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Home Generators

Compare and find the right generator for you

The Best Whole House Generators For The Money

Generac 7402 Whole Home Generator Review

Size

48″ x 25″ x 29″

Weight

476 lbs

Power

22 kW

Fuel Source

Propane
Natural Gas

Warranty

5-year limited

Champion 8.5kW outdoor rated home generator review

Size

52.4″ x 33.5″ x 32.1″

Weight

460 lbs

Power

8.5 kW – Propane
7.5 kW – Natural Gas

Fuel Source

Propane
Natural Gas

Warranty

10-year limited

Size

50.5″ x 33.8″ x 30.6″

Weight

489 lbs

Power

20 kW – Propane
18 kW – Natural Gas

Fuel Source

Propane
Natural Gas

Warranty

5-year limited

Kohler 8000 watt generator review

Size

30.6″ x 28″ x 32.4″

Weight

380 lbs

Power

8 kW – Propane
7 kW – Natural Gas

Fuel Source

Propane
Natural Gas

Warranty

5-year limited

Generac PowerPact 7500 Watt Generator Review

Size

36″ x 27″ x 25″

Weight

280 lbs

Power

7.5 kW – Propane
6 kW – Natural Gas

Fuel Source

Propane
Natural Gas

Warranty

3-year limited

Generac 7042 Standby Generator

Generac 7402 Standby Whole Home Generator Review

Summary & Features

Pros

  • Produces 22Kw of power
  • Solid, weather-resistant aluminum construction
  • A trusted, well-established manufacturer
  • Helpful and accessible customer support
  • Remote monitoring system

Cons

  • Amp transfer switch sold separately
  • Some replacement parts can be difficult to find  

Champion 8.5-kW Home Standby Outdoor Rated

Champion 8.5kW outdoor rated home generator review

Summary & Features

Champion delivers reliable power for emergencies in a compact but durable housing designed to withstand prolonged exposure to rain, snow, and temperature extremes. Its all-weather steel exterior protects a 439cc Champion OHV engine.

It delivers 8.5 kW continuous electrical power, which is enough to power lights, household appliances, and entertainment items to most small to medium-sized homes. Depending on the size of your home, powering your HVAC system is also possible for many.

The Champion 8.5kW operates on either propane or natural gas, so you don’t have to worry about refilling it or adding additives. Note that the 8500 watts of power are only with propane. If you use natural gas, the wattage drops to 7500 (which is still suitable for most needs).

As one of the newer names in the industry, Champion knows they don’t have a reputation quite the same as their 100-year-old competitors, so they offer a fairly robust and generous warranty. It’s a 10-year limited warranty against any defects. Plus, they offer free lifetime technical support, where you can get answers from their own experts.

Pros

  • Delivers 8,500 or 7,500 watts (depending on fuel type used)
  • Operates on both propane or natural gas
  • Durable steel construction with gull-wing design
  • 10-year warranty with free technical support

Cons

  • Might not be enough to power your HVAC system

Briggs & Stratton 20kW Generator

Summary & Features

Featuring an updated control system, this emergency backup power generator from Briggs Stratton is a reliable choice for whole-house power. It operates on a Vanguard V-Twin horizontal engine with a Symphony II Power Management transfer to help prevent accidental circuit overload.

The Symphony II Power Management system as shown in the video above operates as a safeguard against overloading the generator and causing the power to shut off. While this is avoidable with other generators, Briggs and Stratton make it foolproof.

Additionally, if longevity is a concern, you can rest easy with the included Briggs Stratton five-year warranty. It covers parts, labor, and even travel fees. If something goes wrong with one of their standby generators, you don’t have to pay for any aspect of repairs.

Pros

  • Durable, galvanized steel construction
  • InfoHub wireless monitoring system
  • A warranty covers parts, labor, and travel costs for five years

Cons

  • 20kW might be more powerful than necessary for a small household  

Kohler 8000-Watt Standby Generator

Kohler 8000 watt generator review

Summary & Features

Although not the most powerful of the standby generators on our list, the Kohler 8,000-watt generator provides affordable and reliable security against power outages for a small to medium-sized home. The exclusive Powerboost technology helps run an HVAC system and large appliances, something not all generators of this size can do.

The home backup generator has two fuel source options: natural gas or propane. Additionally, the steel construction is durable with a 181 MPH wind rating and helps keep the noise level of the generator low.

Pros

  • 100-amp, 8kW generator can power multiple large appliances
  • Kohler is a trusted name in home appliances
  • Warranty extends for five years

Cons

  • Steel construction adds weight to the generator (total 398 pounds)

Generac PowerPact 7500-Watt Standby Generator with Automatic Transfer Switch

Generac PowerPact 7500 Watt Generator Review

Summary & Features

Although not the most powerful of the standby generators on our list, the Kohler 8,000-watt generator provides affordable and reliable security against power outages for a small to medium-sized home. The exclusive Powerboost technology helps run an HVAC system and large appliances, something not all generators of this size can do.

The home backup generator has two fuel source options: natural gas or propane. Additionally, the steel construction is durable with a 181 MPH wind rating and helps keep the noise level of the generator low.

Pros

  • 100-amp, 8kW generator can power multiple large appliances
  • Kohler is a trusted name in home appliances
  • Warranty extends for five years

Cons

  • Steel construction adds weight to the generator (total 398 pounds)

Introduction

A whole house generator is an important, potentially life-saving item, but it’s also easy to overlook. After all, a generator can sit unused for months or even longer. However, if an emergency knocks out your power, you need a generator you can rely on. Here’s what you need to know to pick the best option for you and your family.

Types of Generators

There are several types of generators capable of powering the systems and appliances in your house. Understanding the different types of home generators is important because they have significantly different capabilities (and price points).

Home Standby Generator

A “whole home generator” typically refers to what’s also called a home standby generator. They’re heavy-duty machines designed to power most, if not all, of your home’s systems. A home standby generator is permanently installed on a concrete pad outside your house, usually within a few feet. It connects directly to your home’s electric system.

Portable Generator

A portable generator provides power in a smaller package. The best portable generators typically weigh a few hundred pounds but have two wheels and a handle so you can move them around – from, say, your garage or shop to the side of your house.

Here’s where the terminology gets a bit confusing.

Some of the best portable generators are strong enough to power your whole house. So, if all you want is a way to keep everything running in an emergency, both portable and home standby generators can fit the bill. However, a “whole home generator” technically only refers to the large, permanent units.  

Inverter Generator

Inverter generators are a type of portable generators. They have increased fuel efficiency. Inverter generators have an electronic throttle that varies engine speed based on power needs. Honda is a well-known manufacturer of portable generators with inversion engines, although you can find other options, too.

Make sure you never run an inverter generator, or any type of portable generator, in an enclosed space. They emit carbon monoxide when running, which can quickly lead to carbon monoxide poisoning for everyone in the house. Always leave your portable generator or inverter generator outside in an open area.

Benefits of Whole House Generators

A whole house generator provides more power than any other type. About 5,000 watts will run the basics of a house, such as the lights, heat, refrigerator, and sump pump. A standby generator can produce 20,000 watts or more. You get enough power output to run your house in basically the same way as with grid power.

Also, they can switch on automatically. If the power goes out, the generator kicks in. You don’t have to hit a button or even be home. Automatic start is a great feature for locations where you don’t live year-round, such as a cabin. It’s also the safest option if you require uninterrupted generator power in your home for medical equipment.

They’re quieter than the other types, too. Portable generators have a noise level similar to a loud lawnmower, exceeding 80 decibels or more. The whole house type is much quieter, with noise levels around 62 decibels. Considering you might need to run your generator for several days in a row, the noise level is a concern for both you and your neighbors. 

Finally, they’re organized and easy-to-use. You don’t have to deal with extension cords and you don’t have to lug the whole house generator from storage to your yard whenever you need to use it.

Things to Consider

Whole house power generators do have some drawbacks you’ll want to consider before purchasing.

First, they’re fairly complicated. An experienced electrician is needed to set it up and connect it to your house. Aside from the technical aspects of setup, you might also need to deal with local permits and potential noise issues. If installed incorrectly, a standby generator can damage your home’s electrical system or even kill unsuspecting utility workers, so permits are often strictly enforced.

Their complexity also means they need regular maintenance. Although specifics vary by brand, it’s often recommended that you schedule a professional inspection and tune-up after every time you run your generator for more than 24 hours. You’ll also need to test it once a week (auto-test features are available to make this easier).  

As you might expect, these heavy-duty machines are the priciest option for powering your home. While portable generators typically cost in the low hundreds, most home standby generators are in the low to mid-thousands. Additionally, professional installation, maintenance, and permits increase the cost.

Fortunately, if you plan to use the generator often, the initial high costs might end up worthwhile in the long run. A home standby generator is typically more fuel-efficient than a portable generator. Plus, adding a standby to a home in an area where a power outage is frequent, such as somewhere prone to hurricanes, can potentially increase your home’s value.      

Key Features

You have a variety of features to consider when shopping for a whole house generator.   

Watts

The wattage is the power level the home generator can deliver. It’s often measured in kilowatts (kW), which is the equivalent of 1, 000 watts. Most whole house generators range between 5, 000 watts and 20, 000 watts.

To determine your wattage needs, you’ll need to develop an estimate based on the size of your home and what types of appliances you want to power during a blackout. While specifics vary, here’s a look at general wattage guidelines for household appliances:

  • Plasma TV – 300 watts
  • Home Computer – 68 watts (CPU), 84 watts (monitor)
  • Sump Pump – 1000 watts
  • Microwave – 1000 watts
  • Washing Machine – 1200

Finding the wattage of an appliance typically doesn’t require any specialized knowledge. Most appliances have the wattage printed on the surface. It’s typically listed as a range. For example, a ceiling fan running at high speed requires more wattage than one operating at a lower level.

In some cases, the appliance might only list amperes, but you can easily convert that to watts. Multiply the amps by the voltage used. In the US, almost all appliances use 120 volts. However, a few larger ones, such as washing machines, dryers, and electric ranges, operate on 240 volts.  

Air Conditioner Operation

When the power goes out, do you want to operate your air conditioning or HVAC system? As one of the most power-hungry appliances in any home, keeping an HVAC system running for any significant amount of time requires a fairly powerful standby generator.

If your power goes out during hot summer months, life inside can get uncomfortable quickly without AC. Also, while staying comfortably warm during cold months is important, another reason you might want heat during winter weather is to help protect pipes from freezing and bursting.

Determining the wattage needs of your air conditioning unit is simple. A data plate is printed on the exterior with the unit’s size, measured in either BTUs or tons. Every 12,000 BTUs, or every ton, requires 3.517 kilowatts of energy.

Starting Watts vs. Running Watts

The last aspect of watts to understand is the difference between starting watts and running watts. Many appliances require a surge of power to start, but then they require less power to operate. Starting watts are almost always higher than running watts.

Your generator needs enough power capacity to handle the starting watts of all the appliances that you turn on simultaneously and a sufficient capacity of running watts to maintain their use.

Fuel Source

Most whole house generators are powered by one of four fuel types:

  • Gasoline
  • Natural Gas
  • Propane
  • Solar Power

Gasoline is the most common. It’s affordable and widely available, although it requires adequate ventilation, which does affect where you can place the generator in relation to your house. Another issue with gasoline is that you’ll need to add stabilizers, so it doesn’t go bad if it sits in the tank unused for long periods.

Also, the size of the fuel tank plays a key role in the generator’s run time. Even a large fuel tank will likely only last a day or two before it needs refueling, which is something to consider if you need to deal with an extended power outage.

Liquid propane (LP) and Natural Gas (NG) are also popular, although connecting any lines to your generator might require the help of a professional. Additionally, you’ll need space on your property for storage tanks. However, both fuels are clean-burning, affordable, and reliable.

Some generators give you options, such as the ability to run on either propane or gasoline. While they often cost a bit more, the ability to use multiple types of fuel obviously increases the reliability and run time of the generator. Another benefit here is that you don’t have to worry about fuel capacity.     

Automatic Start

We mentioned auto-start before, but it’s important to note that it’s not included on every whole house generator. If you want a generator for your primary residence, and you plan to stay home during any potential emergency, then you can save a bit by skipping an auto-start.

However, in many situations, it’s mandatory. You don’t want a sump pump to stop working during a flood or your HVAC system to fail during a sudden drop in temperatures. If there’s any reasonable chance you won’t be at home during a disaster, then the automatic start feature is a must-have.

Electronic Start

An electronic start lets you press a button to operate the machine. Less expensive models use a traditional recoil start (with a coiled rope and spring tension). Note that many models with an electric start still require a manual start initially. 

Self-Tests

You can cut down on maintenance by selecting a unit with a self-test feature. It periodically runs the generator automatically, testing the system’s performance. Also known as “exercise,” a self-test is a fairly common feature that provides peace of mind. 

Transfer Switch

A transfer switch is a special type of cable that connects your home standby generator to your home’s circuit panel. It allows for the safe switching of power from the grid to the generator.

Failure to use a transfer switch, or failing to install it correctly, can cause serious, life-threatening problems. It can fry anything pulled into the wall, damage the generator, cause problems with local power stations, and even shock utility workers who are nowhere near your home.

Always hire a professional to install the transfer switch. They’ll find the right switch based on the amperage in your house. A transfer switch for a 220-volt input requires a generator of 5,000 volts or more. A 200-amp main breaker is the most common, although you can find 100 and 150-amp service in older homes.

Top Brands

Standby generators for the home are large and fairly extensive devices. You won’t find a huge array of companies that make them. Instead, a handful of manufacturers have established themselves as market leaders. Here’s a closer look at the top names in generators:

Briggs & Stratton

As the world’s largest producer of small engines, Briggs & Stratton is a well-known name among contractors, professional landscapers, DIYers, and anyone else familiar with medium to large tools and machines.

They offer a wide range of portable generators suitable for household and light commercial uses. They also have a robust selection of inverter generators, which are more fuel-efficient.

While their selection of home generators is relatively small, they still rank among the best available. They’re known for their strength, too. You can find Briggs & Stratton generators that produce an impressive 48,000 watts. (Most of their other options are in more of a mid-range, about 8,000 to 20,000 watts.)  

Champion

Champion is a California-based company founded in 2003. Although relatively new, at least compared to B&S’s 100 years in business, they’ve quickly established themselves as an industry leader in home generators, logging equipment, and landscaping gear.

They don’t offer a huge selection in Standby, but what they have is well-done. Their smallest is an 8.5kW unit with a 50-amp indoor switch. On the large side, they have a 14kW unit with a 200-amp whole house switch. In between, they have a 12.5kW unit.

Aside from their general high-quality, another reason to check out a Champion generator is if you’re looking for an option that’s small and quiet.

Generac

The Generac brand is thoroughly intertwined with home backup generators. Established in 1959, they’re the first company to sell generators specifically made for home use. Today, they offer the industry’s largest line of generators, covering everything from a small home to a large commercial building.

They offer some of the strongest options around, with some units capable of delivering two megawatts (two million). Of course, that’s not really practical for home use, but it does show the company’s impressive capabilities.

Kohler

Kohler Power is another well-established seller in this space. They’re a family-owned company that first launched in 1920. Their initial products were home and business lighting systems, making them the first company to build modern-day generators.

Today, they continue to innovate, recently winning the 2020 Product of the Year Silver Award by Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine. They offer a solid variety of different options for every fuel type, including a nice selection for Diesel. Aside from their generators, they also have unique maintenance products, such as specialty coolants.   

Truthfully, you won’t find major downsides to any of the top manufacturers. Many companies that helped develop the product still dominate the space, and the few new arrivals have proven they can make products that are just as effective.

If you’re comparing generators between any of the above manufacturers, you can focus less on the specific manufacturer and more on the specifications and price as they relate to your needs.    

Pricing

How much do generators cost? It’s a tricky question.

The most obvious cost is the unit itself. Specifics vary, but generally you’re looking at around $3,000 to $5,000 for something that can generate between 10 and 15kW of power. The next level up are units that generate between 20 and 40kW. They typically run between $5,000 and $20,000.

However, the unit’s cost doesn’t always give you the clearest financial picture. First, you’ll need to spend on professional installation from possibly more than one professional. Obviously, you’ll need to hire an electrician to set up your generator and hook it to your house. You also might need to hire someone to create a custom cement pad for your generator, which can run $85 an hour or more.

Next, you’ll need to consider operation and maintenance costs. For example, propane is typically cheaper than gasoline in the long run, but you might have to pay for the one-time installation of a tank.

Ultimately, you want to consider the purpose of the generator to help determine its real value. If you’re looking for something to keep the lights on and food cold during a brief blackout at home, then you probably don’t need to spend a bundle. However, if you need to protect your property from serious damage, such as by maintaining a sump pump, spending more today on a generator can save you from costly home repairs in the future.

Maintenance Tips

The key to keeping your home power generator in great shape is knowing what maintenance you can do yourself and what’s better handled by a professional.

There’s good news here. You can save, while remaining safe, by performing quite a few tasks on your own. They are:

Conduct a Monthly Test Run

Run the generator for at least 30 minutes every 30 days. It helps keep all the moving components inside from seizing and sticking.

Of course, always follow all safety protocols when operating the generator. It’s surprisingly easy to forget the basics when you’re conducting a routine test. Make sure the generator is correctly connected to your home’s power system. Also, unplug appliances as necessary to avoid overloading the generator. Watch the starting wattage needs of everything you leave plugged in.

Replace Simple Components

Err on the side of replacement when it comes to items like spark plugs, fuel filters, air filters, and any other small item that undergo wear-and-tear during normal operations. Swapping out old components for new ones is usually easy, fast, and affordable. When your generator starts out with new components, it can run for longer sessions without an issue.

Monitor the Oil Level

Most quality generators have a clear oil gauge, and many also have a warning or auto-shutoff system activated by low oil levels. As with replacing small components, you want to pay close attention to this seemingly simple aspect. Low oil levels can result in major damage and even total loss of function. Adding oil during a storm isn’t ideal, or even always possible, so stay prepared ahead of time.

Add Fuel Stabilizer

A fuel stabilizer is an additive that helps keep gasoline functioning correctly even if after long periods of sitting in the tank. It helps control and prevents the buildup of rust, sediment, and corrosion. Compared to propane and natural gas, gasoline does require more maintenance. A fuel stabilizer plays a key role in keeping your generator ready to work.

When to Call a Professional

For anything else, you’ll likely want to call a professional.

Don’t mess around with your home’s electrical system unless you’re a qualified electrician. The potential for accidental injury or death, for you or even an unsuspectingly utility worker in your neighborhood, is too high.

Likewise, call for help if you suspect any type of issue with fuel lines. Even if you’re working outside, working on potentially damaged fuel systems puts you at risk for carbon monoxide exposure, toxic fume inhalation, and other invisible dangers.

FAQ

Do you still have questions? If so, we may be able to address them with these FAQs.

What is a Whole House Generator?

A whole house generator is a fuel-based machine that generates electrical power for your home. Depending on its size, and your home energy needs, it can power either select circuits in your house or supply all energy needs.

What Wattage Do I Need?

While home electrical usage varies, 5,000 watts (5kW) will power most household systems such as lights, appliances, power tools, and computers.

If you want to operate your HVAC system, you’ll likely need more power. To truly run all your household systems without worrying too much about moderating their use, you’ll need 20kW or more.

How Does A Whole Home Generator Work?

Whole house generators connect directly to your home’s electrical system via an Automatic Transfer Switch. If a grid power outage is detected, the backup system kicks in instantly. You don’t have to manually turn it on. 

How Do I Install A Whole House Generator?

Connecting a permanent backup power system is a professional job. Mistakes during installation can damage your home’s electrical system, disrupt your city’s power grid, and result in serious injury (or worse). Don’t attempt to install these products yourself.

What Fuel Is Used For a Whole Home Generator?

Home generators run on either gasoline, natural gas, or propane. Gasoline does require a bit more maintenance than other fuel sources because you need to prevent it from going bad. It is quite common to plug the generator into a home’s natural gas line.

How Much Do Home Generators Cost?

Prices vary based on size but typically range in the low thousands for a general-purpose generator. However, they can also dramatically increase your family’s safety during a disaster. Plus, they can help prevent expensive home damage, such as by maintaining a sump pump during a blackout.

Who Needs a Home Generator?

Anyone who lives in an area that experiences frequent power loss can benefit from a backup power source. They’re popular protection against blackouts caused by hurricanes, snowstorms, and other natural disasters, as well as anywhere where grid electricity is less than reliable.

While portable generators have a lower price tag than standbys, they’re really not suitable for powering your entire home for days on end during major power outages. Portable generators can’t stand up to extreme environmental conditions as well as the best home options, and they don’t have sufficient fuel capacity.

Final Thoughts

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