How to Choose the Right Generator

Home standby generator outside a home

Natural disasters can occur anywhere around the country, having the right generator has become imperative for many homeowners. Shopping for a generator can prove difficult because of the various different types of generators on the market, including standby home generators, portable generators, and portable inverter generators. Our generator buying guide is designed to simplify the information about generators and determine what generator size you need.

Types of generators

Generac home standby generator

Home Standby Generators

Home standby generators are used for restoring power to your entire home. These generators can automatically turn on/off and will power your house in case of an outage. They're permanently installed outside your home, and will require a trained professional to install since they are connected to your breaker box and require a fuel source such as propane or natural gas. 

  • Cost: Most expensive ($4,000 and up, not including installation) 
  • Primary use: Whole-house backup 
  • Fuel source: Propane or natural gas 
  • Installation: Professional install required 
  • Portability: Not portable 
  • Start: Automatic

Portable Generators

Portable generator sitting in a residential driveway

Portable generators come in a wide variety of sizes. These generators are typically used for powering homes, job sites, and as an emergency backup power source. In most cases these portable generators will not power your entire home. This means you will need to choose which item/items in your home to power if you're running it off a portable generator.

  • Cost: $300-$4,000 for top models
  • Primary use: Partial home power, portable jobsite power
  • Fuel source: Propane or gas
  • Installation: No installation cost
  • Portability: Yes
  • Start: Electric or pull start

How heavy is the generator?

Depending on the size, generators can be extremely heavy to lift or even move. If portability is an important feature for you, you may want to look at generators that come with wheels. If you don't feel that you or your spouse can move it on your own, definitely consider buying a generator with wheels.

How do you start a generator?

Generators are usually either electric start or pull start - and some units conveniently have both. If your generator battery is ever dead for some reason, having a pull start option is important. Be sure that if your generator is a pull start model, you and your spouse are both able to use the pull start effectively.

Portable Inverter Generators

Portable Generac Inverter Generator isolated on a white background

Inverter generators are lighter, quieter, more fuel efficient and produce cleaner energy than other types of generators. They're typically designed for more recreational uses like tailgating, camping, and boating; however, they can be used to power some household equipment. Inverters provide a more consistent and reliable power source without some of the power surges and lags of a typical generator. This even power delivery is necessary for products that are sensitive to electricity like phones, TVs, and some appliances.

  • Cost: $300-$5,000 for top models
  • Primary use: Tailgating, camping, or boating
  • Fuel source: Propane or gas
  • Installation: No installation cost
  • Portability: Yes
  • Start: Electric or pull start

Which Generator Do I Need?

Generators are rated in terms of the continuous watts that the generator can deliver. The max watts are a measurement that the generator can provide for a very limited amount of time. For example, some generators are rated at 5,000 continuous watts with a max load of 7,000 watts for 10 seconds. The reason max load is important to consider is because larger electrical equipment like a refrigerator requires more energy to initially run. Whether you're planning on powering your whole house or just your garage freezer makes a difference in the type of wattage and max load you need. 

To estimate the size of generator needed, you would need to add the continuous watts of all items intended to power at one time and then add the starting/surge wattage of those items. For many appliances and other items, wattage estimates are available online to get a better idea of wattage demand. Check out the chart to the left for some general wattage guidelines. 

If you struggle to determine which size you need, you’re in luck because our local Do it Best stores are here to help! Stop by your local Do it Best for more information on the generators they may offer. If you know what you're looking for, check out some of our online selection below.