Are you looking for a whole house generator system to supply you and your family with power during emergency situations and power outages?
In this article we're going to help you determine how much power you need and which models are best suited for your particular geographic area.
If you are looking for a smaller generator capable of running just a few necessities check out our 2000w inverter generator reviews.
Home standby generators can offer you and your family peace of mind that you'll have power in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. These house generators are ready 24/7 and can switch on within seconds of a power outage.
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Reliability is key when it comes to choosing the best whole house generator for your particular needs, but there are other considerations as well.
Noise levels (dB), power output (wattage), fuel source (natural gas vs propane), and fuel consumption are also important components.
Power is measured in wattage. You can use the table at the bottom of this article to get an idea of how much power you'll need to run the necessary appliances in a power outage.
When it comes to reliability, the 40484 generator from Briggs & Stratton is the best standby generator on the market. It offers 20,000 watts which is enough to power 2 air conditioning units as well as a whole host of other items.
The package includes a 150 Amp transfer switch. This is large enough for most residential applications, but you should calculate your total amperage to be certain.
The unit will automatically sense when power is lost and switch on. This means that within minutes your power will be restored.
It can operate on both propane or natural gas, giving you a reliable source of power during even extended outages.
One of the biggest selling points of this house generator is the Briggs & Stratton "Managed Whole House Power
The motor is built to industrial specifications and is designed to last. The displacement is 993cc and it consumes 2.31 gallons per hour of fuel at a 50% load using liquid propane (187 ft3 /hr natural gas).
Natural Gas ft³/hr (m³/hr)
1/2 Load - 187 ft³/hr
Full Load - 260 ft³/hr
Liquid Propane (gal/hr)
1/2 Load - 2.31gal/hr
Full Load - 3.75gal/hr
The noise level is comparable to an idling car. Basically it's quiet enough that you and your neighbors should never hear it.
The unit comes with a 4 year warranty.
The unit does require level ground for installation so you'll either need a concrete slab or other solution. It can be located as close as 18" from your home so it's ideal for neighborhoods with small lot lines.
Serious DIYers can handle most of the installation themselves. But the installation of the transfer switch involves working with the 240V service feed to your home. This should be handled ONLY by a qualified electrician.
For more information you can read our full review of the Briggs and Stratton.
While the Briggs & Stratton costs a bit more than the second place Generac, the extra power can mean all the difference in a medium to large sized home. Powering multiple AC units in addition to all your other household devices ensures the least amount of disruption for you and your family.
Generac has a reputation for quality and this unit is no exception.
It comes with a 5 year warranty and Generac has an extensive network of installation and maintenance resources around the country. They also offer 24/7 support for their generators.
While it is only rated for 16,000W the Generac does has a 992cc (vs 993cc for the B&S) engine. It's powerful enough to power most small homes including an AC unit, water pumps, heaters, and a variety of small electronics. The engine is enclosed in a sound dampened enclosure that is powder coated to ensure longevity.
Generac's "True Power" technology provides clean and stable power at less than 5% harmonic distortion. This is essentially as clean or better than the power you're currently getting from your utility company.
The unit can run on either liquid propane or natural gas. Liquid propane requires at least a 250 gallon tank stored on-site.
The 6462 standby generator comes with a composite mounting pad, but it still requires a flat, level space for installation. Ideally this would be poured concrete in an area that is not prone to flooding. Generac dealers can supply a pre-cast concrete form that is produced specifically for this model.
Natural Gas ft³/hr (m³/hr)
1/2 Load - 193 (5.47)
Full Load - 312 (8.83)
Liquid Propane ft3/hr (gal/hr) [liter/hr]
1/2 Load - 72.4 (1.9) [7.2]
Full Load - 130 (3.19) [12.07]
As with the other home generators in this comparison it is recommended to have the Generac professionally installed. This will ensure that all local codes are met and optimal performance of the unit is achieved. As previously mentioned the unit comes with a 200A automatic transfer switch that should be installed at the service feed by a licensed electrician.
For an additional cost you can also purchase the pre-cast concrete slab that is specifically designed for Generac products.
Generac has been making some of the best standby generators on the market for a long time. The Guardian series is a very robust and reliable product. It finished second in our comparison because for slightly more in price the Briggs & Stratton offers more power, flexibility, and better fuel efficiency when running natural gas.
Rated for 11,000W this generator has a 530cc engine. While not as powerful as it's bigger brother, it's capable of powering most small homes' essential items including an AC unit, water pumps, heaters, and a few small electronics. The engine is enclosed in a sound dampened enclosure that is powder coated to ensure longevity.
Utilizing Generac's "True Power" technology it supplies clean and stable power at less than 5% harmonic distortion. This is basically as good or better than the power you're currently getting from your utility company and should be ideal for sensitive electronics as well as larger appliances.
Natural Gas ft³/hr (m³/hr)
1/2 Load - 124 (3.51)
Full Load - 195 (5.52)
Liquid Propane ft3/hr (gal/hr) [liter/hr]
1/2 Load - 42.8 (1.18) [4.45]
Full Load - 70 (1.92) [7.28]
Professional installation of this home generator is highly recommended. This will ensure that all local codes are met and optimal performance of the unit is achieved. As previously mentioned the unit comes with a 200A automatic transfer switch that should be installed at the service feed by a licensed electrician.
The generator will run on either natural gas or propane. Generac recommends at least a 250 gallon liquid propane tank.
While not as powerful as it's larger sibling, the 6438 is a great generator for smaller homes. It most likely won't allow you to run everything in the house, but can handle the essential appliances as well as water heater, AC, and water pumps. Overall it's great budget option.
The first step in determining the best standby generator for your needs is to decide which components of your home you will need in an emergency. Backup generators can power an entire home, or only selected circuits.
There is a direct correlation between the power output and price on most models so it helps to have a basic understanding of the devices you'll need in the event that you lose electrical power.
You can use the table below to calculate your power requirements based on power consumption of common household appliances.
**It's important to remember that appliances with motors such as AC units, water pumps, and furnaces can pull 2 to 3 times their specified wattage upon startup so make sure the generator you select has enough capacity to handle this startup load..**
Our Top Pick: Briggs & Stratton 20,000W
Refrigerator / Freezer
2,000 - 4,000
400 - 800
Electric Range (Oven)
1,200 - 1,500
700 - 1,400
1,100 - 1,700
3,000 - 4,500
500 - 1,000
1,000 - 2,000
500 - 2,000
*The wattages listed above are approximations. You can find the exact power requirements of all your household appliances in the users manual or online.
While it's great to have power for entertainment devices such as a TV, your initial focus should be on the things you NEED. Items such as the refrigerator, furnace, and water heaters and pumps should get first priority. Then non-critical devices such as coffeemakers, TVs, and hair dryers should be considered.
Once you've got a list of all the appliances you need simply add all of the wattages together. Again, remember that some items can pull 2 to 3 times more power at startup so this needs to be incorporated into the total.
You can then use this number as the starting point for selecting the best generator for your home.
Amps = Total Watts / Voltage
So a 1000W device that plugs into a 120V outlet would pull roughly 8 amps.
Another important consideration when choosing the type of generator you'll need is the fuel source that will be used to power it. There are a wide variety of options. But permanently installed generators typically run on natural gas or liquid propane. Diesel options are also available, but require storage tanks.
**Those in earthquake prone areas should give consideration to propane as natural gas lines can be ruptured thus denying your generator it's fuel source.**
Unless you are a qualified electrician it's generally better to have a professional install your standby generator. At a minimum connections must be made to your homes electrical system. And depending on your chosen fuel source it may require gas hookups as well.
Part of the installation also involves adding a transfer switch. There are a couple different varieties. Manual versions require you to fire up the generator and switch over to using it as your primary power source.
Automatic versions can sense when the power goes out, fire up the generator, and switch to it's power once it's online with no work required from you. Obviously the automatic type systems are more convenient, but also involve more costs.
When it comes to providing backup power reliability is key. These three models offer enough output to power essential services such as heat, AC, and water and have enough power left over to operate lights and other non-essential items.
Generator installation costs can vary depending on your area and how much you can do yourself.
Your local code authority will have the final say in electrical, gas, and plumbing installations. The codes will vary by locality but here are a few things they typically specify:
The contractors you hire should be well versed in local codes and in ensuring that your installation is performed in accordance with these codes.
Let's take a quick look at how these systems are designed to work.
If you're looking for a more budget friendly option and don't mind having to do a little bit of legwork you can also use a portable model as your backup generator. One option is the Honda EU2000i. You can read more about it here. Another popular model is the Westinghouse inverter based model. We review it here.
You can even take a look at some options that use solar power. The Yeti-400 is a great solar-powered generator which we review in this article.
Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and can contact him via email.