Picking the Right Generator (8 Factors and Tips) How-To Guide

by Katie Lovett
Last Updated on

Whether you want to add a little light on the subject whenever you go camping, if you need to have backup power in a power outage, or if you are preparing for off-grid living, you will need a power generator. There are a wide variety of generators to choose from, so making a selection takes some planning and forethought.


Picking the Right Generator –  8 Factors

Our guide for how to pick the right generator will help you match up your needs with the right type of generator that will best serve those needs.

How To Pick The Right Generator

1. Determine the Purpose

The most important step in how to pick the right generator is determining what purpose your generator is intended to serve. In general, generators are used in one or several of the following ways:

  • To provide power when RV or car camping.
  • To provide power at an arts and crafts fair, carnival or other types of events where regular power is not available.
  • Powering tools on a job site where no regular power source is available.
  • Provide backup power when there is an interruption of service or blackout.
  • As an alternative source to power service for off-grid living.

Some generators will work well when it comes to fulfilling each of the purposes listed above and others will be inadequate or lack the necessary features to work well in others. Once you have decided which purpose or purposes you need your generator, you can move onto the next step.

2. Determine How Much Output You Need

Different types of generators have different levels of output. Selecting a generator which has too little or too much output is not going to serve your needs as well as a generator that has the precise amount of output to fit the purpose you intend to use it. Here is how to determine how much output you need:

  • Determine which appliances, objects or services you will want to power while camping, during a power outage, or your overall off-grid needs. For example, do you just want to be able to charge electronic devices, flashlights, etc. or do you need to power a freezer, refrigerator, well-water pump, etc.?
  • Read the wattage and voltage requirements of each of the items, tools or appliances you will want to power using your generator.
  • Add up the total wattage needed to power all of the appliances, devices, and services that you wish to include. This will provide you with the overall wattage output your generator will need to provide.

3. Decide Type of Fuel

The purpose of a generator is to use some alternative source of fuel that will cause the generator to create the necessary power you need. Here are some of the various fuel types that are used for generating power:

  • Solar: These generators use solar panels and the energy of the sun to create the power stored in batteries for later use or on-demand use.
  • Wind: This works on the same principle as solar power, but uses wind to turn a generator shaft to produce power, and then that power can either be on-demand or stored up in batteries.
  • Dual Fuel: These generators allow you to use either LP gas or gasoline to power the motor which turns the generator shaft to produce on-demand power.
  • Gasoline: This is the most common type of generator, which produces power in the same way as the dual fuel generator, but limits you to the use of gasoline as the source.

4. Starting Dependability

Especially important in how to choose a portable generator is starting dependability, but this dependability becomes critical when your generator is used for backup power or the primary source of power to your home. Let’s consider the levels of dependability for the various uses of generators:

  • Camping and event use: important
  • Alternative power during a blackout: important
  • Operating power tools on a job site: important to critical
  • Alternative power for laboratory, computer and nerve center operations: critical
  • The primary source of power for off-the-grid living: critical

In each of these cases, the dependability of your generator to start easily and begin producing power is a consideration you need to have in mind as you decide.

5. Weight Considerations

When choosing a generator to fulfill the various purposes we have already discussed, weight is something to be taken into consideration. Here are some of the typical weight considerations to keep in mind for various types of generators:

  • Solar powered portable generators: 3 to 20 pounds
  • Fixed solar powered generators: over 200 pounds
  • Portable generators without wheels (recreational use): 40 to 80 pounds
  • Portable generators with wheels: 80 to 260 pounds
  • Backup power: Well over 250 pounds depending on the output
  • Primary power source: 500 pounds plus for those that produce over 15,000 watts

Weight considerations are more important in cases where generators are portable than in situations where they are placed in a fixed position. However, even in a fixed position, structural support might have an effect on which generator you choose or how much reinforcement might need to be added to support the machine’s weight.

6. Run Time Needed

The amount of running time needed will also vary from one usage of a generator to another. Running time is typically related to the size of the fuel tank attached to the generator as well as the type of fuel being used. When discussing how to pick the right generator, keep the following run times in mind:

  • Solar and Wind. In the case of solar and wind generators, run-time might also be related to the level of storage your batteries have.
  • Portable Recreational. If you are setting up for an event or camping, you might need your generator to only run a few hours or maybe overnight.
  • Job Site Power. Powering tools on a job site typically requires enough run time to get through a day of work.
  • Emergency Backup. Those for emergency backup power might need to be able to run for several days or even weeks.
  • Primary Power Source. Those who are used as a primary power source need to have an indefinite run time.

7. Outlet Options

Power generators vary in the types of outlet options available based upon the overall wattage and voltage output. Here are some of the common outlet options for various types of generators:

  • Portable solar and recreational portable models: 2 to 3 standard 120v outlets, USB and charging port outlets.
  • Portable backup generators, emergency generators or job site generators: 2 220v outlets and 4 to 6 standard 120v outlets.
  • Primary power source generators or professional backup generators: tend to be hardwired into the disconnect box leading into the breaker box.

8. Cord Sets

Though cord sets are not a necessity on either smaller, recreational generators or temporary backup generators, they are something that needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to how to choose a portable generator for construction or when it comes to fixed primary source or professional backup systems. Cord sets help to eliminate a tangle of electrical lines leading from the generator to various workstations on a construction site or are directly wired into the disconnect leading to the breaker boxes in a home, lab, or warehouse.


Generators provide alternate power from the regular electrical grid whenever that power is not available for a wide variety of reasons. Because generators are used in a number of different ways, the purpose or intended use of the generator you select will be critical in the process of how to pick the right generator. Once you have determined the purpose output needs, fuel type, starting dependability, weight, run time, power outlet options and cord sets all become necessary factors to keep in mind as you decide to purchase the generator which best suits your needs.

Related Posts