How to Choose the Right Size Generator

The first step in choosing the right size generator for your home is to pick the power-outage scenario from the three below that best matches your own.

1. You Experience Frequent Power Outages

Even worse, these outages are sometimes prolonged. This also applies if you live in an area prone to severe weather events, such as blizzards, ice storms, and hurricanes.

Generators to consider
• Home standby
• Large inverter
• Portable

These three types all have enough juice to power your entire household, and they can connect directly to your home’s circuit breaker panel, allowing you to control and run appliances that are hardwired, such as central heat and air conditioning, well pumps, sump pumps, electric ranges, and water heaters. If you have any of these and it’s essential for them to work in a power outage, be sure to have a transfer switch installed at your breaker box. A good, licensed electrician should be able to handle the job.

2. You Have Occasional Outages

Sometimes they’re sustained, but not typically, and you don’t want to spend thousands on a home standby generator.

Generators to consider
• Large inverter
• Portable

Unless you experience numerous power outages a year, you may not be willing to spring for the $10,000 or more it can cost to buy a stationary unit and have it installed. You can save thousands of dollars if you don’t mind having to pull your large inverter or portable generator out of a garage or shed and hook it up during the outage. You’ll still want to have a transfer switch installed.

3. You Rarely Lose Power

Even so, you want a generator for some peace of mind.

Generators to consider
• Midsized inverter
• Recreational inverter

Midsized inverter generators have ample power to run a fridge and a window A/C or space heater, as you can see in our interactive tool. Recreational models are compact enough to toss into the back of a pickup to power a TV and cooktop at a tailgate. Go Wildcats!

A Word on Wattage

Another way to answer the question of which size generator you need is simply to add up the wattage of everything you want to power during an outage. Before you bust out the calculator, keep in mind that some appliances—air conditioners, refrigerators, and sump pumps, for instance—draw more wattage momentarily when they’re cycling on. These surge watts can throw off your calculations if you don’t account for them. You’ll also need to pin down how much wattage your hardwired appliances require, and that’s a question for your electrician. 

Below we drill down into each type of generator, and give you a product recommendation and review for each.

Safety First

Consumer Reports only recommends portable generators with a built-in sensor that triggers an automatic shutoff if CO builds up to dangerous levels in an enclosed space. We apply the same criteria to inverter models, though the technology has been slower to come to this category, and we haven’t tested any interter models with CO safety technology. 

With any generator, it’s extremely important to follow our longstanding advice of always operating a generator a minimum of 20 feet from your home with the exhaust directed away from your it, as well as any windows, doors, AC units, or other structures.

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