Predicting exactly when a prolonged power outage might occur is like predicting the precise time and location of a single lightning strike. While it might one day be possible with advancements in technology, we’re currently in a place where the best we can do is to prepare for the possibility of being without power for extended periods.
Whether it’s the result of a significant weather event or just a random screw-up by your local utility company, a prolonged power outage is a hassle. Groceries can spoil, your house can heat up (or cool down) uncomfortably, and you definitely won’t be able to watch any of your favorite shows on Netflix.
But if you invest in a standby generator, also known as a whole house generator, you can keep all systems running if the power does go out. In this article, we’ll detail the features of the Top 10 Standby Generators of 2021 and we will also present the most important things to consider when purchasing a whole house generator in our Buyer’s Guide.
1. Champion 8.5-kW Home Standby Generator with 50-Amp Indoor-Rated Automatic Transfer Switch
This 50-amp generator from Champion comes with an automatic transfer switch that makes the transition from the grid to the generator seamless when the power goes out. It operates efficiently in extreme temperatures (-22 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and comes with an all-weather, composite pad for easy mounting and installation next to your home.
The Champion Duel Fuel Generator provides 14-kilowatts of continuous battery power. This eliminates the need to refuel by relying on battery power rather than liquid fuel. This generator also features easy access to the engine and control panel via double doors that give you a full view of the onboard control system.
2. Briggs & Stratton 40531
The 40531 Generator from Briggs & Stratton can be installed indoors or outdoors and this model includes a 200-amp automatic transfer switch that’s designed to ensure a seamless transition from the power grid to the generator in the event of an outage. The updated version of the 40531 generator is now 60% quieter and 50% smaller than previous 12-kilowatt generators.
The Briggs & Stratton 40531 is a 12-kilowatt standby generator that is capable of providing power for a home up to 5,500 square feet in size with a 4-ton air conditioner. Unlike some generators, this model can safely be placed closer to your home. You’ll be able to install it as close as 18 inches to your home, according to the National Fire Protection Agency 37 standard (1).
3. Generac 70422
The Generac 70422 is a great whole house generator for second homes and those that travel frequently but want to make sure everything is running smoothly back at home. This model included a free mobile link that allows you to connect to, and monitor the status of, your generator on a phone, tablet, or computer from anywhere that you can connect to a good Wi-Fi network.
This standby generator connects to your home’s existing natural or LP gas supply and it automatically senses when the power goes out. When it does, it will start up within seconds and run until utility power returns. This 22-kilowatt generator is also air-cooled and Generac’s pressure-lubricated engines are designed o deliver more reliable power while also requiring less routine maintenance to ensure optimal performance.
4. Kohler 20RESCL-200SELS
If you have a lot of sophisticated electronics in your home that you want to protect from power surges, this Kohler standby generator is an excellent option. It can provide reliable power with less than 5% harmonic distortion (2) and + or – 1% voltage regulation. This means that voltage won’t fluctuate largely enough to damage even the most sensitive appliances.
The Kohler 20RESCL-200SELS connects to your home’s natural or LP gas supply and automatically detects a loss of power. Within 10 seconds, it will start up to power your AC, heat, sump pump, and any other major appliances that you need to keep running. This whole house generator features a 200-amp service entrance rated, load shedding, automatic transfer switch.
5. Cummins RS20AC Generator
This generator is a great option for anyone that wants a reliable standby power source that won’t reverberate annoying noise throughout your neighborhood when it powers on. It comes with a sound-insulated, weather-protective enclosure that makes it one of the quietest generators in its class and keeps it running when the weather turns south.
The Cummins RS20AC generator includes Cummins Connect Cloud remote monitoring, which allows you to access the controls from a smartphone, computer, or tablet when connected to reliable Wi-Fi Internet. From your preferred device, you’ll be able to remotely operate the generator, run it through an exercise cycle, and monitor its status and the events happening around your home when you’re away.
6. Briggs & Stratton 40396
The 40396 model is slightly larger than the 40531 that we mentioned earlier in this article. This standby generator can power homes up to 12,000 square feet with a 5-ton air conditioner and it is designed for easy installation indoors or outdoors. It can also be safely placed within 18 inches of your home and comes with a dual 200-amp automatic transfer switch.
The Briggs & Stratton 40396 whole house generator includes Symphony II power management, which seamlessly coordinates your large, high-demand appliances with your smaller, lower-demand items to deliver true whole-house power. It also features an automotive-style exhaust system and sound dampening technology for quiet, neighborhood-friendly operation.
7. Generac 7033 Guardian Series
The Generac 7033 Guardian Series standby generator can deliver 11-kilowatts of steady, reliable power that keeps your sensitive electronics and critical appliances running when an outage occurs. It comes with True Power Technology that ensures smooth operation and less than 5% total harmonic distortion.
This generator comes with a 200-amp NEMA 3 (3) whole house smart transfer switch that allows for a seamless transition from utility power to the generator power. It also features Generac’s Evolution Controller, which includes LED indicators to show you the generator’s status, the presence (or lack thereof) of utility power, and when maintenance is required. Finally, this whole house generator has three removable sides to allow for easy access during installation, service, and maintenance.
8. Champion 8.5 kW Generator
This 8.5-kilowatt standby generator is great for smaller homes and it’s the quietest in its class thanks to advanced sound dampening and a specially designed low-tone muffler. It’s certainly a residential-friendly generator that will also provide reliable power in extreme weather conditions. It is rated to operate efficiently in temperatures ranging from -22 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Champion 8.5-kW home standby generator features an automatic transfer switch with eight available circuits. When an outage occurs, it will provide a seamless transition from utility power to generator power with a 24-volt starting system that requires no warming kit and regularly performs weekly self-diagnostic tests. Finally, this generator provides up to 8500 watts of continuous power when running on propane (7500 watts when running on natural gas) and doesn’t require refueling, manual operation, or the use of extension cords.
9. Kohler 12RESVL100
This Kohler standby generator wires into your home’s electrical panel and fuel system so that it comes on automatically when needed, regardless of whether you’re at home or traveling far away. It delivers up to 12-kilowatts of reliable power to keep your appliances running, heat or AC pumping, and security systems monitoring, depending on total load size.
The Kohler 12RESVL100 comes with power boost technology that allows it to start large loads without dropping power to other appliances. It also includes a load center automatic transfer switch to safely switch your house from utility power to generator power when an outage occurs. This generator is protected by a corrosion-resistant enclosure and backed by a five-year, 2,000-hour warranty.
10. Briggs & Stratton 76180
This 25,000-watt standby generator runs on LP or natural gas and can hook directly into your home’s fuel supply. It is protected by a corrosion-resistant enclosure and base that are made of galvanneal steel (4) and covered in powder-coated paint. The unit’s liquid-cooled engine can easily convert between running on natural gas or LP during installation.
The Briggs & Stratton 76180 whole house generator features Symphony II power management, which provides coordination between the various large, medium, and small appliances in your home. By doing so, it provides whole-home power in a smaller, more affordable package. This generator can come with a 200-amp transfer switch that can handle the load of 1 or 2 air conditioners while still maintaining power to the rest of your household appliances.
In this Buyer’s Guide, we’ll discuss the most important characteristics of a whole house generator and provide guidance for you to make the best decision possible. We will focus on fuel source, power needs, transfer switches, cooling mechanisms, installation location, and safety tips.
Picking A Fuel Source
Most standby generators that deliver up to 22-kilowatts will be powered by natural gas or liquid propane (LP). Generators that run on diesel tend to cost a lot more and they must be liquid-cooled (more on that later on!). Generators that run on LP or diesel fuel will require a tank large enough to hold ample gas to properly operate the generator.
Similarly, a generator that runs on natural gas will need to be compatible with your home’s existing natural gas meter and gas lines. This information should be available in the installation manual for the generator of your choice, but it’s a wise step to double-check compatibility with your contractor and/or architect.
Determining Your Power Needs
Picking the right size standby generator is important because the goal should be to keep everything in your house functioning as close to normal as possible when an outage occurs. But if that’s not your goal, you still want to make sure your generator provides enough power to back up crucial systems like refrigerators and AC/heating units.
If you want a generator that can power your air conditioner during a blackout, you’ll first need to know the size of your AC unit. The unit’s data plate should be an easy enough location to identify its size, which will typically be displayed in BTUs or tons. One ton is equal to 12,000 BTUs and 3.517 kilowatts of energy.
So, if you have a three-ton air conditioner, you’ll need a generator that can provide at least11-kilowatts (11,000 watts) of energy. A 5-ton AC unit will require a 20-kilowatt (or larger) standby generator. You can calculate the perfect-sized generator for your home’s needs here (5).
About Transfer Switches
Once a generator and its accompanying transfer switch are hooked up to your home’s electrical panel, it will automatically be sensing utility power. When it detects an outage, the switch starts the engine on your generator and, simultaneously, disconnects your home from the power coming through the utility line.
Choosing the right transfer switch is just as important (if not more so) than choosing the right-sized generator. The transfer switch must be able to handle a load of your home’s main breaker while working in tandem with your generator.
To select the right transfer switch, you need to find out the amperage of your home’s electrical service panel. In most homes, you’ll be able to find this on the panel of your home’s main breaker, but you can also ask your home’s installer to verify the correct number for you. Many homes have 200-amp main breakers, but many older and smaller homes may have 100 or 150 amp breakers. The transfer switch you choose should be rated for the same amperage as your home’s main breaker.
Keeping It Cool
Especially if you live in a hotter, more humid climate, keeping your home’s standby generator cool is another important consideration. When it comes to this, there are basically two methods for keeping generators cool. They are liquid-cooling and air-cooling.
Air-cooled generators utilize a fan that forces air across the engine. Through this process, the air keeps the engine cool enough so that it doesn’t overheat. While it depends on the exact model, of course, most air-cooled generators are capable of powering 8, 10, 12, or even 16 key circuits in your home’s main distribution panel when the power goes out. For the vast majority of homes, air-cooled generators provide exceptional reliability and fantastic value.
Liquid-cooled generators, however, also have their applications. These generators use an enclosed radiator system to keep the engine cool. This radiator system is similar to what you’d find in most modern automobiles. As you might imagine, larger generators that deliver more kilowatts of energy also require larger engines that can maintain higher power output. For this reason, these generators need to be cooled more aggressively and they require a liquid-cooling system to do so.
Where to Install
How close or far you can install your generator to your home will depend on a few factors. The generator’s safety rating and installation recommendations are good starting guides. But you should also be sure to check in on any local restrictions or regulations governing safe generator installation. Ultimately, your decision on where to install your generator should adhere to local regulations and the manufacturer’s explicit instructions.
That being said, there are several other things to consider when deciding where to install your home’s standby generator. First, you’ll want to locate the generator as close to your home’s existing fuel supply and electric panel as possible. This will mean less wire, less gas pipe, less installation cost, and, overall, less time to get the unit installed.
Second, you’ll want to choose a spot that offers consistent, unobstructed airflow. This will help keep the generator cool and leaving plenty of room around the generator will also make any future service work needed that much easier.
Third, make sure your generator isn’t located close to windows, doors, AC condensers, or vents. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) (6) actually requires that generators are installed at least five feet away from the nearest wall unless that particular wall has a fire resistance rating of one hour or more.
As anyone that has ever felt even a minor electrical shock knows, electricity is nothing to be taken lightly. When you’re installing and operating a standby whole house generator, there are several safety precautions to take into consideration.
First, it’s always a safe best practice to hire a licensed electrician to install your standby generator (unless you’re a licensed electrician yourself!). If you do prefer to install your standby generator on your own, however, make sure you utilize an appropriate transfer switch (guidelines above!). Ideally, the switch you install should be of the ‘double-pole, double-throw’ variety.
Second, make sure that you ground your unit properly. Ideally, this will be through the use of number six solid copper wire and an eight-foot ground that that is properly bonded to the unit’s electrical grounding system.
As a general rule of thumb, generators should never be run in a basement or any other enclosed area. The fumes they produce can be lethal to anyone who is sleeping or otherwise unaware of the danger. Your generator’s fuel should also be stored far away from the generator itself and you should never begin to refuel your generator while it is hot or while the engine is running.
Frequently Asked Questions
We hope that, by now, you have a good idea of what to consider when purchasing a standby generator. But we understand that there is a lot to cover so, in the interest of providing the most comprehensive buyer’s guide possible, we’ve put together this list of frequently asked questions to address a few more potential concerns.
Can my standby generator replace my utility service?
While it’s certainly possible, it wouldn’t be the most economical option with the current prices of natural gas, liquid propane, and diesel fuel. The cost of fuel to continuously power your generator would currently far exceed the cost of buying power from the utility company. In addition, all responsibilities for maintenance of your home’s power source would then fall on you as the individual, rather than your municipal utility company.
What’s the best enclosure for my generator?
Having an enclosure over your generator is highly recommended. These enclosures protect your generator from rust and corrosion. Many manufacturers recommend aluminum or composite enclosures because they are more resistant to rust and corrosion than other materials, such as steel.
How long can a generator run on a propane tank?
The number of hours your generator can run on a single propane tank will depend on the size of the tank, the size of the generator, and the appliance load that the generator is being asked to power. For the purposes of providing you with some numbers to wrap your head around, however, here is what you might expect from an average 16-kilowatt generator operating at 50% load capacity:
- 100-gallon propane tank: 50 hours
- 250-gallon propane tank: 125 hours
- 500-gallon propane tank: 251 hours
- 1,000-gallon propane tank: 503 hours
How often do I need to maintain my generator?
Every generator requires regular maintenance. This can be as simple as periodic oil and filter changes, but larger services are sometimes necessary as well. Preventative maintenance is always a good idea and it will help you ensure that your generator performs to the best of its ability for years. You should always consult the owner’s manual for your specific generator for the best information on routine maintenance procedures and schedules.
As our population continues to grow, our demands for electricity are also increasing. Our power grid is undergoing some much-needed updates (7), but the possibility of extended outages is far from zero. With one of the best standby generators on the market, however, you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way. We hope you enjoyed this article and we wish you the best of luck selecting the right whole house generator for your home.