I Want a Generator… How Much Power Do I Need?

When it comes to generators… It’s a question that we get asked ALL THE TIME.

How Much Power Do I need?

The answer isn’t really easy. It’s not the sort of thing where we can give one quick number and be able to recommend a specific generator. Generator transactions are the epitome of what makes Howard Brothers unique from other retailers. All our customers questions will not be answered by literature and signage. It requires conversation and understanding the full requirements of a given situation.

Before we even get to power needs, we often have to ask our customers how the generator will be used.

  • Is this a commercial or residential need?
  • Delicate electronics vs appliances (which… almost all new appliances could be considered high end electronics now!)
  • Are their sound requirements? How loud are you willing to put up with.

For this article, let’s assume we’re talking about a residential customer who wants a generator for backup purposes only. He’s not demanding that it kick on power immediately after power failure. He’s willing to run some extension cords from outside where his generator is sitting (Yeah… you can’t keep any gas powered generator inside where people will be.)

So let’s discuss some of the things our customers need to consider when researching generators and wattage requirements.

Wattage and Amps

It used to be easier to talk about power needs. In the past, most appliances did a pretty decent job of specifying how many watts it required to run. Over time, most appliances and electric motors started listing their power requirements primarily in amps.

Which means that you’ve got to get out your calculator and do some simple math.

  • Watts = Volts x Amps
  • Amps = Watts/Volts

If you’ve got a 6000 Watt Generator, you have to get all your appliance and electronic needs converted to watts first so that you can add them all up to ensure you don’t exceed your wattage needs.

Most household appliances (in america) use 120 volts, and for this example let’s assume the customer is only interested in 120volt power needs. So let’s assume you don’t know the watts used by your wife’s hair dryer. You see stamped to the side that it is 15amps. 15amps multiplied by 120volts equals 1800 watts.

This isn’t always perfect, and it is best to know the actual wattage specified by the manufacturer of the product, but it is a good starting point to determining your total wattage requirements.

Honda has created a great wattage calculator that you can plugin numbers from your home and see the overall requirements you’ll need for your generator. Also, when in the store, we have some good charts that we generally share with our customers that helps determine total need.

Starting vs Running Wattage

Some appliances require extra power to start up, while others maintain the same power requirements constantly.

To calculate your power needs correctly, you need to know which kind of load you are dealing with. (A load is defined as the device that you are powering.) There are two kinds of loads:

Resistive loads – Resistive loads are pretty simple: they require the same amount of power to both start and run the equipment. Many resistive loads are involved in heating or making heat of some kind. Examples of resistive loads include:

  • Light bulbs
  • Coffee maker
  • Toaster

Reactive Loads – Reactive loads contain an electric motor, which requires additional power to start, but significantly less power to run once it gets going. Typically starting power is 3 times the amount of power to run the application. Examples of reactive loads include:

  • Refrigerators / freezers
  • Furnace fans
  • Well pumps
  • Air conditioners
  • Bench grinders
  • Air compressors
  • Power tools

Some household appliances, like a furnace or refrigerator, have internal fans that come on intermittently. Extra wattage/power is needed to start the fan each time. Refrigerators also have a defrost cycle that requires power in addition to the compressor and fans. In these cases, we recommend that you allow the appliance to cycle for a while, but then unplug them during the temporary time that you are running other appliances. Once that temporary use is done, you can plug back in the refrigerator or freezer without having lost the temperature advantage from the closed appliances.

Reactive loads may also require additional power when the electric motor begins to work. For example, when a saw begins cutting wood, its power requirement will increase. This is not applicable for most household appliances.

Noisy vs Super Quiet Generators

There’s not a lot to say here except that there is a difference in decibels that everyone should be aware of.

Honda makes some of the quietest generators available today. It truly is remarkable how quiet they run and you’re able to have a conversation with someone while one is running feet away from you.

Something that not most folks understand or know is this. For every 10 db, the sound level (noise) doubles. 70 db is twice as loud as 60 db. 50 db is 1/2 as loud as 60 db. Again, this isn’t perfect and we all hear differently, but the best way for you to tell truly how quiet a generator is, is to have it running and you listen to it.

We’re happy to demo this for our customers and honestly, it often becomes the principle selling point. Most of our customers get a generator not only for emergency power needs, but for fun times too. Tailgating, camping or other outdoor events which require power are more and more needed. You want something mobile enough that gives you power, but also allows you to enjoy being outdoors at the same time. No noise = Happy neighbors.

So you see, the answer isn’t really easy. Each family and house has different expectations for when they’re power is down. If you’re more concerned with power to major appliances like freezers, refrigerators and stoves, then you’ll have different needs vs someone who wants to only power heaters in extreme cold weather.

Regardless, we love this stuff. We love to help and always look forward to educating our customers on it. We want everyone to be happy with their purchase and not be upset that they didn’t get what they needed.

Come into Howard Brothers at any of our five locations and we’ll get you set up on a Honda Generator which will last you years and give you comfort and reliability for the same time.

For more information, download this Honda Generator Brochure


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