How to choose a generator

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Regardless of weather conditions or where you live; the possibility of losing your electricity is a very real and ever present threat. So, before we get left in the dark, let’s talk just a bit about Generators.

There are two basic types of generator on the market today: Portable and Stationary.

Portable Pros and Cons

  • Portable generators tend to cost less than stationary generators.
  • Most are designed for ease of mobility which provides you with the security of knowing you can make microwave popcorn wherever you go!
  • They tend to weigh a bit less than a stationary unit, although there are a few “portable” units out there that may require at least a dozen Egyptian litter bearers to get it out of the shed.
  • Because of the smaller size, they tend to cost a little less than a stationary unit. Kind of like when a pop up camper costs less than a condo.
  • Portable means easier storage which actually translates to “variable” storage. In the truck, in the camper, in the garage… that’s what the wheels are for, Man!
  • Portable generators require portable fuel and plenty of it so there’s fuel storage to consider and if the fuel is going to be sitting around for a while, adequate fuel stabilizer will be another expense.

Stationary Pros and Cons

  • Stationary generators are just that…stationary. They provide electrical backup for a standing structure. So, its going to help to have a place close by to install it.
  • And speaking of installing it, you’re going to need a licensed electrician to do that. A licensed electrician with five kids, all with crooked teeth. We’re talking “serious bank” here kids!
  • Stationary generators are often much larger and tend to cost more than portable units, but it’s peace of mind we’re really talking about here and you can’t put a price on that, right?
  • Because they are hardwired into your existing structure, stationary generators will generally detect the loss of power and activate automatically when power goes out. In all seriousness, that’s pretty reassuring.
  • One definite plus to choosing a stationary generator is the ability to connect it to an extended fuel source (such as a larger LP storage unit or natural gas). Knowing it came on is wonderful. Knowing it will stay on…priceless!

Which brings us to Stamina

Considering the possible reasons for losing power, jumping in the car and running to the filling station might not be an option if the filling station is under thirty feet of water or a tornado has just dropped a depression-era shanty on your lawn.

So, when choosing a generator, you definitely want to consider how long the unit will run before needing to be re-fueled.

Of course, the load you place on your generator will have a direct effect on how satisfied you will be, so it should have a direct effect on your decision regarding which generator to go with. For most applications, 5000 watts and above is normally adequate for a portable generator, while stationary units should provide between 6000 to 8000 watts.

Anything more than that, and you may consider committing to a stationary unit and discussing the purchase further with an authorized dealer and your financial adviser. College is overrated. You kids can get a job like everyone else.

Power Fluctuation

Frequent on/off operation from air conditioners or sump pumps can cause sudden power surges.  “Plug juggling” and having to play the “blown fuse” boogie can quickly make an already frustrating experience absolutely nerve wracking.

Avoid a mechanical and emotional break down and make sure that your new generator can handle this.

Noise

Generators can be noisy. I said “GENERATORS CAN BE NOISY.” The decibel level of the generator and the location of the generator can have an impact on your “zen” and it won’t matter how cool and comfortable your bedroom is; if you can’t block out all that dang noise then no sleepy time for you!

So consider where and how you will store, install and/or secure your generator. Manufacturers highly discourage generator operation indoors, so it’s outside for you.

This might be the time to address how you’re going to keep your portable generator from being a little too “portable” when it attracts the wrong kind of attention.

Additional features to consider

  • If possible, choosing a generator with a low oil sensor is a great choice. The sensor detects when the engine oil level has dropped too low and shuts the engine off. This will help avoid catastrophic engine failure should it unexpectedly run out of oil.
  • Electric Start is a snifty little feature that allows you to start the engine with the turn of a switch which is pretty nice when you don’t feel like throwing your shoulder out to start your generator.
  • An electrical transfer switch connects the generator to existing electrical grid making the need to keep two dozen extension cords on hand a thing of the past.

Know the real deal

Of course, when it comes time to sign the check, you’ll want to make an educated decision.

You can spend a lot of time looking at the advertisements and reading the vendors recommendations; but rather than going with the loudest carnival barker; consider checking out the ratings from reputable groups like consumer reports, popular mechanics or Underwriters Laboratory. These guys make it their business to know and they’re not trying to sell you their equipment.

Hopefully this “generates” a little conversation about your next generator purchase.

-Bill

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Bill Brown

Bill Brown

Bill is the head of content creation for the LawnMowerPros Blog and DIY section. He’s been in the Outdoor Power Equipment Industry for years and he’s still learning new things everyday. You can often find him creating featured articles, DIY guides, videos, graphics and much more.