Which Standby Generator Ranks Highest?

The residential generator marketplace has a number of choices from which to choose. Brand names include Generac, Centurion, Honeywell, GE, Cummins, Kohler, Briggs & Stratton, and several others.  Consumers can purchase one of these generators from an authorized dealer, an online seller, or a big box store like Home Depot, Lowes, or Northern Tool.


So—we now have a two-fold question to consider. First, which generator ranks highest among consumers?  Secondly, where should you purchase the equipment to get the best deal?

Let’s talk about the “highest rated” generators; then we’ll discuss how to buy the equipment. When the term “highest rated” is used, we’re talking about “build quality” and, most important, “dependability”.  Let’s face it.  A standby generator project is an expensive project any way you slice it. After laying out your hard-earned on a standby generator, you want it to work when utility power goes out.

The Generac brand name is very popular among consumers with the firm touting a 60% market share in the residential arena. Generac is also the manufacturer of Centurion and Honeywell generators. However, it’s interesting to note that over 3,000 of the nation’s home builders have awarded Cummins with the Brand Leader award in Builder magazine for the past four consecutive years.

The Cummins RS20A air-cooled generator is the quietest 20kW generator on the market! Most manufacturers measure sound level standing 23-feet in front of the unit. Step to the side of most of these same generators and the noise level rises considerably. Cummins measures sound levels different than most manufacturers by placing eight microphones all around the generator (front, back, and sides), 23-feet away from the unit. The sound level is the same, low 62 decibels whether you stand in front of the generator or to either side.

The difference in sound level between 62 decibels and 66 decibels is significant, believe it or not.  Ask your dealer for a demonstration, say, between a Cummins unit and another brand.  You’ll be amazed at how quiet the Cummins unit is compared to other brands.

Engineers at Cummins developed a unique air-flow system all around the generator through the lid (refer to the picture below). There are no side vents (venting is through the lid), so the noise level remains the same all the way around the unit.

Also, consider the fact that the Cummins RS20A weighs in at 540 pounds compared to Generac’s 460 pounds.

If your home requires a liquid-cooled generator, an 1800 RPM generator will be higher ranked in terms of service and dependability than a 3600 RPM generator. While 1800 RPM generators cost a little more up front than 3600 RPM generators, the low-speed generator will consume less fuel and oil, plus the maintenance should be considerably lower than 3600 RPM generator.

Over the long-term, you should save money out-of-pocket with a low-speed, 1800 RPM generator.

In my 12 years of selling standby generators to homeowners and industry, the Cummins brand gets a 5-star ranking from me. And, as previously mentioned, home builders prefer the Cummins brand.  Generators from Kohler Power Systems come in a not-too-distant second place in my book.  Both Cummins and Kohler have been manufacturing generators since 1920, and make an excellent product in my book.  Generac has been around since 1958.

You can purchase a standby generator from an online retailer, a big box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s, or from a local authorized dealer.  My best advice to consumers is to purchase the generator and installation services from a factory-authorized dealer.  Factory authorized dealers employ factory-trained technicians.

A standby generator can be installed by any licensed electrician but a standby generator is a specialized installation that even some of the most talented electricians may have little or no experience with.  Factory authorized dealers have factory trained technicians with training in best installation practices, routine service, and generator repairs.

Keep in mind, too, you will want to establish a long-term relationship with a factory authorized dealer.  If problems develop with your generator, a dealer is equipped to resolve problem issues and to file warranty claims with the manufacturer.  Warranty claims can only be filed by an authorized dealer.  You will likely find dealers respond quicker to those who purchased the equipment and installation from them. Others tend to go to the end of the line.

When you begin seeking quotes, casually mention to dealers that you’ve been shopping online but would prefer to purchase from a dealer. Dealers should take the hint that you’re looking for a good deal on the generator equipment and, in theory, should provide you with the best installation pricing since they have good experience installing standby generators.

Last, you can avoid contractor nightmares by always checking to be sure the selected installer has insurance and is properly licensed. Insist the installer pull a permit to do the work and have their insurance agent e-mail a certificate of insurance to you.