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How to Choose a Backup Generator

This comprehensive guide will give you all the information you need when buying a backup generator.

Getting Started

A generator is often an overlooked piece of equipment for home or business owners. If you own the right generator, you won't have to wait for the electric company during power outages. Keep your family and your property safe with the right generator to fit your needs.

Wattage and Power Needs

How do you know how much wattage you'll need? It all comes down to the appliances in your home.
Generators have two basic power measurements:
  • Starting Watts - Also referred to as startup power, max watts, or peak power, this is the wattage required to get appliances running during startup. It's the highest level of power consumption.
  • Running Watts - Also called continuous watts, running watts refers to wattage under a normal power load.
The average home needs 5,000 watts of power. It's best to break down the appliances you need to run during a complete blackout and then add each appliance's wattage to calculate your total.
Home Generator

Types of Generators

Home Standby Generators

A standby generator is permanently installed outside your home or business. It is wired directly into the electrical system to provide power to all of the necessary circuits during any power outages. Depending on the model, standby generators may start and stop automatically as the power goes out and returns. Standby generators are fueled by liquid propane or natural gas and require professional installation, often with a permit.

Portable Generators

Portable generators are the most versatile generators on the market. Their uses are practically limitless. Some common uses include emergency power at home, power in remote locations where utility power is unavailable or recreational purposes, like boating, camping, or even tailgating.
Portable generators are fueled by gasoline and include 120-volt power outlets like those in the walls of your home. When the generator is running, you can plug appliances and tools directly into these outlets. The size you need will vary, so research and plan accordingly.

Inverter Generators

These generators are the perfect solution for activities like tailgating, camping, boating, or RVing. Inverter generators have sophisticated engines that throttle up and down to meet power demands, instead of constantly running power. As a result, inverter generators are often quieter than other options. In general, these generators run quite efficiently with reduced emissions.

Portable Power Stations

Portable power stations are battery-powered generators. While other generators are powered by gasoline or propane, you simply plug your portable power station into an electrical outlet to charge. These days, you can even find solar generators that require no electric power at all. Like the inverter generators, these run quieter and reduce fuel emissions, allowing you to use them indoors.
The downsides to portable power stations are shorter run times and weaker power output. You may have to charge these generators more frequently, but it shouldn't be a problem if you place it near an outlet.
Generac Generator

Features to Consider

Automatic CO Shutoff

This new safety feature detects the buildup of gas with a sensor and automatically shuts off. Each generator brand labels it differently, so look for terms like "CO Guard" or "CO Shield" and ensure it meets one of two standards:
  • ANSI/UL2201 Certified for Carbon Monoxide Safety
  • ANSI/PGMA G300 Certified Safety & Performance

Low CO Engine

This second safety feature specifically guards against carbon monoxide poisoning.

Automatic Start

An automatic start simply means that when you lose power, the generator goes on. This feature is a must-have if you travel and can't get home quickly in emergencies.

Electric Start

Many portable generators offer a push-button option to get up and running right away—no more pull-starting.

Alternative-Fuel Capability

Most portable generators run on gasoline, but some are equipped with the ability to run on natural gas or propane using a conversion kit. Stationary generators typically run on propane or natural gas.

Fuel Gauge

A fuel gauge is one feature that comes in handy during blackouts. It's especially convenient to be able to check your remaining fuel and act accordingly.

Low-Oil Shutoff

When the oil falls below a certain level, the low-oil shutoff will prevent engine damage. Standard on most stationary generators, you can also find it on portables.

Multiple Outlets

It helps to have at least four outlets to spread out the wattage, although you should only reach this max load during extreme cases such as a blackout.

Removable Console

Connected to the generator, a removable console allows you to connect appliances without running extension cords outdoors.

Inverter Technology

Inverters turn DC power into AC power, the type of current that powers everyday appliances. When you purchase an inverter, you need one that can handle the wattage of the appliances you plan on using.

Noise Reduction

Generators aren't exactly the quietest of items. Some offer extra features to reduce the noise created during operation. Look for large mufflers if noise is a concern in your home and neighborhood.
Generator with Wheels


As the name suggests, portable generators can be transported to different locations. The smallest portable generators are comparatively light--perhaps 50 pounds--and can be carried. Larger models can weigh several hundred pounds, making a wheeled frame essential for moving.

Transfer Switch

If you want to use your generator to power your home, you'll need the right sized generator and a transfer switch. This switch closes off the utility power line to your home's electrical system and opens a direct line to the generator. It then reverses the process when utility power is restored. Standby models can work either with a manual or an automatic transfer switch. The benefit of an automatic transfer switch is that it senses when utility power has been lost and automatically switches to generator power.
Stay prepared for all your power needs with the right-sized generator from Abt!

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  • I had an excellent experience with Abt! They had the best price on the item I purchased (Tumi Backpack), the next competitor wasn't even close in price. They shipped quickly and the item was packaged extremely well. I'm very satisfied with the product. Also, their customer service rep was super friendly and helpful working with me to use a coupon. Great experience overall!
    June 21, 2020 - Holly M.
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