A quick guide to standby generators

September 7, 2015

We all lose electricity occasionally. But when outages become routine, leaving you without electricity for days on end, it's time to get a generator. Large standby generators can power everything in your house. Here's a quick guide to standby generators to help you figure out what you need.

A quick guide to standby generators

Determining what kind of generator you need

  • Your first step in adding backup power is deciding what you need (or want) to keep running when your electricity goes out.
  • What you want your generator to power will determine the size of the generator you'll need (measured in wattage).
  • Walk through the house and make a list of everything you want to power during an outage.
  • Look for the mandatory manufacturer's label on each appliance that contains the appliance's wattage, model number and the year it was made.
  • Some labels are right inside the door on appliances; others are on the back, so you might have to pull some appliances away from the wall to get this information.
  • Write down the item and how much wattage it uses.
  • Make sure your list includes essential items, like refrigerators, freezers, a well pump if you have one, and a sump pump if your basement could flood.
  • Remember, if you need to, it's entirely possible to go for days without an oven (use the microwave instead) and an air conditioner
  • Both of these appliances use a lot of power and would require you to buy a much bigger generator.
  • Add together the items' wattages, then multiply that number by 1.5 (appliances need the extra power to start up).
  • The number you've just calculate is the minimum wattage you'll need in a generator.

Wattage requirements

Here are a few wattage ranges to help you with your list.

  • 10,000-Btu air conditioner: 1,500 watts
  • Microwave: 600 to 1,200 watts
  • Refrigerator: 700 to 1,200 watts
  • Freezer: 500 to 1,200 watts
  • Washing machine: 1,200 watts
  • 1/3-horsepower sump pump: 800 watts
  • Television: 300 watts
  • Laptop computer: 250 watts

Some pros and cons of standby generators

  • Standby generators automatically turn on when the power goes out — you don't have to do a thing.
  • This is the best option if you frequently lose electricity and want to keep all or most of your appliances running.
  • Most standby generators are powerful enough to run a central air conditioner, kitchen appliances and other large items — all at the same time.
  • Standby generators also quieter than portable generators and you don't need to worry about running cords or storing gasoline.
  • However, standby generators tend to be expensive.
  • Plus, you'll need to have the generator, transfer switch and sub-panel professionally installed.
  • A transfer switch constantly monitors power. If you lose electricity, it starts the generator automatically — even if you're not home.
  • When power is restored, the transfer switch shuts off the generator.

Extra standby generator tips

  • Standby generators connect to your home's fuel supply (natural gas or propane).
  • If you don't already have one of these fuel lines coming into the house, you can install a propane tank.
  • Home centres carry a limited selection of portable generators (but usually no standby units).
  • Larger portable generators and standby units are usually available through special order or direct from the manufacturer.

One thing to avoid no matter what

  • Don't attach a second male end to a power cord, then run it from the generator to a wall outlet to power a circuit.
  • This may seem like a clever way to run power through your home's wiring system, but the electricity will run back through the circuit breaker panel and out to the utility lines, which can kill service personnel working on the lines, even if they're miles away.

Keep this quick guide in mind and you'll be better able to find the standby generator that's right for you and your needs.

*Not only is it dangerous, it may even be illegal in some provinces, such as Québec, to do your own electrical wiring. The solution: consider hiring a master electrician.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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