What You Need to Know About Portable Generators

We have already discussed how to choose a generator type in our generator buying guide. Portable generators are still the most popular kind of generator so it deserves its own buying guide.

Here we go into further detail on how to choose the right portable generator. We also discuss how to properly install and handle one.

When to Choose a Portable Generator

There is a lot of variety between portable generator models making this the most versatile type of generator.

There are smaller portable generators that are reasonably lightweight and easy to carry around. These are best used for camping, an RV or for off grid use of appliances. A compact portable generator is a good choice when you don’t need a lot of power.

Larger portable generators are powerful and suitable for heavy duty use. They are an alternative for a home standby generator, the more economical choice when power outages are rare. Large portable generators are also good for work sites.

Aside from the purpose of a portable generator, also consider the laws and regulations regarding generators. These might differ per state or country. Common quality labels are EPA, CSA and CARB for California.

The Best Fuel for Portable Generators

The best energy source for a portable generator is actually solar power. This is because there are fewer hazards associated, no exhaust fumes, a clean energy source and economical. Solar powered generators also include a rechargeable battery that can charge through regular outlets.

Though this is a newer development in portable generators, it is a growing trend. The main disadvantage of solar powered generators is that the current models are generally less powerful compared to the fuel powered models. This means that they are less suitable for use as a home backup generator or at outdoor work sites.

Most portable generators still run on either gasoline, liquid propane or an oil/gas mix. Of these three, the oil/gas mix is the best option because you don’t have to perform oil changes.

When purchasing a gasoline powered portable generator make sure to include a fuel stabilizer. This prevents damage to the machine, especially when it is not in use for longer time periods. However, you should still perform test runs on a portable generator every few weeks.

Where to Place a Portable Generator and How to Store It

The placement of a portable generator is very important. There are many hazards associated with a portable generator including the silent killer; carbon monoxide poisoning. Safe placement is a key preventative measure.

A portable generator should be placed on a flat non-slippery surface where it is free from moisture, soil and dirt. If you store your generator outdoors then keep it under a waterproof cover when it is not running.

Only run a generator outdoors and from a safe distance from any buildings. The standard acceptable distance for a fuel powered portable generator is 15 feet. The exhaust fumes should be released away from any buildings, air vents and windows.

Never run a portable generator in an enclosed space or indoors. This traps the fumes and is extremely dangerous.

Also, store a portable generator with an empty fuel tank when possible. This prevents the accidental release of flammable gases.

Other Safety Precautions

Always follow the user’s manual and take all necessary safety precautions when handling a generator.

Be Careful with Refueling

Only refuel when the generator is turned completely off.

Never fill a fuel powered portable generator to the brink. The oils and gases need space to expand when the generator is running. An overfull fuel tank leaks which can cause fires.

Prevent Overloading

Overloading a generator can cause damage to both the generator itself, wiring and the devices and appliances connected. Spread the load over several outlets when possible but never use all outlets at once. Using all outlets simultaneously should only be done during emergencies.

Start and Stop the Generator Safely

Always carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t skip any steps.

Make sure the generator is grounded to prevent electrocutions and damage to the connected devices.

Start and stop the generator according to the user’s manual. Especially when the portable generator is used as a home backup generator, following all the required steps precisely is important. Install a transfer switch to prevent the generator from running while there is still an electricity supply.

Do not connect any electrical appliances before the generator is running properly. Disconnect the devices before switching the generator off. Disconnect all cables and electrical appliances when the generator is turned off.