Portable Generator Buying Guide & FAQs

Portable Generator Buying Guide & FAQs

Buying a portable generator is a good investment for many reasons: it gives you a sense of energy independence, helps you with bad weather and power outages, and more. We’re about to explain what size generator you should get (e.g. 1000 watt generator vs 3000 watt generator, and so on), how to use them safely, and all that can be found between the two.

What are portable generators used for?

In most cases, portable generators are used in emergency situations. Many homeowners will be storing their portable generators until a disaster strikes, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are an essential tool to have in the event of a power failure, or a major power failure due to Mother Nature.

When you hear about territories and states without electricity for three weeks, it’s a bit freaking out. We know this is great in an emergency, but let’s take a look at other cases where you can use a portable generator.

  • Camping: Look, it doesn’t always have to be hard to be hard. Bring one when you go camping, but make sure it’s a quiet generator; you don’t want to attract animals from the surrounding area.
  • Tailgating: Now you might want to check if it’s legal where you’re going, but if you’re able to run a generator to power your electric grill, more power for you.
  • RV Roughing: Ever wanted to go away for a week and leave everyone behind? Yeah. You can do it now. Take your generator, your RV, and disappear for a moment to let off steam.

How big should my Portable Generator be?

The size of your generator directly affects (and is based on) your needs. If you are looking to generate electricity to run your furnace or water heater, your needs are different. Here are two easy ways to assume what you’ll need based on your conditions.

You have a big house: You have more space to heat / cool, more outlets / appliances and, most likely, a larger water heater and furnace than a standard American house. If you want to power more than a laptop and cell phone, you will need a minimum of 6500KWH.
You’re just trying to charge devices (cordless drills) and run extra heat and coolers: If you’re not looking to make your home the only beacon in the block during a power outage, but instead of keeping your appliances and fridge / fridge on, you can go a little lower on the totem pole. 3,500 KWH should be sufficient.

How to safely operate a portable generator?

It all starts with how you store it. Make sure you have a cool, dry place to store your portable generator so it can run at full capacity when it’s time to take it out of the shade. That being said, there are a few very specific things to keep in mind when setting up your portable generator. They can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use or configure them correctly, so be careful.

Never run it indoors: Unless you are a master of aerodynamics and have a large open space with lots of windows open (even then we don’t recommend running it in your house), you’re going to have to be careful. These generators produce carbon monoxide, and the last thing you want is to inhale this or fall asleep in an area where your generator is running.
Don’t ignore the ground wire: A proper ground wire is probably the most important part in keeping your portable generator running safely. If your outputs are 110V, a shock won’t kill you, but 220V shocks can be fatal. Either way, you don’t want to be electrocuted, so make sure the ground wire is attached so the device doesn’t use you as a lightning rod.
Perform a Quick Device Inspection: Before each use, inspect your generator to make sure it won’t hit frayed wires or damaged components. These can lead to the formation of carbon monoxide in the chamber or the risk of electric shock.

What is the average cost of a portable generator?

If you came here on a tiny budget, you might want to rethink your strategy. On average, you can expect to pay around $ 500 for a 3KWH generator and over $ 2,000 for an 8KWh generator. Some things that affect the price are:

  •  Manufacturer’s markCut
  • Fuel type
  • Number of points of sale
  • And more

If you’re going into this on a budget, just to have a back-up solution, then you’re going to want to go for a model with fewer outlets, gas operated, and they can be a bit loud. There is nothing wrong with being minimalist when it comes to luxury; remember that the point is to have electricity when tragedy strikes and you normally wouldn’t have it.

Things to Consider When Buying a Portable Generator

You have a bit of knowledge about portable generator models, but now it’s time to dissect each component and figure out what that means for you in your purchasing decision. If you want to find the perfect dual fuel generator, mini generator or quiet generator, you need to know what to look for. Let’s start from the beginning.

Noise

Ideally, you would like a quiet generator. Noise is not the most important factor in determining your needs for portable generators, unless you are a light sleeper. If you imagine that you will have no mains electricity for a few days, you will have to sleep between uses. A quiet generator is definitely a plus, but for some it is not a requirement.

Area

If you are in a tight space or have insufficient storage capacity, size matters. Your generator should be able to fit into your life without cluttering it up. Most portable generators are fairly easy to store, as long as they are covered to protect them from dust and debris. The last thing you want is to understand that your generator will not work after a power outage.

Size also plays an important role if you are using the generator to heat a small space. Your generator will reject exhaust fumes, so you should never have it inside (if you can avoid it). However, if you live in an apartment or somewhere with minimal access to the outdoors, and are trying to plug in heaters to stay warm, you’ll want to make sure your generator can fit on your balcony / porch. Size is not the number one factor in determining your portable generator, but it is important.

Power

According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2016, on average, every US home consumed just under 900 KWH per month. It is the abbreviation for kilowatt-hours; it’s how they measure your meter when it’s time to take a reading for your bill. How much electricity does your house use?

If you are unsure of how much energy you are constantly using, if you are becoming more environmentally friendly, or if you just want to maximize the life of your generator by understanding your usual energy needs, you can use this calculator to determine your annual energy consumption. It’s thorough and it will take a few minutes, but the information is invaluable.

To put it in perspective, here is the average amount of power plugins consume.

Phone: Less than 2KWH per year for an average iPhone or Android model.

Laptop: Less than 8KWH per year for the average laptop made after 2013

Mini fridge: Less than 330KWH per year (great back-up element to keep food / medicine cold, and still necessary).

Fuel
How much fuel does it consume?

What is the size of the fuel tank?

What is the conversion rate?

These are tough questions that each individual product page is going to have, and they play a big part in your buying decision. Buying a solar panel (some generators can be adapted for individual panels or already in use) is also an option, so you won’t be spending money on fuel. Some models are also equipped with generators with two fuel generators, which gives you great versatility.

Portability kit / wheel

The advantage of your generator is that it must be portable. They’re much cheaper than built-in back-up generators for the home (they can cost you numbers at the lower end of the five-digit range), and they’re just as reliable. Getting the best portable generator for your needs is actually a lot more strategic; backup generators will light up your home, while portable generators only charge and run what you need. No wasted electricity.

 

Starting and running surge power.

The top number, p. ex. 4000/2500, implies that 4000 is the starting watt amount, while 2500 is the way it works. It’s going to take 4000 watts to turn it on, which can drain a certain amount of power right away. Consider these numbers when planning your backup energy plan.

Start-up

In almost all models, you are faced with two different starting methods: Ripcord, or electric ignition. These methods are no different from turning on your lawn mower or lighting your electric grill: Don’t be afraid of not knowing where to start.

Fuel Gauge

If you have a gasoline unit, you will have to do some big math. Determine the surge power during operation, the power it will use and your electrical needs. This will help you store everything you need. However, you wouldn’t be able to do this if you didn’t have an excellent fuel gauge. Even if your manufacturer claims that they only use X amount of fuel per hour, it’s still best to monitor how your generator uses fuel.

In some cases, it may have been slightly damaged in transit, or adverse conditions require it to run a little harder or a little warmer than usual. If so, the fuel may run out a bit faster. Understand the power of your generator; it is always best to test it before putting it away for the next disaster.

Points of sale

It is a generator; the goal is to route electricity from it to your devices. Some generators will only have two standard three-prong 110V outlets, while others will have multiple outlets and higher voltages.

If you need to operate any emergency services, such as an oxygen machine for the elderly or incapable, you will want to check what type of electrical outlet or power supply is being used and make sure your portable generator purchase matches.

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