Service Manager Nick Tifft of DeBlois Electric in Lewiston performs maintenance on a generator Thursday morning at a home in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — There are plenty of reasons to invest in a backup generator for your home and everyone’s situation is slightly different. For some, it’s to ensure a critical medical device has a continuous power source. For others, it’s to keep the heat or air conditioning and appliances running in areas where power outages are more common, which can be anywhere in Maine.

But for most families, it’s peace of mind, knowing that if the power fails, within seconds it can be restored.

Fewer than 6% of homes in the U.S. have a standby generator, according to estimates from Generac, the leading manufacturer of generators in the U.S., although sales are on the rise and forecast to become a $6.1 billion market by the end of the year.

Buying a generator is an investment that can run from $2,000 to $20,000 and is a purchase that should not be made at the last minute — like when a winter storm is approaching. For one, the product you need may not be readily available or there’s a waiting list for installation. For the bigger standby models, considerations include financing and securing a fuel source.

DeBlois Electric Service Manager Nick Tifft demonstrates how to manually start a standby generator Aug. 31 at a home in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


Today, consumers have three primary choices when purchasing a generator or backup power source: portable generators, automatic standby generators and electric storage devices.


Nick Tifft is the service manager at DeBlois Electric Inc. an electrical contractor that also sells and installs Kohler generators. “One of the first things I ask people, is how often do you lose power?” Even if you are new to a community, Tifft said, ask your neighbors.

The frequency and duration of power outages combined with determining what appliances and other electrical products you want or need to have running will help determine your needs. “Are you going to drop $11,000 to $14,000 on a standby generator when you just talked to your neighbor, and they haven’t lost power in four years?” Tifft asked.

The other major consideration is cost and what you can afford.

Portable generators are the most affordable and flexible but have limitations on power output — although that is changing. Portables usually run on gasoline or propane and come in a range of power output and can easily be moved.

If your home only loses power occasionally and you just need to provide power for the basics, a portable generator may be the right choice. Keep in mind gasoline-powered units must be refilled manually every few hours. More and more of the models offer an electric start, rather than a pull cord.

Pricing for portable generators ranges from $700 to around $5,000, with power output being the biggest factor.


Standby generator

A standby generator is installed at a home by DeBlois Electric of Lewiston. Submitted photo

Automatic standby generators are more expensive but are totally automated and most today can be controlled with an app on your phone or in your home. They also come in a range of output but are most suited for powering your whole house.

These generators are usually powered by propane or natural gas in Maine, although they can be powered by diesel fuel. Diesel is smelly, messy and is not a recommended choice in cold climates such as Maine.

In addition to the cost of the generator and installation, Tifft points out that if you decide to use propane as your fuel, understand that if you don’t already have propane at your home, you will likely have to buy your own tank, which can add $2,000 to your tab for a medium-sized tank of 300-500 gallons. Most propane sellers will not rent you a tank just to supply a standby generator.

Electric storage devices are an emerging product that is rapidly evolving. The most important aspect to understand is that they do not generate power but store it. They are still a new concept, even for electrical contractors and generator dealers, and they cannot yet power your entire home. Most are used in tandem with a solar array or solar panel and are very pricey currently.

They are an alternative and can be used inside the home, although some use lithium batteries, which have a fire risk attached to them.

The standard for generator output is measured in watts or kilowatts, remembering that a kilowatt is 1,000 watts. Portable generators range from 800 to about 15,000 watts. Standby generators range from about 6,000 to 20,000 watts or more.


A 2,000 watt generator can power a freezer or refrigerator, a microwave and a few lights. Knowing how much energy your electrical appliance consumes is key.

Most appliances today have a tag stating the required power in either watts or amps, which means you can calculate how much power you’ll need to power those appliances as you determine how big or small a generator you need. Electricians and full-service generator dealers will do the calculations for you if you prefer.

The electrical panel for a generator is shown Aug. 31 on a home in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


Once you decide on what type of generator and how much power you need, there are a few more things to consider.

There are three ways to connect your generator to your electrical panel: a manual transfer switch, an automatic transfer switch and a manual disconnect switch. The latter simply disconnects the power grid from your house and allows you to directly connect appliances to the generator.

Standby generators use an automatic transfer switch. DeBlois Electric uses a product called GenerLink, which must be installed by a licensed electrician or certified technician approved by the utility. The cost is about $1,200 installed.


“Basically, it’s an adapter that goes to your (electric) meter and allows you to have an outlet on the bottom of the meter so you can plug (the generator) into it,” Tifft said. When there’s a power outage, it automatically kicks in and restores power within about three seconds, he added.

Portable generators generally use a manual transfer switch, which involves wiring it to your home’s electrical panel. The homeowner must plug the generator into the panel and then manually manipulate select circuits in the panel you want to use. The caution here is to not overload the generator by using too many appliances at once. The cost is about $800.

In the post-pandemic world, most consumers are accustomed to waiting for professional services, and generators of all kinds should involve a licensed electrician to hook up or install. While it is possible to use a portable generator by running extension cords to the home, it is neither safe nor recommended.

Generators should be located about 20 feet from the house to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, fumes and noise, or in the case of fire.

Some of the bigger companies that make standby generators include Generac, Kohler, Briggs & Stratton, Honeywell and Cummins.

Not all dealers offer financing, so make sure you have a plan in place before you go shopping. If the dealer you choose does offer financing, you will have something to compare their offer to.

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