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Generator Information - Cheat Sheet

There is a lot of important information to consider when purchasing a generator. Our goal is to make this process as simple and obvious as possible. On other sites, the important information is buried in information you simply do not need, but here we aim to provide the most important information in a simple and organized layout.

We recommend you look at this Comparison Chart if you are trying to decide on a specific generator. It is simply easier to compare the important characteristics when they are organized in a plain fashion and not hiding behind biased information. Some generators have their associated review linked for a more in-depth inspection.

Below you will find basic information that will be useful in summarizing the important elements involved in purchasing the right generator for your home, however you can also find more information in our Buying Guides section.

What Type, What Size, and How Much Power?

We think the most important aspect is that your generator produces enough power for what you want, be that your entire home or just a few necessities. But what size generator do I need?

Rated Watts Ability Power Output Example
5 kW Enough power for a few "survival appliances". Four lights, furnace fan, sump pump and refrigerator/freezer Generac GP5500 generac gp5500e review
6 A small system to keep all the survival appliances operating and a few extras. Survival appliances plus family room Briggs & Stratton 30469 briggs and stratton 6000 watt generator
8 kW A mid-sized system able to power multiple rooms at once. Survival appliances plus family room and home office Generac 6237 generac 8000 watt standby
10 kW An emergency backup power system to provide power to most appliances and wattage desires. Survival appliances plus family room, home office and kitchen. Generac 6439 generac 6439 11000 watt picture
15 kW Generator size large enough to power the whole house. Survival appliances plus family room, home office kitchen and laundry room. Generac GP15000e generac gp15000e portable generator
25 kW Enough power for large residential or small commerical buildings. All of the above plus an air conditioning system. Generac QT02516 generac standby generator
30 kW Enough power to run the majority of homes and mid-sized busniesses. All of the above and more. Live in total comfort Cummins Onan 30kW cummins onan 30 kw generator

Compare generator size, power, and more with this Generating Sizing & Comparison Chart

Your service panel is normally rated at 200 amps @ 240 volts and the average home uses approximately 140 to 160 amps of 240 volts power to operate everything at the same time.

  • Volts measures the force or pressure and amps measures the amount of electricity used
  • Larger appliances (well pump, kitchen stove, water heater, electric dryer, electric heater and heat pump system) will typically use 240 volts power
  • lights and other smaller appliances will use 120 volt power
  • Volts x Amps = Required Wattage (Some appliances require additional wattage for starting-up only)
  • You can get a good idea of the standard wattage requirements for your appliances by checking this Chart

Generally you can cut through all this stuff with these simple rules.

  • If you have 100 Amp service panel, use a 8-12 kW generator
  • If you have a 200 Amp service panel, use a 15-20 kW generator
  • If you have a 400 amp service panel, use a 30-50 kW generator

* Special conditions apply if you plan on using air conditioners, well-pumps, or something similar as they require significantly more power only to start-up. Read more Here

As you can see, there a lot of options. The smaller kW generators will generally be portable gas or diesel powered, and as you go higher up the generators generally require propane or natural gas. If you plan to purchase a small generator for emergency situations, we recommend purchasing a generator with an additional 15% of power on top of what you originally expected.

What Are The Different Types of Generators

durastar ds4000s portable generator

Although there are only 3 types, there are many different brands with different power capabilities as well as specific characteristics specific to your state.

Portable Generators

Portable generators generally run off gasoline or diesel found at your normal gas station. These generators are built for emergency situations and can generally only power a few neccessities. A portable generator must be kept outdoors in a well ventilated area as they produce carbon monoxide, a tasteless, odorless gas that is deadly if allowed to build up indoors. Generally, you have to refill the generator every 5-10 hours depending on the amount of watts being used. Check out our portable generator reviews for detailed reviews on specific models

Unlike standby generators, portable generators are generally not hooked up to the house, instead appliances are plugged directly into the generator and power is transfered using extension chords (make sure your extension chord can handle the necessary power, click here for more info).

Standby Generator

Standby Generators

Standby generators are permanent generators generally fixed on the ground by the side of your house. Unlike a portable generator, a standby generator runs off propane or natural gas usually buried in the ground. Standby generators are much more reliable overall, they are more efficient, and they also automatically turn on when the power goes out. Not only are they automatic, standby generators are also significantly safer for your electronics as a power surge has the potential to damage computeres etc. Standby generators are the most expensive of all three types, check out our standby generator reviewsto be confident in your choice.

Inverter Generator

Inverter Generators

Less common are Inverter generators. Inverter generators transform dangerous DC current into AC current and then back into a controlled DC current, which makes them safe for electronics and also very quiet. Inverter generators run off gas and are perfect for rv's and camping, however portable inverters are generally not very strong and should therefore be purchased with the intent of powering only a few neccesities. To learn more, check out our inverter generator reviews


How Much Should I Expect to Pay?

The price of a portable generator generally correlates to the wattage or power generated. A 1000 watt or 1 kW generator will probably cost around $150 dollars, but will be low quality. A 10,000 watt portable generator or 10kW generator will cost anywhere from $1,100 to $2,000 dollars or more.

The price of a standby generator is more difficult. While some standby generators may be able to power a small business, others have to be able to handle hospitals, shopping malls and other large buildings. Therefore the price of a standby generator is almost impossible to gauge.

different types of generators

Because RV generators are designed to be safer for electronics, produce less noise, and still produce a decent amount of power, expect to pay a little more per 1000-watts compared to similar portable generators. Also, because you are often outdoors, a generator can be a fire hazard. In some states, it may be necessary to purchase a generator that's carb compliant. Keep in mind that some appliances like air-conditioners and refridgerators require almost 3X the amps normal amount to start-up and will therefore require too much power for the majority of cheaper RV inverter generators.

Detailed Generator Reviews on the most popular generators.

Important Info/Miscellaneous Info

A popular concern when buying a generator is the amount of noise it will produce. While a little noise is sometimes necessary, other times, such as while camping, you would rather avoid the unpleasent loud engine sound. The sound rating is based on the decibel system.

  • Industrial Quiet - well designed enclosure with air-scoop and dense foam. 69 to 75 dBA - noticeable noise level at 10-feet / loud conversation at 21-feet.
  • Residential Quiet - well designed enclosure with air-scoops and foam. 64 to 68 dBA - quiet but noticeable at 10-feet / normal conversation at 21-feet.
  • Super Quiet - special sound attenuation enclosure normally with air-scoops and dense foam. 61 to 63 dBA - normal conversation at 10-feet / quiet operation at 21-feet.
  • Ultra Quiet - special sound attenuation design for rental fleets or residential applications. 56 to 60 dBA - barely hear the unit operate at 10-feet / normal conversation at 10-feet.
  • Entertainment Industry Quiet - Special and expensive sound attenuated and designed. 50 to 55 dBA - barely hear the unit operate at 3-feet / normal conversation next to GenSet.

What is A Transfer Switch?

transfer switch

A transfer switch permananetly connects your generator to your home and automatically switches from your main power to your generator should the power go out. Not only is a transfer switch safer for the person maintaining the generator, the transfer switch prevents surges which will also protect your electronics from damage.

While you can connect your portable generator to your transfer switch, it is generally easier to plug your appliances into a power strip or connect directly to the generator.

To learn more about transfer switches, check out guides in our buyer's guides section

Generator Brands


generac generator reviews

Generac is considered the most popular generator manufacturer and has portable, inverter, and standby generators for sale. See Reviews


champion generator reviews

Specializing in portable generators, Champion provides strong generators useful in an emergency. See Reviews


honda generator reviews

Honda has a variety of emergency portable generators, some of which rely on diesel. See Reviews


yamaha generator reviews

Although Yamaha has only a few products, we found they sell and design the optimum inverter generator. See Reviews