Ready For The Next Power Outage? A Guide To Portable Generators

Consumer Reports has rated the Generac GP5500, a 5,500-watt generator that sells for less than $700, as a best buy. But don't buy before reading user reviews at or other consumer sites: The newer Generacs appear to have more reports of problems.


>> An electric starter (the Generac GP5500 doesn't have one) adds convenience, but also battery maintenance.

>> An idle control, rare in lower-price generators, slows an engine that's not under full load, saving gas.

>> A built-in hour meter to ensure proper maintenance intervals, alerting the owner to how long the engine has been in use.

>> Also make sure the engine shuts down automatically when the oil is low.

>> Check that the generator has the connections you need. If you're running extension cords into the house, all you need is a generator with basic household electrical outlets. If an electrician installs an outdoor alert for the generator, it will likely need a 120/240-volt, L4-30R Twistlock. (Your electrician will explain.)

Transfer Switch

A transfer switch hard-wired to an electrical panel shuts down the incoming CL&P power line and shifts to power produced by the generator. With parts and labor, it costs about $1,000 installed professionally by an electrician.

Before you buy a generator, ask the electrician to check how much power it will take to run the refrigerator, furnace and other essentials. The electrician will recommend a generator size, in watts, and also mark the breakers that will remain on when powered by the generator.

"You don't want to get a generator that's too small and you don't want to get an unsafe situation," says Del Grande.

Yes, do-it-yourselfers can get in trouble. Never plug a generator directly into an electric dryer outlet or other home wiring, which will send electricity through the house and outside into the power lines. This "backfeeding" is potentially deadly to anyone, such as a power company linesman, who touches the power line.

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