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Backup Generators: Providing Power When the Grid Goes Down!

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  1. Introduction
  2. Reasons for power outages
  3. Types of backup generators
  4. What to consider when choosing a backup generator
  5. How do I determine the total wattage of my home's essential appliances?
  6. Conclusion


Backup generators provide essential emergency power when public utility grids go down. They ensure critical systems remain operational even during unforeseen power outages caused by storms, natural disasters, accidents or equipment failures. There are various types of backup generators for home and business use, including portable generators, standby generators, inverter generators, and solar generators.

Choosing the right backup generator for your needs depends on factors like power requirements, fuel type, noise levels, and budget. Proper installation and safety measures are also important to protect people and property. Overall, backup generators offer security and peace of mind by delivering continuous power that the power grid simply cannot.

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Reasons for power outages

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires frequently cause widespread blackouts. Major storms can damage power lines, substations, and other electrical infrastructure which disrupt the power grid. Earthquakes can also trigger outages by shaking power poles and rupturing gas lines that some generators depend on.

In addition to natural disasters, human activity like accidents or equipment failures can lead to unplanned power cuts. This could include things like vehicle accidents that knock out power lines, explosions at electrical substations, or malfunctions within transmission equipment. Power companies also sometimes schedule maintenance outages to perform essential repairs and upgrades to the power delivery system in a controlled manner.

Whatever the underlying cause, unexpected power outages leave homes and businesses vulnerable without a backup power source like a generator. They highlight the importance of having backup generators to provide electricity during unforeseen interruptions to the public power supply. With a reliable backup generator, critical functions can continue even when the wider grid is down.

Types of backup generators

Portable generators

Portable generators are small, lightweight, and can be wheeled to the location they are needed. They are inexpensive and easy to use but typically provide limited power and runtime. Portable generators are good for temporary or occasional use but may not suit permanent installations.

Standby generators

Standby generators are permanently installed at homes or businesses. They are more powerful than portable generators and can provide backup power for extended periods. However, standby generators require professional installation and connection to the building's electrical system which adds to the cost and complexity. They also need a way to automatically transfer power to the generator during an outage like a transfer switch.

Inverter generators

Inverter generators use inverter technology that provides very stable power and low noise/vibration levels. They tend to be more fuel efficient than standard generators and support powered devices with sensitive electronics. However, inverter generators are often more expensive than comparable portable or standby generators.

Solar generators

Solar generators use renewable solar panels to charge a battery storage during the day so the generator can operate at night or in an emergency. They have zero emissions and reduced fuel costs but also higher upfront costs and limited power. Solar backup generators must be properly sized for your needs and connected to a sufficient number of solar panels to keep the battery well-charged.

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Each type of backup generator has its own pros and cons in terms of cost, power, efficiency, installation, usage, and maintenance. Determining which option is right for your critical power needs depends on evaluating these factors and prioritizing what is most important to you.

What to consider when choosing a backup generator

  1. Power requirements. The first step is determining how much power you need in watts to power essential appliances like refrigerators, sump pumps, medical devices, lights, electronics, etc. Make a list of the rated wattages for each item to estimate your total minimum power requirements. You'll want a generator with at least 10-20% extra capacity for good performance. If you still have no idea, read on and we'll elaborate on this topic in next section.
  2. Fuel type. The most common options are gasoline, diesel, propane or natural gas. Gasoline is the most affordable but least efficient. Diesel provides more power but is dirty and difficult to start. Propane and natural gas are cleaner but often more expensive. Consider availability, costs and emissions.
  3. Noise levels. All generators produce some noise, but inverter generators tend to run the quietest. If a generator will be installed near living spaces, lower noise is preferable.
  4. Maintenance needs. Easier to maintain generators like those with electric start, automatic oil check and fuel shutoff valves tend to be more practical for the average user. However, all generators will require routine care like oil changes, filter replacements, cleaning, etc. Make sure you're comfortable with the required maintenance.
  5. Budget. Backup generator costs vary widely depending on the size, type and brand. Be prepared to pay between $500 to $5000 or more for a permanent standby generator installation. Consider both the upfront purchase/install costs as well as ongoing fuel and maintenance costs to ensure affordability.
  6. Safety. Only purchase generators from reputable brands to ensure they meet all safety standards and requirements. Look for features like OEM certification, ground fault protection, circuit breakers, emergency shutoff, etc. Safety should be the top priority for any backup power system.

By evaluating these key factors, you can choose a backup generator that provides reliable power when you need it most without excessive costs, noise, difficulty or danger. Be sure to get the right size and type of generator for your critical power needs to keep essential systems running during an outage.

How do I determine the total wattage of my home's essential appliances?

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Here are some tips to determine the total wattage of your home's essential appliances:

  • Make a list of all the appliances you want to power during an outage like refrigerators, freezers, sump pumps, medical equipment, lights, electronics, etc.
  • For each appliance, check the wattage rating listed on the unit's label or specifications. This is usually listed as "watts" or "watt-hours". The higher the wattage, the more power that appliance draws.
  • Some common appliance wattages:
  • › Refrigerator: 40-75 watts running, 1200-2000 watts starting
  • › Freezer: 30-60 watts running, 1200-1500 watts starting
  • › Sump pump: 50-1500 watts (1/2 to 5 horsepower)
  • › Window air conditioner: 800-1250 watts
  • › Shelve of LED/CFL lights: around 30-60 watts total
  • Add up the wattage ratings for all the appliances you want to power at once. This is your total minimum power requirement during an outage.
  • As a rule of thumb, you'll want a generator with at least 10-25% extra capacity for peak loads. So if your total is 10,000 watts, get at least a 12,000-15,000 watt generator.
  • It's also a good idea to plug in your essential appliances and actually measure their power usage with a kill-a-watt device during normal operation. This can confirm the wattage ratings and account for any simultaneous loads.
  • Some surge-protectors and many portable generators also provide built-in surge protection and voltage regulation which can influence the power usage. Testing with the actual equipment you plan to connect is most accurate.
  • If powering medical equipment or other life-sustaining devices, consult their specifications for total wattage and any voltage/waveform requirements to ensure your generator can support them. Safety is the top priority.
  • Keep records of all wattage ratings, measurements and calculations in case you need to verify proper sizing for your generator setup.


In summary, backup generators provide an invaluable safeguard against power outages and grid failures by delivering backup electricity when public utility power is unavailable.

With a wide range of options, important factors to evaluate, and safety considerations in mind, a backup generator setup can be chosen and deployed responsibly to support critical needs for years to come.

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