Standby and Backup Generators

Backup generators fall into two general categories -- permanent standby generators, and portable generators.

A permanent generator will be wired to the household electrical system, and will have an automatic switch to cut off the house from the grid, so that workers trying to fix the problem aren't fried, and you aren't backing up the whole neighborhood.

Portable generators are generally used when only a few vital circuits need backup power, such as refrigeration, furnace, pumps, pipe heaters, and lights.

Generally, something in the range of 5 kilowatts will be adequate for most houses, and a gasoline powered 5 kw portable generator can cost as little as $400. If you have cars on the property, getting gasoline for the generator is as simple as siphoning gas from the car.


In a pinch, a good sized inverter can be connected to the car battery, and the car can idle to provide power. Remember to leave the garage door open to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

Portable generators can run from the $3300 NorthStar (20 horsepower, 13 kilowatts) that run on gasoline, propane, or natural gas, to the $99 DuroPower 800 watt (it has a 2 stroke engine, so it is not allowed in California).


A reasonable middle ground is the 5 kilowatt DuroPower 5000, which will set you back $399.99 at this writing. A generator like that will run a normal house for ten hours before the 5 gallon gas tank needs refilling. And at 66 decibels, the noise won't drive you crazy.