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To get through an emergency, how big a generator do you need?

Consumer Reports News: October 29, 2012 05:47 PM

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Below you'll find information of what generators of different sizes can power. Pick a model with a wattage at least equal to the total for what you're powering. Manufacturers also suggest totaling the higher surge watts some appliances draw when they cycle on. Models that scored well for power delivery were up to that surge; for untested models, we suggest simply focusing on running watts. User our wattage calculator to determine how much power you need.

If you have a generator and haven't used it yet during Hurricane Sandy, start it up to make sure it's working and use the transfer switch that enables the generator to take over the circuits it would manage during a real emergency.

If you don't have a generator, check the results of our latest generator tests for models that reliably deliver power. Another option is a power inverter. These small gadgets that hook up to your car's battery can't handle the load of a portable or stationary machine but they can get you through a short power outage without losing all the food in your refrigerator.

Small portable: 3,000 to 4,000 watts; $400 to $800 for most (more for inverter models)
What it can power: The basics, including items such as...

  • Refrigerator (600 watts)
  • Microwave (1,500 watts)
  • Sump pump (600 watts)
  • Several lights (400 watts)
  • TV (200 watts)

Midsized portable and small stationary: 5,000 to 8,500 watts; $500 to $1,000 for portables; twice that for stationary
What it can power: Same as small models, plus...

  • Portable heater (1,300 watts)
  • Computer (250 watts)
  • Heating system (500 watts)
  • Second pump (600 watts)
  • More lights (400 watts)

Large portable: 10,000 watts; $2,000 to $3,000
What it can power: Adds choice of...

  • Small water heater (3,000 watts)
  • Central air conditioner (5,000 watts)
  • Electric range (5,000 watts)

Large stationary: 10,000 to 15,000 watts; $5,000 to $10,000 or more, plus installation
What it can power: Same as large portable models, plus...

  • Clothes washer (1,200 watts)
  • Electric dryer (5,000 watts)

Steven H. Saltzman

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