I use a gas generator power every day and over the years I have purchased dozens of them. Since I put a lot more hours on my generators than normal, I have developed some specific ideas on how to make the best choice. I want to share my thinking in case you might find it helpful.
Most generators come out of the box running, and will usually hold up for 200-500 hours of run time. However, they may not run reliably in real cold or wet weather, they could be hard to start, parts could be nearly impossible to find, and they may use a lot more fuel than they need to. Not only is fuel expensive, but getting gasoline in an emergency could be very difficult! The quality of the power from a poor quality generator may not be good which can damage equipment, or it might not produce as much power as you need. An emergency is not the time to find these things out.
Of course we all want to be careful and not spend more than we need to, but the real cost of a generator is more than the price of the generator itself. Fuel, oil, and maintenance costs all need to be considered in making your purchase. The longevity of the generator is another big factor. If it can last 2-4 times as long as a cheaper choice it will be a much better value.
Spending a lot of money for a generator may not be a good idea. You will get a nice unit if you spend a lot, but it wears out just like the cheaper units and if you are going to use it a lot it will have to be replaced. My advice is to buy two less expensive but reliable generators of the same make and model, and keep one unit in reserve. This gives you a lot more reliability and can save you a lot of cash!
If you buy a generator with a Briggs & Stratton, Kohler, Generac or Honda engine, parts are not difficult to find. There are vendors on the internet where you can order what you need. Make absolutely sure that parts are easily available for whatever you buy. A simple looking spring can put your generator out of commission, and costs practically nothing to replace... if you can get the right one.
A good quality generator should last 2,000 hours or more, run well in cold or wet weather, and be easy to start. If you buy the right equipment parts are easy to get if you or your mechanic need them. So here are a couple of suggestions and why I recommend them. This should give you some insight into making your own choices.
Another suggestion I have is that you don't buy a bigger generator than you need. Larger engines waste fuel when lightly loaded. It's easy to go overboard or buy a unit that is too small. In most cases a 5KW to 8KW generator is all you will need to provide emergency power for a home. The correct size is something you'll have to calculate based on your situation. Do not buy a little tiny generator and expect it to do the job.
Try your generator before an emergency occurs and prepare wiring, cables, switches and any other preparations you might need just to be sure it all works. You don't want some crummy little detail to keep you from having emergency power when you need it. Make sure you have a few quarts of oil and a replacement rope kit for a manual start generator. Try to think ahead about what you might need.
I prefer manual start generators. Electric start is really nice but a dead battery could mean you don't have emergency power when you need it. If you're going to use the generator alot, or you need more than 8KW of power then electric start is a must.
For review here are some things to look for:
1. Copper windings
2. Brushless generator head (some times called an alternator)
4. Engine make
5. Parts availability
6. Sized properly
Here are four examples of generators that I think represent good choices and why:
1. Powerhorse Portable Generator - 7000 Surge Watts, 5500 Rated Watts $629.99
This generator is remarkable for it's price. Northern Tool & Equipment is a good vendor and they can provide help on parts you might need.
The generator is 100% copper wound and while it uses brushes, the unit is designed to last a long time. When I purchase a generator with brushes I order a couple spare sets right away (they're cheap). A set of brushes last a long time but over the years I've had to replace brushes quite often. Especially when the engine lasts a long time and you put a lot of hours on it.
2. Briggs & Stratton 30470 7KW Generator $899.00
I've been a fan of Briggs for a long time. They start very easily, and last pretty well. They also seem to run real well in all weather conditions. They still uses brushes so it's not my favorite, and the engines are still running great when the generator head fails.
3. NorthStar Generator - 5500 Surge Watts, 4500 Rated Watts, EPA Phase 3 and CARB-Compliant $1,049.99
The North Star series of generators are remarkable. They are my favorites and while they are a little more money then the first two I mentioned, they are I think the best value right now. They have copper windings, are brushless, and use an excellent Honda engine series. This whole line is to drool over! Higher power (up to 15,000 watts) is available, but get they a bit pricey. If you need the power though, they are still a great choice. Over 8KW you really need electric start.
4. NorthStar Generator - 8000 Surge Watts, 6600 Rated Watts, EPA Phase 3 and CARB-Compliant $1,499.99 This a great unit, electric and rope start. A big jump in price but pretty much the same cost in dollars/watt.
As you can see, getting a good buy involves thinking about your needs and weighing them against the costs. Much like a lot of other choices we make. The big thing is to make sure that what you purchase your new generator that it will last long enough, provide sufficient power, and run when you need it to!
If you're using solar power you will need a backup generator. Weather is unpredictable, so your needs might exceed your battery capacity. Sometimes you might need provide high power for compressors or welders and the like. High quality inverters are amazingly reliable, but if yours fails a generator can keep you going until you get the inverter fixed or replaced. Being prepared is always a smart move!
Amazon Price: $619.99 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 19, 2015)
Amazon Price: $1,099.99 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 19, 2015)
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Dec 19, 2015)