How to Purchase a Standby Generator

Purchasing a standby generator is one of the best home improvement options you can choose to make. It sets your house apart from others in the area, it creates a sense of safety to your home, and it increases your home's value. But how do you determine which generator is best for you?


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    Know what you need to power. This could potentially save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars when it comes time to select the model that is right for you. Do you only want to power a few lights in your house? Do you want to power major appliances such as a washer or dryer? Do you have expensive computer equipment or medical equipment? Decide what circuits and appliances you would like to power and add up the maximum wattage they produce. You can find out what wattage your appliances produce by multiplying their voltage times their amperage. When computing your wattage requirements, you’ll want to add in the maximum wattage your appliance needs on start-up, not its normal running wattage. This is called the appliance's LRA number. Add all of the wattages together, and then you’ll know the minimum power capacity of the generator you need to buy. Having additional unused power capacity won’t hurt anything (and might come in handy later), but purchasing a generator that cannot provide enough power can lead to many problems down the road.
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    Determine the right model for you. Well-established brands include Briggs & Stratton and Generac. Other brands are Honda, Onan and Kohler. However, once you have worked your way through the first step of the process, you can greatly simplify your decision. Typically, standby generators produce wattages starting from 7,000 watts, usually referred to as 7 kilowatts or 7kW. Although sufficient power capacity varies, most middle class homes will need at least 7kW. This would allow you to power a few lights and small appliances. If you want to include large appliances such as washers, dryers and air conditioners, then 15kW would be more appropriate. For power capacities in this range, any of the generator brands above offer excellent quality choices. Using search strings like "standby generators", "Generac", "Briggs and Stratton" and "backup generators" will produce a large number of vendors. Also, you can look on online services such as Froogle and Ebay. Please note - a used generator generally DOES NOT come with a warranty. It is usually worth buying a new generator with a full warranty. Typical prices can range anywhere from $3,000 to over $30,000.
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    Install your generator. These systems are not small - a 7kW system can weigh as much as 300 or 400 pounds. Also, installing a standby generator requires specialized knowledge of plumbing and wiring. Contact a qualified professional such as your local liquid propane dealer, electrician or plumber for assistance with installation. Make sure that a certified, insured installer installs your generator - an incorrect installation voids most generator warranties. Generally speaking, most home standby generators cost just as much as the installation, especially in urban environments.
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    Maintain your generator. After you spend a few thousand dollars on the generator you’ll want to take whatever reasonable steps you need to in order to ensure it runs properly. If you don’t, it can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your appliances. If the power goes out and your improperly maintained standby generator activates, it may not be able to provide the electricity needed to power your appliances. This in turn will cause the appliance to draw more power to make up for the shortfall. In response to this, the generator will work harder in an attempt to increase power capacity. The increased work load will place additional stress on the generator unit and cause it to burn out, potentially damaging any appliance it is connected to. The second problem that arises from improper maintenance is that of warranty coverage. Manufacturers of standby generators will not honor the warranty on a unit that has not been properly maintained. In light of these two facts, it just makes sense to keep your standby generator properly maintained. These contracts generally cost $300-$700 annually, and many installers offer service agreements as well.


  • Another thing to keep in mind is that appliances with large electrical motors need more electricity when they start up as opposed to when they actually run. Usually, the amount of electricity an appliance needs at start-up is 2 to 3 times the amount of electricity an appliance needs to run on normally.
  • Most standby generators can take up to 30 seconds to activate; you may wish to get a battery backup to power your computer equipment while the generator is warming up.


  • Never repair the generator indoors. It can cause a fire.
  • You can use the links below to find qualified professionals in your area that can help you pick out and install a generator.
  • Installing a standby generator is serious business - if you don't know how to install one you should contact a qualified professional.
  • With everything above being said, Most Importantly – NEVER install a generator without the proper electrical and plumbing permits and inspections in place. Below is a link to State Farm’s site on Emergency Generator Tips.

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