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Zar Electric

Should You Buy a Portable Generator?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we should always try our best to be prepared for the unexpected. Although there have been numerous unforeseen events this year, one thing we can plan for, are yearly storms and possible power outages. Especially in North Carolina, storms are a part of life. With that in mind, it would be smart for homeowners to prepare themselves for the loss of power at some point in the year.

One of the best ways to prepare is with a portable generator for their homes. Take advantage of the time we have now, and look into whether a portable generator is the best option for you and your family.

Portable Generators vs Standby Generators

The two main kinds of generators you can purchase for your home are portable generators and standby generators. Although both kinds of generators perform the same basic tasks, each kind has its own advantages; cost and convenience set both generators drastically apart.

What are some of the main differences between portable generators and standby generators?

blue and black portable generatorThe main difference between the two generators is that portable generators are much more affordable when purchasing and installing. Although standby generators are more hands-off, they aren’t the most affordable option to the average homeowner. According to HomeAdvisor, a standby generator unit itself can cost anywhere from $1,900 to $12,000 depending on the kind of fuel used and its power capability.

On the other hand, portable generators are the most popular choice due to their affordability when it comes to purchase and installation. A portable generator unit will run the average person between $500 and $2500. When connected to a home’s circuit breaker panel via transfer switch, they can power almost as much as a standby generator.

Most portable generators run on gasoline. They burn through 12 to 20 gallons per day depending on the output of the generator and the load it’s powering. With that said, a small number of portable generators run on natural gas, liquid propane, or diesel fuel.

Generally speaking, portable models tend to be noisier than standby models. In the event of an outage, portable generators would need to be moved out of storage, and connected to the home’s circuit breaker panel and fired up. If this occurs during a rainstorm, it is recommended that the portable generator would need to operate under some kind of cover or canopy.

Whereas portable generators are wheeled out and stored when needed, standby or stationary generators are permanently installed by a professional electrician and are stored in a housing that keeps them safe from the elements and relatively silent.

The main advantage is that these generators will kick in automatically as soon as the lights go out and can power everything in a home at one time. They also run on natural gas or propane, meaning they can operate for days to weeks at a time on a full tank, and indefinitely if operating on natural gas.

Figure Out If a Portable Generator Is Right for You

How much power do you need?

Portable generators provide between 3kW and 10kW, which is enough to run the basics such as the refrigerator, water pump, a heater, some lights, and essential data storage centers such as computers.

What are your plans for a power outage?

Take into account that portable generators are only useful investments if you're planning to be home during an outage, as they require someone to connect them and start them up.

Leaving your portable generator home during a major storm, or if your home experiences an outage while you and your family are on vacation, will render it useless.

What size generator do you need?

The size of the generator you want depends on what you’re looking to power. Making a list of necessary appliances that would need to stay alive during an outage is a great way to start. Try to keep comfort items and necessary items balanced. Here are examples of what to keep in mind when deciding how powerful you want your generator to be:

  • Lights usually need 60 to 200 watts to start.

  • Ceiling fans usually need about 75 watts.

  • A space heater typically requires 750 - 1500 watts.

  • A refrigerator needs about 600 watts.

  • A microwave needs about 1000 - 2000 watts.

  • A portable heater may need 1,500 watts.

  • A sump pump requires about 1300 - 2150 watts to start and about 800 - 1050 watts to run.

Booking an appointment with a local, trusted electrician will help you decide what will work best for you. A professional will be able to help you figure out a load calculation and inspect your home’s electrical panel and circuits to make sure you select the right size.

Are portable generators safe?

Portable generators are safe, but just like any electrical appliance, they require a reasonable use of precaution to avoid hazardous situations.

Portable Generator Safety Tips:

  • Never run a generator in an enclosed space or indoors. Most generator-related injuries involve CO poisoning because generators were used in enclosed spaces such as basements or garages. These places typically have poor ventilation.

  • Always run your generator at least 20 feet from the house with the engine facing away from windows or doors.

  • If you’re using a generator to keep the lights on while cleaning or working on a project, it is recommended you use a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector. This device has an alarm that will sound once it detects a certain amount of carbon monoxide in the air.

  • Don’t run a portable generator in the rain. Make sure you have a well-ventilated tent or cover to shield it from the elements.

  • Before refueling your generator, turn off the gas-powered generator and let it cool. This will avoid potential fire hazards if gasoline is spilled on hot engine parts.

  • Stock up on extra gasoline and store correctly.

  • Don’t store gasoline near any potential sources of heat or fire or inside your home.

  • Make sure to use a transfer switch when hooking up your generator. Although installing a transfer switch may cost a bit more, this connection is very important. A transfer switch connects your generator to your circuit panel and will let you power hardwired appliances without the use of extension cords, which can be dangerous. A properly installed transfer switch will allow you to avoid an overload.

  • Do not try to backfeed your house. Backfeeding is powering your home’s wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Doing this puts utility workers and your neighbors using the same utility transformer in danger of electrocution. You could also end up starting a house fire. Instead, call your trusted, professional electrician to connect your generator the right way.

What are some recommended models?

There are many great models to choose from to fit your needs. If you would like more information about recommended portable generator models, visit this page for more information.

Speaking to a professional electrician may also be a great idea as he or she would be able to use their experience in the field and perform a series of tests to point you in the right direction. If you'd like to speak to a professional electrician from Zar Electric, we would be happy to help you decide on your new generator!

Don’t Wait for a Disaster!

Portable generators are an extremely useful way to weather a storm or unexpected power outage. They will provide all the energy you need to power your basic appliances keeping you and your family safe from the elements, your food safe from perishing, you connected to major news outlets, and keeping you comfortable.

If you have any questions, call Zar Electric today at (919) 200-6551 or contact us online! Your favorite trusted, and local electrician is here for you.