Portable vs. Standby Generators: Which Is Best?
Weather is a leading cause of power outages, so generator sales skyrocket whenever a major storm threatens. They’ve helped many families survive storms with greater confidence, because the household has an alternate power source if an outage occurs. They’ve also proved to be so useful, many families take the next step and invest in whole-house standby units.
To determine whether a portable or standby generator is best for your household, keep these factors in mind:
Portable generators are motors mounted on wheeled frames, so they can be moved more easily. While they come in different sizes and capacities, most are designed for temporary use when there’s an outage, so they do have limitations. Portable generators:
- Are powered by gasoline or diesel, so you must keep sufficient fuel on hand to power the generator while it’s in use. In a significant outage, fuel may be difficult to obtain and electric pumps at gas stations won’t work, so experts recommend storing about 70 gallons, enough for five days.
- Must be kept outside when they’re running and situated a minimum of 10 feet from your house. For safety, you must use an appropriately rated extension cord (length and capacity) to bring power into your home.
- Are typically designed to power plug-in appliances such as lamps, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves and TVs.
- Can run hardwired equipment (lights, furnace, central AC) if an electrician installs a transfer switch that allows you to plug the generator into your home’s main electrical panel.
- May produce varying power levels, which can harm sensitive electronics (TVs, computers, etc.).
- Range in size from about 1000 to 17,000 watts. Low-wattage units can run lights and a few appliances. Higher capacity units can power a small house.
In a power outage, standby generators can provide up to 100% of your household’s electric needs. Designed for permanent installation by an electrician, they feature a transfer switch that automatically controls the generator, turning it on if the power fails and off when power is restored. Standby generators:
- Protect your home when you’re away, since they turn on and off automatically.
- Are typically powered by propane or natural gas.
- Require no hands-on attention during an outage since they’re directly connected to a fuel supply.
- Provide steady electricity which is safer for sensitive electronics such as TVs and computers.
- Range in size from 8000 to 125,000 watts. Smaller units power basic appliances, while larger ones handle everything from HVAC systems to refrigerators, stoves, lights, sump pumps, security systems and more.
To avoid guesswork, work with an expert. They’ll help you evaluate your needs and calculate both total and startup wattage requirements based on the kind of appliances you plan to power, then you can select the generator size, configuration and installation options that are right for you.