total cost.
One advantage the Generac 7077 has is its ability to operate in areas where the pressure in the natural gas line is low. By the way, you also have the option of using propane fuel, and you don’t need any tools for the conversion.
For reasons that don’t entirely have to do with a low budget, you may not need a whole-house home standby generator. It may be that outages are so rare that splurging on a whole-house model represents something of a waste.
As part of this deal, you get a 16-circuit, 100-amp outdoor-rated automatic transfer switch. Though you have some decisions to make on which circuits to prioritize, 10kW is still a lot of power to work with.
In terms of build quality, you shouldn’t get any nasty surprises. Standard with the Guardian Series automatic generators, you can expect a tough powder-coated aluminum enclosure, pressure-lubricated G-Force engine, and the Evolution Controller with a multilingual display.
Most manufacturers of home standby generators recommend installing your generator at least 15 feet from the house. To preserve your indoor air quality, make sure the exhaust faces away from any windows and doors.
To ensure your standby generator stays in condition and is always ready when you need it, you should run it at least once a week. The best standby generators have a self-test feature where all you have to do is set a day and time for the weekly self-test.
Home standby generators are designed for permanent outdoor installation. Once installed, the generator stays in place and is never moved. The materials for the generator enclosure are carefully chosen to withstand tough outdoor conditions.
Regular maintenance of your home standby generator will ensure maximum, reliable performance. During extended outages where the generator is running round the clock, it’s also wise to check the oil daily.
Whether it is for essential circuit or whole-house coverage, a standby generator is up there with the best investments you can make on your home. It will help ensure your family stays safe, secure, and comfortable at all times.
Power outages can be tough to endure if you don’t have a backup plan. A standby generator will run all your essentials, with some power to spare. It is an investment you will live to cherish.
Generac makes arguably the best standby generators for home use, which is why it dominates our list. Whether or not you decide to go with one of our picks, we are confident you can now make the right choice for your home.