Choosing The Right Portable Home Generator

portable-home-generator

There are three styles of portable home generators:

  1. recreational
  2. emergency
  3. professional

Since this site is devoted to home emergency generators, we will ignore any in-depth discussion of either the recreational or professional generator.

Suffice it to say, the recreational is best suited for tailgating or camping and the professional grade model is designed for daily use.

The portable emergency home generators typically has four basic components: generators

  • a generator head that actually produces the electricity
  • an engine that powers the generator head
  • a tank that holds the gas necessary to run the generator
  • outlets that connect to your power sources

Types of generators:

There are numerous sizes and configurations each designed to meet specific objectives. Consequently, your first step in selection is to determine which appliances you wish to operate during a power outage.  For example, do you only want to keep the refrigerator and television working… or are you inclined to keep the entire house going until your regular utility is back to full power?

It would be helpful to have a basic understanding of just how much juice you’re going to need when the lights go out. In other words, how many watts do you need to weather a power outage?  Keep in mind that a watt basically measures how much energy an appliance needs to operate.  For example, a 60-watt lightbulb consumes 60 watts.

Charts and online wattage calculators can be somewhat misleading, so here are two simple ways to determine the wattage of your appliances:

Data Plate

Look at the data plate on the back of your appliance. It will tell you how many watts, amps and volts are required to power the appliance.

Wattage Meter

Use a wattage meter to measure the exact amount of power. Simply plug the appliance into the wattage meter. Then plug the wattage meter into the wall to get an accurate measurement.

Portable home generators can be kept in a shed or garage until needed. Many have wheels that permit easy positioning into a safe location before startup. Never run a generator indoors or in partly enclosed areas such as garages. The carbon monoxide can kill you in minutes.

Gasoline is extremely flammable and explosive.  If your tank is too full, fuel can overflow onto a hot engine and cause exceptional damage. And never add fuel while the unit is running or hot.  Allow the generator and engine to cool entirely before adding fuel.

Owner’s manual

In most situations, the services of a professional will not be necessary.  But pay close attention to the owner’s manual and keep children away from portable generators at all times. Allow no less than five feet of clearance on all sides of the generator when operating and make certain that the unit is securely placed on a level surface.

Use clean, fresh unleaded gasoline with a minimum 85 octane rating. Don’t use gas with more than 10% ethanol and never use E85 gasoline or mix oil with gas. When storing your emergency generator for more than 30 days be sure to drain the fuel from the tank and run the carburetor dry.

portable-generator

By the way, portable diesel generators are also available and are covered in another section.

Sizes of generator

There are basically three sizes of portable home emergency generators:
Medium (3,000-6,000 watts)
Large (7,000-9,000 watts)
X-Large (10,000 watt generator and bigger)

Most emergency situations can be handled by a medium generator, but in all probability it won’t have enough juice to adequately power your entire home. And, since medium emergency generators produce limited electricity, you’ll need to manage how many appliances are connected to the generator so it doesn’t overload.

It’s best to avoid simultaneously powering too many appliances because, although unlikely, the electrical surge could pop the generator’s circuit breaker. Your best bet is to rotate the larger appliances. For example, run the refrigerator for an hour. Then, run the well pump. Then, run the deep freezer… etc.

If you live in an environment where it’s essential that your central air conditioning function during a power outage, you should go with an X-Large portable generator. Be aware however that not all x-large types are created equal when it comes to central air conditioning. It takes a ton of energy to kick-start central air.

An alternative to this quandry is to simply buy a single unit window air conditioner that could be powered by a medium generator on an as needed basis.  After all, why waste money on the 500 pound gorilla if you only need a medium size monkey to get you through a temporary situation?

The Generac portable generator appears to receive high ratings from its customers. Recent listings on amazon.com provide an overview of pricing versus power:

Medium Size –

Good Choice:
Generac GP5500 – 5500 Watt Portable Generator

 

Better Choice:
Honeywell HW5500E – 5500 Watts Portable Home Generator with Electric Start

Best Choice:
Briggs & Stratton 30242 – 6200 Watt Electric Start Generator

Large Size –

Good Choice:
Honeywell HW7500E – 7500 Watts Portable Home Generator with Electric Start

Better Choice:
Briggs & Stratton 30210 – 8000 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Choice:
Generac GP8000E – 8000 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

X-Large –

Good Choice:
Briggs & Stratton 30207 – 10,000 Watt Electric Start Generator

Better Choice:
Generac GP15000E – 15,000 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Choice:
Generac GP17500E – 17,500 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

Incidentally, it’s a good idea to review customer comments regarding noise… especially if you think your neighbors would appreciate having you operate a quiet portable generator.

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