Five Tips for Buying Backup Power – Part 1

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What Types of Generators Are There?
Generators come in two basic types: standby and portable. There also are inverters, which are not generators but may meet your needs. The source of backup power you ultimately choose will be determined by many factors, including your power requirements.

Standby Generators: A standby generator is permanently installed outside your home or commercial building and wired directly into the electrical system to provide power to some or all of your home's circuits during a disruption of normal utility power. Standby generators are fueled by liquid propane or natural gas.

The number of circuits to which a standby generator can provide power--and the number of appliances you can run on those circuits--is determined by the power capacity of the generator.

Standby generators are about the same size as, and look similar to, a standard central air conditioner. A standby model may cost as little as $1,500 or as much as $15,000 or more--the greater the power capacity, the higher the cost.

Portable Generators: Portable generators are versatile. You can use them for

  • emergency power at home,

  • for power in remote locations where utility power is unavailable, or

  • for recreational purposes, like boating or camping.

Portable generators are fueled by gasoline and include 120-volt power outlets like the ones in the walls of your home. When the generator is running, you can plug appliances and tools directly into these outlets. Some generators also include 240-volt outlets (that is, the kind of outlet for an electric dryer or for other large appliances).

Portable generators range in cost between a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the capacity and features.

Inverters: Inverters turn DC power into AC power, the type of current that powers everyday appliances. A common use of an inverter is to connect one into a car's cigarette lighter and then plug small home appliances into the inverter.

Inverters have added features over the years, and today many inverters include emergency radios, lights, or their own internal battery to store power.

When you purchase an inverter, you need one that can handle the wattage of the appliances you intend to connect to it. Some inverters are made specifically to power low-wattage appliances, like portable phones or digital music players. Others can handle heavy-duty power tools.

If you're buying an inverter that's powered by its own battery, you'll have to consider how many hours the inverter can provide power before needing a recharge.

The rest of this buying guide focuses solely on standby and portable generators.