Generating a solution to power outages

With all the crazy weather lately, I'm worried that a big storm or deep freeze could leave us without power for a few days. Even if the worst doesn't happen, I want to be prepared. I know there are different kinds of generators out there — which type is best for a home?

Disasters aside, a generator can be handy even for short outages; nobody likes throwing away spoiled milk! You essentially have two choices: an automatic standby model or a portable gasoline generator.

The former cuts on automatically when power goes off, runs off of propane or natural gas, and is permanently wired into your electrical system. Although their advantages are obvious, automatic standby generators can be pricey and generally require professional installation. They start at about $1,900 for 7 kilowatts. Typical models are 14 to 20 kilowatts and cost between $3,500 and $4,000, and this does not include the price of installation, which can vary by home site.

Portable gas models are much cheaper, but instead of hooking into your home's power grid, you'll generally have to run a cord into the house. That means no central heating or cooling but you can still keep your drinks cold and not miss the big game. The smallest portable generators start at about $200. The most popular storm backup portables are around 5 kilowatts and cost between $500 and $600.

Chris Long is a store associate at Home Depot. He writes on standby generators and other electrical topics. For more information, go to homedepot.com.