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Get To Know: Whole Home (Standby) Generators

Woman complaining during a blackout sitting on a couch in the living room at home

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Does the thought of a power outage leave you feeling powerless? It’s time to take control with a home generator. This comprehensive guide will help you understand home generators, their benefits, and how they can be a life-saver during power outages or emergencies. 

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a Home Generator?

A home generator is a device that provides electrical power to your home during a power outage. From powering essential appliances like refrigerators, heaters, and lights, a home generator ensures your home continues to function even when the main power grid fails.

How Does a Home Generator Work?

Home generators work by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. When there’s a power outage, the automatic transfer switch of the generator detects it and turns on the generator. Once the main power grid is back up, the transfer switch also automatically shuts off the generator.

The Transfer Switch

So, what exactly is a standby generator transfer switch? In simple terms, it’s the brains of your generator system. During a power outage, it senses the loss of power and automatically switches your home from the grid to your generator. Once the power returns, it switches you back, ensuring a seamless transition and uninterrupted power supply.

briggs and stratton transfer switch

How Does The Transfer Switch Work?

Think of it as a traffic cop directing electricity. When the power goes out, it stops the flow of electricity from the grid and reroutes it from your generator instead. This happens within seconds, so you barely notice the power cut.

Automatic or Manual Transfer Switches

There are two main types of transfer switches: automatic and manual. Automatic ones, like our traffic cop, do everything without any human intervention. On the other hand, manual switches require you to physically flip the switch when the power goes out and then flip it back once the power is restored.

Here’s a hypothetical situation. Take Jane, who lives in an area prone to storms. She used to worry about food spoiling in her refrigerator during power outages, or her basement flooding because the sump pump would stop working. Ever since she installed a standby generator with an automatic transfer switch, she no longer has these worries. Even if she’s not home, the transfer switch ensures her generator kicks in immediately when the power goes out.

When shopping for a transfer switch, popular brands like Briggs and Stratton are a good starting point. They offer a range of reliable, high-quality switches suitable for different power capacities. Key features to look for include the type (automatic vs. manual), compatibility with your generator and electrical system, load capacity, and ease of installation.

Fuel Sources

When it comes to powering your home standby generator, there are three main fuel source options: natural gas, propane, and diesel. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so let’s dive in and explore them.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is a popular choice because it’s readily available in many urban areas through local utility lines. It’s also relatively clean-burning and cost-effective. However, during severe storms or natural disasters, these lines may be compromised, disrupting your fuel supply.


Propane, on the other hand, is stored onsite in a tank, ensuring you have a fuel supply even if local utilities are down. It burns cleanly and has a long shelf life. The downside is that you’ll need a large storage tank, which requires space and regular maintenance. Also, propane prices can fluctuate significantly.


Diesel generators are known for their efficiency and power. They’re often more durable and have a longer lifespan. However, diesel fuel doesn’t store as well as propane – it can degrade over time. Diesel engines can also be noisier and emit more pollutants.

Fuel Storage and Safety Considerations

⚠️ Safety should always take center stage, no matter what type of fuel you use.
If you’re using propane, it’s important to have the storage tank checked regularly and kept secure to avoid any leaks. When it comes to diesel, you need to store it properly to keep it free from contamination and prevent it from breaking down. And if you’re a natural gas user, make sure your utility provider is doing their job in maintaining the gas lines to keep them safe and working efficiently.

Types of Home Generators

Home generators come in two main types: standby and portable generators.

briggs and stratton home generator outside of a home installed by an electrician

Type 1: Standby Generators

Standby generators are permanently installed outside your home and can automatically provide power during an outage. They are connected to the home’s electrical system and a fuel source, such as natural gas, propane, or diesel.

This type of generator is used in residential, commercial, farms, schools and even public infrastructure.

The key is that standby generators provide an automatic, immediate source of power when the main power supply fails, making them suitable for any situation where uninterrupted power is critical.

Benefits Of A Standby Generator

While portable generators do have their benefits, such as mobility and lower initial cost, standby generators are generally more convenient and powerful, making them a preferred choice for many homeowners.

A gasoline generator is used in the forest to generate electricity.

Type 2: Portable Generators

Portable generators are mobile units that need to be manually started and can provide temporary power. They run on gasoline or propane and must be used outdoors due to exhaust emissions.

These are typically used for camping, RV living, remote emergencies and other outdoor activity uses.

Benefits Of A Portable Generator

While standby generators offer automatic operation and higher power, portable generators provide flexibility, mobility, and cost-effectiveness, which can make them a preferred choice for some users.

What is the difference between standby (whole home) and portable generators?

Standby generators, also known as whole-house generators, are permanent installations that automatically kick in during a power outage. They connect directly to your home’s electrical system, offering a seamless transition during power cuts. Although pricier than their portable counterparts, they provide a higher power capacity, enough to run multiple heavy-duty appliances simultaneously. This makes them ideal for extended power outages. However, they require professional installation, dedicated space, and adherence to local regulations, which could add to the total cost.

On the other hand, portable generators are compact, movable units designed for temporary use. They are manually operated, requiring you to start and stop them as needed. While they are much more affordable than standby generators, their power capacity is limited. Despite this, they offer versatility, perfect for camping trips, outdoor events, or as a backup for small businesses. Their main drawbacks include the need for frequent refueling and potential noise pollution.

When Would You Need a standby Generator?

Remember, unlike portable generators, standby generators start automatically when there’s a power outage and stop once the power is restored, providing a seamless transition and peace of mind.

Generators can save the day by ensuring you have a consistent power supply in these situations.

Making an Informed Decision - What Size Generator Do You need?

When choosing a generator, consider factors such as power output, fuel type, noise level, and price. Compare different models based on these factors to make an informed decision. Check out our generator buyers guide for more info and a deep dive.

⚠️ It's essential not to over or under estimate your generator needs. Call a reputable electrician in your area for accuracy.

Weather The Storm With Haines Electric.

Investing in a home generator from us ensures you're never left in the dark. Our high-quality generators offer a reliable and efficient power solution to suit a variety of needs.
Don't wait for a power outage to realize the importance of a dependable power backup.

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With over 50 years of experience, Haines Electric is a trusted team of local electricians serving Nassau County, Long Island. Committed to excellence, we offer transparent pricing, safety-focused services, and a 3-year warranty on equipment. 

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