Portable generators are one of the best alternatives when you lose power. If you face power outages regularly, want to run a job site, or need to be prepared to use emergency power, then you should consider having a portable generator. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly sure how a portable generator works, as we’ll go over everything you need to know.
They’re simple and easy to use, and they offer a variety of options to power everything from your power tools to your refrigerator. However, before choosing a portable generator, you’ll need to consider many important factors and be aware of the relevant safety considerations. These include making sure to place it in a well-ventilated area, only adding fuel when the generator is turned off and cooled down, and making sure the generator is protected from excessive moisture.
We have put together this guide to help you make a decision. So let’s get started with what you need to know about generators.
Variety of Generators
You will find three basic types of generators available in the market. In spite of their differences, these generators all require very similar maintenance work to prolong their life span and use similar fuel sources. These three types are:
1. Portable Generators: A portable generator is one that runs on gas or diesel and is able to be moved from place to place, such as from one job site to another. It usually provides temporary electrical power. Due to its portability, this type of generator is one of the best to use in remote locations. By using a combustion engine, it conducts electric power. Using a portable generator, you can run your refrigerator, freezer, TV, etc.
2. Inverter Generator: An inverter generator is one that produces safer AC energy and uses fossil fuels to run. This type of generator has been developed with the latest technology so that it creates less noise and consumes less fuel. An inverter generator is one of the best options if you want to connect your appliances to a generator that offers safe and stable electric power. As an added bonus, these generators also tend to be quite portable.
3. Standby Generators: A standby generator is the one that operates automatically to provide an instant backup power supply. This type of generator can deliver you permanent power protection. They’re widely used in sectors where emergency power backup is needed, such as within hospitals. The generator uses liquid propane or natural gas to produce electricity. A standby generator is costly compared to other types of generators, both in terms of purchase price and installation.
How Do Generators Function?
A generator actually doesn’t produce electricity; rather, it converts chemical or mechanical energy into electrical energy. It does this through using the chemical energy to cause a component to rotate, and this rotation turns into electrical power or energy by forcefully moving electrons from an outer source with the help of an electrical circuit. Thus, a generator is, by necessity, an electrical motor that works in a reverse system.
There are even huge electrical generators that provide electricity by using water to turn a set of turbines. This type of generator produces an enormous amount of electricity and is typically industrial in nature, such as a hydroelectric plant. Residential and commercial generators are comparatively smaller in size and work with the help of a traditional fuel supply, such as diesel, gasoline, propane, etc. In essence, a generator works through the combined performance of the components discussed below:
Engine: The engine is the most important component of a generator as it supplies energy to the generator. The higher the power of the engine, the more electricity it can provide you.
Alternator: The alternator is another important component and is where mechanical energy gets converted into electrical energy. The alternator is also called the ‘genhead’. It includes both stationary and moving parts that work in combination to produce electromagnetic fields. It also causes the movement of electrons that produce electricity.
Fuel System: The fuel system is the combination of a fuel tank, a connecting pipe from the tank to the engine, a return pipe from the engine to the tank, and a fuel pump. A fuel filter removes debris so that they don’t enter the engine. There is also an injector that forcefully transfers the fuel into the combustion chamber. This fuel system creates an environment for the generator to produce the required electricity from combustion of the fuel.
Voltage Regulator: The voltage regulator is one of the most important components of a generator. It helps the generator control the voltage of the electricity produced. It also works to convert the electricity from AC energy to DC energy whenever needed.
Cooling and Exhaust Systems: Having a cooling and exhaust system is very important to keep your generator from overheating. A generator produces a lot of heat and thus needs to be kept cool during continuous use. Otherwise, you will end up with a damaged generator. The cooling system prevents your generator from overheating, and the exhaust system removes the fumes from the generator while it runs.
Lubrication System: The lubrication system lubricates a lot of essential and small moving parts inside the generator. This system lubricates all these smaller components with engine oil so that your generator can run smoothly, without generating too much friction. This system also protects these parts from excessive wear.
Battery Charger: Your generator gets started with the help of the batteries. The battery charger charges the battery automatically and makes sure the generator is ready to start whenever needed.
Control Panel: The control panel is another important component of the generator that controls different aspects of the operation of your generator. It controls the generator from starting to running to output.
Main Assembly or Frame: The main assembly or the frame of the generator is its outer appearance that we see. This is the structure that holds all the parts of your generator and keeps everything in place.
What’s the Right Generator for Your Home?
Finding out what size generator is right for your home is very important. There are some important considerations that you must take into account to find out which size is right for you. The first thing you should consider is under what conditions and circumstances you typically experience a power outage at home. So, determine which of the following scenarios most closely matches yours to choose the right generator:
Do You Experience Frequent Power Outages?
If there are frequent power outages in your home or region, then you should consider any of the types of generators shown below. This is also applicable to those who live in an area where there are severe weather conditions such as blizzards, hurricanes, or ice storms.
- Home Standby
- Large Inverter
Any of the generators listed above will be a great solution for you because all these generator models can power your entire house, just be sure to get one with a high enough output. These can also connect directly to the circuit breaker panel of your home. These generators are also safe for your home and electrical appliances.
What If You Have Occasional Power Outages?
If you live in an area where power outages occur occasionally, then you should consider any of the types of generators listed below. We’ve already mentioned that these generators provide safe electric power, so you won’t have to worry if you connect your appliances to these.
- Large Inverter
Since you don’t face a lot of power outages, you don’t need to spend more on buying a standby generator. Thus, any of the generators listed above will give you plenty of backup power.
If You Rarely Lose Power
If you rarely experience power outages, then you can consider any of the generators listed below. These generators will be quite useful in the event that you do have a power outage.
- Mid Sized inverter
- Recreational inverter
You can either choose a mid-size generator or go for the recreational generator because both of these models are capable of offering you the backup power you’ll need.
Another way to find out what size generator you need is to consider the wattage you need to run your home and electrical appliances.
What Size Generator Do I Need?
Before choosing a portable generator, most people ask the question – what size generator do I need? This question can get a bit technical, and many new shoppers get stuck while looking for the correct answer. But the good thing is that the answer to this question is pretty simple and easy to understand. Let’s walk through it step-by-step so you’ll know exactly how to figure it out.
To know what size generator you should have, you need to follow these three simple steps:
- First, you have to collect information on both the running and starting electricity needed for all of your appliances.
- Then, you have to ensure that the power information you collected is represented in Watts.
- Finally, figure out how many appliances you will want to run at any specific time.
So let’s now shed some light on it in detail. We are going to calculate the necessary wattage to determine the size generator you require.
Step 1: Collecting both running and starting power information for your appliances:
First, you have to determine the running wattage, also known as continuous wattage or rated wattage, and the starting wattage, also known as the peak wattage, needed for each of your appliances. In some instances, these will be the same such as for small appliances like TVs, lights, laptops, etc. For all these appliances, the starting and running wattage are the same.
But you’ll also find that, in many cases, the starting wattage and running wattage for an appliance will vary drastically. Appliances with electric motors or heating elements will require a starting wattage that is 3 to 4 times (or even more) than the running wattage. These types of appliances include air-conditioners, electric deep fryers, fridges, microwaves, hairdryers, grinders, pumps, drills, coffee machines, saws, etc.
So you’ll have to collect the starting and running wattage information for your appliances to determine the capacity of the generator you need. If you make a mistake here and underestimate what you’ll need, then you won’t be able to run some of your appliances with your generator, at least not all at one time.
Step 2: Ensuring the power information is represented in Watts:
In the second step, you’ll need to make sure your information is in terms of watts. If some of your information is in the form of Amps, Kilowatts, or Horsepower, then you’ll need to convert these forms of power into watts. You can calculate these manually or with the help of an online converter. To calculate it manually, the following information will be very helpful:
- 1 Amp= 240 Watts
- 1 HP= 746 Watts
- 1 Kilowatt= 1000 Watts
Step 3: Find out how many appliances you would like to run at any specific time.
In the final step, you have to figure out how many appliances you need to run at one time and how much power they will consume. According to that calculation, you’ll have to choose a generator that has a high enough output to handle the demand. Let’s go through some examples to make things clear:
Example 1: Suppose your air-conditioner requires 2300 watts starting power and 1000 watts running power. If this is all you want to run, then you have to choose a generator that has a capacity of at least 2300 watts of power or more.r or more.
Example 2: Suppose you have a water pump in your house that consumes 7200 watts power at starting, and it reduces to 1800 watts for the running power. So, in this case, you have to have a generator of at least 7200 watts power or more.
Example 3: Now, suppose you want to run more than one appliance at a time using your generator. Then you will have to consider the power each appliance needs and sum up these values to determine the required generator capacity. If you need to run your air-conditioner, TV, mobile phone, and tablet at the same time, then the wattage calculation would be as follows:
|Appliances||Running Wattage||Starting Wattage|
So you will have a total wattage requirement of 2600 watts (2300+200+100). In the calculation, you will have to sum up the highest wattage for each of your appliances. So, in this case, you have to choose a generator that has a wattage capacity of at least 2600 watts or more. You can get an idea of required wattage for different appliances from the wattage estimation table.
How Should I Calculate the Wattage of a Home Generator?
You’ve frequently asked us how to Calculate Home Generator Wattage. In this section, we are going to provide the easiest way to calculate your generator wattage. Although we’ve already covered a lot of information in the previous section, let’s focus on some other factors here so that you will be completely certain about your home wattage requirement and generator wattage.
The first step when calculating your home generator wattage is to check the starting and running wattage capacity of your home generator. After that, you’ll have to calculate the required wattage of your home appliances by following the steps we have mentioned above. Now, you have to match the generator wattage capacity with your required wattage capacity in terms of both the required starting power and running power.
You can easily calculate the wattage of your appliances and home generator here: Generator Sizing Charts PDF
Inverter vs. Generators – What’s the Difference?
Though the job of an inverter and a generator is to provide you with a power supply, there are some differences between the two. Here, we will go over these differences:
Inverter generators have been developed with all the latest technology so that they are more efficient, safer, and perform great. But typical generators are not produced using these technologies. That’s why the power supply a generator provides is less safe than that of an inverter.
Type of Current Produced
One of the main differences between an inverter and a generator is the type of current they produce. An inverter goes through 3 stages: high-frequency AC, then DC, and finally, it converts back to a constant and safe AC electricity supply. But a typical generator only produces and provides AC all the time.
An inverter generator produces a pure sine wave that is a great source of safe and clean electricity. But a conventional generator delivers a messier sine wave which is not quite as safe as that provided by an inverter generator.
Power and Fuel Efficiency
In terms of producing more power, the generator stands ahead of the inverter. But in terms of fuel efficiency, the inverter stands ahead of the generator. That means the inverter is more fuel-efficient than the generator and thus the inverter consumes less fuel.
Inverter generators are comparatively smaller in size than traditional generators, and that’s why inverter generators are more portable than traditional ones. You will find that inverter generators are compact and lightweight, thus you have the benefit of greater portability when using an inverter generator.
The size of the fuel tank on an inverter generator is smaller than that of a conventional generator. Conventional generators come with bigger fuel tanks because they produce more power at lower fuel efficiency compared to the inverter generators. It should be noted that the better fuel efficiency of inverter generators partially makes up for the smaller fuel tank size.
If you compare the noise level between these two, you will see that an inverter generator produces less noise compared to a conventional generator. Conventional generators normally create more sound and produce more power, while inverter generators produce less of both.
It is possible to connect inverter generators in parallel. However, traditional generators cannot be connected in this way. Thus, if you’re interested in connecting generators in parallel, the inverter generator is the clear winner.
An inverter produces fewer greenhouse emissions than a traditional generator. This means that an inverter is more environmentally friendly and explains why many people prefer to use an inverter rather than a traditional generator.
If you compare the price of an inverter and a generator, you will see that inverters come with a higher price tag than traditional generators. Although, there are also a lot of generators with comparatively higher prices.
How to Always Use a Generator Safely?
Using your generator safely is very important because if they aren’t handled properly, they pose a risk of shock or even electrocution. Also, handling your generator safely helps you get the most out of it and prolong its life. Here, we’ve compiled some important safety considerations so that you’ll know how to run your generator safely. So, let’s go through them one by one:
The Perfect Place to Keep Your Generator
You will have to choose where you place your portable generator carefully, as this is very important. Making sure your generator is kept in a suitable location ensures it will function properly and reach its full lifespan. If you’re curious what the best location for your generator is, then take note of these suggestions:
- Dry and Away From Rain
You must keep your generator somewhere dry, where the rain and water cannot reach. We all know that water is a dangerous thing for a generator. If you operate your generator on a wet surface, in the rain, or under any wet conditions, then you increase your risk of electrocution. Thus, you have to choose a dry location to place your generator.
- Open and Well Ventilated Space
You must keep your generator in a place that is open and where there is sufficient ventilation. When you run a generator, it produces a very toxic gas called carbon monoxide. If this gas is allowed to accumulate in a closed area, you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Thus, you should place your generator in an open space or in a place that is well ventilated.
- Steady and Stable Level
It’s also important to run your generator on a stable and steady surface. If you are not running your generator on a stable and steady surface then you risk causing damage to your generator. This is because the lubricant won’t be able to reach every part of the engine if the generator is tilted, and this could cause significant damage if you run the generator when tilted like this.
- Proper Connection and Wiring
If you want to have the adequate delivery of power from your generator, you will have to connect your generator properly and ensure perfect wiring. If you don’t, you could end up with low-voltage or overload issues, or even a fire hazard or electrical hazard.
- Home Setup
If you want to use a generator for your home, you have to ensure that you have installed the transfer switch to the electric panel so that you will get an effective changeover. A transfer switch carries the load from the generator to the main power supply and from the main power supply to the generator. So in your home setup, you should ensure you have a transfer switch.
- Recreational Setup
For a recreational generator setup, you can either choose to connect your devices directly to the generator or opt for a heavy-duty extension cord that is made for outdoor use. If you’d like to run an extension cord, you’ll need to make sure that it’s free of cuts is not exposed. You’ll also need to make sure it’s rated to handle the wattage you’ll be using.
- Fueling the Generator
If you want to use your generator safely, you have to only use the fuels recommended by the manufacturer. If you cannot make sure to use the recommended fuel, you are more likely to cause damage to your generator. If you do add the wrong fuel, you may have to get the generator professionally serviced in order to clean out the incorrect fuel before you can use the generator again.
- Powering your Generator
You should follow the proper procedure to power up your generator. After turning on your generator, you have to allow it to warm up. You should only connect your devices after that.
- Storage of your Generator
If you aren’t going to use your generator for a long time, you should store your generator in a dry and cool place. You should also drain the fuel before you store your generator. If you follow all these steps, you will be able to extend the life of your generator and enhance its performance.
The 10 Most Useful Portable Generator Accessories
Often, the proper functioning of your portable generator depends on having the essential accessories. Along with that, you also need certain portable generator accessories when installing your generator. Though some manufacturers claim their generators are compatible with plug-and-go systems, oftentimes, the reality is different.
Without these accessories, you may end up having issues with your generator and a shortage of backup power when you need it. Here we’ll describe some of the most important portable generator accessories that will help you run your generator perfectly and get the safest backup power.
The transfer switch is an essential accessory that you should always install for your home backup generator or RV generator. This is the thing that changes whether your electrical system draws power from your generator or from the electrical grid. Thus for a portable generator, it directly transfers load from the main electric supply power to your generator and vice versa.
There are typically two types of transfer switches you can choose from:
- Automatic Transfer Switch
As the name suggests, an automatic transfer switch self-activates your generator and transfers loads between the main electrical power supply and generator power supply automatically. This switch can also automatically make your generator stop functioning as soon as the regular electricity supply comes back.
This switch can be programmed to transfer a specific load depending on your generator size and your instant power needs. It would be best to get help from a professional while installing the transfer switch on your generator. This will make sure your connection is safe and protect you from the risks associated with a poor connection.
- Manual Transfer Switch
A manual switch is one that you need to operate manually. In the event of a power outage, you’ll need to flip this switch, and when the power comes back again, you’ll need to flip it again.
Heavy-Duty Extension Cords
You’ll need extension cords to make the connection between your main electrical panel, which is generally attached to your building, and your generator. It’s very important to place your fuel-powered generator a minimum of 15 feet away from your building, and you must make sure that the exhaust releases the fumes away from your doors, windows, enclosed spaces, etc.
It’s always better to use heavy-duty extension cords to ensure your safety. These cords can handle any weather conditions, from normal to extreme. If you use heavy-duty extension cords, you will have no problems, even if the main electricity supply gets disconnected because of bad weather conditions. You should also make sure that your extension cords come with the same amperage as your generator.
Regular maintenance plays an important role in the proper functioning of any engine with moving parts and components. Thus, your portable generator needs regular maintenance so that it will provide you optimal performance. Naturally, it follows that your generator needs a good maintenance kit that will help you regularly maintain your generator and keep it in superior condition. These kits usually include the following:
- Spark plugs
- Oil filters
- Air filters
A Muffler for Quiet Operation
Generally, portable generators that have greater power output and run on fuel produce more noise. That’s why manufacturers gave the issue some thought and added a muffler to the generator to make it as quiet as possible. Investing in a quality muffler is necessary to reduce the noise so that the generator doesn’t cause a disturbance. For best results, you should install a quality muffler that fits your generator well and offers you quiet operation at all times.
Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR)
If you plan to connect sensitive appliances to your generator power supply, then you’ll need an automatic voltage regulator (AVR). An AVR maintains your generator’s output at a stable voltage to keep your appliances safe. If you do not have an AVR in your generator, the output of your generator will vary and may cause damage to your equipment or appliances during voltage fluctuations.
If you plan to leave your generator with fuel or oil inside for a long period of time in between uses, then the fuel or oil can go bad. To prevent this unfortunate situation, you need to add fuel stabilizers to your generator’s fuel tank. This keeps the fuel or oil inside your generator in good condition. It also prevents your generator from being damaged by fuel that has left gum deposits or caused corrosion due to sitting unused for an extended period.
Cold Weather Kit
You’ll need to have a cold-weather kit for your generator if you live in a cold place. A cold weather kit contains all the items you’ll need to use in a cold environment to make sure your portable generator is not damaged due to low temperatures and is able to function smoothly with optimal output.
The cold weather kit should contain an oil heater and a battery warmer which heat up your oil and battery when the temperature is too low. If you don’t have a cold weather kit and the temperature drops below 32°F, your generator likely won’t start because the cold temperature will cause the oil to thicken and reduce the power output of the battery.
Wheels are great and convenient accessories for your portable generator. If you attach a wheel kit to your generator, you’ll be able to move and transport it easily no matter how heavy your generator is. Getting non-flat wheels for your generator is your best bet since they are low maintenance.
Remote Wireless Start
A wireless remote start is a more advanced type of starter for your portable generator. You’ll be able to start your generator by simply pressing a remote key if your generator has this option, as opposed to having to pull a cord on the side of the generator to get it going. This means you can start your generator from a distance while staying comfortably inside instead of having to walk out to the generator’s location.
The generator cover is a very important accessory because it protects your portable generator from water and dirt buildup. Since you’ll often move your generator outside, you must use a generator cover. Generally, portable generators are not waterproof and are more prone to damage due to bad weather conditions. So having a quality weatherproof cover will protect your generator nicely.
Helpful FAQ for Generator Users
You probably still have some questions related to using a generator. To make sure you have adequate knowledge of portable generators, we are going to answer your most frequently asked questions so that we can clear up any confusion and ensure you have a better experience with your generator. So, let’s get started:
✅ What is the difference between running watts and starting watts?
✅ What is the difference between an air-cooled engine and a liquid-cooled engine for a generator?
✅ Can I connect a portable generator to my home?
✅ Do I need a transfer switch to connect a portable generator to my RV?
✅ What do I do if there are any missing or damaged parts in my box after unpacking?
Operation and Performance FAQ
✅ Can I run my generator continuously non-stop?
✅ What happens if the generator operates at a low load at all times?
✅ What happens if I overload the generator?
✅ Can I start the generator with any applied load?
✅ Can I shut down the generator with the load still on?
✅ Can I use the generator with an extension cord?
Maintenance and check-up FAQ
✅ Is it good to refill oil for my portable generator?
✅ What will happen to the engine if I use it without changing the oil?
✅ What happens if too much oil is added?
✅ What happens if the amount of oil is too low?
✅ Does high-octane gasoline enhance fuel economy and give improved output?
✅ What kind of fuel and oil should I use in my portable generator?
✅ What will happen if I use another type of oil?
Safety and Precautions FAQ
✅ Is it possible to add an extension exhaust for the muffler?
✅ Can I vent out the exhaust from an indoor area?
✅ Can I run my portable generator in the garage with the door open?
✅ Do portable generators cause carbon monoxide poisoning?
✅ Can I build a soundproof box to lower the generator’s operating sound?
✅ Does the generator need to be grounded?
Storing and Safekeeping FAQ
✅ How long can I leave gas in the tank?
✅ What can I do if I’m not planning to use my generator for more than 30 days?
✅ What is the life expectancy of my portable generator?
✅ Will my portable generator work in the rain or snow?
✅ Can I use gasoline to clean the generator?
✅ What is the best method for cleaning my generator?
✅ What to do if I get water in the fuel tank?
Final Thoughts About Generators
Hopefully, we were able to provide you with all the information you need to find the right generator for you. We’ve explained every aspect of your portable generator so that you will have a better experience while running your generator. We recommend that you read the article a second time if you need to and follow the guidelines properly. After that, you will be an expert in choosing, using, and maintaining your portable generator.