Having a generator at home may be a necessity in case there is a power outage. Generators often come at a high cost, making every homeowner think if they need one. And if the decision to have an additional power source is made, choosing the best generator issue comes into play.
You need to buy a level of generator that's appropriate to what your needs are currently and what you think they will be in the future.
PissedConsumer interviewed The Den of Tools, the home and power tools expert. In the video interview, our guest educates consumers about what circumstances to purchase a generator, which brands are the best, and explains the safety rules of using a generator for powering a home.
Here are the main point discussed with our generator expert.
- Types of generators
- Pros and cons
- How to choose a generator for the home?
- Generac generators
- Best generators for home
- Generator maintenance
- Is it safe to use the generator?
- Are generators eco-friendly?
- Is a generator a necessity?
What Are the Best Types of Generators for Home Use?
Ailar: Today we have a very special guest with us tonight, Jeff, more known by the name The Den of Tools. Please tell us about yourself and your experience as a home tool expert.
Jeff: I started off in the trades when I was still a teenager. I spent about 15 years working in the trades before moving into a management position. Then I got burned out and decided to retire. I jumped on some personal housing projects, and stuff like that, and started a YouTube channel where I review hand tools and power tools.
That's grown over the years. I work with lots of different companies. I get to see a lot of different products. And also we travel a good bit, so we cover a lot of different topics of home power and mobile power in the RV.
Ailar: What type of generator is best for home use and why?
Jeff: There's the right job for the right tool, the right tool for the right job. With generators specifically, let's say gas generators, what you want to look at is, whether you are looking for whole home power, emergency power, or for accessory power.
There are three kinds of generators. There is an old school, what we call an open frame generator. It's a gas engine in a box with a power converter that takes the gas power and converts it to electricity.
Then we have what's called an inverter style, which has a more sophisticated type of electronics. I'm oversimplifying here, but that allows a better, smoother flow of electrical signals to come out and it's better on more delicate kinds of instruments, say computers and such.
Also, there is an enclosed inverter generator. One of the side benefits of all these three is the big, open cage generator is really loud. The inverter generator will also moderate the power of the generator so that it's only running as hard as it needs to, which helps it not be quite as loud unless you're running it full steam.
A fully enclosed, AKA super quiet generator is enclosed in a plastic box. It's got an inverter, so it only runs as much as it needs for home use. That means you're not going to be disturbing the neighbors.
Unfortunately, another aspect of generators, especially when there are big power outages, is theft. If you have a super quiet inverter generator fully enclosed, then those bad guys driving by your house can't hear it quite as easily and it's less likely to disappear in the middle of the night.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Generators?
Ailar: What are the pros and cons of each type of generator?
Jeff: Well, there's the old adage of you get what you pay for, but in some cases, you might end up overpaying. You could buy a super high-end generator, and spend tens of thousands of dollars if you want, but the question is, are you going to get that much use out of it?
You could buy a dump truck to drive to the grocery store, but if you're not carrying that much back then what's the point?
You need to buy a level of generator that's appropriate to what your needs are currently and what you think they will be in the future.
One of the things you have to look at is how much power you need. And to oversimplify it, it's volts times amps equals watts. So you need to take how much power you're drawing and then figure out what the peak power is going to be, and then you have to match it to the appropriate level generator.
There are inexpensive generators that you'll only run every so often that you could buy for a couple of hundred dollars. You can get a whole home generator. We have a fairly small home in Montana where we get frequent power outs in the winter, but the generator we use runs about $2,000 and puts out about 9,000 watts.
It's a super quiet style, so you're going to pay more for the super quiet, for other features, for more capacity, but don't overbuy is what we always try to tell people because it'll just be sitting there being wasted. Because honestly, for most people, you're only going to use the generator maybe a couple of times a year.
How to Choose the Right Generator for Home Use?
Ailar: How to choose the right generator for home use and what should you pay attention to?
Jeff: For an emergency home generator where you're only going to power a few things like AC and/or heat and your refrigerator, and maybe a few other things that keep the lights on and stuff like that. If you're not running a big AC or heater unit, you've got a wood-burning stove in the winter, and you're okay with everything else, you just need to keep the freezer frozen so the food doesn't spoil, keep some lights on, you could get by with a 2,500W generator.
Usually, generators are speced by their peak power versus their running power. When you turn something on, the power spikes, that's the peak power. Then after it's on for a moment, it calms down and that's the running power.
So you got to keep that in mind. I would say a 25 to a 4,000-watt generator is probably going to be fine. You're probably going to use extension cords to connect to the major appliances that you want to keep on during an emergency.
In a whole home generator scenario, you're probably going to be looking at starting around 9,000 watts and moving up from there. Unless you're really handy, you're going to have an electrician come out and go to your electrical box and install what's called a cutover switch. They can be manual or automatic.
When the power goes off, the automatic will automatically switch over. In a manual, you'll have to go get your flashlight, find the box, switch it over and turn on your generator, at which point, all the power that normally runs through that box out to the grid is now going to run to your generator.
As I said before, you're probably going to want 9,000 watts or higher, something that can output 220 volts because most furnaces and most larger AC units are going to require 220 volts. So you're going to need a bigger generator from there.
There are essentially two basic types of power: gas and propane or natural gas in some cases. In some areas, it may be beneficial for you to have a natural gas set up because maybe natural gas is easier to access than having gas that's sitting around.
If you're using regular gas, you're going to want to use a stabilizing agent to keep that gas from going bad. Refined gas does go bad. In either of those instances, it's going to depend on what's available to you and what's most likely available to you.
In somewhere up north where it gets really cold, getting access to more gas, if it's a longer spill where you need to run it, could be an issue. But you may have propane running to your house or a large propane tank outside that has thousands of pounds of propane in it and you'll be fine.
Recently I spoke to some people who were just affected by a recent hurricane, and for them, it was easier to get gas than propane because of the winds. Everything had triggered emergency systems and cut off the propane so they couldn't get propane to the generators.
Always remember that if you run on propane, you're going to lose about 15 to 20% in power, so you're going to need a slightly bigger generator for the same amount of power that you would get from gas.
What Are the Prices for Generators?
Ailar: Let's get to the numbers. What are the prices for generators?
Jeff: I think from your basic emergency generator, that you're going to be looking at a price probably around the $300 to $500 range. The cheapest is going to be an open frame inverter from not a high-end name brand, and you're going to run about $400 in that kind of situation.
If you're going to jump up to a bigger name brand such as a Honda or something like that, you're going to double or even triple that price. If you want to go up to a mid-tier generator, we're going to see those going in the high $600 to $1000 range. That's going to get you something that you could run a large RV off of. That's going to be a 35 to 4,500-watt generator, maybe even a 6,000 if you go for a non-inverter generator.
If you want a whole home generator, the sky's your limit, but you're going to start at a price around probably $1,500 for an open frame generator…
…going upwards of the mid $2000 for a fully enclosed super quiet generator that runs about 9,500 watts. If you get bigger, there are larger-scale permanent install generators as big as you want, and those go into tens and twenties of thousands for situations like that.
Is Generac a Good Generator?
Ailar: Have you heard about Generac? What do you think about this brand and would you use it?
Jeff: Generac is a brand that has been around for a while. They're popular in the industry. They're more well-known for larger generators and permanent installation. They've recently moved more strongly into the home generator, portable generator market.
Ailar: According to PissedConsumer.com, Generac is not such a good brand. There are more than 300 reviews on this brand and the customers mostly gave it a rating of 1.6 stars out of five. Those reviews contain general customers' concerns about the quality of generators, warranty issues, and poor customer service.
Jeff: It's not a brand I would go with. If I were to go with a larger generator and I would do that of investment and probably go with a bigger name brand such as Onan, who's been known for doing large generators for years. For smaller portable generators, I would probably go with either a Harbor Freight if I was on a budget or a Honda if I wanted something that was really bulletproof.
The Onan generators, as I said, recently moved into the portable market, so I don't know if the issues you've been seeing are with the portable generators or the permanent install larger generators, so it's really hard to say. But I've not heard anything on my end as far as negativity from it.
I'll be honest, most of the people I talk to, don't have Generac generators. They either have Hondas or they have Harbor Freights or Westinghouse and Champion have become big brands in the portable home generator market.
What Are the Top 5 Brands of Generators?
Ailar: What are the top five brands of generators that you would recommend?
Jeff: Well, I think the number one brand out there, if you're looking for just bulletproof, long-term support and quality is going to be a Honda. But you're going to pay for that and it's not going to be inexpensive.
If you're looking for something that is more of a bargain or entry-level, performs quite well, and quite close to Honda, that is Harbor Freight's line of Predator generators. In fact, you can see the prices have gone up with those over the years because of the quality they put into them and the people who understand how good they are.
I can tell you as somebody who travels around quite a lot in an RV when you're in an RV park, you get a good idea of who's using what generators by just looking around. Honestly, it's Honda, it's the Predator line from Harbor Freight, it's Champion, Westinghouse.
Wen would probably be the fifth brand in there. And I would say that in line with value as well as reliability, that would be about the way I'd put it as well.
Ailar: What generator do you use?
Jeff: We have a Harbor Freight Predator generator, 3,500, and then we also use an electric power bank from BLUETTI as a secondary backup.
When you're buying a generator, the first thing you want to do is make sure you're buying it from a reputable reseller.
If you are buying it from some website that you've never heard of or a local store and maybe you're traveling with it or something like that, your only way out is talking to the manufacturer in case you have a problem and you can't go back to that website or reseller.
Then you got to look at who the manufacturer is. Sometimes the name on it isn't really the name of the manufacturer because they buy them from somebody else, and slap their sticker on it.
If you are not careful, you could end up with a very expensive paperweight, because if you have any problems, you're not going to get support, or parts for it, and you may not even understand how to use it properly because there's no one there, there are no instructions. Manuals can be hard to read or nonexistent.
So going with an established company for something like a generator is usually a good call because when you need it to work and you don't need to be sitting there going, "I wonder if there's an 800 number I can call," when there's a power outage.
What Should You Know About Generator Maintenance?
Ailar: Is maintenance important for generators? Can a homeowner DIY it or is it better to call an expert? How much would it cost?
Jeff: I think there are two levels here. If you've got a portable generator, and as long as it's not a permanently installed generator, most maintenance can be done yourself and it's actually fairly easy. Once you get to something much higher level, you want to get a service technician to come out.
Usually, in those cases, it'll be part of the service contract when you buy the generator but can run around $250 per service call.
Generator maintenance starts with using good-quality fuel.
You want to use good quality, non-ethanol fuel with a stabilizer in it. Because quite often you can fill up a generator, run it and not quite run it dry or even only use half the tank, you never know when the power's going to come back on, in which case gas can sit in the generator for a good amount of time. Gasoline can go bad, so make sure that you get a good quality stabilizer in your fuel and that you mix it properly.
Another thing is to use good quality oil and the type of oil that is appropriate for your environment. If you're from Montana, it's going to be used in the cold in the middle of winter, you're not going to want a super thick oil.
What if your generator is used down in some place like Las Vegas, somewhere gets hot and your power goes out during the summer, you're going to be running air conditioning and whatnot? You're going to want a thinner oil in that. So make sure you're using the appropriate kind of oil and you change it at least once a year at the very least. Сheck your fuel filters and do a visual inspection. And every so often check your spark plugs and such.
A good idea is to keep a notepad with the hours that you've run and when the last time you inspected each item on your generator.
Each generator should come with a manual that tells you about the different kinds of maintenance required for that. I try to be very spot on about that because again, this is a tool that you may not use all the time, but when you need it, you really need it and you don't want maintenance to be the one thing that lets you down.
Is It Safe to Use a Generator?
Ailar: Is it safe to use a generator?
Jeff: Just remember when you're using a generator you're dealing with two factors: a gasoline engine that has emissions, and secondly, a high-power output device. So first of all, generators are going to put out carbon monoxide, I believe that's correct, and you want to make sure that's nowhere near your home.
Don't run a generator in your house, in your garage, or even backed up against your house near the eaves of it…
…because houses breathe and that can actually suck the exhaust into the house. Whole families, unfortunately, have died due to exposure to the exhaust fumes from a running generator.
Make sure a generator is at a good distance, they all usually list a safe distance that you need to be away from your home. It helps with the noise and with the exhaust and keeps that away from you and your family.
Secondly, the power. Anytime you're running power through an extension cord or any kind of device like that, you're going to be running a lot of power coming out of the generator. Make sure that you're using an extension cord that is capable of running that level of power. Especially if you're running 220V or hooking up directly to your home through a cutover switch, you're going to be running a heavier gauge cable, don't ever run an extension cord off of an extension cord.
If you need to run power into a room and you run an extension cord to it, don't then connect another extension cord or a power strip or something like that to it. Yes, they may stop a voltage overload on the power strip, but these things get hot and with too much power running through them, the cable, if it's not made to the right spec, could actually melt and start a fire.
Is It Eco-Friendly to Use a Generator?
Ailar: Is it eco-conscious to use a generator?
Jeff: Well, if that is an issue for you, I'd highly suggest going with a propane version of a generator because the propane emissions are much lighter than that from a gasoline or even a diesel generator. Yes, there are diesel generators, but you usually only see those industrial applications.
Remember that a generator is being used usually as an emergency short-term device, so be conscious of when and where you're using it.
Be aware of who else may be around you. If you're going to the park or something and take a generator with you, be aware of who else is around you, where your exhaust might be going, and whether there are kids, children, or families that could be affected.
But at the end of the day, it's a personal choice as to how much of an impact and how much of a footprint this is going to put on the environment and what are my needs at the moment. That's honestly why we choose to use an electric backup as an accessory. So we have a battery backup that we can use, and then only once that's depleted do we then convert over to using the gas generator at home.
Is Having a Generator at Home a Necessity?
Ailar: In what cases generator is the best solution from all sides? Is a generator a necessity or an excess?
Jeff: Well, when we think of them as life support kind of situations, we've lived in the Las Vegas Valley, and during the summer, temperatures can reach 120 degrees and power can go out. Well, if your power goes out, AC isn't a luxury, air conditioning is life support in the Valley.
So having a backup power generator, if you can afford it, is something that every family should have. Likewise, in areas like Montana where we live now, the winter gets really cold, and we can have several weeks at a time where it's below zero. As such, being able to run heaters is important.
Even if you can't run your home furnace, if you can at least run some small, say ceramic space heat or something that's safe and is not going to put off any emissions, and is going to keep your family warm and comfortable through the winter season in times of emergency. Those to us are the two most important scenarios where a generator isn't something that's just nice to have, it's a necessity.
Ailar: Jeff, thank you for taking part in this interview and sharing your knowledge.
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