First, consider your budget. A gasoline-fueled portable generator can cost $500-$1,000. A permanently installed backup generator system (connected directly to a natural-gas or...

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First, consider your budget.
A gasoline-fueled portable generator can cost $500-$1,000. A permanently installed backup generator system (connected directly to a natural-gas or propane fuel supply) can run $2,500-$3,000, installed. A standby system (also connected to natural gas or propane) costs $5,000-$10,000, installed.

How much convenience do you need?
A portable generator, which must be started manually, is easy to maneuver, making it a great power source for multiple tools or appliances. A backup system turns on easily with a remote switch, and an automatic standby system can sense a power disruption, start itself even if nobody is home and shut itself off when power is restored.

Determine your wattage requirements.
The rule of thumb is that a 5,000- or 7,000-watt generator will run the essential items of the average home or small business during a power outage. To customize your requirements, decide which items you wish to run simultaneously (refrigerator, furnace blower, television, microwave, etc.) and add up the total wattage.

Make sure you have a safe place to run a generator.
Engines emit carbon monoxide, so never run a generator in an enclosed area such as a home, garage or crawl space. Use it outdoors only, away from open windows, vents or doors. Fans, open doors or open windows do not provide enough fresh air. Also, protect your generator from rain and snow. Generators produce powerful voltage and should not be used in wet conditions. Never plug your generator directly into your home outlet; if you are connecting it to your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a Power Transfer Switch.

Source: Briggs & Stratton.