I have a 5500W (7500W starting surge) Troy Bilt that I got at Lowes. It's got a 10 HP Briggs & Stratton engine. So far, it has powered me for 7 days following Hurricane Irene and 4 days following Hurricane Sandy. It's done just fine so far. Obviously, it won't run the biggest loads in my house, but it runs the essential loads. It handles my well pump, furnace support items (i.e. exhaust fan, burner ignitor, etc.), all the lights in the house, the refrigerator, and I even used the oven to bake a pizza. It is plenty to provide me with all the hot & cold water I need, the oven or microwave for cooking (with my gas grill as a backup), and the refrigerator to keep the beer (and food) cold. I'm sure my washing machine would trip it on the starting surge. Don't really need a dryer as long as it's warm and dry enough to hang clothes outside.
I do not have a transfer switch. What I do (yes, I know it's not in compliance with the electrical code) is back-feed my panel. I have a 220V 50A range outlet in my garage that I normally have my big air compressor plugged into (or, on occasion, my powdercoating oven). I have about 100 feet of 6AWG wire with a twist-lock plug for the generator on one end and a 50A range plug on the other. I open the main 200A breaker on the panel and then back-feed the panel through the 50A plug in my garage. I must stress that it's absolutely VITAL that you open your panel's main breaker. If you don't, you'll back-feed the lines coming to your house and potentially shock line workers that are trying to restore power. Also, if your main breaker is shut and utility power comes back, you run a great risk of serious damage to your generator or your home's electrical system. What I am doing is the exact same thing that a generator transfer switch does, except that the transfer switch has a mechanical interlock that prevents you from shutting the normal supply breaker and the generator supply breaker at the same time (for the reasons I already mentioned).
A transfer switch is definitely the right & legal way to do it, but what I have described works fine. A lot of times, the generator transfer switch is a sub-panel that has the breakers for all your essential loads (refrigerator, lights, etc.) which will also keep you from accidentally overloading your generator. This is not a concern for me since I don't have a wife & kids that would try to watch TV with all the lights in the house on while cooking dinner, washing & drying clothes, and blasting the A/C all at the same time. You can also just open those breakers on the panel when you are on the generator to keep those loads from being used.
When I first bought it, my mom asked me why in the world I bought a generator. After Irene & Sandy, I was able to say "I told you so" and she now agrees it was a great idea.
I've heard good things about Generac. As far as China junk, that's pretty much anything these days. Sometimes you just have to take your chances.
Last edited by Greg'66 5.0; 11-09-2012 at 09:38 PM.