If your electricity has ever gone out, whether during the winter or in the midst of a summer storm, heat wave or hurricane, you know the value of a home generator.
An extended loss of power can be expensive and destructive to your home, and even a power outage that only lasts a few hours can be costly if you work remotely.
So you may be wondering: How much does a home generator cost, and what should you look for in a generator? Here’s a look at what consumers in the market for a home generator should know.
What Is a Home Generator?
A home generator produces electricity when the power supplied from your electric utility is out. There are numerous types of generators, but they generally fall into four categories:
— Home standby generators. This is the most expensive type of home generator. But if the power goes out, it automatically kicks in.
— Portable generators. Portable generators are much cheaper, and they run on gasoline, diesel or natural gas. But used improperly, carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk, and accidents can occur if the generator is set up too close to a home.
— Inverter generators. Instead of running on gas, inverter generators produce electricity in an alternating current (AC), which is inverted to direct current (DC) and then inverts again back to AC. It’s considered a more environmentally friendly type of home generator, and it operates more quietly than a portable generator.
— Portable power stations. These are also known as solar generators, though not all portable power stations involve solar energy. These are powered by batteries.
How Much Do Home Generators Cost?
Home generators can range in cost from $200 to $20,000, and that doesn’t include installation.
According to home improvement website Fixr.com, the national average cost to purchase and install a whole house generator is $10,000 to $20,000. That said, you can find home generators for as low as $200.
The cost depends mostly on wattage output, says Michael Modica, the East Quogue, New York, owner of GeneratorMag.com.
“One-thousand-watt generators can be had for as little as $200, while 10,000-watt units are much closer to $2,000,” Modica says. “A perfectly good 5,000-watt unit can be had for $500 to $700.”
Modica adds: “A typical three-bedroom home will be able to keep most things running with a 5,000-watt generator.”
The cheapest generators probably aren’t really meant for your home but more like something you would take on a camping trip. And if you’re planning to buy a home generator to power your home, you’ll want to hire a professional to install it, which will add to the overall cost.
How Much Does It Cost to Install a Whole House Generator?
According to HomeGuide.com, which matches professional contractors with homeowners, you should plan to pay an average of $3,000 to $5,000 for the installation of a whole house generator, which doesn’t include the price of buying the generator, so your total costs could be quite a bit more. If you’re buying a generator from the same company that’s installing it, the average cost is $6,000 to $11,000. Costimates.com suggests the average cost of installing a whole house generator is $6,900.
Meanwhile, the cost of installing a portable home generator is $1,200, according to Fixr.com.
The bottom line is that whatever you pay, it will be considerable. But if you’re going to have a whole house generator or a portable home generator installed, given all of the safety risks, you want to do it right. Setting up a backup generator on your own isn’t something you should do on the cheap.
What to Look for in a Home Generator
The wide gulf in price between a low-end home generator and a high-end one hinges on the decision of whether you plan to connect it to a few important electrical circuits or set it up to power your entire home.
There is also the choice between a less-expensive portable generator and a home standby generator. Home standby generators are the most expensive kind, and you’ll need a professional to install one. In addition, you may need permits.
“Always have a professional install the generator,” says Chris Berner, general manager of Conway Services, a full-service HVAC and plumbing company in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Factory-authorized service providers and dealers are best, as they have the experience and knowledge to do the job properly and will also honor any warranties,” Berner says. He also advises finding a company that offers whole-home generator installation as part of their services.
“This includes the electrical and mechanical parts of the installation. This way you can avoid dealing with multiple companies and coordinating the installation yourself. Finally, make sure the company you choose is licensed and insured. Should something go wrong with the installation, you want the work performed on your home to be backed,” Berner says.
[READ: How to Prevent a Flooded Home.]
Safety Tips When Buying and Installing a Home Generator
Aim to buy a home generator when you have power and are not in a rush.
“My experience is that many tragedies tend to happen when people get desperate about not having power for an extended period of time — needing to heat their home to keep family healthy and safe in severe cold after an ice storm, for example,” says Jonathan Porter, a senior vice president and chief meteorologist at AccuWeather. “This is the most dangerous time for generator safety risks.”
He says that if you’re going to buy or install a generator, there are a few safety issues to consider.
Hire a licensed electrician to install your generator. This is the most important thing you can do, Porter says. Of course, we’re talking about whole home generators or portable generators, not the small portable kind of generator you might take on a camping trip or have in your car. If your generator will be sending power into your home, hire a professional.
Keep portable home generators away from the house. There are many tragic stories about people who didn’t do this. “Operate a portable home generator in a safe, well-ventilated location at least 30 feet away from the house while it’s running to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning,” Porter says. “Wind can blow the odorless, colorless and tasteless gas indoors, and it may be hard to detect until you begin to feel symptoms.”
Get a carbon monoxide monitor. Consider getting several of them, and make sure they work. “Have a home CO monitor operating when running a generator to alert you to any unsafe levels of carbon monoxide in your home,” Porter says. Even if you have a professional install your whole home generator, carbon monoxide monitors are like your backup to your backup generator. If something goes wrong, the monitors will alert you that the air levels are unsafe, and you can leave your home and contact the fire department.
Place the generator in a dry area. Yes, this is becoming quite the process. Still, for safety’s sake, it’s important to both place the generator away from the home and in a dry spot. “Only operate generators in dry areas away from rain or flood waters,” Porter says. “This is especially important to remember as hurricanes or severe storms often lead to power outages and the use of generators. Don’t store a generator at the lowest point on your property.”
Don’t plug a generator directly into your home’s power outlets. For the uninitiated, that sounds exactly like what you should do, but Porter says that could be its own disaster. “You could electrocute yourself, neighbors or even emergency workers attempting to restore power. Always use a transfer switch and have the (home generator and transfer switch) system installed by a licensed electrician,” Porter says.
One more safety tip from Modica: Assuming you have a portable generator and not one that is always hooked up to your home, you should store it outside your home, away from the elements. He also says you should start up and run your generator for about 30 minutes every three months.
“Internal combustion engines are meant to run, not just sit around. Seals and gaskets can dry out, gasoline can go stale, or the machine may simply not start. It is much better to know you have an inoperable generator on a sunny day than in the aftermath of a hurricane,” Modica says.
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