Getting the Most out of your Portable Generator

Unless you have an unlimited budget and can buy a big, automatic generator to run the whole house, you need to juggle your electrical needs with a portable generator. The standard gas portable generators go up to about 8000 watts.

A lot of people ask what they can run with their generator. It seems like an easy question but the answer is not so simple. If you ever looked at the generator sizing sheets available on the Internet that lists the typical household electrical items such as lights, plugs, heaters, stoves – the list goes on – it is a daunting task to figure out what you can turn on while the generator is running.

I like to keep things simple so let’s look at one of the most simple electrical devices in your house; the trusted and dependable toaster. What a marvel of simplicity. You plug it in, put in a piece of bread, depress the plunger button and 1 to 2 minutes later POP! Your toast is ready. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all things in life were so simple.

Let’s make the process of figuring out what you can run on your generator as simple as toasting a piece of bread. Ready? Here we go.

I – How Many Toasters Can Your Generator Run

Figure out the size of your generator. For this example let’s look at a 7.5 kilowatt (kW) portable generator which is 7500 watts (W). Now even though you have 7500 watts available it is recommended that you not load your generator to more than 80% for fuel efficiency and longevity of your generator. So, a 7500W generator can run about 6000W (7500W x 80%) efficiently. It can go over this amount for short periods of time but you should plan to not run more than 6000W.

So how many toasters can your 7500W generator run. A typical 2 bay toaster (ie. Two pieces of bread) consumes about 800W. At 80% load, your 7500W generator can run about 7.5 toasters:

6000W / 800W = 7.5 Toasters

Now what? We’ve converted your generator to a toaster but how does that help? Let’s take a look at the next step.

II – Convert Everything in Your House to a Toaster

So your generator can run 7.5 toasters (about 15 pieces of toast every two minutes) but in the power outage you need more than toast unless you had a family reunion breakfast going on just as the power went out. Generator sizing sheets get quite specific and look at all electrical items in your house. As I mentioned I like to keep things simple. During a power outage you want the essentials so let’s look at these “need to have” items and convert them to toasters.

Common Devices Required During an Outage

10 LED Lights (60W equivalent) – 0.1 Toasters

10 CFL Lights (60W equivalent) – 0.2 Toasters

10 Incandescent Lights (60W) – 0.75 Toasters

General Receptacle – Up to 1.5 Toasters (depends what you plug into it)

Microwave – 1.2 Toasters

Refrigerator – 1 Toaster

1 Element on Electric Stove – 2 Toasters

Toaster – 1 Toaster (I hope you guessed this one)

Clothes Washer – 2 Toasters

Entertainment System (flat screen, sound, gaming) – 1 Toaster

Typical Well Pump – 3 – 4 Toasters

40 Gallon Water Heater – 5 Toasters

60 Gallon Water Heater – 6 Toasters

Blow Dryer – 1.5 Toasters

Typical Microwave – 1.8 Toasters

Minisplit/Heat Pump – 2 – 4 Toasters (depends on low/med/high setting)

Sump Pump – 1 – 1.5 Toasters

1500W Baseboard Heater – 2 Toasters

Now, all you have to do is choose from this list and make sure you do not exceed the number of toasters your generator is able to run. Here is one scenario with our 7500W generator example (7.5 Toasters):

10 CFL Lights – 0.2

Well Pump – 4

Entertainment System – 1

Microwave – 1.8

Total Toasters – 7

So, you can watch your favourite movie, make some popcorn in the micro with the lights on and someone can be having a shower. What happens when you want to take a shower? The last person used up all the hot water. Well, you will need to make sure the water is not running (well pump), no one is using the micro to make more popcorn so you can then turn on the breaker for the hot water heater (5 Toasters). Wait an hour for the water to heat up and then go take your shower. Just be sure to turn the hot water heater breaker off before you take a shower because if you take a long hot shower and the water heater comes back on while the well pump is running you might be in for a surprise; the lights go out along with everything else because the breaker on you generator tripped. You tried to make too much toast. The well pump, water heater, entertainment system and lights combined make 10.2 toasters which exceeds the capacity of your 7500W generator (9.4 Toasters).

There are several options and variations you can consider but try to make it simple. Decide what is most important to you in an outage and put these things in your generator panel. In a 60A generator panel you can install devices from this list that does not exceed 18 toasters when the utility is available (60A x 240V / 800W = 18 Toasters); keep in mind however, when you are running on generator you could not operate everything at once. You will have to juggle by turning off breakers (or not turning things on) while operating on generator power (remember, a 7500W generator can operate about 7.5 toasters at any given time). If you want all of your devices available during an outage you will have to look at another solution such as Generlink (see my blog on this item which allows you to have your entire electrical panel to be available on generator power. Again, you will have to juggle what you run at any one time.

Your portable generator can do a lot for you in an outage. If you plan it well you can make do quite comfortably, even in an extended outage. I find having the option for hot water to be a big plus when on outage goes more than a couple of days. We were out of power for 5 days in the great ice storm this past January and not having to take cold showers was a plus. Not having to give up our daily piece of toast with peanut butter was also nice.


** if there was something in the list that was missing send me a quick email ( and I will convert it into toasters for you