Home Generator Buyers Guide

Buying your first home generator can be intimidating – so many brands, sizes, specifications, fuel considerations, and storage considerations. However, with a basic understanding of the fundamentals from this guide and some organization, you can take control and protect your property and family during an emergency power outage. An emergency backup generator will keep the lights on, the refrigerator and freezer cold, and provide a sense of safety and security.


How much power do you need for the items/systems you want to run? Start here with our wattage calculator.

Portable or Standby
Portable or standby is primarily determined by how much you are willing to spend, how much emergency power you want/need, and how convenient you want the failover to be.

Existing Electrical Service and Gas Line (if applicable)
Before you start shopping, locate and take pictures of your existing electrical service panel and gas line (if applicable).

Compare Features and Options
Generators come in a multitude of configurations and specifications. You will need to compare power outputs (wattage), run times, prices, included accessories (power cord, wheels, cover, etc.), warranties, and installation requirements.

Additional Costs
Unless you’re an electrician, you’re likely going to pay for some installation services including but not limited to transfer switch installation, outdoor inlet installation, power cords, and initial startup testing. This can be a substantial cost – frequently more than the total cost of the generator.

Having a predetermined budget will greatly speed up your research and winnowing of your choices.


There are two basic types of home generators – portable and standby. The most common backup generator in the United States is the portable powered by a small gas engine. Which type you purchase will be determined primarily by the factors previously listed in the GETTING STARTED CHECKLIST.

Portable Generators

Portable generators offer versatility and portability. They can be used for home emergency power, for power in remote locations where utility power is unavailable, and/or for recreational purposes like camping or boating.
Portable generators are typically fueled by gasoline by can also be converted to use propane and other fuel sources. Clean burning propane fueled portables are becoming more popular as they are ideal solutions in emergency situations where gasoline may be scarce. All portables include typical 120-volt power outlets. When the generator is operating, appliances and tools can be plugged directly into the 120-volt outlets. Higher wattage units usually also include 120/240 or 240-volt outlets for connecting directly to a central power panel via outdoor inlets and transfer switches.
When connecting a portable generator to a central circuit panel via a transfer switch, the number of circuits
the generator can provide power to and the number of appliances you can run on those circuits is determined by the power capacity of the generator. Portable generators can be connected to more circuits than the output can handle but care must be taken not to run all circuits simultaneously. The system can be setup to limit generator power to predetermined circuits or all circuits – this is handled by the transfer switch.
Cost for portable generators varies significantly from few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the features and capacity.

Standby Generators

Standby generators are permanent installations outside your home or commercial building. These units are wired directly into the electrical system and typically have more output capacity than portable units. Standby generators provide power to some or all circuits during a disruption of normal utility power. Depending on your needs and budget, most can be setup to automatically start when normal utility power goes out and stop when the power returns. Standby generators are usually fueled by liquid propane or natural gas and require professional installation, often with a permit.

The number of circuits a
standby generator can provide power to and the number of appliances you can run on those circuits is determined by the power capacity of the generator. Standby generators can be connected to more circuits than the output can handle but care must be taken not to run all circuits simultaneously. The system can be setup to limit generator power to predetermined circuits or all circuits – this is handled by the transfer switch.
Standby generators have engines that are either air cooled or liquid cooled. Air cooled generators come with engines that use fans to force air across the engine for cooling, while liquid cooled generators use enclosed radiator systems for cooling, similar to an automobile. Generally, liquid cooled engines are used on larger wattage generators due to the larger engines required for the higher power output.

Standby generators are typically fully enclosed and vary in size. Standby units vary widely in price from as low as $1,500 to over $15,000. Power output capacity is the primary determining factor of cost.

Portable Inverter Generators

These gasoline powered generators are typically smaller and run quieter than open frame generators and often vary the engine speed to the required load, saving gas and wear and tear on the generator. Inverter generators are good for camping where noise may be a concern and for powering more sensitive electronic equipment.
Inverters are for lower power output needs and are usually used to power small everyday appliances. When buying an
inverter you need one that can handle the wattage of the appliance(s) you intend to connect to it. Some inverters are made specifically to power low-wattage appliances, like portable phones or digital music players. Others can handle heavy-duty power tools. If you're buying an inverter that's powered by its own battery, you'll have to consider how many hours the inverter can provide power before needing a recharge.


Generators have two basic power measurement metrics:
  • Starting Watts (also known as startup power, max watts, or peak power)
  • Rated Watts or Continuous Running Watts

Generators are typically sold by wattage. How much they put out determines not only how many lights and appliances you can run at once but how well they run. It takes some basic calculations to properly size a home generator, and you need to have an idea of what is essential for your particular situation during an outage.  An outage in the winter in New England is a much different situation then an outage in Florida and your power needs will vary based on the time of year and/or location and some outages may be short in duration, while others could last for days or weeks. Consider all possible scenarios and what you want your living conditions to be when making your size decision.

In general, the machine's wattage has to be slightly larger than all simultaneous loads. When in doubt bigger is almost always better. Starting wattage or maximum wattage is the power the generator can produce for short periods of time typically to handle the burst required for appliances at startup or when they are running at their highest levels of power consumption. Rated watts is the amount of power the generator can produce continuously, with continuous power being the wattage required for operation of those appliances under normal load.

Motor wattage is three to five times greater at startup than it is running at steady state, and the highest startup load will usually come from a furnace fan or a well pump. Aside from motor wattages, other loads, such as those imposed by electric water heaters, can severely strain a generator's output.
In a typical installation with an 8,000 watt generator and eight circuit transfer switch, you could power (1) lights and TV in a family room, (2) microwave and lights in a kitchen, (3) refrigerator, (4) power to a bathroom, (5) computer and home office, (6) garage door opener, (7) well pump, (8) furnace.  This is not a definitive guide - calculate accordingly. Also note that all generators have a built in circuit breaker and in the event of an overload, the breaker will trip, disconnecting the unit from the load. Simply correct the overload and reset the breaker in the generator.

Use our online generator wattage calculator to help determine your specific needs based on the peak and continuous wattage requirements of the appliances you want to power.  The information included below is a general guide.

Portable Generators

Portable generators range in power wattage from a couple hundred watts to over 10,000 watts. If the generator is for recreational purposes, a small 1,000 watt unit will probably suffice but for powering tools on a jobsite or running emergency power to your home you will probably want something in the 3,500 – 7,500 (or more) range.

Appliances and tools can be plugged directly into portable generators so it’s important to review the manufacturer specifications to make sure the model has the appropriate number and type(s) of outlets you need. You should also consider the size of the fuel tank – bigger is better especially if the generator will need to run for extended time periods.

If you intend to use a portable generator for emergency power for your home, you will likely need to have an outside inlet and transfer switch professionally installed. Consider that most outages occur during a storm related event, that last thing you want to be doing is messing around outdoors with extension cords. Having an outside inlet wired directly to a transfer switch on you main circuit panel will save a lot of time and frustration in an emergency situation. Without this setup, you are limited to what you can power and will probably not be able to power all critical systems such as heating, well pump, sump pump, and water heater.

The equipment and installation of this setup is not cheap (usually $500-$1,000), but ultimately the convenience and safety justify the added cost. Keep in mind, most portables are not meant to power an entire house but they can certainly provide enough power to run all the essentials for an extended period when setup properly.

Standby Generators

While portable generators are effective in terms of backup power, a home standby generator produces more power, offers hassle-free, automatic operation (even when you are away from home) and self-test to ensure proper operation when needed. Additionally, there’s no need to run extension cords, the unit will operate regardless of weather conditions, and startup is automatic.

Standby generators create from 5,000 to 25,000 watts or more of power. Selection of size is again determined by the amount of power you need to supply sufficient peak and continuous wattage for the appliances on the circuits you need/want to power.

Standby generators are either air-cooled or liquid-cooled, with liquid cooled models generally being larger with more power output.

Standby systems are always wired directly into the main circuit panel of your home or business and require professional installation.


Transfer Switch

The most convenient and safe method to use a generator for backup power to your home is to use it in conjunction with a transfer switch. This is a specialized circuit-breaker panel that is wired directly into the main circuit panel or sub-panel of the house. The device isolates circuits to be powered, while blocking generated current from flowing into the grid outside the house. In addition to the added safety and convenience, a transfer switch enables you to power hard-wired systems, such as furnaces and well pumps, that cannot simply be connected to an extension cord. Transfer switches may be manually or automatically operated.

When the generator is on and is providing temporary power the transfer switch isolates the backup generator from the electric utility. This isolation of the generator from the distribution system is required to protect the generator from overload, and to prevent accidental overload of the service wiring. The control capability of a transfer switch may be manual only, or a combination of automatic and manual.

When utility power returns for a set time, an automatic transfer switch will transfer back to utility power and command the generator to turn off, after another specified amount of "cool down" time with no load on the generator. For manually operated switches the user must manually shut down the generator and switch power back to the utility source.

A transfer switch can be set up to provide power to only critical circuits or an entire electrical panel/sub-panel. Some transfer switches allow for load shedding or prioritization of optional circuits, such as heating and cooling equipment. More complex emergency switchgear used in large backup generator installations permits soft loading, allowing load to be smoothly transferred from the utility to the synchronized generators, and back; such installations are useful for reducing peak load demand from a utility.

Standby generators can work with either a manual or an automatic


Generator Covers

Generator covers keep dirt, debris and weather out of your generator motor for use in storage or on the job. Coated for maximum water resistance and repellency, the heavy-duty fabric won't shrink or stretch, and will protect your generator from rain, snow, sun damage, dust, tree sap and birds. An elastic shock cord in the bottom hem provides a slip-on, custom-like fit, and installation and removal is quick and easy. One-size fits most portable generators.

Maintenance Kits

Maintenance kits contain pre-measured synthetic oil, 1 spark plug, a UL rated air filter and an oil filter designed to keep your generator running smoothly. With maintenance kits, the user doesn't need to worry about trying to find the right part, the right amount of oil, or a correct air filter. Everything needed for regular generator maintenance comes in this complete package.

Wheeled Frames

Portable generators can be transported to remote locations but they can be quite heavy. The smallest portables are comparatively light (around 50 pounds) and can usually be carried by a single person but larger models can weigh as much as several hundred pounds, making a wheeled frame essential for moving it out of the storage area when needed for power.


Standby Generators

Standby generators are wired directly into the home electrical system and generally require professional installation. Installing a standby generator without a licensed electrician may void the unit's warranty or violate local building codes, so research installation requirements before you begin. The basic steps are as follows:

(A)  Unit is mounted outside on a concrete slab or plastic mounting pads that come with the generator.
(B)  Contact your gas or propane company to connect the unit to the fuel source.
(C)  Contact an electrician to wire the generator to the 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 by a licensed professional.

Depending on where you purchase the unit, all of this might be handled by the dealer and bundled into the total package price. This is usually the best option because the dealer with warranty the work, test the system, and provide ongoing maintenance and support as needed.

Once installed, standby generator operation depends on whether you installed a manual or an automatic

Standby units require regular changing of oil and filters. Many manufacturers provide maintenance kits to make this easier and if you had the system installed by a dealer they will usually offer an annual maintenance plan.

Portable Generators

Setup for portable generators is quite easy – the generator is usually stored in a garage or shed when not in use and then rolled outside when needed. Care must be taken 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 wire your portable generator into your home or building's electrical system, there is not a lot of setup involved other than finding a safe and convenient place to run it. Keep in mind, larger portables can be quite heavy so plan to store it close to where you’ll use it. Portable generators create carbon monoxide so 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 fuel and oil and start the unit. Many portables have electronic starters so startup is as simple as pressing a switch or button, but many are also still started with manual recoil pull-cord. If you have not installed an inlet connector and transfer switch then you will have to plug the appliances you want to power directly into the generator. Most portables will run 4-8 hours on a full tank of gas so for extended running periods plan to have plenty of fuel and refuel as needed.

If you want to connect your generator to your home's electrical system, you'll usually install an inlet connector on the outside of the house or building that will connect to a manual transfer switch on the main circuit panel. Make sure your generator supports connecting your model to a

Over time filters, oil, and spark plugs will need to be changed which is determined by the number of hours you run the generator. The manufacturer’s owner’s manual usually specifies when maintenance should be performed. Plan to check the oil level, fuel filter, and spark plug according to the owner's manual, and test-run the generator at least once each season.  For gas fueled generators, you should not store the unit with gas in the tank. 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.



Today's generators are relatively safe and easy to operate but a carelessly used generator can be deadly. Prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning by running a portable generator outdoors at least 15 feet from the house – never in the basement, garage, or other enclosed space. Always read the owner’s manual and instructions for your generator and carefully follow all instructions and warnings in order to safely start and operate the generator.

Store gasoline in a cool, well-ventilated area away from sources of heat or sparks, and turn off the generator before you refuel it. A typical portable generator uses about 10 gallons of gasoline a day, so you'll need to store at least 20 gallons. Don't count on your local gas station during an emergency situation – a power failure is likely to disable the station's pumps. Some generators can also run on propane or natural gas, easing fuel-storage requirements so consider these models is you anticipate a problem with either storing or buying gasoline.

  • Never run a generator indoors or in partly enclosed areas such as a garage or basement.
  • Operate the generator only on level surfaces and where it will not be exposed to excessive moisture, dirt, dust or corrosive vapors.
  • Do not overfill the fuel tank. Always allow room for fuel expansion.
  • Never add fuel while unit is running or hot. Allow generator and engine to cool entirely before adding fuel.
  • Never store a generator with fuel in the tank where gasoline vapors might reach an open flame, spark or pilot light.
  • Do not connect your generator directly to your home's wiring or into a regular household outlet. Connecting a portable electric generator directly to your household wiring can be deadly to you and others. A generator that is directly connected to your home's wiring can 'back feed' onto the power lines connected to your home and injure neighbors or utility workers.
  • The generator must be properly grounded. If the generator is not grounded, you run the risk of electrocution. We strongly recommend that you check and adhere to all applicable federal, state and local regulations relating to grounding.
  • Allow at least five feet of clearance on all sides of the generator when operating.
  • Inspect the generator regularly and contact the nearest authorized dealer for parts needing repair or replacement.
  • Do not overload the generator. Do not operate more appliances and equipment than the output rating of the generator. A portable electric generator should be used only when necessary, and only to power essential equipment.

Severe Weather

Be prepared for severe weather or other events with this emergency checklist of emergency necessities. Store loose items in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers, and keep them together in an easily accessible place. This list is for introductory purposes only; you should customize your own Family Disaster Plan.

  • 3-day supply of bottled water (1 gallon per person per day) and canned goods
  • First Aid kit with prescription medications
  • Flashlight
  • Extra generator fuel and extension cords
  • Non-electrical can opener
  • Batteries
  • Weather radio/portable radio
  • Blankets
  • Emergency telephone numbers is the #1 shopping directory dedicated to home generators, portable generators, and generator accessories. features one-stop shopping, best selection, and best deals on home generators, portable generators, generator accessories and more!

Buying a home generator? - Buying a home generator can be intimidating but with Power Generator Outlet's buyers guide you can't go wrong. The key is to size it properly, plan where and how you'll use it, then do your research for value and reliability - all generators are not ceated equal. There's also some very important safety considerations when buying a backup generator so make sure you understand how to be safe and prepared. Most manufacturers offer plenty of information on safe generator operation so thoroughly review the generator manufacturer guidelines. More backup generator buying tips... disclaims responsibility for all content, including prices, specifications, and availability. Content is subject to change without notice. By using, you agree to certain terms and conditions. Please see our privacy policy. All material on this site prepared by is protected by Copyright. All other copyrights are reserved by their respective holders.
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