Are Home Standby Generators the Next Must-Have Appliance?
There was a time in the mid-1970s when the first video cassette recorders (VCRs) started showing up in people's homes. By 1989, it was unusual not to find a VCR in living rooms across the world.
In 1971, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1 percent of U.S. households owned a microwave oven. By 1986, that figure had risen to 25 percent, and today microwaves are ubiquitous in kitchens the world over.
Until the mid-1980s, personal computers were a rarity in homes. By 2016, according to the American Community Survey, 89 percent of U.S. households had a PC.
Now, a new appliance is poised to become just as common as video recording devices, microwaves, and PCs, and it's the home standby generator.
A recent series of disasters
In February 2021, a ferocious cold front rolled across the state of Texas, causing power outages that affected more than 4.5 million homes and businesses. At least 210 people died as a result of the outage, and some experts believe that number could be as high as 700.
Without electricity, sump and septic pumps didn't run, homes were without heat, causing water pipes to freeze, and food spoiled in refrigerators and freezers.
In August 2021, Hurricane Ida laid waste to a large swath of the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. Over a million people were left without electricity for air conditioning and food storage amid stifling temperatures.
Also in August 2021, the state of Michigan suffered heavy rains and flooding which left almost 1 million homes and businesses without power for up to several days.
The summer of 2021 also brought heat waves to the West Coast, and California's electricity and gas provider, Pacific Gas and Electric, warned its customers that rolling blackouts were a possibility.
Add to that the near-constant threat that wildfires pose to the electricity grid, and it's easy to see why residents were more than a little nervous. There is, however, an appliance that can supply electricity to an entire house for weeks at a time if need be, it's called a home standby generator.
Differences between portable and standby generators
Portable generators have been used for decades by construction contractors, campers, and football game tailgaters. These small units can be noisy, producing up to 90 decibels, and they must be set up a safe distance away to avoid carbon monoxide fumes. Portable generators must be filled with gasoline, and you must then run heavy-duty extension cords from the generator to whatever you want to power.
Standby generators are large devices that sit outside a home and are permanently connected to both a natural gas or propane line, and a house's electrical system. They have an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS), which detects when there is a disruption to power and the generator automatically starts. Once power is restored, the ATS automatically shuts off the generator.
Home standby generators are not cheap, typically costing between $2,000 and $6,000, or more. And, their installation must be done by a professional since they hook both into a home's natural gas or propane line and its electrical system.
To power an entire house, you’ll need a generator that provides at least 8,000 watts. This will power all the lights, heating/cooling systems, and household appliances in a typical mid-sized home. Home standby generators come in various wattages, with the most powerful offering up to 20,000 watts of power.
Standby generators are large, weighing up to 600 pounds (272 kg), and they must be placed on a flat surface, such as gravel or concrete, near a home's gas or propane line. In areas that are prone to flooding, standby generators are not recommended since they, along with your home, will be swamped by floodwaters.
We're going to take a look at the five top-selling home backup generators in the U.S.
Today, one company dominates the U.S. domestic home generator market — Generac. Its generators account for more than 70 percent of all standby generators sold in America.
Based in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Generac has been around for a long time, 62 years to be exact, but since the start of 2019, the company's stock has risen an astounding 800 percent.
Since June 2020 alone, Generac's profits have doubled, and according to an article by Bloomberg, sales of Generac's home backup generators nearly doubled during the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year.
Much of this increase can be traced to more people working from home during the COVID pandemic, and thus, the need for reliable electricity.
Generac offers some of the most powerful air-cooled generators on the market, with its 22-Kilowatt 70432 Guardian and the Generac 24kW being the most popular. Generac's generators supply what's called "utility grade power," meaning that the electricity created by the generator is the same quality as that provided by electric utilities. This is vitally important for sensitive electronics such as laptops, and modern appliances.
Generac generators range in power from 7.5 kilowatts to 24 kilowatts, and they feature a built-in monitoring system that allows owners to view their generator's operation from a smartphone, tablet, or a laptop from anywhere in the world.
Briggs and Stratton
Another standby home generator manufacturer is engine maker Briggs and Stratton, which is also based in Wisconsin. They offer generators in five power capacities, ranging from 8 kilowatts all the way up to 20 kilowatts. Like Generac, Briggs and Stratton also promises "quality, clean power [to] safely power electronics and appliances," and they also offer different automatic transfer switch configurations, which determine how the home backup generator comes online once the electrical power goes out.
Briggs and Stratton offers an industry-leading warranty that covers parts, labor, and travel for a full five years, while some other makers only warranty their parts for that time period.
Famed engine maker Cummins offers standby generators that are designed specifically to operate in colder temperatures. Out of the box, their standard generators operate at down to 0 degrees F (-18 C), and with additional accessories, they can operate far below that.
Cummins offers three power capacities, 13 kilowatts, 17 kilowatts, and 20 kilowatts. The 20-kilowatt unit includes an automatic transfer switch (ATS). Cummins claims their standby generators operate at just 65 dB(A) so they aren't likely to disturb neighbors.
Champion Power Equipment provides home standby generators primarily for the U.S. and Canadian markets. Champion generators feature an intelligent load management system that divides a home into prioritized zones, and a two-battery, 24-volt starting system that allows starts in temperatures as low as -22 degrees F (-30 C).
Champion generators feature sturdy steel enclosures and mounting pads which the company claims will stand up to hurricanes. Champion also offers a 10-year limited warranty.
Kohler Power Systems has been providing standby power generators to rural farms and homes since 1920. Its most popular model, the 20-kilowatt 20RESCL, includes a 200-amp automatic transfer switch.
Like their competitors, Kohler promises "high-quality power with advanced voltage and frequency regulation plus low harmonic distortion." The company also touts its "excellent starting capability for heavy-duty motors in air conditioners, well pumps, and other high-voltage appliances."
Kohler corrosion-proof enclosures are designed for harsh environments and coastal installations, and temperatures down to -30 degrees F (-34 C).
Lower wattage options
If the price of home standby generators is a little rich for your blood, you can choose a generator that produces less wattage. Mid-sized inverters provide up to 3,500 watts, but they can only power 110-volt items, and they won't provide enough power for things like well pumps, or heating and cooling units.
Mid-sized inverters weigh around 150 pounds (68 kg) and cost between $1,000 and $1,700. Fueled with gasoline, a mid-sized inverter can keep your lights and refrigerator running.
The next step up is a portable generator, but that name is misleading, since most units weigh around 300 pounds (136 kg). They provide up to 7,500 watts of power and typically cost between $700 and $2,800. A portable generator will provide enough electricity to run a well pump and most of the electricity needs of a typical household. They can even be wired directly into your home's electrical breaker panel, but this must be done by a professional and may not be cheap.
Portable generators should be protected if they are placed where snow or rain can get to them.
Large inverters provide up to 7,500 watts of power and weigh between 250 and 350 pounds. They cost between $1,400 and $4,000 and they will provide enough electricity to power lights, a refrigerator, and a small air conditioner. Large inverters run on gasoline and not natural gas or propane.
Return on investment
According to Remodeling Magazine’s recent Cost Vs. Value Report, a $12,860 standby generator increases a home's resale value by $6,940. That means a standby generator provides a 54 percent return on investment.
But, a standby generator may provide other value. It makes a property more attractive to buyers, and in some cases, a standby generator can lower insurance costs for a home.
The bottom line is that standby generators offer peace of mind in a world with increasing natural disasters and electricity disruptions, and that makes them the next must-have appliance.