Choosing the Best Generator for Your Home and Family

Everyone hates the moment when we wish we had been prepared. We like to think that disaster happens elsewhere - to other people, not to our family. But the fact of the matter is, no one on this planet controls what may happen next. Power outages happen everywhere, due to snowstorms (even in the South), violent rainstorms, flash flooding, hurricanes and tornados. We are also held captive by a national power-grid that seems to run more on hope than on technology. A simple breakdown of our fragile grid-system can mean a loss of power for days and even weeks at a time.

When disaster strikes, we do not have to be a victim. We can save the food in our freezer, run our air conditioner or lights or anything else in our home. We can save our family, and perhaps help our neighbors in the process. Most people are not prepared, but in this day and age, we simply must be. While hope is a wonderful thing for the human spirit, we should also be prepared with alternative power.

One of the most logical alternative power acquisitions for your home is a generator. Generators provide power, only when you need it, without ever drawing upon your household current. A generator is an absolute necessity if there is an asthmatic in your family, if you have all-electric heat, or if someone in the household is on oxygen. A generator is also essential if you care about your family's comfort and security.

The following are some questions to ask yourself, before you purchase your generator:

  • Do I really need an alternative power source? You do if you want to run anything - if you need your air cooled or heated, if you want to run your refrigerator or your freezer, or if you can't live without a pot of coffee.
  • Why a generator? Ggenerators run refrigerators, washers and dryers, and air conditioners. Generators are reliable on a moment's notice to avoid long or short-term power outages. It can also run your home computer, without all of those power fluctuations that can fry your machine.
  • How can it keep my family safe? A generator can run your air-conditioner, so that you can keep your windows closed and locked, protecting your family from harm and keeping your valuables safe.
  • Is a generator safe? A generator is perfectly safe, if you use the appropriately sized power cords that are recommended by the manufacturer. Never attempt to hook your generator to power lines. The electrical back feed can be fatal. Always read the directions, and follow them.
  • What about carbon monoxide? Carbon-monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, that can kill you while you're smiling. Never run a generator in an enclosed space such as a basement, attached garage, or an enclosed porch.

Choosing the Right Generator

If you have occasional needs during a brief power outage to simply run a few small appliances or lights, then a standard generator with a side valve (SV) engine of 2,000 watts is a realistic choice. If your home or business needs a dependable backup power source for extended power outages, then an overhead valve (OHV) or overhead valve industrial (OHVI) engine will be required. 3,500 watts or higher should do the trick.

Other features to consider are a spin-on engine oil filter; automatic voltage regulation (AVR); idle control; and 12-volt charging capability.

Remember, a generator is not a nifty toy or a really neat appliance. It is a powerful machine that can run serious appliances, such as furnace blowers, sump pumps, well pumps, televisions, lights, air-conditioners, electric stoves and microwave ovens.

Before you buy, check the safety tags on your appliances for wattage information. Generators are rated for both continuous running wattage and for surge wattage (just a few seconds) for starting an electric motor. You need a high rating for both. You want to not only be able to run a sump pump, for example - you also want to have the surge wattage necessary to start the engine.

The following are basic things you need to know before you begin shopping for your generator:

  • Stationary Generator: If you don't have one, buy one now, before the storm. Stationary generators are more expensive, and they require a licensed electrician to install a separate "transfer switch" for safety, which allows you to run pre-selected lights, a refrigerator, air-conditioning and water. If you can afford it, this is the generator to buy.
  • Portable Generator: Portable generators are ideal for emergency power at a moment's notice. However, they run on gasoline, and they must be kept outside the home. The deadly carbon-monoxide that it generates can kill you in your sleep. So prepare now, with a sturdy, outdoor shelter. Add a padlock if looters are a concern.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector: This is essential if you have a generator. They are battery operated, and you should have extra batteries. This can save your life, for a small expense.

You do not need to see your family suffer through a power outage without the things they need for health and safety. Buying a generator is a big decision, but it just may be life-saving, and that makes all the difference in the world.