What to Look for When Buying a Generator

At best, a power outage is an inconvenience because it interferes with your ability to work and enjoy yourself at home, such as your lights, TV, and computer. At worst, a blackout can actually endanger your life because it can disable your heating system in the dead of winter, disable your air conditioner in the middle of a summer heat wave, or disrupt life-saving medical equipment.

What to Look for When Choosing a Backup Generator

Begin by choosing the type of generator you want to purchase. 

Standby generators vs. portable generators

The first choice to make is whether you require a smaller home standby generator or a portable generator. When a blackout begins, portable power generators—which are typically mounted on wheels—must be pushed outside and connected to your home’s electrical system.

The standby generator that is permanently installed outside your house will automatically start when the power goes out. Every type has benefits and drawbacks.

Portable generators are more compact, less expensive, and don’t need professional installation. However, because standby generators are much simpler to operate, they are preferable for handling frequent power outages. 

Asking yourself these questions will help you choose the best type for you.

Why do you need it? 

A portable generator is exactly what it says it is. You can bring it along for camping trips or tailgate parties, or you can use it to power your house in an emergency. Compared to a stationary generator, which is permanently fixed to your home, a portable generator gives you more flexibility in how you’ll use it.

How much power?

Portable generators produce much less power than standby generators. They can generate anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 watts, which is sufficient to run every system in your house. 

Comparatively, portable generators typically only have a 3,000–8,000 watt output capacity. That is sufficient to power a few essential devices, such as a refrigerator, a few lights, a window air conditioner, or a gas furnace fan. However, they cannot provide power for everything in your home.

What can you afford? 

The less expensive option is a portable generator. 

The majority of models range in price from $400 to $1,000, or sometimes more, depending on what you buy. 

A standby generator can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $6,000, plus the cost of expert installation. In total, your costs could range from a few thousand to over ten thousand dollars.

What is the value of convenience to you? 

Almost plug-and-play, a standby generator is simple to use. Once it’s connected, whenever the power goes out, it automatically turns on. 

A portable generator requires much more effort. To make sure they are operating properly, you must buy and store fuel in advance and run them at least once a month if you plan to keep fuel in them. The generator must then be dragged outside, connected, and turned on when there is a power outage. 

You’ll need to go back outside to add more fuel if the power outage lasts long enough—possibly in the middle of a storm. Finally, using a portable generator necessitates additional safety measures. If used improperly, it might ignite a fire or release dangerous fumes into your home.

How will you store it?

Finding a suitable location to store a portable generator is necessary. It must be kept indoors to guard against theft and damage, but it must also be portable so that you can take it outside when you need it. 

Additionally, you need a suitable location to set it up while using it, preferably outside on level ground that is protected from the elements but is not too close to the house. 

A standby generator can remain operational year-round wherever it is installed. That saves you time, but it also consumes a significant amount of space throughout the year, not just during storms.

Is there a need for power while you are away?

A standby generator has the benefit of turning on automatically when the power goes out, even if you are not home. That means you won’t have to worry about returning home to a flooded basement if a storm hits your house while you’re away on vacation because the pipes burst or the sump pump malfunctioned.

What size do you need?

Size matters when it comes to generators. Your family won’t be able to get the power they need from a generator that is too small, but a larger generator will be more expensive to buy and maintain.

Generators come in three basic sizes:

  • ⬥ Small. Up to 4,000 watts of power can be generated by the smallest portable generators. They typically have an integrated inverter and are even portable enough to take camping.
  • ⬥ Midsize. A midsize portable generator or a small standby generator can generate between 5,000 and 8,500 watts of electricity. 
  • ⬥ Large. Standby generators are the only large generators that produce 10,000 watts or more. 

To determine the size of generator you need, take into account all the appliances you intend to use during a power outage.

Choose a Fuel Source

The next step is to select the type of fuel that the emergency generator will run on. Three possibilities exist:


Gasoline is the most widely used fuel for a portable generator. The best thing about using gasoline is how easy it is to buy it at any gas station. 

However, it isn’t always accessible in times of need. Gas stations won’t be able to use electricity to pump their gas if a power outage affects your entire neighborhood, not just your home. 

This means that if you have a generator that runs on gasoline, you must always have a sufficient supply of fuel on hand. But it’s not always simple to do that.


Big-box retailers like Home Depot and Walmart, as well as occasionally grocery and convenience stores, sell propane in tanks for use in standby and portable generators.

Since you can’t always just run to the closest gas station for propane, it’s not always as convenient to purchase as gasoline. On the plus side, it lasts practically forever and is safer to store.

Natural Gas

If you decide on a standby generator and your house is already heated with natural gas, you can connect the generator to your gas lines with ease. Although natural gas is frequently less expensive than propane, its biggest benefit is convenience. Purchasing and storing fuel or refueling the generator is not necessary. You always have a supply coming through the pipes.”

However, if you don’t already have natural gas service at your home, using a portable generator with natural gas isn’t an option and isn’t practical.

Useful Features  

Consider the qualities you desire most in a generator. Options include:

Powered Start

Pull cords are typically used to start portable generators. However, some have a push-button battery starter that makes starting easier. The battery might cost an additional $50 or so because it isn’t always included with the generator.


You can quickly see how much fuel is left in a portable generator’s tank thanks to a fuel gauge. It comes in handy when there are long power outages because you’ll probably need to recharge it several times. 

An hour meter, which records how many hours the device has run, is another helpful gauge. That lets you know when to change the oil or perform other regular maintenance.

Shutoff for Low Oil

This feature helps protect your generator from damage by shutting it off in the event your generator’s oil level gets too low. Most stationary generators come with it as standard equipment, but many portable models also have it.

CO Shutoff on Auto

Newer generators often come with carbon monoxide (CO) sensors. Of CO concentrations rise to a risky level, a switch is tripped, and the generator is turned off. This lowers the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Additional outlets

You need a generator with multiple outlets so you can plug in multiple devices at once if it isn’t connected to your home’s electrical panel with a transfer switch. There are typically two or more electrical outlets on portable generators, and some even have four or more.

Dual-fuel option 

Many portable generators only use gasoline or propane. The most adaptable types, referred to as “dual-fuel” generators, can, however, use either. Even tri-fuel generators, which can use gasoline, propane, or natural gas, exist, but they are extremely uncommon.

Inverter Technology

The majority of portable generators are occasionally prone to power surges. For the majority of appliances, these don’t cause any issues, but they can harm delicate electronic devices. This issue is solved by built-in inverters in generators, which smooth out any surges by converting the generator’s alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) and back to AC.

Finally, keep in mind that whether you opt for portable or standby, routine maintenance and upkeep is the best way to protect the investment that will keep you humming along when your neighbors are sitting in the dark.

Home Power Backup Options for Every Budget

How to Prepare for a Winter Home Emergency

Practical Emergency Preparedness Tips for General Home Safety