There are many factors to take into consideration when thinking about buying the best portable generator. The best generator for your requirements is going to vary depending on the following.
Wattage: The smallest and cheapest portable generators start with 400W models and go all the way up to about 17,500W. Any more power than that and you will need to look at standby generators which won’t be portable.
Price: As a rough guide the higher the wattage the more expensive the generator. However, other factors such as the number and type of features also influence the price you end up paying.
Fuel: Most generators are designed to run on a single fuel source which will be one of either gasoline, diesel, natural gas or propane. You can also get dual fuel or a tri fuel generator that can be run on two or three fuels types respectively.
Noise: Generators can be rather noisy. Noise is not going to be welcome to either yourself or your neighbours especially if you plan on running a generator in your backyard or on a campsite. However, you can get a silent or a super quiet generator that operate at low decibels.
Generator Type: There are two types of portable generator. You will need to decide whether you require a conventional or an inverter generator. Conventional generators create AC power whereas inverter generators created DC power and convert it to AC. If you plan on running electronic devices such as computers it is better to get an inverter generator. This is because an inverter generator produces a smoother electrical signal which is less prone to spikes and surges which could damage sensitive electrical equipment.
CARB Approved: A generator that is CARB approved has to meet stringent air quality standards and will therefore emit fewer pollutants. In some states, it is mandatory that your generator is CARB compliant.
Electric Start: You don’t really want to have to yank a cord to start your generator do you?
What Wattage Do I Need to Power My Home?
The most important thing to consider when purchasing a generator is will it provide enough wattage to power your household essentials. The more wattage it can provide the more lights and appliances you can operate.
You can quite easily calculate how powerful a generator you will require by adding up the running wattage of all your essential appliances. You should also note that some types of appliances such as air conditioning units require a large surge of power when they are turned on before settling down to a steady running wattage. You will need to take this into account.
I would recommend you use a wattage calculator which you can find online to determine the best generator for your requirements. However, the absolute minimum to provide enough power for the basics would be 3000-4000W. I would personally be looking for a generator in the 4000-8000W range if I wanted a portable generator for my home.
Is a Silent Generator Really Silent?
Firstly there is no such thing as a silent generator as they will all emit some noise with the exception of solar generators. The quietest you will find is a super quiet generator that will emit around 50dB which is pretty quiet. Remember that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale which means that 50dB is NOT half that of a 100dB rock concert! As a comparison, 50dB is about the volume of an average conversation. This means you only have to locate the generator a short distance away from you to effectively sound as though it is virtually silent.
When comparing generators based on how noisy they are a 10dB difference represents a tenfold increase in sound intensity. Sound intensity and volume aren’t the same thing. As a rough guide, you can expect a 60dB generator to be about twice as loud as a 50dB generator. It is important to understand this as I don’t want you thinking that a 60dB generator is only 20% louder than a 50db generator!
The quietest type of generators are inverter generators. These have the advantage I mentioned earlier of being better for running electronic equipment.
Even if noise levels aren’t are a great concern you ought to be aware that there are laws that limit noise in residential areas to a maximum of 75dB. You may find yourself getting a warning or a fine if you exceed this level, especially if you are in close proximity to your neighbours. When noise levels exceed 75dB it starts to cause discomfort. So please factor the noise levels in when thinking about generators for homes.
How Do I Connect a Generator to My Home?
Once you have determined what type of generator you require and have calculated how much power you need, the next step is to plan on how you are going to connect it to your home. There are two types of wiring system that you can use to hook up your generator. You have a choice between either an interlock kit or a manual transfer switch.
I would recommend without hesitation that you choose a manual transfer switch. A manual transfer switch will be slightly more expensive but they are much safer. Besides the cheaper option of an interlock kit is actually illegal in many areas. Whatever option you go for please make sure for your safety that you have it professionally installed.
You will need to have an inlet box hook up installed on the outside of your home. This will connect your generator to your home wiring system. For both safety and insurance reasons, you must get this installed by a professional.
Once your generator is connected up you turn it on by flipping off the utility breaker and flipping on the generator breaker. Your generator is then ready to be turned on. Please turn on your appliances slowly.
Essential Safety Advice
- Never rely on any instructions you find on the internet that tell you how to connect up your generator and always seek the help of a professional.
- You must never connect your generator directly to a breaker unless you have a professionally installed transfer switch
- Never connect a generator to a dryer or washing machine outlet.
- Always locate your generator as far from your home as the cable will allow. If anything goes wrong with the generator you don’t want your home to catch fire. This will also prevent you from being exposed to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the generator’s exhaust.
What about Solar Generators?
A solar generator would in theory be a no brainer as they are completely silent and are free to operate. The only problem is they are low wattage compared to conventional generators. This means that they are better suited to running to small appliances.
The most popular solar generators are around 400W and the largest ones are around 1500W and will cost you more than that in dollars. However, some of the more expensive solar generators allow you to add more panels to increase the power output.
I wouldn’t recommend that you plan on powering your home in an emergency with a portable solar generator. Remember we are talking about portable solar generators here and not the solar panels you mount on the roof of your home. You can indeed power your home all year round with enough solar panels, but that is a huge investment.
Solar generators consist of a set of solar panels and a battery. The battery gets charged up during daylight hours and stores the power for later use. They are far more portable than fuel powered generators. As a result, they are ideal for camping trips. Solar panels will keep on running forever long after a conventional generator has run out of fuel.