How to Pick the Right Generator for Your Home

Spring in Northern Michigan brings strong winds and unpredictable weather. During the stormy season, power outages can be a fairly common occurrence. If properly maintained, generators can provide an emergency power supply, allowing you to keep important equipment running during an outage.

First, though, you have to pick the right generator for your home. To help you prepare for the next big storm, we talked with the professionals: Dean Adams, the owner of Bay Area Contracting in Traverse City, and Mo Droppers, the operations manager at Cummins Bridgeway in Gaylord.

Choosing the Right Generator for Your Home

There are two main types of generators: portable and standby.

Mo’s tip: “The first thing you have to think about is what you want to run. Is it just the essentials like your furnace, well pump, and fridge, or do you want the convenience of running your entire home? Also, if you go away for long periods of time during the winter, you obviously won’t be home to start a generator, and you don’t want your pipes to freeze.”

Portable Generators (starting price about $2,000)

  • Requires manual operation
  • Must be closely monitored
  • Most are powered by gas, need to be refilled
  • Cannot be in or near the house (at least 10 feet away)
  • Noisy (engine similar to lawnmower)

Standby Generators (starting price about $6,000)

  • Automatically starts when the power goes out/shuts off when power returns
  • Don’t have to be home to run it
  • Can power all of your appliances
  • Powered by natural gas or propane
  • Fairly quiet (engine similar to automobile)

Safely Operating Your Generator

It’s incredibly important to make sure your generator is properly installed and operated to prevent safety risks for your family and electrical crews.

Dean’s tip: “When the power goes out, you want to know you can rely on your generator. Properly maintaining and regularly checking your generator will give you that peace of mind. If you have a standby generator, make sure you check the oil, make sure animals aren’t nesting in it, and keep it clear of snow in the winter.”

Portable Generators

  • The generator must be set up in an enclosure to protect from bad weather, but it still needs free air flow (a garage with the door open doesn’t provide adequate air circulation).
  • Place the generator on a level surface (free of snow during the winter) with the exhaust pointing away from your home. Don’t operate it on a combustible surface such as a wooden deck.
  • If you don’t want to run an extension cord from the generator to your appliances, you need a reputable, licensed electrician to properly install a transfer switch. If done wrong, you could kill someone working on a power line during the outage.
  • Overloading your generator can damage your appliances and electronics. It could also start a fire in the power.
  • The generator needs to be run regularly. It cannot sit for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to check it every month.
  • Don’t add fuel when the engine is hot.

Standby Generators

  • Perform yearly maintenance checks.
  • Make sure you have a cold weather kit for winter that includes a battery warmer.
  • During the winter, make sure to keep the generator clear of snow on all sides to allow for proper ventilation.

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