Generator Buying Guide: How To Choose the Best Generator
A generator is a simple machine that generates electric power from diesel, gas, propane, and many other fuels. These machines come in a wide range of models for offices, homes, and industrial purposes too.
If you usually experience power outages in your region due to changing weather patterns or you are an outdoor enthusiast, it would be fantastic to invest in a high-quality generator.
High-end models can provide you with backup power for many hours, but you can only use low-end models for a few hours.
If you are considering purchasing a generator, but don’t know the features you should look for; then this generator buying guide will be a useful resource.
From how to choose a suitable generator for your power needs to the types of generators you can find on the market today, this buying guide will highlight many things about generators to help you make an informed purchase decision.
Things to Look For When Buying A Generator
Whether you are looking to run a construction site, preparing for an emergency source of power, or have a recreational use in your mind, there are many features to consider when purchasing a generator.
To help you sort out among the wide variety of generators on the market, we have put together a comprehensive list of features you should look for when you are in the market shopping for one.
Fuel Type: The most common types of generators are gas generators. Fuel is pretty easy to find apart from the days following a big storm. Nevertheless, diesel generators can offer you better fuel efficiency, especially if you are willing to pay for an upgrade. Besides, you lose the carburetor that clogs more often at the least convenient time.
Therefore, if you are considering going for a whole-house generator, then a diesel machine is the best option. However, remember that diesel is not as easy to come by as gasoline. The other option is to get a propane generator for emergency power or a gas generator that’s easily convertible to propane use.
If you would like to get a more eco-friendly fuel source and you don’t mind about its complexity, then propane is the way to go. The last option is the battery-powered generators.
These machines have the advantage of being able to recharge through solar panels, have no emissions and run silently. The drawback is that they are quite expensive, recharge slowly, and do not generate more than 1800W of power.
Fuel Tank Size: The larger the fuel tank of your generator, the longer you can go before refueling. Most of the generators you will find on the market have a fuel tank size that will give you between seven and nine hours when running at a 50 percent load.
You can run for a longer time if you utilize a lower percentage of the power available and shorter if you utilize more. Although generators with big fuel tanks are heavier when filled with fuel, they are better because you can go for a long time between refueling.
Starting Method: If you enjoy pulling recoil cords on engines, you can avoid the electric start. Although electric start machines are great, you can swing the additional cost by going for one with a recoil start.
Some generators still utilize lead-acid batteries like vehicles, although there are also lithium-one units running around.
Remember to charge your battery before use, and you can consider leaving its charger plugged in to help you maintain the charge even between applications.
Noise Level: The level of noise produced is a crucial consideration when purchasing a generator. Most small generators have the advantage of a quiet design. However, some are quieter than ordinary levels of human conversations.
If you are camping or tailgating in a place that allows the use of generators, then the people living in the area will appreciate the noise level.
Wheel Kit: Generally, generators are quite heavy, but only some of them come with wheel kits. Others need you to purchase the kit separately. Therefore, make sure you check this feature before making your purchase.
Wheel kits are easy to install using basic tools, and you can do it in just a couple of minutes. You might require the help of another person, or you can set the unit on the edge of your vehicle’s tailgate to assist you in accessing the installation area.
Transfer Switch: The benefit of utilizing a generator with an automatic transfer switch is that it can easily sense when the power goes out. It starts automatically and then switches to the generator power without any human interference, and the process gets repeated once power returns.
Voltage Regulator: If you are powering home theater components, a computer, or any other sensitive gadget or appliance, you should consider a generator with an automatic voltage regulator. This feature prevents voltage regulations that might harm your devices or appliances.
Safety Shutdown Feature: Some generators switch off automatically in the event of high temperatures, low oil, low oil pressure, and any other unsafe operating condition. When purchasing a generator, you should look for a unit with an automatic shutdown feature for enhanced safety of your electronics.
Circuit Breakers: Choosing a generator with inbuilt circuit breakers can help you prevent damage to the connected appliances by switching off the flow of electricity if there’s a lot of current passing through.
Lift Hook Bar: When you are purchasing a portable generator for industrial work or commercial purposes, there is a likelihood that you will have to lift it to a higher point at some point. Having a generator that includes a lift hook bar or frame is a significant advantage that’ll save you a lot of time when transporting the machine from one point to another.
Things to Consider Before you Buy
Now that we have talked about some of the things to look for in a generator before you buy one, let’s talk about some of the factors to consider.
Most of these factors will be determine by the environment where the generator will be placed. Before you purchase your next generator, it is very important that you think about these things carefully. Enough talk, let’s get to it.
Size: When picking a suitable generator, the first step is to determine what you would like the generator to do to help you purchase the right size for your power needs. To know the right size of a generator you will need, you should first determine the items you will be powering.
A medium-sized unit can provide a maximum of 5,000 watts of running power and operate the sump pump, refrigerator, and furnace simultaneously. A large-sized generator provides a maximum of 9,000 watts and can supply electricity to multiple rooms.
However, it is not powerful enough to run an air conditioner system.
However, an extra-large generated with a rating of more than 10,000 wattage can run your air conditioning system along with many other appliances simultaneously.
Generally, power tools can complicate things because they require more power at the beginning that they do when running. You should take into account the two scenarios and make sure the generator you choose can handle both.
A good rule of thumb is to purchase a generator big enough to power all your essential tools and appliances simultaneously while also starting the largest tool you have. Add 10 percent to the total, and you will not have to worry about not having enough power for your items.
Output: It is essential to know the maximum and rated output of a generator before making a purchase. Determining the amount of power you will require from your unit will assist you in narrowing down your options.
Rated output is the number of wattages the unit can generate for an unlimited amount of time. However, the maximum power output is a bit vague. Most manufacturers usually treat this output as the most wattage a generator can produce, despite how long it can sustain it.
Run Time:Although the amount of electricity a generator can produce is essential, how long your generator can run on one tank of fuel is equally important.
In most cases, the run time will depend on how hard you intend to work your generator, but many run-time estimates are based on a particular generator working at a 50 percent load. A generator that comes with an automatic idle control can run at less Rpm at times, which can help you increase run-time and save fuel.
Power Connections: When you determine the items you would like to power, you should decide how you’re going to get electricity from the generator while sitting 15 feet or more outside your house or recreational vehicle.
Medium-sized units connect directly to electrical appliances with heavy-duty extension cords through open doors and windows. However, big generators connect to the breaker box of your house, and the connection should have a transfer system that prevents back-feeding when the power comes back.
When back-feeding occurs, electricity will flow into the primary power grid, which can endanger everybody working on that power line.
Decibel Rating: The noise produced by your generator when it is running is also an important factor to consider. You will want to prevent you and your family or crew members from hearing loss.
Furthermore, you don’t want to disturb other people in the neighborhood or camping site while you work or having outdoor activities.
Prolonged exposure to generators with a decibel rating of more than 85 can lead to hearing loss. Therefore, you should consider going for a unit with a rating of 75 decibels and below.
Durability: You should take into account the durability of a generator when making your purchase because you don’t want a unit that will keep breaking down more often. Since you are going to be hard on the equipment, look for some wraparound metal frames or bars that protect your unit.
Most of these frames can withstand big impacts and still keep going. Also, ensure to check the scheduled maintenance and then compare that will the duration of time you will be on the job.
Portability: A portable generator should be precisely that, or it will not be easy to transport it from home to your campsite or a job site. The best options to consider are the units that come with wheel kits because you can quickly unload and load and carry them around when moving from one job site to another.
Without wheel kits, you will get stuck trying to load a big generator in and out of your vehicle regularly. You will also find generators with lifting hooks, which makes it simple to hoist with booms and forklifts.
Enclosure Type: Some regions require the generator’s sound level to fall in a specific decibel rating, particularly at the nearest property line. If a pre-characterized sound prerequisite exists in your general vicinity, the target degree of sound will decide the kind of generator you get.
Many light business and residential generators normally accompany a standard sound lessened muffler. In any case, industrial-grade generators may offer different sorts of Looks going from a custom bundle that significantly helps meet strict necessities to a standard weather generator casing.
Maintenance: Your generator needs proper maintenance, just like your vehicle, to help ensure the machine will start and also run as expected when going for the next camping trip or during your next emergency power outage.
Unlike your car, a generator tends to get neglected for a long period between power outages or outdoor activities. That can result in machine failure during that important time when you require it.
Whether you prefer an added insurance for a maintenance program or are a do-it-yourselfer, keeping your generator maintained properly is essential to guarantee reliable operation.
Types of Generators
You may be wondering about the different kinds of generators available on the market. With a wide array of different types out there, it can be daunting and confusing to know the right model for your needs.
Generally, there are three main classifications of generators: portable, inverter, and standby generators. We will look at the different types of generators in this section to help you better understand what is available on the market.
A portable generator refers to a diesel or gas-powered device that offers a temporary source of electrical power. The motor of these generators usually turns small turbines that, in turn, create usable electricity to a certain wattage level.
You can plug tools or electrical appliances directly into the sockets of a generator, or you can professionally have the generator wired into a sub-panel of your home.
Portable generators are common in the construction sector; heavy construction, commercial, residential, general contractor, and general contractors usually find them to be great resources on their remote construction or job sites.
These machines are mainly used to power lighting systems and tools to give power to portable restrooms, temporary office facilities, climate control systems, and air compressors. Other industries that find portable generators useful are mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and landscaping, but the possibilities are almost limitless.
Portable generators usually come in motor and electric-powered versions. The popular ones are the ones powered by motors that use natural gas, propane, diesel, or a combination of gas and electricity as the source of fuel.
These versions are easily transportable, which allows flexibility for use in application and location too.
You can also use a portable generator as a backup generator.
These machines can power the basic items of a household or work trailer for a short period if the need arises like a power outage or bad weather.
In such situations, they need constant monitoring. These generators are manually started and later stopped when power gets restored.
Inverter generators are typically the most current innovation in the marketplace. These machines are lightweight and small for the electricity they produce.
They have a unique capacity in making purer, greener, and cleaner power by generating AC electricity, converting the power to DC electricity, and later inverting the power back to AC electricity by utilizing advanced electronic circuitry systems and high-tech magnets.
This process generates a single phase of a pure sine wave that produces the frequency and voltage using less fuel, less noise, and less carbon footprint.
The maximum power input of inverter generators limits their use in industrial and commercial settings. They produce 1000W to 4000W while portable generators max out at 500W to 50,000W, and even more wattage in standby models. That makes an inverter generator ideal for small places with infrequent uses of some short duration.
These generators are popular in many recreational pursuits like camping, fishing, and hiking. Nonetheless, as the technology advances to larger units with longer run times and more voltage, the considerable reduction in noise level will make them ideal for temporary housing as well as portable restrooms on cattle drives, harvests, short-term construction jobs, and other various activities.
Standby generators, also known as backup generators, refer to permanently installed models outside a facility. These machines are often used for household applications but are more commonly used in emergency service and commercial sectors.
The seller or professional affiliated companies are the only ones allowed to install these generators. The installation requires the power utility of a building to run through it or connect to it is not in the “do-it-yourself” category.
Electric standby generators use the power utility to charge all its batteries and then wired directly into the panel of the facility. Motor powered generators can be connected to your propane or LP tank and the electric utility as well.
You will also find standby generators that you can manually start when required.
The most popular types of standby generators are automatic start models. These generators monitor the currently provided voltage and automatically start up when there’s a power outage.
These generators start immediately, which provides a seamless transition with reduced power loss. For this reason, these generators are frequently selected for hospitals, grocery stores, emergency services providers, warehouses with perishable or frozen foods, businesses, and high-security areas whose backbone is cloud storage and computer servers.
How to pick the right-sized generator?
The key step in choosing the right generator for emergency power supply is determining what you would like the generator to do so you can buy one that’s the right size.
Think of the appliances you would like to keep operating during power outages, and then check the labels to see their wattage.
Once you have the information, total up all the watts of your electrical appliances, and then look for a suitable generator that can easily handle the watts you need.
Generally, a medium-sized unit can provide a maximum of 5000 wattage and has adequate capacity to run the furnace, sump pump and refrigerator simultaneously.
A large-sized generator provides a maximum of 9000 wattage and can easily supply power to several rooms.
However, it’s not powerful enough to run an air conditioning system. An extra-large generator with a rating of over 10,000 watts can seamlessly run the air conditioning system along with many other electrical appliances.
How long will my generator last?
The lifespan of any generator depends on an array of factors. Despite the kind of generator you want for your business or home, a high-quality and reputable brand name typically guarantees a longer lifetime.
However, there’s no guarantee for the duration your generator will last, but with good care and maintenance, a quality generator used for emergency power supply can last more than 20 years.
Scheduling regular runs, using high-quality oils and fuels, and performing preventative maintenance will also extend your generator’s life expectancy.
Can I operate a portable generator from indoors?
NO! Because portable generators typically run on gasoline and utilize oil, they produce exhaust that contains carbon monoxide. This gas is colorless and odorless, silent poison that can easily kill an entire family within a couple of minutes.
Whether it is snowing or raining outside, you cannot run a generator inside the house, within your garage, screened porch or carport even with the doors open.
A portable generator should be situated at least 15 feet from your house, away from windows and doors. To enhance better safety of you and your loved ones, ensure you have some carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home.
What fuel is best for a generator?
All types of fuel tend to have their pros and cons. Gasoline is pretty easy to find, but it’s extremely flammable, which means it can be quite dangerous to keep huge amounts on hand.
Besides, it doesn’t last for a long if it is only sitting around unused. On the other hand, propane comes with a longer shelf life, although the storage tanks it’s in often tend to be big and take up a lot of space.
Diesel is usually the least flammable type of fuel, but even if it has a longer shelf life than gasoline, it will most likely become unusable after around two years.
Can I plug a portable generator into a standard outlet?
No! That’s because it’s not only illegal but dangerous. Plugging a portable generator directly into an ordinary wall outlet can lead to back-feeding into the nearby utility lines that hook up to your home.
That can, in turn, cause serious injuries or even loss of life to unsuspecting utility workers who are working to restore downed utility lines or power.
Besides, there is also the risk that comes by connecting a portable generator to electrical outlets that can overload your circuits and even cause a fire.
Getting a licensed professional to install transfer switches is the best method to prevent any disasters. Transfer switches will disconnect your house from the nearby electrical grid while enabling your generator to supply power to your home.
These switches come in automatic and manual options, and manufacturers recommend them for both standby and portable generators.
Can I install a home standby generator on my own?
No! The installation of standby generators requires the skills of an experienced professional. Apart from connecting the transfer switch, an electrician will also make sure that everything is properly installed to protect your warranty and keep it valid.
Regulations usually differ on different levels. However, if you hire a professional to install your home standby generator, they will make sure that you’ve got all the required permits and that your home generator meets both state and local electrical code requirements.
Which is the best enclosure for a generator, Steel or aluminum?
Generally, generators with aluminum enclosures are the best options if you would like your generator to stay in great shape for many years to come.
Besides, aluminum enclosures are typically the only option for buyers who reside in the coastal regions or people who experience high humidity since aluminum is naturally resistant to corrosion and rust.
Hopefully, reading this generator buying guide about the type of generators and how to choose the right one for your power needs, you’ve learned a lot more about what to expect if you purchase an inverter, standby, or portable generator.
Purchasing a portable generator might save you lots of money and also give you ease-of-use and incredible performance and. Standby generators are quite pricey and very difficult to install and also maintain without professional assistance.
However, there are specific situations where they are quite necessary. An inverter generator system will cost you more, but you’ll realize that it is more compact, fuel-efficient, and convenient, which means it can save you good money in the long run.
Make sure to inspect your generator regularly. Check for any damages, dust buildup, and other issues that can hinder performance or even cause safety problems. If necessary, you can take your generator in for servicing by a licensed professional to keep it in good working condition.
Setting up a generator in your home or office might be a lot of work, but once you get a backup power supply, you will feel safer during blackouts and other power-related emergencies. We hope that this information will help you make a wise purchase decision when looking for a suitable generator.
Last update on 2020-12-05 / This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API