Know Your Power: Generator Running Requirements

A portable generator or permanent standby generator can get you through a power outage in relative comfort—as long as you understand your model’s capabilities and limitations when it comes to starting and powering your home’s appliances.

You have to know two numbers: Surge wattage, or starting wattage, tells how much power is needed to start an appliance. Running wattage refers to the power that it takes to keep an appliance going. For most small appliances, the surge wattage and running wattage are the same. In other words, it takes no more power to start these devices than it does to keep them running. (Wattage required for lights is the same as the wattage that’s listed on the device. In other words, a 60-watt light bulb requires 60 watts of power.)

Below are typical amounts or ranges of wattage for various appliances. Department of Energy, generator manufacturers and distributors provided the data. You can find an expanded list at Manufacturers tell us that they compile their wattage estimates by consulting with appliance manufacturers. We found that their estimates vary; you should check the specific wattage that’s listed on your appliance. A general rule of thumb is that you can double the running wattage amount of a device to determine surge wattage.