Purchasing a generator is easy, determining which generator to purchase is a little more daunting. Essentially there are two type of generators, portable and standby. Portable generators are just that, portable. Standby generators are power systems that are designed to kick in at a moments notice during an outage and are sometimes called backup generators.
In reality, portable generators are used in the same role and offer the ability to be moved around and used for almost any purpose. Standby generators are tied to a static location such as beside a home or job site. For the purposes of this guide, the primary focus will be on the portable generators with passing references to standby generators.
Before moving into the specifics of purchasing a portable generator, it is best to draw the comparison between portable and standby a little clearer.
Standby generators are typically static generators that are connected to the grid of the home and provide power either via a liquid or gas fuel source. The two primary fuel sources are natural gas or diesel. Larger industrial versions can be found in many commercial and industrial applications. Smaller versions are available for the home and typically require specialized individuals to install.
By contrast portable generators are propane, gasoline or diesel powered, and usually have wheels so they can be maneuvered about. The come in the same sizes as static generators but are not usually tied into the house power grid. For most homeowners, the typical choice is portable power generation over static or standby generators because of the versatility.
Pick Your Power
Now that we have moved beyond the differences in standby and portable, we can now get down to how to properly select a portable generator. In order to select the right generator the first step is to determine the amount of power needed for the main use. All the other features are secondary if the generator does not supply the needed power. To begin to determine the power needed first determine what the exact usage will mainly be.
For example, is the generator going to supply back up power to the home during an outage. If so, what appliances and how many will the generator need to power? If the generator is going to be used on a job site or for work applications, a similar process is employed there the number of tools needed to be powered are considered.
To properly calculate the power needed, check each tool or appliance that is going to be attached to the future generator. There are two numbers that will be important. First is the wattage. How many watts does this appliance require? Often this number is not directly available and must be calculated from the number of volts required. The second number is the number of amps required to power the device. If the numbers available are only volts and amps, there is no reason to despair, it just has to be converted.
To determine the number of watts, take the volts and multiple by the amps and that will give you the number of watts the device or appliance needs. Calculate the number of watts needed for each appliance or device and add all these numbers together, this will give you the total watts needed for your generator.
Less Load, More Time
Now that you have calculated the total number of watts needed, the next thing to consider is the load. Generators advertise their power in watts, this is considered the load that you will be drawing from the unit. Generators typically will be marked with a number of hours they will supply at half load. For example, many generators will advertise 6 hours of run time at half load. Meaning a 3500 Watt generator will run for 6 hours with a load of 1750 watts. So, if you calculated you need 3500 watts of continuous power, then it is best to purchase a generator that will have a half load of that amount. It is always better to err on the side of more watts than less watts.
Can’t Power Everything
At this stage, you probably realized that a portable generator will not power every electrical device in the home. When doing the above calculations the best advice is to only calculate those devices or appliances that are necessary for the home. Refrigerator, a chest freezer, furnace fan, sump pump, a few lights and the like. Each generator comes with a limited number of receptacles. This includes 240V for heaver appliances or air conditioners and 120V for standard house type appliances. When looking for a portable generator, after calculating the power needed, the next factor to consider is the number of outlets needed. Some of the smaller devices or appliances such as phone chargers or lamps can be plugged into an multiple outlet extension cord for more receptacles but appliances like refrigerators or freezers should be plugged directly in to the generator. The reason for this, is that the generator has a circuit breaker that will prevent overload on the outlet and that protects both you and the appliance from potential damage.
Now that you know how much power you need and how many receptacles are needed, we can now focus on safety and noise. Finding a generator with more safety features over a model with less safety features is well worth the price difference. Surge protection, overload protection, and circuit breakers are all safety features that a person should consider when purchasing a portable generator. Other features that should also be considered are, fuel gauge, low oil warning light, GFCI circuits for wet protection.
Finally, exercise caution when using your generator.
- Never hook it up to your home grid.
- Never ever run it indoors, even in a garage with an open door.
- Keep things at least 5 feet away from all sides during operation.
- Finally, wait at least 30 mins before refueling the generator.
Finally, you have the amount of power needed, how may receptacles needed and an idea of the safety features required. Now we can talk about the last feature to look for. A generator that operates quietly. Generators make a lot of noise, so the quieter ones are the ones you want to consider. As long as the power is available and the receptacles and safety features are there, select one that has technology to make it quiet. Many will list the quieting features on the packaging. Exhaust baffles, insulated filters etc are just some of the quiet features that work on generators. The quieter the better.
Purchasing a portable generator does not have to be difficult. With the information above, getting the right generator for the right purpose shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Of course, price is always a consideration but remember that the more investment you make in your portable power the happier you will be when you use it or need it.