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How to Choose a Power Generator

 10/8/2021 4:21:13 PM GMT
Generators are must-have tools to provide electricity to your devices during power outages or where electrical service is not available.

We explain the basics for how to choose the right power generator for your needs.  A Guide to Choosing a Generator.

Generators come in different wattage sizes to accommodate everything from campground devices to whole-house power.

Smaller wattage units are typically powered with solar panels and rechargeable batteries, with larger units using gasoline, natural gas, or propane as fuel sources. The higher the unit's wattage, the more items you can power.

A generator is a first line of defense against inconvenience and expense when a loss of power results in water damage when pipes freeze and food spoils when refrigerators and freezers go off-line.

To help you choose the right generator for your needs, we suggest you consider the following:

What types of power generators are available?

There are basically three kinds of generators to choose from:

  1. Battery powered generators: Though technically not a generator because these power sources convert chemical energy into electricity rather than mechanical energy into electricity, they play important roles as a power source for outdoor activities or during power outage emergencies. The best have lithium batteries rechargeable from an A/C outlet, car charger, or solar panel.
  2. Portable inverter generators: Portable generators provide electricity by running a gas (or propane) powered engine that turns an alternator to generate electricity. You can plug into the unit's power outlets with extension cords to provide electricity for tools and appliances.

    A portable inverter generator is preferred because it throttles the engine speed to meet electricity demand instead of running at full speed all the time, providing greater fuel efficiency for longer run times, lower emissions, and lower average noise levels. An invertor generator also provides cleaner power, a must for sensitive electronics.

  3. Standby generators: A standby generator (sometimes called a whole-house generator) is a back-up electrical system that operates automatically. In the event of a utility outage, an automatic transfer switch senses the power loss and sends a start command to the generator, and then transfers the electrical load to the generator. Your home's circuits that are wired to receive power from the generator will then operate normally.

Which type of generator is right for me?

Considering the circumstances under which you would use your generator is the first step in determining which type of generator is best suited for your needs.

  1. If you need power for recreational use, consider:

    - a battery/solar power station: Virtually noise free, they are safe to use indoors/outdoors since they don't generate any emissions and they have enough capacity to power a few small appliances for a short time with standard 110/120v outlets, USB ports, and DC chargers. (up to 2,000 running watts)

    - a recreational inverter generator: Quiet-running, with low emissions, these outdoor-only generators are perfect for long-term recreational loads or emergency use for a home refrigerator, some lights, and small electronics. They are light-weight and easy to store. (up to 2,000 running watts)

  2. You almost never lose power at your home, consider:

    - a recreational inverter generator: Quiet-running, with low emissions, these outdoor-only generators are perfect for short-term household loads, such as emergency use for a home refrigerator, some lights, and small electronics. They are light-weight and easy to store. They can be paired together for increased output during extended outages. (up to 2,000 running watts)

    - a battery/solar power station: Virtually noise free, they are safe to use indoors/outdoors since they don't generate any emissions and they have enough capacity to power a few small appliances for a short time with standard 110/120v outlets, USB ports, and DC chargers. Add solar panels for recharging to ensure power availability for extended outages. (up to 2,000 running watts)

  3. You sometimes lose power at your home, consider:

    - a mid-sized inverter generator: Possessing the same efficiencies of recreational inverters, these can provide greater wattage so you can run additional appliances and electronics. They are still typically limited to 110 volt-only plugs, ruling out HVAC equipment. (up to 2,000 running watts)

    - a small standby generator: This permanently installed generator automatically starts during a power outage to provide uninterrupted current to the whole house up to its maximum wattage. Natural gas units can run indefinitely, while propane fueled units can run for weeks. Once utility powers is restored, then unit automatically shuts down. Suitable for small houses or running the most critical electrical circuits. (up to 10,000 running watts)

  4. You often lose power at your home, consider:

    - a large standby generator: the same as smaller standby generators, but capable of running more electrical circuits. Suitable for medium to large houses where you want the whole house to receive current just as if you were still connected to the electric utility grid. (up to 20,000 running watts)

    - a large inverter generator: With fuel-efficiency that provides extended run times, it can run standard 110V appliances from its outlets or be connected to your electrical panel to run hardwired equipment, such as a furnace or central air-conditioning unit. (up to 7,500 running watts)

What wattage rating should my generator have?

As a general rule of thumb, once you have determined which type of generator best suits your needs, buy the highest wattage generator your budget allows.

The wattage rating for your generator needs depends on the quantity and type of devices you want to power.

"Running wattage" is the amount of electricity you need to keep a device running, while "starting wattage" is the amount of electricity needed to start your devices.

Check the owner's manual for the wattage of the devices you want to power, add together those wattage ratings. This will give you the total running wattage needed. Then multiply the running wattage total by 1.5 to account for the starting wattage needed.

This calculation will provide you with the wattage rating you need for your generator.

Generator manuals tell you what kinds of devices they can power and what infrastructure (if any) is appropriate.