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Updated on September 13, 2023

Planning guide

How to Choose the Right Generator

Generators provide backup electricity during a power outage or over a camping trip. Find which type and size of generator is best suited to your needs with this buying guide.

Why Buy a Generator?

In the event of a power outage, a home generator can keep your lights on, your heat working, as well as your devices charged and appliances running (especially your refrigerator!), providing comfort, safety, and peace of mind. To get the most out of a generator, make sure you use the right one for the intended application. Find out what you need to know about choosing a generator.

Before You Start

Before looking at the information below, ask yourself the following questions to better identify your needs:
  • Why do you need a generator?
  • Is it to have an alternative source of electricity in case of a power failure? To use tools for your outdoor projects? For more comfort during camping trips?
  • Does your RV have an air conditioner? Or maybe even two?
  • What systems and appliances would you like to power?
  • Do you want your generator to start automatically in the event of a power failure?

Common Generator Uses

Different generators are better suited to different settings. To select the right one, first consider your needs:
  • Leisure: A portable generator is a convenient power source for outdoor activities like boating, camping, RVing, or tailgating, when other power sources might be hard to come by.
  • Residential: If you have to power an entire home or important components of a home, your best option is a standby generator. Having a backup standby generator is a good idea for the elderly or for people with disabilities.
  • Commercial: Depending on the workplace, a portable generator can be used to temporarily run lights and electrical tools, while a standby generator is typically used for powering essential networks, phones, and computers.
  • Worksite: If you have a large property and need to work far from a power source, you might need a portable generator to easily charge batteries and use power-hungry tools and equipment.
Young woman reading during a power outage
Couple with a camper van and a generator

Types of Generators

Generators are available in either portable or standby designs. A portable inverter generator may be a good option for you as well. Let’s take a quick look at all three.
Firman portable generator

Portable Generators

Portable generators run on gas and are a smaller and more affordable option than their larger standby counterparts. They are typically used for outdoor activities like camping but can also be used as an emergency power supply during a power outage.

Portable Generator Features
  • Outlets protected by a circuit breaker to guard against overload
  • Wheel kits and fold-down handles for added portability
  • Low-tone muffler to limit operational noise
  • Larger tanks to increase runtime
  • Integrated fuel gauges to protect against power interruptions

It is important to note that portable generators should only be used outside. Make sure you also follow any additional instructions in your owner’s manual.
Craftsman inverter generator

Inverter Generators

Also small and portable in design, inverter generators work by converting AC power to DC. Though they tend to have a lower wattage capacity, inverter generators run cleanly and quietly, making them a great choice for activities like boating, RVing, and camping.
Generac standby home generator

Standby Generators

A standby generator is permanently installed outside of a residential or commercial property. If a power outage occurs, the generator automatically provides electricity until power is restored. It typically runs on the property’s natural gas service, though propane models are also available.

Standby Generator Coverage Types
  • Essential circuit coverage will provide power to the most important circuits, allowing you to prioritize what should be backed up in case of an outage.
  • Complete coverage will power all of the circuits on the property, ensuring that everything continues to work uninterrupted.
  • Managed coverage utilizes a power management switch to provide coverage for the whole property by managing the power needs of individual appliances.

Standby Generator Installation

A standby generator connects to your electrical system via an automatic transfer switch. Contact us for a worry-free standby generator installation. Our experts are there to help you select the right unit before installing it for you. Learn more about our installation services!
Generator size chart

Choose the Right Size Generator to Power Your Home

Not sure what power output or total wattage you need for your home or recreational vehicle? A generator that is too small may not be able to provide enough electricity, while one that is too large could be wasteful and expensive. It’s important to assess your power requirements and select a generator that matches your needs perfectly. Here’s how to do the math:

Running wattage
+ Starting wattage
= Total wattage needed

In other words, you need to add the running watts and starting watts of all items and appliances you’re going to be using to determine the total starting wattage needed. 

We recommend opting for a generator that can handle all your power needs while at less than 90% its capacity. 

Please note that the generator size chart below is for indicative purposes only; the wattage required depends on specific activities, devices, and needs.

Other Features to Look for in a Generator

Generators come in all shapes and sizes, and with a variety of features. When trying to find a new generator, there are many factors to consider, in addition to the type and power output:
  • Type: Deciding whether you need a generator for home, work, or leisure use can help you choose between the two main generator types: portable and standby.
  • Runtime: The runtime of a generator indicates how long it can supply you with power. Keep in mind that this is calculated based on average load, rather than full load.
  • Fuel or Power Source: The most common fuel types for home generators are gasoline, propane, and diesel. But note that there are also solar-powered and battery-powered options. Ultimately, the choice of fuel type or power source will depend on factors such as availability in your area, storage requirements, and personal preference.
  • Noise: When it comes to generators, whether standby or portable, noise level is a crucial factor to consider. After all, the last thing you want is a generator that disrupts your peaceful environment! Fortunately, there are a variety of options available that offer noise reduction features, such as soundproof enclosures and mufflers.
Eco-friendly solar- and battery-powered generators

Choose an Eco-Friendly Model

If the environment is a significant factor in your decision, consider choosing a propane, natural gas, solar-powered, or battery-powered model, as there is no risk of fuel spill contamination with these types of generators. While propane and natural gas generator emit the lowest levels of CO and CO2 of all internal combustion types, solar power is still the most eco-friendly option. With zero emissions, noise-free operation, and absence of fuel storage concerns, solar power is quite the responsible option!

Using a Generator Safely

It is crucial not to cut corners when it comes to generator safety. Here are some important safety tips to be aware of for starting, operating, and maintaining your generator.
  • Never operate a generator in an enclosed area, as this can cause the buildup of deadly fumes.
  • Confirm that your generator is grounded in accordance with all local, provincial, and federal regulations.
  • Perform a regular inspection of your generator and only source parts from an authorized dealer.
  • Ensure that your generator is inaccessible to children and pets.
  • Do not operate a portable generator when it is raining.
  • Do not connect a portable generator to the wiring of your home.
  • Only use heavy-duty extension cords rated for outdoor use with your generator.
  • Turn your generator off and allow it to cool before refuelling.
In addition to keeping these tips in mind, you should also carefully read and understand all of the instructions, safety tips, and maintenance requirements in your owner’s manual.

Pro Tip

Generators should never be operated inside of your home, including in the garage or the basement. Keep any generator at least 30 feet away from your home’s exterior in a dry area, well away from vents or open windows and doors. Improper generator operation may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death. You should always have a working carbon monoxide detector installed in your home.

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