When a home loses power, refrigerators, heating and cooling systems and even medical devices stop working. If a power outage occurs over a long period of time, a home may become uncomfortable or even uninhabitable due to temperature conditions. A home without electricity in the dead of winter is subject to pipe bursting, while extremely hot homes can create unsafe living conditions.

One way to protect your home and family from an extended power outage is to purchase a home generator, which can provide power to the home when the electricity shuts off.

Angie’s List asked highly rated electricians about generators.

Generators convert gasoline, natural gas, or diesel fuel into electricity. Some are portable while others are stationary. Both can have manual or automatic transfer switches.

  • Portable generators: Designed to run for shorter time periods and are powered by gasoline so they’ll need frequent refueling. You can run only certain items with a portable generator. You also have to run extension cords into the appliances you want to run, or you can have an electrician install a manual transfer switch to your main circuit panel. You can purchase many reliable portable generators for under $1,000 – prices will vary depending on the wattage you choose. If you move, you can easily take the generator with you.
  • Permanent/stationary/standby generators: Can start automatically or with the flip of a switch when the power goes out. These units appeal primarily to homeowners who either don’t want to risk power interruptions or can’t because they rely on medical equipment like a home dialysis machine – they can power everything in your house. These units resemble a small air conditioning unit. Providers can install the unit outside the home, where it will be permanently mounted. They can cost about $7,500 to $9,000.

“When deciding what type of generator you might want to have its dependent on your potential usage. If you are living in the city and you may just need it for a few hours a portable generator can be a great option, they cost about $1,000. But if you live in a rural area where you may be without electricity for a longer period of time or if you have medical issues that require equipment to be plugged in you are probably going to go with a whole house generator," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.             

Angie’s List Tips: Home generators

  • Plan ahead: If you’re considering running your house on a generator, take the time to do your homework on generators before buying and installing one.  You don’t want to find yourself scrambling in the event of an emergency.
  • What are your needs? How much power do you want during an outage? What appliances are the most important to run? Look at the labels on your appliances and add up the watts. Select a generator based on your home’s specific wattage needs.
  • Hire a reputable electrician: Purchasing a generator can be expensive. Talk with a licensed electrician who is knowledgeable about generators. A reputable electrician can help you determine the right system for your home’s needs and teach you how to properly operate the unit.
  • Test it out: You should regularly check your generator to make sure it starts and operating correctly.
  • Be safe: You should follow specific safety instructions when using generators. Put the generator outside on a level surface in a well-ventilated area at least ten feet away from the house to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.