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Using Backup Generators: Choosing the Right Backup Generator - Homeowners

Using Backup Generators: Choosing the Right Backup Generator - Homeowners
  • Determine the amount of power you will need—How much power do you need to operate equipment and appliances connected to the generator?
  • Portable generators made for household use can provide temporary power to a small number of selected appliances or lights. For example, light bulb wattage indicates the power needed for lighting. Appliance and equipment labels indicate their power requirements. If you can’t determine the amount of power you will need, ask an electrician.
  • Choose the generator’s fuel source—Backup generators are typically powered by either diesel fuel or natural gas, and both have associated advantages and disadvantages. Speak with your utility company or an experienced electrician, engineer, and/or sales consultant who knows exactly what kind of generator may be needed based on your needs.
  • Permanently installed, stationary generators are better suited for providing backup power to the home. Portable generators present a greater risk of becoming overloaded or overheated, which may cause the generator to fail.
  • Make sure your generator produces more power than will be drawn by the electrical devices you connect to the generator, including the initial surge when it is turned on. Ensure all electrical devices are turned off before you connect them to a generator. Once the generator is running, switch devices on one by one. Shut them down again before switching back to your utility service.


Disclaimer: Because every emergency is different, it is important for your safety that you follow the directives of your state and local emergency management authorities and local utilities. The information provided on DOE's website is intended for general informational purposes only and is not an endorsement of any particular material or service. Before engaging in any activities that could impact utility services such as electricity or natural gas, contact your local utility to ensure that the activities are done safely.

For additional emergency-planning resources, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website, State and local emergency management authorities and local utilities may also provide helpful guidance.