Buying Guide For Portable Generators

portable generator buying guide

Our dependence on electricity or power is such that life comes to a standstill in case of power cuts or shortage of electricity. At such times, portables generators come handy as a convenient source and power back-up solution. Portable generators depend on fuel, diesel mostly, to produce power for domestic use. In fact, I have used a portable generator for my camp site, house and even while travelling in my RV. So, understanding what goes on behind the scenes, how a portable generator works, or alternatively fails, can definitely help in purchasing a dependable and truly portable unit. Here are a few pointers to get you started. Remember by no means, am I suggesting that this is a complete buying guide but it should serve as a good starting point.

Wattage

wattageI remember from my school days, wattage being defined as voltage multiplied by amperage (current). It is a simple term to understand and correlate for any physics major but with a little practice you too can learn how to use this rating to your advantage. Most home appliances today have a clear description of the wattage, which is generally of two kinds.
 

  • Rated, Running or Continuous Wattage – The wattage that the appliance or device normally runs on.
  • Peak wattage – The maximum amount of wattage the appliance or device will use, usually when it starts or stops.

To know the ‘Rated Wattage’ of the ideal generator you ought to look for, add all the individual rated wattage of your devices that you wish to run on the generator. Ensure that you leave some room to accommodate the surge or peak wattage of your devices into account.

So, basically, add all peak wattage together for every device you plan to backup and also the rated wattage, which gives you the peak and rated wattage to look for in your ideal generator.

Noise Level

Noise or audible voice is measured in decibels or better referred to with the acronym dBA. When it comes to portable generators it is measured in terms of dBA at an industry specific distance of about 21 feet or 7 meters. This is the standard measurement. The noise level for generators usually ranges between 55dBA to about 85dBA.

noiseYou may be aware of silent generators – these usually have a dBA of 75 or less. Anything above this limit is quite loud in comparison. Just to put things into perspective imagine the ruckus at a subway station as a train enters it. This is about 85 to 90dBA. So a silent portable generator isn’t actually very silent, it is just less noisy than an otherwise naked generator.

So, why is noise level important? If you are going to use the generator in a domestic setting, it might actually be a big concern. For example, you are organizing a function, gathering or going to a campsite, the noise of the generator can have a dampening effect on the occasion and overall mood of the location or set up. You do not want people exercising their vocal cords, ears in a function or scare away the wilderness when you are out at a camp. Hence, when making a purchase decision know the kind of acceptable noise level and how much you can deviate on either side of the graph. Personally for me, anything below 80dBA is fine.
 

Spark Arrestor Mechanism

Generators today come with a spark arrestor mechanism that prevents any sparks from escaping through the exhaust. This is essential if you plan on using the genset out in nature, or in your lawn, backyard, since it can help reduce chances of potential fire or damage to the nearby floors and walls.

Size and Portability

portable n sizeDepending on your usage pattern and expected movement of the generator, you will have to make a choice between portability, size and obviously the wattage. The heavier the generator, the more troublesome it will be to move. So, ensure that you assess well in advance how often you would need to move it around and remember that too small the size and you lose out on wattage.

For a typical home, a heavy generator will not be an issue, since you won’t move it around much from its designated area. However, if you are thinking of a campsite, you will need to be able to take it to load/unload from the trailer or RV, haul it to the campsite, fit it into an RV and more. Generators today tend to offer smaller wheels than before. While this reduces the weight, it can make things harder for you out camping. So basically, for homesteaders large sized, smaller wheels are better but for campers, smaller size with pneumatic large wheels are perfect.

Starting Options

start buttonGenerators are now available with a button start option or you could stick with a traditional recoil starter. The latter requires much more effort and can sometimes lead to injury. Whereas, a button start or electric start obviously offers ease of use with easy and quick operating mechanism. Yes, it makes things simpler and safer but a dead battery isn’t going to help you out. My advice – even if you get a Start button type portable generator, it should have a recoil cord too.

 

Other Features To Keep In Mind

Wattage, starting options, spark arrestor, noise levels and size are just the basic things you can use to select any portable generator. What about extra features? Here is a short list of a few extras you might benefit from.

  • Number of Outlets – Ideally you should have one high Amp outlet and three low amp outlets. However, more the merrier provided the portable generator can provide power to all of them at the same time.
  • Inverter Or Microprocessor Controls – A few high end portable generators come with in-built voltage and ampere regulators or ICs that provide a steady current output, which is great for your home appliances
  • Fuel Gauge – I never look at portable generators that don’t have a fuel gauge as adding fuel to a generator once it exhausts its tank means you lose power for a while.
  • Oil Guard – A failsafe mechanism that prevents the generator from starting if the oil level hits a dangerous low. Usually found in stationary units, some portable generators do provide this, especially those with 10,000 watt or more rating.
  • Alternate Fuel – Most generators operate on diesel, propane or gas. Thankfully, you can convert a few models using a conversion kit to work with propane and natural gas alongside gasoline

Read the next part of the Buying Guide now –Find Out Your Power Requirements Before Buying A Portable Generator

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