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What Size Generator Do I Need?

Don’t pay more for a generator size you don’t need! Here’s how to determine the right generator for your household.

So you need to buy a generator? Congratulations! This is one of the most important emergency-preparedness decisions you can make as a homeowner. It’s also a great decision in the name of fun. But what size generator you purchase depends greatly on a variety of factors. You’ll need to take into consideration how you plan to use it and how large of a space (or how many appliances) it needs to power. When it comes to generator size, bigger is not always better. If you invest in a unit that’s more than you need, you may end up wasting power and money. Make a smart investment by reading up on the different options available to you. Here are the crucial considerations you need to make when buying a generator.

How Generator Size Is Measured

Although you’ll want to take physical size into consideration, generator size is really measured by another factor: Watts. Wattage is the amount of power your portable or home generator puts out. Higher wattage means more power. So generally speaking, a “big” generator is a powerful one with high wattage. A “small” generator may be physically little, but when we use that term, we really mean that it has a less impactful power output. (Remember: That’s not necessarily a bad thing!)

The “smallest” types of generators are portable generators. This variety typically begins at 3,000 watts; most portable generators don’t operate at more than 10,000 watts. Home standby generators typically start at about 5,000 watts, and can put out as many as 20,000 watts. There are outliers, however; teeny-tiny generators can output as little as 800 watts, and mega varieties can provide as many as 500,000 watts. (For the average homeowner, 500,000 is comically large).

Keep this in mind: Your generator requires both starting wattage and running wattage. The starting wattage is the amount of power needed to get things going, and running wattage is the amount required to, well, keep it running. With some exceptions, it takes three times the amount of wattage to start a generator as it does to run it.

Backup Generators: How Many Appliances Will You Need To Power?

Backup Generators

If you simply want to keep a few key appliances running in case of an unexpected power outage — for example, your refrigerator and a few light fixtures — a low wattage portable generator will do the trick. You can store it in a garage or basement when not in use; it won’t take up much room. Just remember that when in use, all generators should be positioned outside, and at least 20 feet away from your living space.

Whole House Generators

If you want to power a whole house in case of emergency, a whole house standby generator may be the better option for you. These are stationary units, typically located outside and near the foundation of your house. They’re powerful units, and can ensure that the essentials continue running as well as “extras” like a television or entertainment system.

Generators For An RV

Going camping or traveling? You will need to power the essentials in your recreational vehicle. A portable generator is necessary for your RV. With some exceptions, a 30-amp RV can get by with a 3,000 watt generator, while a 50-amp RV needs a 4,000 watt generator. This depends, of course, how many appliances and functions you want to keep running once you’re set up onsite.

How To Determine What Size Generator You Need

This requires a little math. Before you buy a generator, you need to determine which appliances you want to power. Then, you’ll have to research how much wattage each one requires to run. Add up the wattage needs for all of your HVAC systems, your appliances, plus the starting wattage of your generator, and you’ve got the total wattage you need. That number will guide your decision in which specific model of generator is best for you.

How do you find the wattage needs for your major appliances? This information can typically be found in owner’s manuals. On average, refrigerators require 600-800 watts, while a small lamp needs just 150. (You’ll have to budget about 1,500 watts for that hair dryer!) You can also consult with an electrical contractor to determine these amounts.

Additionally, you will want to call your local HVAC company to schedule a consultation. Here, they can inspect your current system, let you know the wattage requirement for your heating and cooling needs, and offer any potential updates for greater efficiency.

While there are many different varieties of generators, it’s important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” option. In fact, you may find it worthwhile to invest in more than one generator for your family’s different needs. But whether you use it to power regular weekend fun or just need it a few times a year, what size generator you get will determine how efficient it is for your unique needs.

Contact Blanton’s Air at (910) 249-4898 for all your Fayetteville or Raleigh, NC HVAC and plumbing needs.


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