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How to Find the Best Generator

Barn with portable generator powering lights.

Do power crunches and frequent electricity outages leave you feeling powerless? Are you looking for a dependable way to weather a storm and want to be prepared for the next tornado or hurricane with a standby generator for your home or office? Or are you a self-sufficient do-it-yourselfer who needs a portable generator for either work or play? With an automatic or portable generator from Tractor Supply Co., you can control your power supply and be prepared to use power tools or have a home power supply when you most need it.

Watch this video, courtesy of Generac, that explains what a generator is and why you need one.

What Generator is Right for You?

The best way to determine your generator needs is to envision your home without power. Some power outages may be short in duration, while others could last for days or weeks. What would you like to power with your generator? Air conditioning, lights, home office equipment, security systems, well pumps, furnace, refrigerators and other appliances all need to be supplied with electricity to function. Having a generator will ensure these items have the power available when you need them.

There are two types of generators: portable and automatic, or standby. Watch this video, courtesy of Generac, to learn more about the difference between automatic generators and portable generators.

Portable Generators

Portable generators use gasoline to generate electricity. This means you can take them anywhere outdoors, such as a work site, construction site or camping trip. Key benefits of having a portable generator include:

  • Mobility: Portable generators can be taken anywhere and used outdoors, as long as you have a gasoline fuel supply.
  • Gasoline fueled: Sometimes gasoline is in more abundant supply than electricity, especially in outlying areas away from cities.
  • Manual start: Portable generators can be started at the time you need them, allowing easier operation for an as-needed application.

The wattage for portable generators is typically 2,000W-17,500W, so they can supply enough power for some household items, power tools and other equipment whose power needs do not exceed this level of output.

A Manual Power Transfer System is an important accessory to a portable generator because it provides a means to quickly and easily connect to your home's electrical system without using extension cords. A Manual Power Transfer System is a must if you plan to operate your central air conditioning, water heater or furnace, as these items are hard-wired directly into your home's electrical system. These systems should be installed by a licensed electrician.

When shopping for a portable generator, look for the following features:

  • Run Time: The amount of time the generator can run on a single tank of gas. The size of the generator's gasoline tank determines the amount of time a generator can run.
  • Automatic Voltage Regulation: Maintains proper generator voltage, protecting sensitive electronic equipment, such as computers, from power fluctuations.
  • Circuit Breaker Protected Outlets: For circuit protection.
  • Idle Control: Increases fuel efficiency.
  • Electric Start: Assisted by battery power, an electric start will provide starting power to the engine without having to pull a starter rope.
  • Low Oil Shutdown: Automatically turns the engine off if the oil level drops below a safe operational level.

Portable Generator Safety

Portable generators are powerful emergency preparedness tools, and it's important to remember to be safe when using them. Follow these safety tips when owning and operating a portable generator:

  • Observe the generator manufacturer’s instruction for safe operation.
  • Always run your generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area.
  • Maintain your generator engine according to the maintenance schedule for peak performance and safety.
  • Do not operate the engine near combustible materials.
  • Place generator on level ground to operate.
  • Keep gasoline fresh. If you do not plan to use the generator for a while, stabilize the gas with a fuel stabilizer. Briggs & Stratton makes fuel stabilizers, or you can visit your local Tractor Supply Co. store to learn more about fuel stabilizers.
  • When using extension power cords, be sure the cords are heavy-duty outdoor rated cords, grounded and are a sufficient wire gauge for the appliance wattage load. This means that you do not want to pull more electricity than is intended through your power cord.
  • Never plug your generator directly into your house circuit.
  • Protect your generator from exposure to rain and snow. Operate the generator under an open canopy whenever possible.
  • If connecting a generator into your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a Power Transfer System.

How to Take Care of Your Portable Generator

Taking care of your portable generator engine is quick and easy. With proper maintenance, your generator engine will provide efficient, reliable power for years to come. Follow these tips:

  • Keep gas fresh. Use a fuel stabilizer for gasoline that you think could sit more than 30 days without being used.
  • Check the generator's engine oil level with every fill up.
  • Change the generator's oil after 50 hours of operation or once every season.
  • Replace the generator's air cleaner after 25 hours of operation or every season. Replace air cleaner equipped with pre-cleaner after 100 hours of operation or every season.
  • Replace the generator's spark plug after 100 hours of operation or every season.
  • Replace generator's the in-line fuel filter if equipped after 100 hours of operation or every season. See your owner’s manual for more information.

Automatic, or Standby Generators

An automatic standby generator is a back-up electrical system that operates whether you are home or away. Within seconds of a power outage, the standby generator automatically kicks in, supplying power directly to your home’s electrical circuit breaker box. After utility power returns, the generator shuts itself off and waits for the next outage. Automatic generators operate on natural gas or liquid propane gas and can be set up in a permanent location outdoors similar to the way you would set up an HVAC unit.

Watch this video, courtesy of Generac, to get started learning more about automatic standby generators.

Key benefits of having an automatic standby generator include:

  • Permanent: Automatic generators can be installed outside your home or business by a licensed electrician.
  • Direct connection: Connect your automatic standby generator to your existing natural gas or propane fuel supply.
  • Automatic start and stop: Standby generators are triggered by power disruptions and automatically start and shut off as needed.

Automatic standby generators are available in sizes ranging from 8,000W -20,000W for residential use. Most homes need between 5,000W-7,500W to power essential items during a power outage.

Q and A: Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Generators

What is the difference between rated and maximum surge watts?
The generator's rated watt is the amount of power the generator can produce continually. The maximum surge wattage is the power the generator can produce for short periods of time.
Can I connect my generator directly into my home electrical system?
Yes. Power Transfer Systems are designed to connect generator power directly into your home electrical system for emergency backup use.
Can I vent exhaust out of an enclosed area?
No. Never operate a generator inside an enclosed area. Carbon monoxide gases produced by the engine can be deadly. Always operate generators outside in a well-ventilated area.