I need a small generator to run my fridge; which one?
October 31, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I think I need a small generator, but don't know how to size it, or what a good model is. I need something to power the refrigerator, a couple of lights, and maybe a laptop.

I live in the northeast, and the power is out (again). We're about to lose an entire fridge's worth of food (again). This seems to be an annual occurrence, so it would clearly be cheaper to buy a generator and run the fridge if the price is less than two trips to the store. Powering a couple of lights and a laptop would be a huge plus.

How much should I plan on spending? How much power should I be looking for? I'm assuming gas makes the most sense, and just running electrical cords into the house- I don't think I need a whole-house system, as I have heat (propane fireplace) and hot water.

Any positive or negative experiences with specific models in this range would also be welcome.
posted by jenkinsEar to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

I'm currently running on a 3500 watt Briggs and Stratton I bought at Sears about a year ago. This is my first time using it so I can't speak to long term reliability.

So far, so good. I've been running my fireplace blower and fridge, a fan to circulate the heat around the house, and my laptop and phone chargers. I juggle things around, I'll unplug the fridge to plug in the coffee maker, for example. I had my modem and wifi running yesterday and I plugged in the tv and TiVo so we could watch the Patriots game. Cable, Internet and phone are down today though, unfortunately.

Everything is working well so far. I've used about eight gallons of gas in the past 24 hours, though it was off for a few hours overnight.

I think I paid about $500 for it a year ago. It's not very quiet, though with the windows closed its perfectly tolerable.

You'll also want a couple long, heavy duty extention cords. At least one of them weatherproof. I have the generator out on my patio with a cord running in a window. Use some foam to seal the gap.

It works, though I wonder how well it will start in five years. If I could afford it, I'd buy a Honda.
posted by bondcliff at 7:45 AM on October 31, 2011

Response by poster: the man of twists and turns, thanks for that link- but it assumes I know what wattage I need, and I don't. What wattage is likely right for a fridge and a couple of small lights?
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:56 AM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: 1500-2000 watts is enough for a fridge and a couple of small lights and maybe a laptop & cell charger. Figure: code dictates one major appliance per circuit in your house, and a 15 amp circuit is 1850 watts. If you want to run two major appliances, like a fridge and a microwave or coffee maker, double it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:04 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

There may be a sticker or tag on the fridge, or a metal plate near the compressor, that states what the wattage is. A fridge will take a lot of watts to start (due to the nature of the motor), and that may not be listed. If you google around for your make and model of fridge, you should be able to come up with wattage

The wattage of the lights is on the bulbs. I am not sure what sort of wattage your laptop requires. A good rule would be to determine the total wattage (including the start-up requirements of the fridge), and give yourself a 10% cushion.

Also, Honda makes some good engines, I don't have experience with their generators directly.

I am not an electrician, I'm not your electrician, and this is not electrical advice.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:06 AM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: These are considered bullet proof by the yacht cruising community, and 2 can be attached in series.

htm Honda EU 2000I generator
posted by jannw at 8:06 AM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: The fridge is going to be your main concern. The lights draw whatever wattage they're rated for; a 100W light bulb draws roughly 100W. A laptop or cell phone charger will use very little power.

Fridges vary, but you can figure out what you need if you know the amperage. A fridge that draws 6.5A needs 780W (6.5A*120V=780W). Starting amperage could be considerably higher, though, and I'm not sure how a typical small generator responds to momentary demands that exceed the rating, or whether a brief shortage of power would hurt your fridge.
posted by jon1270 at 8:10 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Either Honda or Yamaha brand generator is best. Here is a Yamaha I might consider. The Honda referred to above would also be good. Do not buy from the big box stores!
posted by JohnR at 8:11 AM on October 31, 2011

While I'm not able to give you the specs of our generator right now, I will say that ours is plumbed right into our natural gas lines. I can't tell you how much better it is to not worry about managing cans of gas. It just runs until we turn it off. You might want to see if this fits your situation.
posted by lpsguy at 8:15 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have a Coleman Pulse 1850. Our basement floods when there's lots of precip and no power, so its first task this week was to run the sump pumps. If we hadn't got power back, its next assignment was the refrigerator (as was its job after Hurricane Irene swept through). We get our heat from a wood stove and light from candles and flashlights. We put aside computers, videos, and books and hug and talk.
We like the Coleman because it's small and easy to store. It starts on the second or third pull, when it's been out of use for a while, then on the first pull after that. (Note: we always run it until the carb is empty (and, usually, the gas tank is empty) before we store it.) It has served us well through more than a dozen power-outages over a dozen years.
posted by RichardS at 8:22 AM on October 31, 2011

I live in an area where power goes out often enough that many people own one or more generators. The Hondas are the best because they are the quietest. I can have a Honda running on the back porch and the neighbor's three or four non-Hondas down the road are still louder, and much more annoying. There are probably other similarly quiet generators but I know the Honda EU2000i is very nice.
posted by Edogy at 8:31 AM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: Consumer Reports has a generator wattage calculator that may be really helpful.
posted by rabidsegue at 8:41 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would also recommend Honda generators. They are all good quality but look in particular at their "inverter" generator series. They are super-quiet and produce extremely high quality power. There's some sticker shock, but with generators you really get what you pay for. For example, our 6500Uis was around $3k. If you just go to Home Depot and look at generators in the 7000 watt range, that price seems astronomical. The difference is in sound levels, engine reliability, electric start, remote start capability, emissions, and true sine wave power which is kind to your electronics.

I believe Yamaha makes inverter models as well, but I have no experience with them.
posted by werkzeuger at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Be careful running electronics directly off a generator. Generators (at least portable, non-whole-house systems within the budget of most homeowners) typically put out very dirty power. Sometimes they output square-wave (rather than the true sine wave of your regular mains power), or a stepped-square to approximate a sine wave. Sometimes there can be large amounts of EMI/RFI on the supplied outlets. Generators can also produce power with phase or frequency issues too. Definitely do not have your electronics connected while the generator is being started.

At the minimum, you should have a decent, computer-grade transformer-based power filter (about $70~$90) in between the generator and your electronics. Even better is to have a line conditioner (about $150 for a Tripp-Lite LC-1800), which not only does the job of the cheaper power filter, but also adds accurate automatic voltage regulation, to correct not only against overvoltages, but undervoltages as well.

I'm a copier/printer guy, and about this time of year we start seeing a lot of printers (and people asking if we fix computers) come in with shot power supplies. Invariably, when I ask if they were running off a generator, the answer is yes.

tl;dr - generators are fine for major appliances and lights, but use caution with electronics.
posted by xedrik at 12:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

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