Should You Get A Whole-House Generator?

With summer often comes thunderstorms and high winds, and your power may be knocked out at a moment's notice. In areas of the country prone to tornadoes, you could find yourself without power for weeks or more as crews work to repair lines and restore service. In addition to the inconvenience of having to live your life by flashlight, power outages can cost you money -- ruining frozen foods or requiring you to camp out in a hotel. But is the purchase of a whole-house backup generator a wise investment for your situation? Read on to learn more about the benefits a generator can provide, as well as the type of generator you may want to purchase.

When do you need a whole-house generator?

Although a small portable generator can provide you with enough emergency power to run the most crucial appliances (like a heating unit or refrigerator), it won't be able to reliably provide you with enough power to maintain your lifestyle for any period of time. Depending upon the fuel capacity of your generator and the length of the power outage, you may find yourself running out in the middle of a storm to refill your gasoline or propane tank.

If your seasonal power outages are frequent or extended enough to significantly affect your routine, or if a member of your family has a medical need that requires electricity (like an oxygen tank, humidifier or air purifier, or dialysis machine) you'll want to ensure that your home can go without electricity for an extended period of time without you ever even noticing the power is out. Because a whole-house generator is hooked up to a significantly larger power supply, it can maintain your home's normal kilowatt usage with no interruption.

You may also be able to justify the cost of installing a whole-house generator if you have a large freezer and regularly purchase items in bulk. Depending upon a portable backup generator to keep your freezer at a constant safe temperature may backfire, and the cost of replacing these items (and sometimes the freezer as well) can be high.

A final factor that can direct you to a whole-house generator is when your home or its basement is at or near the water table. If you don't have enough power to keep your sump pump running through a heavy storm, you may find your home flooded and belongings damaged. Water damage can permanently affect the structure and stability of your home, and this damage is unlikely to be covered by your homeowner's insurance if due to a flood. Installing a whole-house generator may even help lower your homeowner's insurance costs by reducing the risk of water damage to your home.

What type of whole-house generator is best for your home?

There are three categories that divide whole-house generators -- air-cooled or liquid-cooled, automatic or manual, and natural gas or propane.

  • Air-cooled generators are designed for smaller homes, as they can power fewer appliances than larger liquid-cooled generators. The largest liquid-cooled generators are able to provide about 150 kilowatts of energy, enough for even the most consumptive households.
  • Automatic generators switch on as soon as the main power supply is compromised -- in many cases, you may not even notice the lights dim. Manual generators require you to turn them on using a switch, and can more easily be switched off periodically to save fuel.
  • Both natural gas and propane generators use combustion to fuel the generator's creation of power. There are no major performance differences between the two fuel types, and the final decision may come down to cost. In general, natural gas is cheaper than propane.

For more information about your options when it comes to choosing a generator, check out websites like