What Appliances Can I Run with a 3,500-watt Generator?

Generators are indispensable around the homestead. If you don’t have one, you need one, and it’s only a matter of time until you have to have it. You can take that to the bank. But if you don’t know the ins and outs of generators, it can be really confusing to figure out what size you need.

generator inside concrete enclosure
generator inside concrete enclosure

Buying too small of a unit means you’ll be left in the dark or without sufficient power when you need it most. Buying too large of a generator means you’re just wasting money and are going to go through fuel a lot quicker than you have to.

How about something like a 3,500-watt generator? What kind of appliances can you run with it?

It’s possible to run one or two larger household appliances like a small air conditioner unit, washing machine, or countertop cooking appliance with a 3500-watt generator. You can also run a couple of small power tools or multiple smaller fixtures.

A 3,500-watt generator is a great size for homesteaders because it can cover your most important bases when the power is out.

Your critical quality of life appliances like the refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner, and of course, your coffee maker or espresso machine can easily be run on one, but you can’t run them all at the same time.

In any case, 3,500-watt gennys are a great first step towards real self-sufficiency and often represent best-in-category values. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you more that you need to know about choosing the right generator for you…

Can a 3,500-Watt Generator Handle Larger Appliances?

Yes, it can, but it cannot handle the very largest like electric furnaces, large air conditioners, dryers, and so forth.

But you can depend on a 3,500-watt unit to run a refrigerator with an attached freezer, a washing machine, coffee maker, espresso machine, dishwasher, toaster, and a smaller portable or window AC unit.

A dishwasher, espresso machine, and small window AC are on the higher end of that spectrum, using on average of 1,500 watts, 1,300 watts, and around 1,200 watts respectively.

Washing machines vary but use around 1,100 to 1,200 watts on average. A fridge-freezer combo unit will use around 700 watts.

Things like clothes dryers, large air conditioners, and electric furnaces are beyond the capabilities of this generator class, though it is possible for one to run a medium to large size radiant heater, as they typically use anywhere from 1,800 to 3,000 watts.

Can a 3,500-Watt Generator Handle Power Tools?

Yes, it sure can, and it can handle multiple smaller tools or perhaps a couple of larger ones depending on what they are.

Table saws, radial saws, portable compressors, electric drills, electric chainsaws, leaf blowers, and so forth are all well within the output of these gennys.

A radial saw is on the high side at around 2,000 watts, with a table saw and a chainsaw being right behind it at around 1500 watts. Smaller stuff like drills, circular saws, and so forth will use anywhere from 600 to 1,000 watts. A modest portable compressor will use around 1,500 watts.

A good rule of thumb is to count on a 3,500-watt generator enabling two or perhaps three people to use various power tools at once, though you can’t use more than two high-drain tools at the same time.

That said, you have no problems using an electric drill and a portable air compressor together, for instance, or a table saw and a compressor at the same time.

But obviously, the electrical demands of tools vary considerably depending on the make, model, and power of the tool in question, so make sure you check those specifics before you hook them up to avoid generator failure or overheating!

Can a 3,500-Watt Generator Run a Pump?

Yes, probably, but it can’t run every kind of pump. Once again, these devices can differ greatly in terms of power requirements, and you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s info plate on yours before you get a generator – if this is the main reason why you’re buying it!

A good guideline though is to make a rough estimate based on the horsepower of the pump in question.

A ⅓-horsepower pump will usually take around 800 watts. A half-horsepower pump typically needs around 1,000 to 1,100 watts. A ¾-horsepower pump will need approximately 1,500 watts to run, and a 1-horsepower pump will need anywhere from 2,000 to 2,200. Again, this varies so make sure to check!

Something else to keep in mind is that pumps, particularly, usually have significant starting or surge wattage requirements to begin operation. This is usually anywhere from half again to twice as much running wattage as they require.

This can complicate things when purchasing a generator. I’ll tell you about the difference between running and surge watts in just a couple of sections.

Note that You Won’t Be Able to Run Multiple High-Drain Things Simultaneously

I mentioned up above that a 3500-watt generator is a fine choice for a small job site or what I call basic life support around the household when the power is out.

That’s because it’ll let you run a few potent tools at once or a couple of large appliances or one large appliance and multiple smaller ones along with light fixtures and things.

You definitely won’t be able to power your entire house unless you live in a very small and spartan house!

Because of this, if you are thinking about a 3,500-watt generator, you must first carefully determine what appliances and fixtures you can, and cannot, live without when the power is out.

You won’t be able to turn lights on or activate appliances or other devices carelessly with one of these generators because they are relatively easy to overload.

Once that is done, sharpen your pencil and get good data on the running wattage requirements of those appliances and devices.

Add them all up, and make sure you don’t exceed the running capacity of the generator—nominally 3,500 watts, but not all models in this class can maintain that level of output forever!

You’ll also need to figure out the starting wattage requirements of everything, something I’ll tell you about in the next section…

Account for Running and Startup Watts When Planning Your Generator Purchase!

One of the most commonly overlooked factors when shopping for a generator is the starting wattage requirements of your things. Likewise is the starting wattage requirements, or surge wattage rating, of the generator you’re thinking about buying!

The starting wattage, or surge wattage, of a given device or appliance is how much power it needs just to start up: it might be the charging of capacitors, the activation of secondary pumps or motors, and things like that. Basically, it’s the electricity needed to prime the machine.

The pumps we talked about earlier are a great example. A 1/2 horsepower pump might only take between 1,000 and 1,100 watts of energy when it is running, but it might need 2,100 to 2200 w just to get started!

Refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances often have significantly higher starting requirements that you’ll need to be aware of.

Your generator must be able to cope with that demand or it could be knocked out (or at best, your device might just fail to function).

This can really complicate matters if you’re trying to run multiple high-drain devices with high starting requirements.

If your unit simply does not have the capacity to accommodate the starting requirements of both, you can only run one or the other even if it could handle the running requirements of both.

Likewise, there are instances where you may need to strategically turn on your stuff in a given order so that you don’t overload the generator.

Whatever brand and model of genny you are shopping for, don’t just look at the big number on the box to make your determination.

Closely read the manufacturer’s specs sheet for running and surge wattage capability, and consider checking with independent labs or reviewers who have performed their own verification if you want to get the real tale of the tape!

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