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For Electric Cooperative Members

A Buyer’s Guide to Residential Generators

Know your options and needs before you purchase

Let’s face it: Rough weather happens. At your electric cooperative, our goal is to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. But when a major storm hits, like the ice storm in February, power may be out for an extended time. Anyone who has experienced an extended power outage has likely mulled over the idea of buying a generator, but before you do, make sure you have all the facts.

Let’s look at the decisions you’ll need to make when it comes to purchasing a residential generator. First, do you want to power your entire home or just portions of it? The biggest drawback to a permanently installed, whole-house generator is the cost. While the advantages are significant, it’s a big expense.

The next decision is sizing the generator to your particular situation. Online tools abound, so if you like to research, just type “generator sizing guide” into your browser and you’ll find plenty of resources. A nice portable generator provides at least 6,500 watts with a startup capacity of around 8,000 watts. When motor loads start, they draw more power than they use when running. This “in rush” of power gets them spinning. Afterward, their demand for electricity decreases.

The third consideration is how to integrate the generator with your home. Permanent models have dedicated switching devices that handle this chore, while portable models require you to remove them from storage, set them up, connect them and start them. Here is where the danger comes in to play.

Improperly connected generators can easily backfeed your electric cooperative’s grid. As electricity flows back into the lines, the transformers boost the voltage to lethal levels. Be sure to closely follow connection instructions and contact us if you have any questions regarding connecting your generator safely.

Use of the generator can be as simple as plugging appliances directly into it. This is cumbersome and very limiting. A better option is to have a transfer switch installed by a qualified electrician. This device connects to the circuits you want to power. Connect your generator to the dedicated plug, follow the disconnect procedure and fire it up. Now you’ve got power for your home that’s safe for all.

Next, a word about quality. With generators, you definitely get what you pay for. Go for engines with recognizable brand names. They may cost more, but the investment generally is worth it.

It’s important to exercise your portable generator regularly. Don’t worry, you don’t need to walk your generator—it’s not that type of exercise. Exercise in this case means connecting load to your portable generator and turning it on to be sure it will run. As a general rule, a generator should be exercised for about 30 minutes without a load at least once a month. Testing with a load should be done on a monthly or quarterly basis.