Illustration by Len Churchill
What you need to know about fuel-powered portable generators.
A history of power outages in your area, limited or no power at your cottage, temporarily unavailable or out-of-reach power on a jobsite – these are all good reasons to own a fuel-powered portable generator. As long as you have the requisite fuel on hand they’ll deliver continuous power. Some are dual fuel-powered. Generators are classed by their peak or starting watts (the maximum wattage generated to start an appliance) and their running watts (the continuous watts produced to keep one or more appliances running). You can use power cords to connect each appliance to a generator or install a transfer switch next to the electrical panel in your home to directly power circuits in your home. Fuel-powered inverter generators produce “cleaner” DC power for use with sensitive electronic and digital equipment. You can run multiple inverter generators in parallel to produce more power. They also tend to be smaller in size, run quieter and consume less fuel. Generators that produce low running watts can weigh under 30 pounds, while those that generate lots of wattage can weigh hundreds of pounds and usually have wheels. Generators produce carbon monoxide, so can’t be used indoors.
Price: $280 to $3,800
Peak watts: 800 to 15,000
Running watts: 600 to 12,000
Run time @ 50%: 3 to 32 hours
Fuel: Gas, propane, diesel
Weight: 23 to 350 pounds
Before you buy a generator, calculate the total running wattage of all the electrical devices you plan to operate at the same time from the generator. Then select a generator that meets the overall electrical load you intend to power with some excess capacity built in.
Not any power cord will do. Choose a heavy-duty exterior-rated power cord that can handle the current flow (amperage) for the generator.
To ensure your generator runs efficiently all the time, perform regularly scheduled maintenance as recommended by the manufacturer.
Don’t get caught in the middle of a blackout without the accessories needed to keep your generator running. Along with a supply of the fuel your generator uses, keep a set of spark plugs, a container of motor oil, an oil filter and an air filter on hand.
Gas, diesel and propane all emit carbon monoxide, so never operate a generator in any kind of enclosed space, even with the doors or windows open, and point the generator’s exhaust away from the house.