Do You Need a Backup Generator?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 11, 2022
5 min read

Storms, accidents, and power outages occur. When they do, will you be alone in the dark, or will you have alternatives? Among these alternatives are backup generators. There are different types with different costs, but ultimately they prove beneficial. Your air resources board should have regulations that allow you to use your backup generator when in a public safety power shutoff. They should have guidance and advisories for how to use your backup generator, so do your research before you rent, purchase, or use one. 

It can be scary to have a power outage in your home. This is true in any situation, especially if there is severe weather in your town. But instead of being powerless, you can be prepared with an emergency generator. When power has malfunctioned due to a storm, freezing temperatures, hurricanes, or other natural disasters or accidents, there is no guarantee when you will have access to power again. A home backup generator will give you some power and reassurance during an emergency.

You may wonder how to choose a backup generator. To choose the best one for your household, you need to figure out how much power you would need if there were a blackout in your area. What would you be ok doing without for an extended period? We are not talking about the internet or video games. What about hot water or refrigerated food? Investigate the manufacturer information for the appliances you can't do without to determine wattage and total numbers. Portable generators can generate about 2500 – 4500 watts of energy and may be sufficient if you are informed of your total energy uses and stand by that amount when using the generator. Used wisely, you can be comfortable during a blackout. You may need a home standby generator if your wattage use is more.

Backup generator cost will depend on the type of generator you purchase. There are two types of backup generators: portable and home standby. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Proper research will ensure that you buy the one that is best for the needs of your home when power is limited or lost. 

Permanently available and on call outside the home, a home standby generator is ready for use when an emergency occurs. Powered by propane or natural gas fuel, this type of generator is strong enough to provide wattage to your home within seconds of a power loss. This is due to the way the permanent generator works. It runs via a transfer switch that monitors incoming utility voltage. When the power goes out, the transfer switch disconnects the utility line, and a new power connection connects from the generator to almost instantly restore power.   

Because of the amount of power a standby generator creates, they are expensive. The cost has come down a little in the last few years to make them more affordable. An electrician must install these, and the local utility board must be given notice that you have this type of generator in the home. This type of generator is good in rural areas and areas that are regularly prone to power outages. It is especially beneficial in colder climates with frequent ice storms and temperature drops and can help keep your house warm, your water hot, and your pipes from freezing.

The most affordable option is a portable generator. This is good when just a few electrical items need to be utilized during a power outage. They are small and are on wheels. They should never be transferred into the home or an enclosed area because they use gasoline to run. You do not want carbon monoxide to accumulate inside your home. You can use extension cords to connect a portable generator and then use it for your furnace, TV, refrigerator, sump pump, furnace, and smaller electrical devices.

Once you know how to use a backup generator, the benefits are almost unlimited:

  • Efficiency: Generators provide power easily and quickly after an outage. Portable generators can deliver a limited power amount and can easily be refilled with gas. A home standby generator can provide larger amounts of power for a long time because they are run by an existing gas line. 
  • Convenience: Portable generators can be manually switched on when ready for use. However, a standby generator will turn on automatically when the power goes out for almost nonstop use of your air-conditioner, refrigerators, water heaters, and more.  
  • Saves money: Backup generators prevent spoiled food and frozen pipes. If your area has numerous power outages during the year, the generator uses add up over the years, making the purchase a valuable investment.

It is recommended that you have battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Be aware of hazards when adding fuel to a portable gas-powered generator. You should never add gas while the generator is hot or running. If you overfill the tank, it could overflow onto heated components, explode, or catch fire. Stop and fill the generator only when the generator is cool and no electrical load is connected.

A portable generator that is directly connected to your household wiring can be fatal to you and your family. It can generate a back feed into power lines that come into your home and injure your family, your neighbors, or utility workers. A qualified electrician can install a manual transfer switch to tie into the circuit of the main electrical panel safely. Unlike portable units, home standby generators don’t release fumes. They prevent carbon monoxide buildup in the home. They also provide quick access to lighting in a blackout, which can help to prevent falls, spills, and similar accidents.

So now you know the ins and outs, dos and don'ts, and types of backup generators. Before purchasing, determine your household needs, and make the best decision for your home.