What Size Generator Do I Need? Figuring Out Your Power Needs

Figuring Out Your Emergency Power Needs

How Do You Determine Generator Power Needs

One of the first things to go during many disasters is the electricity. The obvious way to fix this problem is to buy a generator to power your essentials. When getting ready to buy a generator, one of the most common questions is what size generator do I need?

It sounds like an easy question but there are a lot of factors to consider. What are rated watts? What does surge watts mean? The power requirements for my device is listed in amps, how do I figure out if the generator can run it? These are questions that people tend to run into when they first look into a generator. It can all be overwhelming initially if you’re starting from scratch.

This article will answer all of these questions and more.

Generac 2000 Watt Generator

What are Running and Surge Watts?

Understanding how generators are rated is the starting point for determining how much wattage you need in a generator. It may seem confusing, but it’s actually really easy.

Simply put, running (or rated) watts are the maximum number of watts that a generator can continuously output without damaging it. Running wattage is the consistent level of power that a device requires to run. Devices like hot plates and light bulbs will typically only have one wattage rating. This is their required running watts.

Surge (or starting) watts are the maximum amount of watts that a generator can output for a limited time. This allows the generator to ramp up its power output for a limited time to meet the demands of equipment and appliances that need more wattage to get started. These are almost always items with electric motors like refrigerators, washers, and driers.

Manufacturers almost always display the surge wattage as the wattage of the generator. Take this WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000-Watt for example. It’s labeled as a 2000 watt generator, but that is its surge power level. The running wattage of this generator is 1600 watts. Other displayed ratings like max power, etc are all referring to the surge watts of the generator.

It’s not a big deal if you know what you’re looking for. Just be sure you read the label carefully and you’ll be good to go.

2000 Watt Wen Inverter Generator

What Power Needs Do My Electronics Have?

The answer to this question will decide how much power you need in a generator. First, you need to determine what you want to run off of the generator. Are you going to try to power your entire house or do you just want to keep your food in the refrigerator from spoiling until the power gets turned back on?

The table below will give you a rough idea of how much power you need to power certain devices. Keep in mind that these are just rough guidelines and you should get the exact power requirements from the labels on the equipment you plan to run on the generator.

Generator Size Needs by Device
Kitchen Devices Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Refrigerator or Freezer 700 1500
Microwave 1000 1000
Coffee Maker 1750 1750
Dishwasher 700 1400
Electric Oven 2100 2100
Hotplate 1300 1300
Household Utilities Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Furnace Fan 300-875 500-2350
Well Pump 1000 2000
Central Air Conditioner 3800 4950
Electric Water Heater 4000 4000
Window Air Conditioner 1200 2200
Box Fan 200 200
Washing Machine 1150 2300
Household Electronics Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Television 140-300 140-300
Desktop Computer 600-800 600-800
Laptop 65 65
Charging Mobile Devices 10-12 10-12
Electric Grill 1650 1650
Space Heater 1800 1800
Radio/CD/DVD Player 50-200 50-200
Power Tools Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Circular Saw 1400 2300
Table Saw 1800 4500
1 HP Air Compressor 1600 4500
Battery Charger 2400-7800 2400-7800
Bench Grinder 1400 2500
Drill 600 900
Electric Welder 5000 5000

Figuring Out Power Requirements for a Device if it’s Listed in Amps?

Figuring out the power requirements for a device if it’s listed in amps is easy.

Wattage is determined by multiplying volts x amps.

Most generators output 120 volts.

So if a device needs 10 amps to power it, you would simply multiply 120 volts x 10 amps to figure out that you need 1200 watts of power to run it.

How Do We Determine Our Power Needs?

Now that we understand the basics of how generators are rated and what the rating means, let’s look at how we figure out the exact size of generator we need.

Keep in mind this will be the least powerful generator that will run your appliances or devices. The more power that your generator can output, the more items you’ll be able to power.

In the first example, we’ll say that we just want to power the minimum number of things needed during a power outage.

Scenario #1 Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Space Heater 1800 1800
Laptop 65 65
Charge Phones/Devices 12 12
Hot Plate 1300 1300
Total 3,177 3,177

In this scenario, we’ve determined that we want to be able to charge our phones, run a space heater, charge our laptop and cook on a hotplate. So if we wanted to run everything at once, we’d need 3177 running watts. Something like a DuroStar DS4000S would be sufficient. If we decided not to ever run the heater and hot plate together, we could even drop down to a 2000 watt generator.

In the second example, we’ll say we’re looking for a generator to provide back up power for our entire house.

Scenario #2 Running (Rated) Wattage Surge (Starting) Wattage
Central Air Conditioning 3800 4950
Electric Water Heater 4000 4000
Refrigerator or Freezer 700 1500
Microwave 1000 1000
Dishwasher 700 1400
Electric Oven 2100 2100
Well Pump 1000 2000
Furnace Fan 600 1500
Electric Water Heater 4000 4000
Television 300 300
Laptop 65 65
Total 18,265 22,815

In this scenario, we’re looking for something to power our entire home during a power outage. Obviously, this is going to take a much larger and expensive generator.

Generac Standby Generator

This example would need something like a Generac 7043 Guardian Series 22kW/19.5kW standby generator. Having a standby generator for your home is great because it’s already wired in and can seamlessly switch on when the power goes out. 

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the questions that we see asked the most when this topic comes up. It’s understandable as generators aren’t something that many people have a lot of experience with.

How much power do I need for a hurricane?

You could easily substitute pretty much any natural disaster in for hurricane. The answer is going to be the same for the most part.

In this case, you may only need a small generator to run the bare necessities. A small 2000 watt portable generator would probably suffice as long as you only expect to be without power for a few days. If you were expecting to be without power for much longer, a larger generator capable of running your refrigerator and several other appliances at the same time would be a good idea.

How much power do I need for my house?

This is actually the second most popular question that comes up about generators. We’ve pretty much answered this already but you’re going to want to look for a standby generator if you’re looking for seamless power to your house when the main power goes out.

How much power do I need an RV?

The most power that you’re going to need will be to power the RV air conditioning so that’s a good place to start. After that, you just need to add up the amount of power needed for the rest of your appliances.

One thing to consider is going to be the weight of the generator. Since you’re going to want to be able to run it inside your RV and outside, you’ll want something relatively light. This is why we suggest getting two 2000 watt generators that can be run in series like the Honda EU2200i 120-Volt Portable Inverter with Companion and Parallel Cables. These can be moved separately but will basically double their power generation by being hooked together.

These are actually a good set-up for homes as well.

Where should I place my generator?

Always use your generator in a well-ventilated area away from doors, windows or any vents that may allow carbon monoxide into your home. This can be difficult in situations where you have to run extension cords to appliances inside the home.

We suggest having a battery powered carbon monoxide detector being used in every living space within your home while using a generator. If you’re already spending hundreds of dollars on a generator, spending $10 for a CO detector is a no-brainer.

What are the carbon monoxide concerns associated with a generator?

Traditional fossil fuel powered generators produce carbon monoxide just like other engines. Carbon monoxide has no smell and cannot be seen.

If you’re ever working around a generator and begin to feel dizzy, sick or light headed you must immediately get to fresh air! Symptoms can come quickly and without warning.

What are the electrical hazards associated with a generator?

When using a generator, you have to make sure you keep it dry. Generators must be set up on dry ground and users should ensure their hands are dry before touching the generator or plugging in any cords.

This can be difficult when you consider that one of the times we’re most likely to use a generator is during a natural disaster that probably includes flooding or heavy rainfall. To counter this we need to plan ahead for wet conditions when we set up or purchase a generator.

To keep a generator dry during a storm, you should use a tarp or other open covering to keep as much water off of the generator as possible. Placing the generator on a raised stand is a good way to keep the generator off of the wet ground.

What are the fire hazards associated with a generator?

The fire hazards that go along with generators is pretty small. The main fire hazard comes through storing fuel and refueling.

When refueling a generator, make sure it’s turned off and has time to cool so and spilled fuel does not dour on to hot parts of the generator. Storing fuel should be done outside of your living area.

Conclusion

Buying a generator for an emergency is a great option for anyone who is preparedness minded. Being able to generate your own power can add a lot of versatility to your preparedness plans.

Deciding to buy a whole house standby generator is an expensive option that most people probably won’t decide on. A portable generator, on the other hand, can be a great choice for short-term power outages.

Did you find the answer to what size generator do I need? E-mail us from our contact page to ask us any questions you may have.

Be sure to check out our other gear related articles here!

Additional Reading: The Best Bug Out Bag List – What You Need and Why You Need It!

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