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How to Choose a Generator

How to Choose a Generator

If you're in the market for a generator, but not quite sure where to start, this is the place for you. With hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, severe weather, winter storms, and blackouts becoming more frequent and more intense, it's a good idea to have a generator by your side to help get you through the worst Mother Nature can dish out, and WEN offers a full lineup of traditional generators, inverter generators, and dual-fuel generators to choose from.

1. Decide what you'll use the generator for. 

Do you want to take a generator with you on your camping or RV adventures? Look for something compact, portable, and quiet - if you don't need to power a lot of devices, a portable power station may be a good choice. Are you powering a jobsite? Look for a model with a high wattage, as well as wheels and handles for portability. Are you looking for a generator for home use in case of a power outage? Make sure the one you choose is mobile, and make sure you choose the right voltage.

2. Decide what you want to power. 

Once you know how you'll use your generator, take inventory of the items you want to power. For example, it's a good idea to be able to power a refrigerator or freezer (if needed for medical supplies or food), lights, fans, and maybe a TV or computer.

If you want to connect appliances to your generator for home backup, it's a good idea to have a professional electrician install a transfer switch. This is a device that separates the generator from the power grid, and lets you easily choose which source (generator or grid) will power your devices in an emergency. It prevents backfeeding, which is when the generator is illegally connected to the power grid, and could injure or kill utility workers trying to restore power. NEVER connect your generator directly to your home's electrical system without a professionally-installed transfer switch.

3. Understand the difference between rated power and surge power.

Generators are described using their rated power (also known as running power, this is the amount of wattage they can provide continuously) and their surge power (also known as starting power, this is the amount of wattage they can provide for a short time - usually a couple of seconds). Surge power is always higher than rated power. Surge power is needed to start certain devices, especially those with motors or compressors, like power tools, refrigerators, air conditioners, etc. For example, a generator with a rated power of 4500W and surge power of 5500W can provide up to 4500W continuously, and up to 5500W for a short time.

4. Calculate the amount of power you need. 

Look at the nameplate label of each device you want to power. Most devices will have their wattage rating printed on the nameplate label. This is the amount of power the device requires, in watts. (If the wattage isn't printed on the label, the voltage and amperage usually will be. Multiply volts by amps to get a good estimate of the wattage - for example, 120 volts x 5 amps is about 600 watts.) Make sure you also note the voltage each device requires. Most household devices (refrigerators, sump pumps, box fans, lights, etc.) run on 120 volt power, but some larger appliances (ovens, dryers, furnaces, well pumps, etc.) may require 240 volt power.

As mentioned before, some devices, especially those with motors (e.g. power tools) or compressors (e.g. air conditioners or refrigerators) may need an additional burst of power to start up, known as surge power. If your device doesn't list its surge power, a quick rule of thumb is to multiply the wattage rating by 3.

To maximize your generator's life, we recommend keeping its maximum load to 90% or less of its rated wattage. Once you've added up all your devices' requirements, multiply this number by 1.1. This is the maximum rated power you'll need. Choose a generator whose rated power is at least this high, and whose surge power is capable of handling your devices' extra requirements.

5. Traditional or inverter generator?

Inverter generators have been growing more and more popular over the past few years, and for good reasons - they're generally quieter, more compact, better for electronic devices, more fuel-efficient, more modular, and more intelligent than a traditional generator. However, these advantages do come at a higher price tag, and closed-frame inverter generators may be more difficult to work on than traditional generators. Open-frame inverter generators strike a good balance between the two. If you plan to power sensitive electronics, such as TVs, computers, or smart appliances, you'll very likely want to go with an inverter generator. For more information, check out our comparison between inverter generators and traditional generators, as well as our comparison between open-frame and closed-frame inverter generators, and our explanation of how an inverter generator works.

6. Single-fuel or dual fuel?

WEN offers a full lineup of single-fuel and dual-fuel generator models. Single-fuel generators run on gasoline only; dual-fuel generators run on gasoline or propane (LPG). Dual-fuel generators are often popular with RVers, since propane is widely available, inexpensive, and doesn't degrade over time like gasoline does. In addition, gasoline may be hard to find during or after an emergency, whereas propane may be easier to find, and can be stored nearly indefinitely.

7. Electric start or recoil start?

Some WEN generators offer electric start, which allows you to start your generator with the press of a button or turn of a key. However, this is more expensive than generators with only recoil start, which requires that the engine be started by pulling a rope, like on a gas-engine lawnmower. 

8. CO sensor or no CO sensor? 

Some WEN generators come equipped with a CO Watchdog sensor, which monitors the level of carbon monoxide - a poisonous, odorless, colorless gas produced by all internal combustion engines - around the generator, and automatically shuts down the generator if the level of CO gets too high. WEN generators with an X at the end of their model numbers have a CO sensor. Depending on local laws, your generator may be required to be equipped with a CO sensor.

NOTE: the CO sensor on your generator is not a replacement for an indoor, battery-operated CO sensor. NEVER run your generator indoors, or within 20 feet of doors or windows. Generators emit carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. 

9. Do you need accessories? 

WEN offers many generator accessories, including but not limited to: 

  • Extension cords and outlet adapters
  • Magnetic dipsticks to prolong engine life
  • Generator covers for storage
  • Parallel kits for connecting inverter generators

Thanks for reading!

If you have any questions after reading this guide, or still aren't quite sure what WEN generator is best for youfeel free to give us a call at 1-800-232-1195 (M-F 8AM to 5PM CST) or drop us a message at to speak with our friendly and knowledgeable technical support team.

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