Residential Emergency Generators

Residential emergency generators produce energy for use in situations where electricity is not available, such as when there is bad weather, where power has been lost, or in an area where electricity is not available. There are two types of generators:

The main difference between the two is how much energy they will produce or back up, and the price.


Permanent Standby Generator

Permanent standby generators are primarily used in larger buildings by businesses. They kick in when power is lost, keeping lights on and appliances working. Permanent standby generators always have protective switches that will turn off the generator when power is restored. They are usually very large and need to be professionally installed. Costs range from $5,000 to $10,000.

Portable Generators

Portable generators are used:

  • In the home as a backup for power loss
  • As a power source on job sites
  • When camping.

They are for limited use, supplying enough power for only necessary items, such as main lights, heaters, refrigerators, water pumps, and to keep pipes from freezing in cold climates. The average home portable generator produces 5,000 watts of energy and costs $300 to $5,000.

Tips When Purchasing a Residential Emergency Generator

There are a few things to consider before purchasing a generator for home use. The generator is not intended to keep the entire house running, so think about what items must necessarily be operational during an emergency. In cold climates, it may be most important to have functional heaters and well pumps. The downside to generators is that they can be very noisy and take up a lot of space. Typically, the noise level will decrease with higher-end models.

Generators: Important Safety Measures

Even though permanent generators are only installed by professionals, it may be a good idea to ask an expert to look at your portable generator, especially if you are not completely comfortable with electricity.

Back feeding, one of the most serious hazards that can be caused by generators, involves electricity from the generator being sent back into the main electrical utility lines. When back feeding occurs, the wires become "live." When power goes out in an area, utility workers servicing the lines may be severely injured and even killed because they are trying to restore power while the wires are transmitting electricity from the generator.

To prevent this from happening, it is important to install a transfer switch, which prevents any connection between the generator and the main electrical supply. Transfer switches can be automatic or manual, depending on the model. Before purchasing a generator, be sure to check with your locality to see if a permit or registration is required.

Generator Storage and Maintenance

Most generators run on fuel, usually diesel, propane, or natural gas. The portable ones usually take gasoline or diesel fuel. If you will not be using your generator for long periods of time, usually about a month or so, you need to put a fuel stabilizer in with the gas to prevent deterioration of fuel and help with easier start-up after long rests. Always store and use the generator outside as it holds fuel and emits fumes when used.

It is important to properly maintain your generator and have it serviced regularly. It should be used on stable ground, away from standing water or in shelter from rain. It should never be connected directly to a home outlet or electrical system.

For further information on emergency generators see the following article from Emergency Generators.