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How To Choose A Generator

 Generator Buying Guide

Generators let you carry on with life when the power fails. They also allow you to bring power to remote areas for work and play. Use this guide as a generator checklist as you compare models, features and benefits to find the right equipment for your needs.


Uses and Applications

Generators supply power when and where you need it. They’re indispensable during those early stages of a construction project when you don’t have an electrical hook up. Depending on the generator’s power output, you can run a couple of essential pieces of equipment or power a household. You can take them along on camping trips to enjoy a few creature comforts in the wild or power emergency equipment and battery chargers.

A standby generator is a lifesaver if you own a business, keep valuable data on your computer or run medical equipment in your home. You install it outside your building and connect it to your building’s electrical system. When the power goes out, these generators kick on automatically to restore power quickly. Set up a disaster-ready site for you and your loved ones, or just make sure you won’t miss a minute of the big game with the right standby generator at your side.


Capacity

Voltage/Output Control

Basic types of generators run at a constant rate and create power that might exceed your needs. Many manufacturers make higher-grade models with voltage regulation technology that delivers consistent voltage, even if the equipment isn’t running consistently at the targeted RPM; this helps reduce the risk of surges and sags damaging your electronics. Some models have an output control feature that decrease engine load and fuel consumption when you aren’t using much power. If maintaining enough fuel is an issue or you don’t plan to run many devices, make sure to find a model with voltage regulation.

Wattage

To make sure you get the right generator for your needs, consider how many and what types of appliances you plan to power. Start by doing a power survey by:

  • Checking the labels of all the appliances or tools you’ll need to run for their power consumption in Watts.
  • Add up the devices’ total Wattage
  • Add half that number to the total to calculate the power each device needs to power up.
  • Note: You can get by with a smaller generator if you don’t need to run your devices simultaneously, such as a TV and a radio.

This handy generator comparison should give you an idea of which models will meet your requirements. A small 1,000-Watt portable generator can keep your kitchen’s refrigerator powered, or run the TV and keep some lights on. A mid-range 5,000-Watt model has the capacity to run a belt sander, table saw and work lights, especially if you switch between devices. You can enjoy a multitude of modern conveniences with a top-rated generator that produces 10,000 Watts or more.


Standby Generators

Fuel Types

Standby generators run on either propane or natural gas, or both. Propane is relatively inexpensive to fill, and is readily available in almost every area. If your tank holds 250 gallons of propane, then you can enjoy up to two weeks of electricity for your household, depending on demand and how quickly your generator burns the fuel. A natural gas model hooks directly to your line for constant power that doesn’t require refilling.

Not every area has natural gas available, or ample pressure to supply a powerful generator. If your home or business is in a low-pressure area, make sure to purchase a model rated for your property’s specific availability. A low-pressure natural gas model is your best bet when you can’t determine the precise pressure at your home.

Aesthetics

You can’t move one of these types of generators once you place it. Check local ordinances and your homeowners’ association to be certain that your placement choice is acceptable before you install it. Most come in neutral colors, such as gray, black or shades of brown, to complement most exterior color schemes. You don’t want to deal with a lot of noise, and neither do your neighbors. Research every generator’s decibel level, and know that a jump in ten decibels implies the sound produced is ten times louder.

Materials and Safety Considerations

These types of generators have protective shells to protect their parts from the wind, rain and other elements. Galvanized steel is rust-resistant, but aluminum or shells made from the same material as truck bed lining are completely immune to rust and can withstand more punishing weather, although they might not stand up to impact as well as steel. If you live in an area with frigid winters, install a cold weather kit to keep it operational in harsh conditions.

Cooling System

Standby generators create a lot of heat. They stay cool either with a set of fans (air-cooled) or a radiator system (liquid-cooled). Liquid cooling is quieter, since it doesn’t require moving parts, but it uses more power, so you tend to see it only on larger models.


Application

Possible uses

Best type

Comments

Home back up Medical equipment, computers, home appliances Standby Longest run time of all generators
Recreational Radios, TV, computers, cooking equipment, battery chargers Portable Most convenient type of generator overall
Industrial Welding tools, corded tools, cordless battery chargers Portable/Welding Come with welding equipment included

Portable Generators

Starting mechanism

Portable generators generally feature either a pull or electric start. A pull start generator turns on much like a lawnmower, which requires effort that you might not want to make during inclement weather or an emergency. Electric starts are simple affairs that only require you to press a button or turn a key.

Outlet options

The Wattage your generator produces determines how much power it provides, but it’s also limited by the number of available outlets. Most of these types of generators have two or four outlets. If you only run battery chargers or a few items, then a two-outlet model is probably sufficient. If you plan to use a portable generator for emergency backup, invest in a four-outlet version. Welder generators, a special dual-purpose generator that combines the functions of a welder and a generator, have a greater variety of receptacles to power other types of demanding equipment.

Size and transportability

If you plan to keep the generator in your garage until an emergency arises, transportability isn’t much of an issue. If you want to take it to the job site or on a trip, you need to know if a model is small enough to fit in your truck bed, trunk or trailer, as well as how much it weighs. The greater a generator’s power output, the more it’s likely to weigh. Not every portable generator features wheels, so check the specifications before you buy.

Fuel type and run time

These types of generators run on gasoline or propane. Propane is clean-burning and lasts forever in the tank, while gasoline produces fumes and spoils if you don’t use it, which can lead to internal damage. Gasoline-powered generators run longer than propane-burning equipment of similar sizes.

Applications

Smaller portable models are ideal to bring along on day trips where you want to use a specific device. If you want to power a few tools on a job site, then a portable generator capable of powering your essential tools is what you need. You can use larger top-rated generator models for home power in an emergency, but you must keep it outside and well away from your home to prevent carbon monoxide from entering the house. You also need enough extension cords to run from each outlet, or a professional electrician can wire it to your home’s circuits for an inexpensive emergency backup system.


Generator Comparisons

Application

Possible uses

Best type

Comments

Home back up Medical equipment, computers, home appliances Standby Longest run time of all generators
Recreational Radios, TV, computers, cooking equipment, battery chargers Portable Most convenient type of generator overall
Industrial Welding tools, corded tools, cordless battery chargers Portable/Welding Come with welding equipment included

Conclusion

Whether you’re a contractor who needs to power heavy-duty equipment in a remote location, a business owner who needs to protect your data or other assets or someone who wants to keep their family comfortable and safe, we’ve got a generator for you. Take your household’s power needs into your own hands today, and ensure that you’ve got everything you need in an emergency or when you want some extra fun on your next adventure.


Would you like more information on how to choose between a Portable Generator and a Whole House Stand-by Generator? Read more.

9 Comments

  • Rachel Lannister

    June 1, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    In the article you stated that you should choose a generator based on the amount and types of appliances you are planning on powering. Especially if you are a business, and need to keep things running in order to stay profitable, a generator would be a great option. I’d also imagine that businesses that run large equipment would require a rather powerful generator that creates a lot of wattage.

    Reply
  • Zequek Estrada

    June 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I’ll be moving to an area where I heard the storms can be a bit intense. Apparently, it’s common there for electricity to go out because of the wins. That’s why I’ve started looking into investing in a portable generator. It’s good to know that the wattage is the one thing that I need to make sure to check.

    Reply
  • Kylie Dotts

    June 14, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I like how you said you should see how many and what kind of appliances you plan to power. Knowing exactly what it is beforehand you’ll be using your generator for will help narrow your choices and make the process much quicker. My husband has been talking about buying a generator to take when he and our sons go camping so if he were to buy a generator it would probably need to be able to power camping equipment like stoves and lights.

    Reply
    • Acme Tools

      June 15, 2017 at 7:29 am

      Hello,
      Thank you for your comments. Generators are great for camping and also for emergencies at home.

      Thank you,
      Acme Tools

      Reply
  • Deb Pearl

    September 5, 2017 at 8:01 am

    My family loves going camping, but sometimes we miss having power for things, and hate trying to use our car to charge our electronics. A portable generator sounds like just the thing we need. That’s really cool that they can start as easily as pressing a button! We will have to look more into different ones we can take on our trips! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Hannah Schroeder

    November 15, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the information about how you can use a generator for 2 weeks if your propane tank holds 250 gallons. We’ve had some large storms in my area recently, and I’m worried about what my family will do if we have an extended power outage, so I’ve been looking for buy generators just in case. My propane tank holds 500, so if we get a standby generator, we could have more than 2 weeks of power if there’s an outage.

    Reply
    • Acme Tools

      November 16, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Hello, Thank you for your comment. Home stand-by generators are nice that way where they can run for extended periods of time and you don’t have to worry about filling a fuel tank every 6-8 hours. All units have different fuel consumption and require different size gas lines so make sure to investigate that with the manufacturer.

      Thank you,
      Acme Tools

      Reply

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