Consumer Reports helps you find the right generator for your home

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Losing power is always annoying, but it can also be costly and dangerous. Think about having to throw away spoiled food or cleaning up after frozen pipes burst. A generator can save the day and night. It turns on when the lights turn off. Consumer Reports explains how to find the right generator for your home.

When Maureen Ball's neighborhood lost power in a hurricane, she gave her husband an ultimatum. "You know I've just been without heat and electricity for four days, and i said 'I want this generator and I want it now," she said.

If you're in the market for backup power, Consumer Reports says start by assessing your needs. "The first thing you need to do is to make a list of the stuff that you absolutely can't live without during a storm," said Eric Hagerman, Consumer Reports Home Editor.

Here are a few scenarios to use as a guide, along with models that really brought the power in Consumer Report's tests.

If you just want to power your refrigerator, some lights and a phone charger or laptop, consider the lightest type of generator that delivers up to 2,000 watts. This Yamaha model is quite fuel efficient.

A midsize inverter will give you up to 3,500 watts, so you can also power a window air conditioner, and run either your coffee maker, washing machine or hair dryer. This mid-sized Predator did well in Consumer Report's tests.

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If your needs include running a large sump pump or water well pump, a larger portable generator providing up to 75-hundred watts can handle all this plus a gas furnace. Consumer Reports recommends this Generac model.

And if you want whole-house power, a permanently-installed standby generator that provides up to 20,000 watts can make you forget there's a storm outside. This Champion generator kicks in automatically, and can power everything in a typical home simultaneously.

As for the Ball family? They installed a whole-house generator, which was helpful for their next power outage. "We kind of smiled, turned on the generator, we walked around and it was wonderful," said Ball.

To avoid illness or even death caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, never operate your generator in an enclosed space. Keep it at least 20 feet from your home with the exhaust port pointed away from the house.

Consumer Reports recommends a transfer switch, but if you use an extension cord, Consumer Reports says make sure it's a 12-gauge cord, rated for outdoor use.

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