What Type of Generator Should You Buy?

There are three main types of generators. These are the portable generator, inverter generator and home standby generator. Which one is most suitable for you depends on where and how it is used. Read more about these generator types below.

Portable Generators

The most versatile generator type. Portable generators can be used both as a backup generator for the home or on outdoor work sites.

Portable generators generally run on gasoline which means that it releases fumes when operating. This is why portable generators must be placed outdoors and at least 20 feet away from any buildings. This is to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Portable generators should be kept dry at all times. Store it in a cool dry place or covered when it is not running. Remember to never run the generator in an enclosed space.

Portable generators connect to your home’s circuit panel via a cable. You need to install a transfer switch to prevent any electrical issues.

There are three ways to start a portable generator. A pull start and push start are standard features. A push start can be added by installing a battery. Some models also have a wireless remote start.

In terms of power, a portable generator lies somewhere between a small inverter generator and home standby generator. An average portable generator can generally carry 7000 watts but this differs with size.

Check Out Our Top Portable Generator Picks

(Home) Standby Generators

Once installed properly, a home standby generator is the easiest generator to have. This generator switches on automatically when there is a power outage and switches off again when the electricity is back on.

Minimize risks by choosing a standby generator that runs on natural gas instead of gasoline or propane. You can connect the standby generator to the home’s gas supply so that you always have access to fuel for the generator.

Similar to a portable generator, the home standby generator needs to be placed outdoors. Depending on the fuel and design, a home standby generator can usually be placed closer to buildings. Most home standby generators already have a safe waterproof covering but it is advised to place it on a raised plane of gravel or concrete, as well.

A standard standby generator is designed to power an entire house so it holds the most power. An average standby generator likely carries 20,000 watts.

Check Out Our Top Standby Generator Picks

Inverter Generators

Inverter generators generally have a smaller capacity than standby generators and portable generators. The smaller capacity is sometimes paired with a portable size and design but there are also heavier more powerful inverter generators. Inverter generators are a good option for when you don’t need a lot of power.

The biggest advantage of inverter generators is that they are quieter and release fewer fumes compared to the other generator types. However, there are still safety precautions to be taken in terms of distance to buildings and release of dangerous fumes.

How much power an inverter generator has really depends on the size. A smaller inverter generator might handle around 2000 watts while a large model can reach around 7000 watts.

Check Out Our Top Inverter Generator Picks

How Much Power Capacity Should the Generator Have?

How much power your generator needs depends on its task. This is the easiest way to calculate the required power.

Note that generators use more power when starting but have a lower running power. Choose a generator with a running power that is higher than the watts required for the appliances.


Transfer Switch vs. Interlock Device

There are two ways to connect the generator to a home electrical panel; via a transfer switch or with an interlock device.

The transfer switch is a single cable. With standby generators the switch goes on/off automatically. With a portable generator switching to generator electricity needs to be done manually. Note down the correct order of flipping switches to prevent any mistakes and hazards. It is a precise order.

An interlock device is a simpler way to prevent having the generator run while the electricity is still on. An interlock device blocks the buildings main cutoff switch.

How Many Outlets Do You Need?

Having several outlets spreads the load better which makes your generator more energy efficient. However, using all available outlets can cause it to be overloaded.

Only use all the outlets at the same time with low energy appliances or for a short time period in emergencies.

For outdoor use, it is useful to have a generator with USB outlets. This lets you connect devices directly to the generator without extra cables.

Which Fuel to Use for Generators?

Most portable generators run on gasoline but natural gas, diesel and propane are also available. Wherever possible, connect the generator to a building’s gas supply to always have sufficient fuel.

The cleanest and safest fuel option is solar-power. The only disadvantage of solar powered generators is that their capacity tends to be lower than the alternative fuels.

Think of these four points when deciding what type of fuel to use for the generator.

  • Potential hazards
  • Running cost
  • Availability of fuel
  • How well the fuel stores
  • Safety and environmentally friendly labels (CARB, CSA, EPA)

Fuel Gauge and Low-fuel Shutoff

Having a fuel gauge on your generator is recommended. This makes it easier for you to check how much fuel is still inside. This way you have some warning to stock more fuel before there is a power outage.

A standby generator connected to the building’s gas supply does not require a fuel gauge since there is a constant fuel supply.

Another handy feat is a low-fuel shutoff. This automatic feature shuts down the generator when it is too low on fuel. Shutting down before the tank is completely empty protects the generator from damage.

Push Start, Pull Start or Automatic Start?

Standby generators have an automatic start when electricity shuts down. These are the best option for home use.

A portable generator starts with either a pull start or an electrical start with the push of a button. Both work fine.

You can convert portable generators with a pull start into a push start. This requires the addition of a battery which a generator technician can install for you.