question regarding a home generator purchase for emergency power
August 11, 2017 6:52 AM   Subscribe

wondering about the differences between Generac and Honda (besides 3-4K)...

I'm having an electrician install an electrical input for a gas powered generator into our panel so that in the event of a power outage we can hook up and run our well pump, refrigerator, etc, probably using something in the range of 7000 watts. I spoke to my local tool dealer from whom I've bought many items that I want for the long haul. They generally only sell lines that are of high quality, so my pressure washer, tractor, chain saws etc. have all been from them and have held up beautifully.

When I spoke to them about a generator they suggested Honda, and the ones I am looking at are around 4-5K. Friends have recommended Generac and those run around 1K (through the bix box home retailers). I'm not oblivious to the obvious potential quality differences but at that price differential I have to ask what the difference is if I'm buying something I may only use 1-2 times a year or possibly never.

I'd rather pose the question here than with my local dealer as I would be afraid it might sound insulting and I am genuinely curious.

posted by docpops to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"Gas-powered" as in a portable gasoline powered, or as in an installed utility natural gas / tank propane powered generator?

If you're speaking of the latter, Generac has a pretty dominant position in the market for home emergency generation. Ours was installed in 2013 and has worked without fail the 2-3 times per year it is called upon. We have a maintenance contract but they come out once a year to check the oil, that's all. Many of our neighbors have them and ditto no complaints. Folks who had them in 2012 for Sandy ran them basically 24 hours a day for a week with no issues.
posted by MattD at 7:08 AM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to work at a generator shop, and your question isn't insulting (in fact, they get some version of that question pretty much every day). Comparing products of similar size and output, the biggest difference is that Generac doesn't make motors, they buy them. Honda makes their own motors, and a Honda motor of a given size will generally be smoother and quieter than a comparable Briggs & Stratton, not even accounting for a muffler. But you pay extra to have the better motor.

Are you looking at standby generators in enclosures, or portable generators in open cages? A cheap portable Generac at a big box hardware store is going to have basically a lawnmower engine and it will be very noisy. We used to tell people the best muffler for a noisy portable generator was a really long extension cord. We couldn't sell Honda due to a territory license restriction, but we had Kubota portables that were really good (probably equal in quality to a Honda portable, and quieter than a Generac or Home Depot Special). They also cost more, and most people wanted "cheap" more than they wanted "quiet."

Standby generators in full enclosures will be much quieter and probably more reliable over the long haul, but you'd almost certainly be in the $5K range if not more. Generac standby generators are fine products, but I second the recommendation for the service contract.
posted by fedward at 7:22 AM on August 11, 2017

With that price difference, you are probably looking at two completely different types of generators. The Honda is probably an inverter generator that makes DC power then converts to AC power, like the EU7000iS. These are extremely efficient and quiet, but cost a lot more. These probably use about 1/10 the gasoline of a regular generator and are so quiet you can have a regular conversation over them without raising your voice at all. They are ideal if you are in a remote place where you have carry fuel in a long way, or if you want to enjoy nature without hearing a generator. They are also good after a hurricane when gasoline distribution is disrupted and is being rationed.
The Generac will be a traditional gas combustion engine turning a big dumb coil/magnet to make AC power.
Both are very reliable brand names. Honda makes extremely reliable and forgiving engines that are used in many other brands generators, but they tend not to make their own traditional generators very often. Briggs and Straton is another popular engine manufacturer used in a lot of generator brands. Some generator manufacturers offer both engine types, with the Honda engines typically $100-200 more.
Generac's specialty are standby generators that are typically self contained, weatherproof units that are permanently tied into automatic switching units. For $4k, you could likely get a Generac that is more like 20kW output that would run your whole house. Of course the switches would cost more that the 7kW setup.
There are also a few brands that offer dual fuel generators. Champion and Sportsman are a few examples. These will run on gasoline or propane. You can also buy mods that will turn any generator into a tri-fuel where you can run it off of a natural gas supply.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 7:34 AM on August 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

A few things to consider: if you want to run your well pump or heat pump, you may need a much larger generator. I have a 8000 watt generator and it is only rated to "start" a 1 1/2 hp electric motor.
Also, if you are going to spend $4k, you could get a very nice Lincoln or Miller gas engine welder/generator that will put out 10-15 kW, have a much higher resale value and be a very good welder.
posted by 445supermag at 7:39 AM on August 11, 2017

I just locked my bike the other day next to a small honda at a farmers market, barely noticed the sound, some of the best tech around. And good reputation, just runs reliably. For a short term use if the generator can be kept dry at all times the generic would likely work fine for a shorter period and be annoying. Do test regularly.
posted by sammyo at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2017

There is a huge difference between the noise level of Honda and Generac portable generators. I wouldn't call the Hondas quite as quiet as some people are saying, but you can have a conversation standing near it, whereas the Generac ones make it difficult to hear anything within 20-30 feet.

And as others noted, well pumps can be difficult to start on a generator. Like any motor, they require nearly twice the current at startup that they do while running.
posted by wierdo at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2017

Response by poster: I can't thank everyone enough - these are all great and helpful and instructive comments. I should have clarified that this is a portable generator setup. And once I really got into it, the Generac 10000 watt that I would likely buy is still a touch north of 3K, so even though the Honda is $1500-2000 more there may be some reasons to look at it from a noise and longevity perspective. I'll look at them both and see, and appreciate the help. 445supermag, I will look at your suggestions as well.
posted by docpops at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2017

We use Hondas for remote field camps because they sip gas. Sip. And are quiet, lightweight and reliable and easy to field service. Having said that the small portable Hondas really don't put out the power they say they do. They prioritize light weight and efficiency. For a house back up system I'd go with a model designed for that application and sacrifice the portability, no matter which brand you use. I don't think too many if our field staff have Hondas for their house backups due to cost, for example
posted by fshgrl at 2:08 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just want to second the mention of noise level differences between inverter and standard (non-inverter) generators.

I very recently bought my first generator, it was cheap and only rated for 1,400 continuous Watts [as a broad rule of thumb, more powerful generators are louder], and is a non-inverter model. It is amazingly loud. I require electrically-powered medical equipment in order to get anything approaching a reasonable night's sleep (but not in order to stay alive overnight), and I don't think I could sleep with this thing running, even on a long cord 75' from the house. And that's just me; leaving aside what my neighbors (who would not be getting the benefit of power for their medical equipment) would think.

Seriously, this thing makes an un-even, non-steady, shrill, grating noise; it's really quite terrible, and this is coming from someone who has lived with a rack full of servers running 24/7 in his home office for the past 6 years.

I think this might be one of those situations in which decibel (or even A-weighted decibel) measurements might not tell the whole story. If the noise this generator makes were more steady, it would still be loud, but I think it would probably be a lot less annoying.

I am going to return this unit as the noise is completely unworkable (and it is under-sized for my motor-starting needs, but that's another story). When I shop for its replacement, instead of ordering something online like I usually do, I am going to visit some generator dealers and ask if they can run the models I am interested in so that I can hear them for myself before buying.

In the event they don't happen to have these models sitting around available to be run, I will make my best guess as to what unit might be acceptable and make sure to order it from someplace with a good return policy. I suggest you do the same.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older A Wee Bit Of Scottish Travel Advice Please?   |   Advice needed: Blue Ridge Parkway / Skyline Drive Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.