Home generator guide

Written by Anthony Michael

Updated June 12, 2024 | Published December 15, 2022

Have you ever had to sit through a long power outage, wondering when the power would come back on? Don’t remember where you keep the candles? This can be an extremely frustrating and stressful experience, especially at night or in adverse weather conditions.

Unfortunately, power outages are a fact of life in Canada, especially with more frequent extreme weather conditions. While most outages are of short duration, some can last several hours—if not days.

This is where a home generator can come in handy to keep the lights on and the refrigerator running. Read on to find out more about home generators, what they are, how they work and how they factor into home insurance.

Black and white photo of a portable generator

What is a home generator?

A home generator or standby generator is a machine that turns mechanical energy into electrical energy.

It provides electricity to your devices and appliances when your home is not connected to the power grid. Generators allow homeowners to keep the lights on, use appliances, and maintain climate control during any extended power outage.

Generators come in different sizes and wattages and are powered by various types of fuel.

Different types of generators

There are three types of generators: standby generators, portable generators, and inverter generators.

Portable generators provide power to specific appliances or outlets and can also be used on job sites to power tools. The more lightweight and easier to transport inverter generator is often used for RVs, camping or boating.

For the purposes of this article, we will look at the standby generator.

What size of generator do I need?

If you own a house, you will need a home generator (also known as standby generator or whole house generator).

Home generators produce anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 watts of power. If you are looking to use everything under your roof during a power outage, you will need a 20,000-watt generator; if, on the other hand, you only want to use key appliances, such as your refrigerator or oven, then a 5,000- to 7,500-watt generator may be more appropriate.

How does a home generator work?

Generators run on different kinds of fuel, such as propane, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel.

Whichever option you choose, don’t forget to keep fuel on hand. Otherwise, your generator won’t be of any use during a power outage!

A home generator works through an automatic transfer switch which is connected to the main circuit breaker panel. In the event of a power outage, the automatic transfer switch turns the generator on to provide electricity to the house within seconds. Generators can even power sump pumps and security systems. Some even run self-diagnosis tests to inform you when maintenance is required.

You may also take the step of having a generator panel installed by a qualified electrician. This is a separate panel that is connected to the generator and can be activated automatically or manually. A manual panel is less expensive, but somebody has to be in the house to turn it on before power is restored.

Home generator safety and maintenance

It’s important to properly maintain your generator. Home insurance will not cover damage to your generator (or most anything else) caused by wear and tear or lack of maintenance.

Here are some tips to keep your generator safe and in top working order:

  • A home generator must be installed outside of the house by a qualified professional.
  • The generator should be installed 20 feet away from the house because its exhaust produces carbon monoxide, a colourless and odourless gas that can be fatal.
  • Hire a qualified electrician to connect the generator to your home’s main circuit panel or to install a separate generator panel.
  • Regularly clean the engine; you can use compressed air or a soft rag to clean debris.

Cost

There are a number of factors that affect the cost of home generators, including wattage, labour, and fuel. The following table gives an approximate idea of home generator costs. Generator installation costs are usually double the cost of the generator itself. You will also need to pay for fuel, which varies depending on the type of fuel and the region.

Service and device

Average price

20,000-watt generator

$10,000 + installation + fuel

7,500-watt generator

$1,200-$1,400 + installation + fuel

5,000-watt generator

$800-$900 + installation + fuel

Automatic generator panel

$2,500-$4,000

Manual generator panel

$250-$300

Panel installation by a qualified electrician

$500-$1,000

Hourly rate charged by an electrician

From $98/hour

Source

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Home insurance considerations

What is that old saying—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

This certainly applies in the case of home generators. These devices can help you avoid losses from burst or freezing pipes, and prevent interruptions if you run a home business.

Coverage for damages to home generators depends on the type of policy and exclusions.

If you have a named perils policy, you must add the type of peril to your coverage to receive compensation in the event of a loss. For example, if your generator was damaged by hail and you did not add hail to your policy, you would not be covered.

If you have a comprehensive (or all-risk) policy, such as the home insurance policy offered by Square One, damage to your generator will be covered unless the peril is excluded. Check your policy or contact your insurance provider or broker to see which perils are excluded. Typical exclusions include wear and tear and mechanical breakdown.

According to Anne Marie Thomas, director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), home insurance coverage for generator fuel depends on the type of policy and the amount of coverage.

Commonly asked questions

Can I install the generator myself?

While it is possible for you to install a home generator yourself, it is a complex undertaking. Manufacturers recommend you use an authorized dealer or a licensed contractor for safety reasons and to adhere to all local, provincial, and national electrical codes.

What is a transfer switch?

A transfer switch connects the generator to your home’s electrical system while safely disconnecting you from the power grid. This helps keep your home’s power steady during an outage, and protects utility employees working to restore power to the utility lines.

How many watts do my appliances and devices consume?

This varies depending on the appliance or the device. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the wattage of your appliances and devices before deciding on which size generator to purchase.

Appliance/Device

Approximate wattage

Refrigerator

600

Portable heater

1,500

Window air conditioner

1,000

Sump pump

750-1,500

Computer

60-300

Light bulb

5-80

Source

How do you store generator fuel?

If your generator runs on gasoline or diesel, it’s important to note that these fuels have a relatively short shelf life—about 3-6 months for gas, and 6-12 months for diesel, depending on storage conditions.

Running old fuel in your generator can damage the internal workings, so make sure you’re using relatively new gasoline or diesel. If your generator uses these fuels, store them safely in approved containers. That way, you can rotate old fuel and use it elsewhere before it expires.

Propane has a practically indefinite shelf life, on the other hand.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

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