Permanent (stationary) generators are pre-wired to your home electrical wiring and hooked-up to a fuel line. Automatic systems are also referred to as standby. These systems can detect a power outage, start up and power your home or business during an emergency without your involvement. This buying guide provides comparison data and best prices on some of the popular brands. You can find of course all this information by yourself, but our review may save you hours of research. The prices represent the numbers we found online at authorized dealers or other retailers at the time we compiled this review. For more information and current prices at a leading online retailer visit a respective product link (if shown). The rating chart is followed by a comparative analysis to help you choose the best system for your home. For my picks also see cheap generators page.
Depending on their engine, stationary emergency gensets can run on natural gas (NG), liquefied propane gas (LPG) or diesel. In this review we also included one Generac's gasoline-fueled portable model because it can be used as a whole house generator due to its high power. Many fixed models are bi-fuel and can run on both natural gas and propane, although they are shipped configured for a particular fuel, usually propane. You will need to do a simple adjustment to convert from one type to the other. Note that the rated wattage varies slightly with the fuel: the chart above give both NG and LPG watts. Diesels are more reliable, but they are the most expensive. Because of their higher cost, they are more suitable for industrial applications. Standby devices under 20kW are normally air cooled. Gensets about 20kW are usually liquid cooled. For additional information and lesser known details also see our guide to standby home generators.
One of the most important things to determine when choosing your backup system is how much electrical power your home will need in emergency. Check out our sizing guide for the recommendations.
So, what brand to choose? The main U.S. manufacturers of gensets for homes are Generac®, Briggs & Stratton, Kohler®, and Cummins® Onan®. Most other brands are private labels. Generac® accounts for about 65-70% of all North America gensets sales. Its current home generator systems up to 30 kW are CARB-compliant, which is required for California. The new EPA requirements are harmonized with CARB, so for newly designed or imported models similar emission limits supposedly will be required nationwide. Generally, as far as I can see, Generac's Guardian® series is sold at one of the lowest costs per kilowatt among top brands in 10-20 kW range. Any model from this product line can be a cost-effective solution for a typical private house or a small business. Guardian® packages comes in several basic types. Some of their models can be bought with an optional "smart" load management. It can temporarily shed non-essential circuits when the genset approaches its maximum capacity. This allows you to handle several a/c with a smaller system. People sometimes buy General Electric because of its well-known brand name. GE standby systems are actually built by Briggs & Stratton, although it's likely they have to meet special GE requirements. GE does provide 5-year warranty. B&S also powers Milbank. Not surprisingly, Milbank characteristics are nearly identical to that of GE.
Generac® model 6237 received 2013 "Best Buy" rating from Consumer Reports magazine. Generally, a 7,000W part is good only for essentials. Of course, if you don't need to feed a central a/c or other large appliances, this model may be an excellent choice. Otherwise, an average home with up to 4-ton central air conditioner typically needs at least a 12 kW device. For 5-ton a/c you likely need even larger system, such as GUARDIAN® 17/16kW model 05873 (see our review). To select a system for such applications, see our guide to starting a/c and motors). Popular Kohler's 14RESAL was also recommended by CR magazine. Kohler® website says its units restore power in as little as 10 seconds. This brand has one of the best warranty in the industry and is a good choice too, although it seems to be somewhat more expensive. A number of models recommended by the consumer magazine, such as Kohler's 8.5 RES-QS7, Generac 6237, CorePower 5837 and Cummins 13GSBA-6722B have been discontinued since their last review. Commins still makes a similar model 13GSBA-6722, which works only on LP.
Of course, besides the purchase price, there are costs associated with the installation. When you are you choosing the size of your genset, you need to check if your gas or propane service is sufficient to provide the required amount of the fuel. Our chart shows cubic feet per hour (CFH) for both NG and LPG. By the way, B&S used to make a nice dual fuel 7 kW #40248, which offered flexible connection options. It included a propane quick connect kit that gets you up and running immediately from two BBQ tanks as if it was a portable genset. You could later on connect it to natural gas line when you choose to. Unfortunately, this part is now discontinued.
Note that the manufacturers usually state rated power for 60 OF (15.5 OC) ambient at sea level. You need to derate available watts typically 3.5% for each 1000 ft (305 m) above sea level and 1.5% for each 10 OF (12.5 OC) rise in ambient temperature above 60 OF. So, a 15 kW device would provide only about 14.1 kW at 100 OF.
WHERE TO BUY
. If you want to buy online at a discount, in my personal view, Amazon's Home Improvement department is a good place to start your search. It has a wide selection of Generac® GUARDIAN®, Briggs & Stratton and other top ranking brands. Amazon usually offers free shipping on the gensets they carry. Of course, there are many other discount stores. If you prefer to have a local installer handle delivery and installation, please complete our free quote request. As far as I know, regardless on where you bought a system, you can normally either order the installation from their local dealer, or hire your own contractor.
NOTES: All listed devices provide split single-phase 120/240VAC 60 Hz output.
Prices in the chart do not include taxes, shipping and installation (although some retailers offer free shipping).
The devices compared here represent only a small sample of all available models and brands. For other models as well as official specifications, datasheets and warranty info visit the websites of the respective generator manufacturers.
The part numbers in our chart are arranged in no particular order. The data and features (including ability to run a specific size of central air conditioner) are based on the published specifications of the respective manufacturers or retailers.
No attempt was made to verify products compliance to their specs.
While all attempts are made to provide accurate, current, and reliable data, all info here is provided AS IS- we assume no responsibility for any errors. Product reviews are provided for information purposes and reflects only the opinion of the author. The sole responsibility when selecting a product rests with you- see important Disclaimer linked at the bottom of this page.
Generac®, GUARDIAN®, Briggs & Stratton, Kohler®, Cummins® Onan®, GE and some other words mentioned above are registered or unregistered trademarks, trade names and service marks and are property of their respective owners.