These devices can power your entire home in an emergency, but there's a lot you need to consider before you purchase one.

By Lauren Wellbank
May 03, 2021
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Climate change has brought extreme weather conditions and events to many regions, which means homeowners across the country may be experiencing more frequent—or longer lasting—power outages. One way to keep both your family and your home safe during one of these extended outages is by installing a full-house generator. And while it certainly is an effective appliance to have, they aren't for everyone. Ahead, an expert weighs in on whether or not you truly need one.

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Credit: Mint Images / Getty Images

What is a "full-house" generator?

These backup systems are typically powered by fuels (think natural or liquefied petroleum gas) to keep your home going during a blackout. "Most models start to work automatically, as soon as the home goes off the grid in an outage," explains Mark Dawson, the COO of Mister Sparky. "Some models are manual, but an automatic system is the best to ensure your home is receiving power just as soon as it is lost." After your power has been restored, the generator will detect that change and shut itself off. Unlike smaller iterations, which generally require a manual start and can only power a few key items during an extended blackout (like your refrigerator or HVAC system), a full-house generator can keep your home running almost as well as it did prior to the power loss.

Does you really need one?

When deciding if you should invest in a large capacity generator, consider how often your home loses power as well as what you stand to lose during long or frequent outages. "For residents of hurricane-prone areas, a one-time investment in a whole-home generator will prove useful throughout hurricane season, as it will ensure the essential functions of the home are still running despite weather conditions," Dawson notes. "It can also add value to the home once you sell it. You can advertise your home as already having a whole home generator, which would be seen as an added feature for a buyer."

How much do they cost?

The price of a full-house generator can vary greatly, since everything from the cost of the system to the installation depends on your location, the machine's fuel type, and the quality of the system you purchase. "A complete installed system can run anywhere from $3,000 to well over $20,000," Dawson says, noting that you should opt for a "professional system analysis to determine which power requirements you will need." Calling in an expert to discuss these needs can save you time and money in the long run; a professional will ensure you invest in the correct system for your home.

What can you expect during installation?

The installation process is quite extensive, but well worth the time, continues Dawson. "Before you can begin, Homeowners Association (HOA) permissions and building permits may need to be acquired," he says. "From there, an analysis of your space's wiring system and gas lines will help determine which full-house generator is best suited for your home." You'll also need to schedule a consultation with an electrician to ensure that the installation and functionality of the generator will run smoothly.

How can you avoid costly mistakes?

Dawson advises determining what you want to power before you start shopping. If your generator is intended to supply only a portion of your home's electrical load, make a list of the equipment you want to power in case of a failure (like appliances, lamps, a furnace blower motor, and so on). "Compare the total wattage of the equipment to the total wattage output rating of the generator—and do not exceed it," he says. "Your choice of fuel should be determined by the fuels available in your area." If you live in a remote locale, for example, you may have a harder time finding enough fuel to keep your generator going during an emergency. Another mistake Dawson says to avoid is cutting corners to cut costs. "Oftentimes, people will decide on a less expensive or even a used generator over the quality and functions a new device can offer," he says. "When purchasing a used option, people mistakenly neglect to check the hour meter for the age, maintenance records, and usage of the device, as well as performing a load test to determine if the device will work effectively."

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