Simply put, an electric generator is a device that converts a form of energy into electricity. Home generators provide electricity to devices and appliances when you are not connected to the power grid. They’re important during natural disasters such as hurricanes and snowstorms, or during any prolonged power outage.
Why should you consider a generator?
During and after disasters including hurricanes, heat waves or wildfires, officials often warn that electricity service may be interrupted for several days or weeks as infrastructure like power lines are repaired.
A lack of electricity is extremely disruptive to your daily life and needs, and even dangerous: Food may spoil in the fridge, or you might not have any way to cook food. You may be unable to power and use life-saving medical equipment such as an oxygen tank. Your devices, which connect you to the outside world, are unable to charge.
In the extreme heat and humidity of the summer, you may also be more vulnerable to heat-related illness or death. Without power to run an A/C, your home may reach unsafe temperatures. After Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, for example, 21 people died from exposure to the extreme weather. Extreme cold can also cause deaths: At least 246 people died from exposure to the cold during the winter storm that hit Texas in February 2021 left millions without power.
Different types of generators
There are several different types of generators, built to serve varying power needs.
A standby generator can be installed as a backup power source for your entire house, providing up to 20 kilowatts (kW) of power a day if there’s a blackout. It can run several large household appliances like your refrigerator, microwave and A/C and other household appliances during an outage.
Midsize generators—fixed or portable—can power anywhere from 3kW to 8kW. This will keep the lights and fridge running during an extended power outage, and a few other smaller appliances.
A small, recreational portable generator can power at least 2kW. That’s enough for small household appliances like fans, and electronic devices like laptops and their chargers.
The prices of these generators vary widely—from a few hundred bucks to thousands of dollars—depending on size, model, and manufacturer. For reviews of specific products, check out these free guides from trusted reviewers:
Other costs to consider
Keep in mind that most generators will require additional fuel costs as they typically run on gasoline or diesel. Installation costs may vary as well, depending on the type of generator you purchase.
You should always hire a professional to install a fixed generator. If the generator isn’t hooked up correctly, it could cause gas leaks or electrical problems in your house once you start running appliances.
Installation costs may vary depending on the type and size of the generator you want to install, and where you need to install it. Always get multiple bids from licensed electricians or contractors so that you can get a fair deal.
If you rely on a portable generator, never run it indoors—that includes in a garage. Because of the fuel that these generators rely on, carbon monoxide, an odorless, toxic gas, can build up inside your home. It can cause illness and death, with little time to get to safety before you are affected. Make sure that your generator is set up at least 20 feet away from your house to avoid any leaks.
More than 500 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. After extended power outages—such as after hurricanes in Louisiana, or during the Texas winter storm—cases of carbon monoxide poisoning increased. These deaths are tragic and preventable with safety precautions.
Consider purchasing carbon monoxide monitors to install in your home as an added layer of protection.
Without advance warning about the true scale of power outages and the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, local officials say they were caught off guard, leaving residents to fend for themselves.
State incentives for affordable generators
Some states waive their sales taxes on emergency preparedness supplies during specific weekend. Below is a list of states that have tax holidays. This may help you save a substantial amount of money if you decide to purchase a generator.
Texas: Annually, typically at the end of April. According to the State Comptroller’s Office, portable generators less than $3,000 qualify for the tax exemption. It applies to purchases made online as well as in stores during the tax holiday. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors also qualify.
Louisiana: The state declares specific tax holidays for those recovering from disasters. The tax holidays vary year to year.
Alabama: Annually, typically the last weekend in February. The waivers may vary by county. You can check the state’s Department of Revenue for more details.
Virginia: Annually, first weekend in August. Generators that cost less than $1,000 qualify as well as other hurricane preparedness items.