Portable Generator Review - What worked for me!

I purchased a generator to power my entire home years ago and it is still going strong! Although there is a newer model available, I want to share with you the model and some of the hidden gotchas when deciding between a portable and stationary unit.

I originally considered a stationary home generator (natural gas) as the only possible solution and invited three companies to provide quotes (unit plus installation).

Stationary Home Generator (Natural Gas)

The first company was sent out by home depot; we often shop there and walk by a home generator on the way out, so during our last visit, we asked for a quote for the generator and installation.

Company #1 quoted me $6,700.00 for a 17kw Generac which included running the electrical, installing the transfer switch and $500 of gas pipe work. I asked about other generators, but the salesman was not allowed to talk about any other generator other than what Home Depot carried.

Company #2 quoted us $7,100.00 for a 17kw Generator and was told it's the same thing as a Generac, they just labeled it differently for marketing purposes (I verified this and Generac does have a number of brand names).

Company #3 came in at $8,030 for a 14kw Kohler. It was pointed out that it would be in our best interest to go with a 14kw rather than a 17kw. He stated that Kohler is a quiet generator compared to Generac and that I could tack on 10% more for a Kohler.

Wow! That was more than I had planned for! Plus, there is the hidden cost of required service checks (turn up, oil change, etc.) that you are required to pay for if you want your warranty to stay valid. Top that off with required weekly run times of 20 minutes that can be loud enough to irritate neighbors and ruin a peaceful day. Oh, and what they might not tell you up front is that anything above 14kw may require a natural gas feed upgrade by the gas company costing $1,700 (that's $485 for the alteration fee [technician to change the meter] plus $1,209 for the meter itself!).

Portable Generators VS. Home Generator

I later found out that if manually turning on my generator and filling it up with gas wasn't a problem, that I could get by with a portable unit. I could get a 6500kw portable for less than $1,000, $800 for a mechanical interlock switch ($200 + $600 labor) and save a ton.

The proposed solution would be an outlet outside that I could wheel the generator to, plug in and start delivering the needed electricity. Needless to say, I decided to buy a portable generator and have company #3 do the wiring.

For me, a portable made sense and saved us a lot of money. I have no problem wheeling the generator to the box or having to refill the unit with gas. If the situation was such that I needed the power to kick on when I was away (travel a lot) or unable to lift heavy equipment, then I would have went with a stationary home generator.

Long story short I ended up saving myself $5,000 and ended up buying a Generac XP8000E Portable Generator capable of powering the entire house (heat, dryer, TV and VCR, stove, fridge, fish tanks, etc). The XP8000E was as quiet as I could find its size (8000 running watts and 12,000 starting watts) and it will run the entire house " without having to carefully start one appliance, then another, and so on " I'll simply fire things up as I please and not worry about it.

NOTE: In the comments below, someone said that the new model of the Generac generator WILL NOT work with a transfer switch. The one I purchased below does, so MAKE SURE to check on this before buying - if you plan on running your home with it.

I bought the generator at Lowe's for $1,249. According to the representative at Generac, of all their standby generators, the XP 8000 is their premier model (as opposed to the GP or other models).

FYI: There are three pictures below, 1 of the panel BEFORE, 1 AFTER (there are not two panels) and the Generator itself with plugins.

My Gererac portable generator and electrical box hookup

Note: Below is a close-up of the power inlet (item D) on the wall - the inlet shown in the picture above looks like it is a female, but as you can see below, it is male.
Closeup of connector for portable generator
My XP 8000 Standby Generator came with a cord that has ends for connecting extension cords, but that didn't work for me as I'm looking to feed the power into my home rather than having to run cords everywhere.

I ended up having a 80 foot standby generator cord made which ran me $2 per foot and $40 for each end.

I also had a new circuit breaker, manual transfer switch and power inlet installed. The power inlet (D) connects to the circuit breaker which is hooked up to a manual transfer switch; this is a double pole double throw (DPDT) "break before make" switch which prevents backfeeding.

When the power goes out, I simply pull out my standby generator (away from the home), start it, plug one end (C) into the generator, plug the other end (B) into the power inlet (D), move the manual transfer switch to the left (Emergency power) and I'm enjoying power again!

More pictures:

The total bill to hook up everything was $800:

Permit... $80
80 foot cord... $240
Circuit Breaker... $20
Cover panel with transfer switch... $40
Power Inlet... $50
Labor... $370

So, for everything, including the standby generator, it cost me about $2,000. Remember, you don't have to buy this sized generator if only powering a few appliances, that there could save you $1,000; however, my goal was to find a quiet standby generator capable of powering the entire home.

What to Look for in a Standby Generator

Consider the noise level, size of the wheels (bigger the better for me), watts, size of gas tank, length of warranty and size. I started looking at the 3500 watt models primarily because these tend to be more quiet, but noticed that they would have to run 100% to accommodate our needs; manufacturers list noise levels, run time and more at 50% power, so I opted for more powerful generators.

It's hard to find common ground, some manufactures list specs at 50% power and others at 25% power or noise levels from 15 feet away vs. 5 feet away. In the end, I decided to look for 6500 watts or more with starting wattage enough to handle everything.

By choosing a higher powered generator, chances are I'll be running at half power most of the time rather than full; not only will this be less wear and tear on the generator, but I know what to expect on 'stated ratings'. I still kept an eye out for noise levels as well.

Also, consider using a generator that can run on natural gas or LP gas called (tri-fuel models) - if it's bad out, the gas stations won't have gas and there is always the danger of putting gas in a hot generator!