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Everything to Know About Getting a Diesel Home Backup Generator


In 2020 alone, 1.33 billion outage hours left US utility customers in the dark. That number shows a 73% increase from the previous year’s 770 million outage hours.

Things haven’t gone any better this 2021, considering what happened to Texas at the start of the year. From January to June 2021, more than 100 major outages have already occurred in the US.

It’s not only the US, though; power outages affect almost every other country.

Fortunately, a diesel home backup generator can be a huge help in such cases. It can keep your home lit, your alarm system engaged, and your food safe until the power is back up.

To that end, we came up with this guide detailing what you need to know about these generators. Read on to learn more about their power, sizing, and types.

Generator Power

As you shop around for a diesel generator, you’ll see the terms kilovolt-amps (kVA) and power factor (PF). These two ratings dictate how much power a generator can produce. As such, it’s vital to know what they stand for so that you can choose the right generator size for your needs.

Power Output

The power output, expressed as kVA, is the amount of power a generator can create. One kVA is equivalent to 1,000 volt-amps.

The rule is that the lower the number you see before the acronym kVA, the less power the generator produces. By contrast, the higher the number, the more power the generator generates and the more devices it can run.

For example, if you check this store catalog, you’ll see generators with outputs as low as 3 kVA to as high as 2,200 kVA.

So, a 3 kVA diesel generator can produce 3,000 volt-amps. If the machine has a 100% efficiency rating, 3,000 volt-amps equate to 3,000 watts (W) or 3 kilowatts (kW). On the other hand, a 6 kVA diesel generator can produce up to 6,000 W; an 8 kVA machine can generate 8,000 W, and so on.

Power Factor

Power outputs can vary depending on the generator’s PF. PF is the measurement of the difference between real and apparent power. It refers to the overall efficiency of the generator.

The PF can either be in percentage or ratio. For example, a PF of 1 equates to 100% efficiency, while a 0.8 PF indicates 80% efficiency.

You can determine how many W or kW a generator can create by multiplying the kVA with the PF.

Let’s use a 3 kVA generator with a 0.8 PF as an example. In this case, multiply 3 by 0.8, the product of which is 2.4. So, this means the generator can produce 2.4 kW or 2,400 W.

The Items You Need a Generator For

Think about all the stuff you want to keep running if the power goes out. Of course, you’d want your home to remain illuminated, so light bulbs should be on top of your list. If you work at home, factor in your computer or laptop and smartphone.

It’s also a good idea to include your refrigerator in the list, as it can only keep stuff cold for up to 4 hours. A half-full freezer can maintain its below-zero temperature for a day, while a full freezer can do so for 2 days. However, these estimates only apply to unopened fridges or freezers.

After that, the temp in those appliances would start to climb until the power comes back. If the temperature reaches 40 °F, bacteria can multiply in food and drinks within just 20 minutes. That’s why you’d want your home backup generator to be powerful enough to run your fridge, too.

You should also hook up your wired security system to your generator in case of an outage. After all, property crimes are rampant; close to 7 million of them occurred in the US in 2019 alone. As such, you’d want to keep your security system engaged to deter criminals.

If your area gets regular outages that last for over a day, add your heater or air conditioner to the list. Do the same if your household relies on an electric kitchen range. This way, you can worry less about heat- or cold-related illnesses and going hungry.

The Power Usage of Your Appliances and Devices

To ensure you get the right diesel generator size, calculate the energy usage of the items in your list. You can find this information on the label of some appliances. For example, the US EnergyGuide label shows the estimated kWh usage per year.

You can convert that yearly kWh into watts per hour by dividing the number by 8,760 (total hours in a year).

Let’s say the sticker on your fridge says that its estimated annual energy use is 700 kWh. So, divide 700 by 8,760, which would give you an answer of 0.0799. That means the fridge uses about 0.08 kW or 80 W per hour.

To determine its per-day use, multiply 80 W by 24, and the answer is 1,920 watts or 1.92 kW.

Do the math for all your appliances, devices, and systems. Then, add them all together to find out their total power usage.

If your total is 10,000 W or 10 kW, you should buy a 100% efficient generator with a power output of at least 10 kVA. For a generator with a PF of 80%, its power output should be at least 12 kVA.

Portable vs. Standby Generators

In most cases, a portable home backup generator costs less than the standby kind. However, when it runs out of fuel, you have to top it up on your own. How long before it needs a refill depends on the machine’s runtime and tank size, but most last for at least 10 hours.

Moreover, you have to wait for the portable diesel generator tank to cool down before topping it up.

If you go with a standby generator, expect its price to be at least twice that of a portable one. However, most of these machines serve as a whole home backup generator. Meaning, they deliver enough power (20,000 watts or more) to run all your electronics.

Standby diesel generators also start automatically as soon as they detect an outage. In addition, they usually come with a 24-hour tank, with options for larger tanks.

Defy Power Outages With a Diesel Home Backup Generator

Always remember that power outages, especially extended ones, pose safety and security risks. Being in the dark can be scary enough, but more so if you have no heating at night. That should be enough reason to invest in the best diesel home backup generator you can afford.

Looking for more home-related guides, including appliances and improvements? Then feel free to check out our other educational blog posts!

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