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11+ Things You Need to Know About Whole House Generators (According to Experts)

Whole house generators can really save your bacon (literally!) during a storm or power cut. I’ve told you our story of the three lost freezers of food before – a whole house generator, especially one with an automatic transfer system, would have saved those freezers of food storage.

We’ll run through some things you need to know about whole house generators, including automatic transfer switches, safety, maintenance, and how much power you’re going to need.

Do You Need a Whole House Generator?

Diane Vukovic is the lead writer at Primal Survivor and author of Disaster Preparedness for Women. In her book, she teaches people how to calculate their food, water, lighting, and other needs. The book helps you be ready for small-scale and large-scale disasters, giving you the peace of mind that comes with feeling prepared.

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She frequently talks about generators on PrimalSurvivor. Diane recommends thinking about whether you need a whole house generator, or whether a portable generator is enough for your needs. She says:

“During many emergencies such as winter power outages, it actually makes more sense to power just one or two rooms of your home. In this case, a portable generator is usually sufficient.”

Calculate Your Power Needs


Diane recommends that you first calculate how much power you need for the appliances that need to be kept running at all times. These appliances include your refrigerator, heater, medical devices, and basic lighting.

Once you know how much they use, think about your “occasional appliances”. These might include your stove, dishwasher, and washing machine. Chances are, you won’t need to use all these appliances at the same time.

Then, consider the power needs of “occasional” appliances, like your stove, dishwasher, and washing machine. Chances are you won’t need to use all of these appliances at the same time. You can get by with a smaller generator by cycling through the appliances, such as only cooking when you’ve finished a load of laundry.

Diane says:

“Add together the energy needs for appliances which must be kept running plus the largest occasional appliance; this is the absolute lowest size generator you want to get. To play it safe, add extra 10% power capability on top of that number.”

Keith Pinkerton is the owner of Mr. Electric of Huntsville, a Neighborly company. Mr. Electric specializes in electrical installations in your home or business, including lighting services and electrical safety. Keith says:

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It depends on your needs. Load-shedding modules allow you to hook certain items like your water heater and your ac unit on an automatic system, so if you are going to full capacity, the generator will shed those items.

Keith also recommends that you go with a whole-house automatic generator. He says manual generator systems, especially portable, require a lot of owner involvement and can be dangerous.

“You must have a cord to ensure it is at least 30 feet from the residence and in the open air to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. You will also have to switch breakers on and off, depending on what you are running. If you forget this, it can overload the generator system.”

Generator Safety


We’ve mentioned a few things to look our for in this article when you’re using generators. Here’s a recap:

  • Make sure your generator is at least 30 feet from your home, in the open air, to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Switch breakers on and off to avoid overloading the generator system.
  • When you turn your generator on, you need to disconnect your house from the utility grid system.
  • Don’t make a cord and hook it into the dryer plug. This is illegal and could end up electrocuting someone.

Whole House Generator Transfer Switches


Keith says:

A generator is a separate driven power source. Because of that, when you turn a generator on, you need a way to turn off your house. You need to disconnect your house from the utility grid system and put it onto the generator power source. This must be done mechanically.

This is done either manually or automatically. Manually switching it over is done by pushing a lever on a manual transfer switch. Switching automatically is done with an automatic transfer switch. You are switching power from one grid to another.

There are people who will make a cord and hook it into the dryer plug, telling the homeowner to turn the main breaker off when they plug in the generator. This is illegal and not within the National Electrical Code.

This could end up electrocuting (and resulting in possible death) a utility worker as they are restoring power to their electrical grid system.”

All generator systems must have a transfer switch or some type of mechanical device taking the home off of the utility grid and putting it onto the generator system.

Keith recommends an automatic transfer switch system over a manual one. He says you won’t have to go out in bad weather, hooking up and starting a portable generator when power is lost.

Also, when you’re not at home, the automatic system will turn the generator on and power your home, so you don’t lost any food in your fridges, freezers, etc.

How Much Does a Whole House Generator Cost?


Keith Pinkerton says we’ll be out of pocket at least $8,500+.

“When you have a whole-house automatic generator with a complete install that meets code, the cost should start around $8,500 and go up from there, depending on the size of the system.

You also have to remember that with a whole-house automatic generator, you’ll need to have piping run for the natural gas or LP.

Read on! More about whole house generators, our three lost freezers of food, and our top 5 best whole house generators.

Tell us about your generator setup! Do you have a portable generator or a whole house generator? Do you switch over manually or do you have an automatic transfer system?



  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.