Choosing the Best Generator for Your Home and Budget

From critical medical care to home-based businesses, reliable backup power is more essential than ever

“Home Sweet Home” has taken on a whole new meaning since the Covid-19 pandemic caused the world to reevaluate how we live, socialize, work, and stay healthy. One area dramatically impacted by the pandemic is the “work from home” sector. This population, including employees working remotely for an employer and new entrepreneurial pursuits, has exploded in number since the spring of 2020.

According to the Census Bureau, more than 4.4 million new businesses were launched across the country in 2020, the highest total on record and a 24.3% increase over the previous year. Considering another 500,000 new enterprises were started in January 2021, this doesn’t seem to be a trend that will reverse or slow down in the short-term future. Many of these new businesses were launched from home offices, garages, and basements. This means reliable, accessible, and safe power, available 24/7 at home, isn’t just for climate comfort, big screen TVs, and critical home medical care any longer---now, livelihoods depend on it more than ever.

And, let’s be honest, with our nation’s increasingly vulnerable power grids, having a backup electrical source at home is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

“Aren’t generators really expensive to purchase and install?”

At On Time Electrical, we hear that question from customers frequently. Like most home improvement investments, there are multiple tiers of features and price points on the market for generators. We want to quickly go over the three main types of generators, their benefits, and price points.

There are 3 main types of generators: portable, inverter, and standby.

PORTABLE GENERATORS: Popular and affordable, portable generators have a combustion engine that conducts electricity. They are powered by gas or diesel fuel and offer temporary electrical power. This style generator is commonly used for activities such as larger-scale outside projects, workshops, or in natural disaster emergency situations.

Other features:

  • Multiple sockets to accommodate electrical appliances, tools, and other devices.
  • While portable, it can also be connected to a home’s electrical panel.
  • Ideal for use in remote locations.
  • Most models are powerful enough to support a refrigerator, separate freezer, tools, and entertainment electronics (TVs, stereos, etc).
  • Generates the standard 60hz or current, running at 3600 rpm. Provides around 7,500 watts of electricity.

For that wattage, you could run all of the following:

  • Refrigerator
  • Smartphone charger
  • Home security system
  • Ten light bulbs
  • A/C unit (10,000 BTU)
  • Laptop
  • Well pump or sump pump
  • Gas or propane furnace OR one large burner on an electric range OR a dishwasher.

Average Cost: Most models fall between $700-$3,000

What to consider? Customers say while the benefit of affordable, portable power is worth the trade-offs in an emergency or when needed, portable generators tend to run noisier than other types and they do require a good amount of fuel for long streaks of use. Plus, they can be heavy, with most models weighing north of 300 pounds. It also needs protection from the elements if used outside.

Bottom line: Great value overall when it comes to combining cost, capabilities, and reliability. A recommended investment for those living in areas prone to frequent natural disasters and power outages. Most models are straight-forward to prime, start, and operate. Keep the noise element in mind and the need for outdoor protection from Mother Nature.

INVERTER GENERATORS: These generators are identified by their use of an engine connected to an alternator that produces AC power with adjustable voltage and frequency. It’s different from other types of generators in that an inverter uses a rectifier to convert that AC power into DC power. These mechanics, which uses high-tech magnets, allow inverter generators to provide a constant flow of current, which is better for appliances and electronics plugged into it. The self-adjusting engine reacts to the amount of power being demanded at any given time which makes them, overall, more energy-efficient.

Other features:

  • Smaller in size and lighter weight.
  • Considered ideal for use in RVs, boats, and vehicles.

There are three classes of inverter generators, let’s compare:

Recreational inverter (up to 2K watts)

This wattage can operate:

  • Refrigerator
  • Smartphone charger
  • Home security system
  • Ten light bulbs
  • Laptop

Average Cost: Most models fall between $400-$1,000

What to consider? Lighter than most portable generators (under 100 pounds), it is also much more quiet during operation and easier to transport. They can be paired with other units to increase wattage output. However, unlike the portable generators, each unit (and many consumers only buy one) is limited in the number of appliances and devices it can power in an emergency. It can’t be connected to your home’s electrical panel or accommodate items that use a standard plug.

Bottom line: Budget-friendly in a pinch to power the basic life necessities during an emergency (refrigerator, phone charger, and couple lights), it is limited in its output. Higher- end recreational inverter generators can cost as much as a portable generator which DOES have more features, as listed above.

Midsized inverter (Up to 3.5K Watts)

This wattage can operate recreational items above, PLUS:

  • A/C unit (10,000 BTU)
  • Well pump
  • Sump pump
  • Gas or propane furnace OR one large burner on an electric range OR the dishwasher.

Average Cost: Most models fall between $1,000-$1,700

What to consider? Like its recreational counterpart, they are on the lighter side, usually under 150 pounds and also known for quiet operation. They are fuel-efficient, with most models able to run basic appliances and lights for as long as 18 hours on 2-3 gallons of gas. If you want to run a well pump or climate control units (220-volt requirement), be aware that these models run 110-volt items with standard two-or-three-prong plugs, which means if you want to run those other items you’ll need to buy and install a 220-volt transfer-switch kit. At that point, given the cost of purchase and installation time, you can buy a portable generator, which comes with 220-volt capabilities, for approximately the same price tag.

Bottom line: Cost-effective, lighter than portables, and fuel-efficient, midsized inverters are solid in a pinch if you only want to power 110-volt items. Need 220-volt capabilities? Bump it up to a portable for about the same price.

Large inverter (Up to 7.5K Watts)

This wattage can operate recreational and midsized items above, PLUS:

  • One, 8-inch burner on an electric range

OR

  • A dishwasher

Average Cost: Most models fall between $1,400–$4,000

What to consider: The most muscle in its class, large inverters can power most essentials in an emergency such as the refrigerator, lights, climate comfort units, well pumps, etc., as it can also be connected to your electrical panel. This size inverter also shares the quiet operation reputation of its smaller counterparts and fuel-efficient nature. This comes with the higher cost, however, and they are limited to running on gasoline versus diesel or propane options. While the budget spread starts at $1,400, many consumer testing sites note the best large inverter models rank at the higher end of that pricing scale, between $3,000-$4,000.

Bottom line: Of the inverter category, it packs the biggest punch from a power output and the ability to handle 110-volt, 220-volt, and hardwired items in your home. That said, its fuel consumption is limited to standard gas and the price tag for highly-rated large inverter models makes it challenging for the average budget at a cost of around $3,500.

STANDBY GENERATORS: The biggest difference with standby generators versus portable or inverter models is that they are permanently installed and turn on automatically. They sit outside next to the house, much like your HVAC units. They kick on the millisecond a power outage is detected and they can power all electrical items, appliances, and systems inside a home.

Other features:

  • They can operate indefinitely on natural gas or liquid propane
  • Automatic startup means no cables or switches to turn on if power goes out
  • Protects your home automatically if you are away during a power outage
  • Automatic transfer switch protects all levels of electronics in home
  • Self-tests weekly to ensure constant operational readiness
  • Provides up to 20,000 watts of power to home

Average Cost: Most models fall between $2,000-$6,000

What to consider? Permanent, automatic start, self-testing, and steady current capabilities make it the preferred option for homes that need 24/7 coverage, especially where critical in-home medical care, disabled access (elevators), or home-based business operations are present. They are not portable, fuel-flexible, or cost-effective for recreational use, basic power outage emergency coverage, or tight budgets with most models falling in the mid-to-high price range of $4,000-$6,000. Additionally, their permanent installation leaves the susceptible to flooding and other damage during fire or natural disasters.

Bottom line: Standby generators are not a weekend outing, cost-efficient, portable power solution. These should be considered a capital investment in your home to provide peace of mind that you have around the clock backup power coverage, especially when critical medical equipment or home-based business systems are at stake.

At On Time Electrical, our experienced technicians can provide a free consultation on how to maximize your budget with the best generator solution available. We’ll also help you safely install and test your generator to ensure you’re 100% ready to go if and when a power emergency arises….or if you’re just looking to upgrade the power pack on your tailgating RV for game day, we have you covered!

On Time Electrical customer service is available 24/7 at (704) 820-4803. You can also visit us online anytime at www.itselectriccharlotte.com. Check out our weekly and monthly specials, plus we waive the service call fee on ANY repair! Locally owned and operated, we’re On Time Electrical. It’s electric!

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