The purpose of a generator is to provide power to appliances, electronic devices, and lighting in remote locations, like campsites or in an RV, but when the power goes out at home, a portable generator isn’t going to have the necessary output to supply the entire house. If power outages are a regular occurrence or they are a significant concern for you and your family, then consider investing in a standby generator.
These large devices become semipermanent fixtures in your home with a line that runs directly to the electrical system, ensuring that when the power goes out, the standby generator will automatically start up and get your power back on within minutes. The list of products below highlights some of the top options available, and it’s a great place to start the search for the best standby generator for backup power at home.
- BEST OVERALL: Generac Protector QS 27000-Watt (LP)/25000-Watt (NG)
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Generac PowerPact 7500-Watt (LP)/6000-Watt (NG)
- BEST FOR SMALL HOMES: Champion 12.5-kW Home Standby Generator
- BEST FOR LARGE HOMES: Generac Protector 36000-Watt (LP)/36000-Watt (NG)
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Standby Generator
Don’t rush the decision when trying to figure out which standby generator would be the best for your home. Take some time to consider important features like the power needs of the home, the size of the generator in power output, and what type of fuel source would be the most suitable. With a better understanding of these features, you will be prepared to make an informed decision about the best standby generator for backup power.
Power Needs and Size
When deciding on the best standby generator to provide power to the home, you first need to consider the power needs of the home. Check the wattage on essential appliances, like the fridge, stove, freezer, and furnace. Add the wattage of all essential appliances together to find out the total wattage necessary to run the home. This wattage will typically fall between 5,000 and 7,500 watts, though it’s advised to find a generator that can provide more than the minimum required.
The size of a generator actually refers to the electrical output and not the physical size. Standby generators can range from as low as 7,500 watts for small homes to over 50,000 watts for large homes, though most fall between 20,000 watts and 30,000 watts. These units have a starting watts level that refers to the electrical output when the generator is first starting. It’s usually about 2,000 watts higher than the running watts output, which is the rating given to the continuous output of electricity when the generator has been running for more than a few minutes.
Always use the running watts rating when deciding on the best standby generator for your appliances because the starting watts rating isn’t a reliable measurement of the generator’s capabilities.
There are several options to choose from when trying to figure out the best fuel source for the standby generator including natural gas, liquid propane, diesel, and dual-fuel options.
- Natural gas (NG) as a fuel source is relatively common when it comes to standby generators. The semipermanent installation of these large devices prompts some users to connect the generator directly to their natural gas line so they never need to worry about refueling the generator. However, natural gas is the least efficient fuel source available, though these generators make up for the inefficiency with a relatively clean exhaust output when compared to diesel generators.
- Liquid propane (LP) as a fuel source is the most commonly used option for standby generators. Propane is a clean-burning fuel that’s more efficient than natural gas, and generators that run on propane can either be tied into the home’s primary propane tank or have a private tank specifically for the generator.
- Diesel is a highly efficient fuel source that provides more power per gallon than both natural gas and liquid propane. However, diesel generators can be difficult to find, and they produce harmful exhaust fumes that may be a problem in a residential neighborhood, depending on the size of the yard, the proximity of neighbors, and the presence of kids or pets.
- Dual-fuel is a feature offered by many standby generator manufacturers, allowing the generator to function with either natural gas or liquid propane. Products with this option are a more versatile choice for users who aren’t sure which fuel is best.
A transfer switch is a common feature on standby generators that connects the generator to the home’s main electrical panel, allowing the user to switch or transfer between the utility’s power grid and the power produced by the generator. Some products have an automatic transfer switch (ATS) that will monitor the incoming power to the house and automatically switch to generator power when it detects a power outage. This process typically takes about 30 seconds to 1 minute, ensuring that the home is never without electricity.
Automatic transfer switches are a necessary feature to protect the home when the user isn’t around. Another great feature is remote monitoring, which allows the user to connect to the generator through Wi-Fi to get updates on the function of the generator. This service notifies you when the generator kicks on to provide continuous power, or if it is just turning on for a few minutes to recharge the starting battery, so you can relax knowing that the home is protected from power outages.
Standby generator manufacturers have added various features to make their products more appealing and functional for users, including automatic starts, remote start systems, system status lights, and corrosion-resistant enclosures.
- Automatic start systems monitor the electrical system of the home, and if the power goes out, the system detects the outage, automatically starting the generator within about 1 minute. These systems also regularly run exercise cycles to keep the starting batteries charged.
- Remote start systems can be in the form of a push button, a switch, or even a remote control. This starts up the standby generator without having to go to the transfer switch, and can even include start commands from mobile devices through compatible apps and Wi-Fi connectivity.
- System status lights tell the user when it’s time to perform maintenance so that you only need to look at the generator to stay updated on the current status.
- Corrosion-resistant enclosures are typically made of a composite material or aluminum. These materials prevent rusting, corrosion, and damage from rain, sleet, high humidity, and salt, protecting the generator from ocean spray in coastal cities.
The installation of a standby generator is significantly more involved than simply running a portable generator, so manufacturers will often provide detailed installation instructions, and some companies may even offer prepackaged and prewired systems to help make the installation process easier. However, before deciding to take on this project yourself, figure out whether you have the knowledge and experience to connect the generator directly to the electrical system of the home, whether you should be expanding the gas line, and whether you even know the correct permits needed to install a standby generator according to the local and state code.
If any of these tasks seem outside of your skill set, then it’s advised to hire a professional electrician to connect the wiring and hire a plumber or gas fitter to connect a natural gas or propane gas line to the home supply (if applicable). These professionals will know the correct permits you need, and they will have substantial experience installing standby generators, helping to ensure that the generator is truly reliable in emergency situations.
Our Top Picks
This list of top products was selected based on the important criteria mentioned above, including the power needs and type, the fuel source, installation requirement, transfer switch features, and overall quality, to help you find the best standby generator to keep the lights on when the power goes out.
A standby generator is a necessary feature for homes and neighborhoods that are prone to power outages, especially during the winter months when freezing temperatures can put occupants at risk and cause extensive damage to the infrastructure of the home. This Generac Protector standby generator runs on either propane or natural gas, so it can be connected directly to the home’s fuel supply.
The generator has a running wattage rating of 27,000 watts using liquid propane or 25,000 watts with natural gas, and it is protected by an aluminum enclosure. When connected to an automatic transfer switch (not included), it can detect when the power goes out and automatically start to provide power to the home. This generator also turns on once per week to perform a self-test to make sure that the system is ready in the case of an outage.
Keep a backup system ready in order to support the essential appliances in the home when the power goes out with this Generac PowerPact standby generator that comes with a digital controller with LED indicators for monitoring the generator status, utility power presence, and maintenance required. The generator has a powder-coated steel enclosure that protects it against rain and sleet, though it may be vulnerable to salty sea spray.
Connect either the home propane or natural gas system to the standby generator and get up to 7,500 watts of power on propane and 6,000 watts on natural gas, ensuring that the essential appliances can still run in emergencies, though unnecessary systems, like televisions, may not be able to be used. The generator doesn’t come with a transfer switch, but it can be equipped with a standard or an automatic transfer switch to monitor the home’s power and automatically start when a power outage is detected.
While larger homes can require a substantial amount of electricity to continue functioning when the power goes out, smaller homes have the benefit of only a few essential systems that need to run to keep the home comfortable. The Champion standby generator can operate on either propane to produce up to 12,500 running watts, or natural gas for 11,000 running watts. This electrical output is more than enough for the average 5,000 watts required for essential systems, allowing users to keep the home powered for a long period of time or use nonessential appliances, like televisions and game systems.
The generator comes equipped with an automatic transfer switch to monitor the electrical power of the home and automatically start the generator, returning power to the furnace, fridge, freezer, and other essential appliances. To keep the noise down in residential areas, the Champion standby generator also has a sound-dampening low-tone engine muffler, making it a good choice for tightly-packed neighborhoods.
The average power required to run the essential systems of a home is just 5,000 watts, but if the home isn’t average size, then the consumption can quickly exceed this benchmark. Therefore, it becomes necessary to upgrade to a standby generator that can support the extra systems, helping to keep the whole home powered in emergencies. This Generac standby generator runs on either propane or natural gas, producing 36,000 running watts on either fuel source.
While it doesn’t come with a transfer switch, it is compatible with standard or automatic transfer switches, and users can keep a close eye on the status of the generator with the multilingual controller with a simple LCD text display. The standby generator has a corrosion- and rust-resistant aluminum enclosure, and it performs weekly self-tests to make sure everything is ready when it’s needed.
FAQs About Standby Generators
Even after deciding on the best standby generator for your home, these complex machines can leave new users with a host of questions. Take a look below to get the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about standby generators so that you can feel confident in your decision.
Q. What’s the difference between portable and standby generators?
There are many differences between portable and standby generators. Portable generators are portable, while standby generators are stationary. Standby generators also output a much higher amount of electricity than portable generators, making them suitable for a whole home instead of only powering a camper. In appearance, portable generators are open with exposed engine parts, while standby generators are fully enclosed. Another feature of standby generators that sets them apart from portable generators is the automatic start function that detects when there is a power outage and automatically starts the generator within about one minute.
Q. How do I correctly size a generator for my home?
In order to determine the correct size of a standby generator for your home, find the wattage of the appliances in the home, like the fridge, stove, furnace, and freezer. Add up these numbers to find the necessary wattage to run the home, then look for a generator that can supply the house with a higher amount of electricity. Typically the essential appliances in a home will use about 5,000 watts, so this should be the minimum size for a standby generator.
Q. How long can a standby generator run continuously?
The runtime varies with the size, appliance load, and the type of fuel, but typically a liquid propane generator with a 100-gallon tank of fuel will run for about 50 hours, while a 250-gallon tank runs for about 125 hours.
Q. Can an automatic standby generator replace the utility service?
No, an automatic standby generator is a poor replacement for standard utility service because the fuel costs greatly exceed the cost of electricity from the utility company.
Q. Can I install the generator myself?
It depends on your level of proficiency with electrical systems, fuel systems, and residential permits. While some manufacturers offer prepackaged and prewired systems with installation guides, it may be a better idea to employ a professional electrician to connect the generator to your home and consider using a plumber or gas fitter to connect a natural gas line. These professionals handle this type of work regularly, so there is less chance of a detrimental mistake that could leave you without power when you are expecting the backup.
Q. Does the generator have to be maintained?
Standby generators do need to be regularly maintained, including routine oil changes, replacing air filters, and semi-regular periods of operation to allow the generator to charge the starting battery.
Q. What’s the advantage of an aluminum or composite generator enclosure?
Using aluminum or composite enclosures on a standby generator helps protect the unit from rust and corrosion. These materials are also resistant to salty air and humid conditions, making them a good option for coastal areas.