A home generator is a great helper during a power outage to keep your home or business running during a power outage or to more easily power your grill during the big game.
Finding the best generator for your needs starts with considering not just the power output capability required by the equipment or tool, but also the fuel source and wattage. Whether you’re looking for a 220-volt generator for camping, a portable power station, or a solar generator, this guide will give you the information so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
What is a generator?
A generator is a machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. It provides power to devices and appliances when you are not connected to the grid. Generators are an important safety device during natural disasters like hurricanes and snowstorms or any power outage. Owning a home generator allows you to keep lights, vital appliances, basic medical equipment, and heat in your home. If you live in an area with frequent but brief power outages, generators can ease the inconvenience and ensure your day isn’t interrupted by unexpected power outages.
Smaller generators can also be used to power RVs, boats, and workshops without wires. When you may need to power small appliances or charge devices, keep a portable generator with you for activities like tailgating and camping.
How much generator power do you need?
There are three basic types of generators: whole house generators, portable generators, and inverter generators.
- Inverter generators are great for camping, boating, and other recreational activities. They run quieter than other generators and power lights, heaters, fans, radios, smartphones, and more.
- Whole house generators (home backup generators) are the best generators for home use. They are designed to provide adequate power to your appliances and HVAC system.
- Portable generators are often used on job sites to power air compressors, nail guns, saws, hammer drills, and other equipment. Most are loud, but there are also quiet portable generators.
Whole house generator
Whole house generators or home backup generators keep your home’s systems and appliances powered up while you’re disconnected from the grid.
- Get automatic emergency backup power within seconds of a power outage.
- Whole house generators provide 24/7 power outage protection and are permanently installed.
- You can use your existing fuel supply, such as natural gas or liquid propane, to operate the machine.
- Whole house generators are flexible enough to power your entire house or just a few designated circuits.
- When choosing the best generator for home backup, consider models with special features for quieter running equipment or weekly self-diagnostic tests.
Best portable generator
Popular on job sites, portable generators provide limited power for small short-term use. For greater efficiency and longer run time, select Auto Idle to idle the engine when not in use.
Here are the approximate wattages for common tools:
- Chainsaw: 1000-1800
- Circular saw: 1200-1600
- Drill (depending on size): 250-1200
- String Trimmer: 600-1100
- Hedge Clippers: 300-1000
- Leaf blower: 1000-1400
- Planer: 300-900
- Sanders: 250-1500
- Router: 100-1500
- Workshop vacuum: 700-1400
- Paint sprayer: 500-1000
- Miter saw: 500-1000
Consult your specific tool manual for a more accurate wattage.
Tip: The best home portable generators will come with a 12-volt outlet, making it easier to charge smartphones and other wireless devices.
Known for their low noise levels, quiet inverter generators are lightweight and easy to transport. They use an engine connected to an alternator to generate alternating current and convert it to direct current. Direct current can be stored, which makes inverters one of the best types of generators for RV travel, tailgating, camping, or boating.
Here are the approximate wattages for items typically powered by inverter generators:
- Lights: 250
- Fan: 100
- Space heater: 1500
- Hot plate: 1200
- Crock Pot: 1200
- TV: 250
Consult your specific device manual for a more accurate wattage.
TIP: You can usually connect two inverter generators together to get twice the power.
Generator Fuel Type
When choosing between generator types, consider the type of fuel each generator requires. Fuel availability and storage are important factors when maintaining generators. A generator’s fuel source should be affordable and readily available when you need it. The following are common generator fuel types:
- It’s readily available and easy to buy, making it an ideal choice for a portable generator.
- Available in 2 to 5-gallon portable cans.
- Stored properly in an airtight container, it will keep for 3 to 6 months.
- Properly stored and used with a fuel stabilizer can last up to 3 years.
- For outdoor use only.
- Provides the most energy per gallon of all generator fuel types.
- Reliable and readily available, making it ideal for home backup generators or commercial generators.
- Diesel generators perform best when used for long periods of time on large jobs.
- For outdoor use only.
- It can last from 6 months to 1 year with proper storage and without added stabilizers.
- The most cost-effective and readily available fuel for home backup generators.
- Energy efficiency per gallon is lower than diesel, gasoline, and propane.
- Delivered by natural gas pipeline, so no refueling is required. No storage is required, making it the most convenient choice for residential and commercial generators.
- Do not use indoors.
- The power supply is usually not affected by power outages.
- Available as liquid propane or steam propane.
- Liquid propane does not spoil, so it can be stored for long periods of time.
- Clean burn.
- Do not use indoors.
- Inverter generators are commonly used in RVs, campers, and food trucks.
- A unique type of generator that can burn gasoline/diesel and connect to natural gas.
- Not suitable for indoor use.
- Not a standard type of generator, so not all manufacturers offer dual-fuel models.
- Clean, renewable energy for portable generators.
- More solar panels can often be installed to increase power output.
- Safe to operate indoors as there are no emissions.
- Depends on the sun for energy, so is not always reliable in an emergency.
- Power output is lower than other types of generators.
- Inverter generator for battery power.
- Often used in conjunction with solar generators.
- Operates indoors quietly and safely.
- Usually takes a long time to charge and has a lower power output compared to other types of generators.
In addition to type, power, fuel type, and purpose, here are some factors to consider when choosing the best generator for your home backup or portable needs:
- Size: Make sure you have enough space to store the generator and its fuel.
- Noise: Some generators, especially diesel generators, operate very loudly and may cause interference. Determine your noise tolerance when selecting a generator. Choose a quiet generator if you need to be near it while it’s running.
- Price: Generally, the higher the power output, the more expensive the generator. To save money on purchases, find a generator that supplies only the basic necessities.
- Performance: Check how long the model can run with a full tank or full battery to determine its performance.
- Extra Features: Some generators have extra features such as auto-start, moving wheels for portable models, economy mode, multiple sockets, etc. You also get generator accessories like weatherproof storage covers and adapters, as well as handle and wheel mounting kits.
Generator Safety Tips
While generators are useful during power outages, natural disasters or in remote areas, they also need to be handled properly to avoid any injury or damage. Things to keep in mind are:
- Buy the right size generator for your needs.
- Keep the generator away from water.
- Always use the correct extension cord.
- Never operate a generator in an enclosed space as it produces harmful carbon monoxide.
- Certain fuels may present a safety risk when stored, and generator emissions may be toxic. Make sure your chosen generator type meets the EPA standards for your area.
Follow the information in the table above to ensure safety when using the generator.
To find the best generator for you, first determine the primary purpose of the generator. From there, you can determine the necessary power and fuel sources that are best for you. You can learn about generators from the SOUOP official website.