Electricity is one of the most important current resources to have. It is the energy behind how most of our lives can function. It powers our homes, our medical equipment, our devices and more. Few things don't run on electricity, and it has become the driving force behind innovation and the improvement of the quality of life.
While our reliance on grids has changed over the past forty years, electricity itself is still important. With tools such as a portable generator, solar panels, and batteries, our ability to use electricity in more situations has improved substantially over time. The most important of these tools are portable generators.
What Is A Portable Generator?
A portable generator is a machine that converts fuel into electricity, whether through a charge, gas burning or a myriad of other ways. General Electric generators are responsible for the entire electrical grid that powers our homes on a grander scale.
Generators have a few potential power sources.
This can include:
- A physical crank that when wound generates electricity.
- A gas-based turbine.
- A hydro turbine.
Portable generators are just as they sound, a small, yet still powerful mobile electric generator that is capable of powering some devices. A portable generator can be used for everything from emergency storm relief to cookouts and has increased rapidly in use since its development.
The first generator was made in the early 1800s. The initial focus was on creating something that could create electricity mechanically opposed to automatically. Between dynamos and alternator types of generators, the focus has always been on holding the highest amount of charge safely for the longest possible period.
With the innovation of stationary generators and portable generators for personal use, the overall cost of producing and using electricity for personal uses has lessened. Portable generators are the perfect source of electricity for casual or emergency use at a price that is one tenth of other options.
How To Use A Portable Generator
Portable generators are great pieces of convenience. At the same time, they are hazardous equipment to use, so it's important to know what you are doing. Portable generators are fueled filled, high heat, gas emitting machines.
If misused, severe damage could come to you, your loved ones, or your home and appliances. There are four points to consider regarding how to use a portable generator:
- Energy Usage
Safety, Energy Usage, Fuel
Safety is the first and foremost priority. Each year, hundreds of easily avoidable deaths are attributed to home equipment within small areas that are meant to improve the lives of their users, not end them.
The tool that tops most lists as the number one cause of injury is the portable generator. Portable generators generate over 80% of fatalities regarding home equipment for two overwhelming reasons.
Carbon Monoxide / Electrical Failures / Fires
All too often, users ignore the safety precautions in the user manual. They attempt to use their generator without understanding the tool itself. Carbon monoxide deaths are caused by using a portable generator too close to the home or inside of it. While it can be used near garages with care, it's highly advisable if possible to keep it from home or with the garage door open.
During hurricanes and snowstorms that cause outages, some families have opened the door to their garage to run a cable, and as the carbon monoxide slipped in, they weren't aware of the damage they were doing to themselves and their home.
Portable Generator Usage Tips
The important tips to keep in mind are the following:
Do not use your portable generator too close to the home if you can. The closer it is, the higher the likelihood of carbon monoxide contamination.
If using it near the home, keep all sources for carbon monoxide to get inside sealed off.
Be careful of how much electricity your devices are using when plugged into it. Both the extension cords and portable generators have a threshold of input and output that if not adhered to can cause a substantial problem.
Never put more fuel into your portable generator while it is still hot. If you do, the result is obvious. Just because it is cold in the environment near it does not mean that it will be inside of the generator.
Benefits Of Portable Vs. Stationary Generators
Chances are if you are looking for a generator, your home is prone to power outages. Outages are not enjoyable times to have to sit through without your convenient personal devices. The more the outages happen, the more likely you need something powerful as a backup.
Your choice comes down to getting either a portable or stationary generator. Stationary and portable generators may seem similar but are massively different. The main factors are their size, friendly usability, cost, convenience, and power capability.
Portable generators are fantastic pieces of equipment because of their relatively low cost to pick up. On average, they can cost as low as $100 for camping related use to the mid-range home based systems that are around $600-$1700. This puts them at a 1/10th of the cost of buying a stationary generator.
Portable Generators are good for powering the essentials. Portable generators can keep things running during a short blackout and are relatively safe. As mentioned earlier, their biggest problem is their power capability and convenience.
Portable generators are gas based, so this means they can't be left running alone. These generators require careful monitoring so that the electricity doesn't cease and no health problems come. They can't be left at home either if you expect to get back to your kitchen appliances still running.
The final note to consider is that because of the gas usage, it must be kept outside of the house for safety, and needs to be encased in protection that will keep it from being ruined by storms or other detractors.
At the same time, there has to be enough airflow to avoid the system overheating or worse. All in all, they are perfect as a supplemental tool for short-term electrical problems.
Moving onto the stationary generators, they are extremely powerful systems for generating massive amounts of electricity. These machines can power an entire home, yet what they can do however comes at a cost.
On average, the machines themselves can cost about 8 to 10 thousand dollars. This doesn't include the need for a professional to come and inspect your home and give you a solid consultation on what needs to be done. That alone can also rack up a few hundred more dollars in fees.
At the same time, stationary generators can run automatically. When the power goes out, it will come on almost instantly and will be able to take care of all of your electrical or kitchen tools.
Stationary generators are safer because of the rigorous installation process but are less flexible than their alternatives. If you need something that you can install, set, and forget, then they are a good choice if the cost isn't too high.
A portable generator is only a fraction of the price both short and long term at the cost of some convenience. Stationary generators may last longer and add value to your home in the event you decide to put it on the market.
The Main Types Of Generators
No two portable generators are created equal. Depending on what you want to spend on fuel costs, repairs, and maintenance as well as safety, you have several choices on what type of generator you may want to purchase.
You can pick up a:
- Gasoline Portable Generator
- Diesel Portable Generator
- Biodiesel Portable Generator
- Natural Gas Portable Generator
- Propane Portable Generator
- Solar Energy Portable Generator
Each has their strengths and weakness that make them unique, whether it is price or safety.
Gasoline Portable Generator
Gasoline portable generators are the by far the primary purchase most people looking for a generator tend to gravitate towards. It is convenient because it is cheaper than other options, and you can find the fuel so readily.
The problem lies in getting and holding onto the gas for emergencies. During a storm or other inclement weather, getting the gas can be difficult if the outage is for your greater area because gas stations only work with power. The need to harbor gasoline in large quantities can be hard for two reasons:
If you don't use it in time, the gas can go bad and cease to work, so that will be a fair bit of money down the drain.
Gasoline is obviously highly flammable and if not stored correctly can cause some serious problems.
Not to mention, the lower the overall temperature, the harder it is for the engine to heat up and start, so your ignition may not turn over in a time of crisis. While they are reliable and cheap, you have to take these factors into consideration.
Diesel Portable Generator
If you want the convenience of a gasoline powered portable generator minus the negatives, consider a diesel portable generator. They work in almost all conditions, and their fuel is far less dangerous and longer lasting. The added benefit is that diesel fuel is as easy to get as gas and in some cases is far cheaper.
Another plus is that those that live in rural areas tend to have tax breaks for fuel costs that are related to diesel. It still has the difficulty of being hard to store for more than two years, but that still makes the fuel last twice as long as regular gasoline.
You still have to plan since diesel is mostly only easy to get at gas stations which would be overrun during a time of crisis. Another problem is that these engines are extremely susceptible to water and other conditions that can cause rust and prevent it from working.
They also have high emissions, so depending on your area you may be limited in how much you can use it. Diesel engine portable generators also require upkeep by a professional periodically and need to be kept in check.
Biodiesel Portable Generator
Biodiesel portable generators are similar to diesel generators. In reality, the only made differences are that they aren’t as loud, are greener, and use a blend of diesel and some organic based oil.
Like diesel, the fuel only lasts a couple of years and needs upkeep, but they tend to last a bit longer than the alternative.
Natural Gas Portable Generator
With the advancements in fracking, natural gas is more readily available than ever. These types of generators aren't as durable as others but can run in almost any condition as long as it is housed appropriately.
These aren't as portable because they require a gas line to be run directly to it, which makes it cheaper and able to handle much more of a workload of electrical appliances.
The biggest problem is the safety factor. In the event of a gas leak, it can cause some serious potential damage to the surrounding area and can pose a risk to children if regular inspection isn’t present.
Propane Portable Generator
If you consider the other options, propane is a great choice. It is an extremely green choice as long as it is properly stored and used. Propane generators are subject to periodic problems, and at worst are potentially explosive.
On the plus side, it's costs aren't as high as other high-end options despite the fact that it burns at three times the rate. Propane is a perfect for larger homes due to its rapid burning rate.
Solar Energy Portable Generator
By far the cleanest choice on the list is solar energy generators. They work by using a system of panels that you can easily lay out on your lawn to collect energy if you live in a sunny area.
The panels convert sunshine into storable energy for later use. These tend to be a bit costly, but are worth it if you want to save on fuel costs.
Solar energy portable generators can charge in as little as 8 hours if you plug it into a wall outlet. Solar portable generators can also charge from the panels in as little as 12 hours. Some of the middle range options can power appliances in the house for between a few days to a few weeks depending on the energy usage.
Portable Generator Specifications That Matter
Whenever you are considering picking up any tool, the specs and features are the important deciding factors for what exactly you need. Price doesn't dictate quality. It certainly doesn't dictate that it will be compatible with your needs.
The main things you want to pay attention to are:
- Run time
- Item weight
- Fuel tank capacity
- Fuel type
- Noise level
The wattage matters because it is the threshold for what the generator can do. The wattage used by your appliances, as well as the capacity for your extension cables, decide what you can use when the time comes. The higher the wattage, the better capacity it has for handling everything you need it to.
Runtime has two parts to it. First up is how long it can run without needing to be refueled and second, how often it can include refuels within twenty-four hours. If you need something that can run continuously, you need the longest runtime possible without interruption.
The item weight is straightforward. How much it weighs dictates how portable it will be and convenient to move if necessary.
Fuel Tank Capacity
The fuel tank capacity is a tricky one. Depending on the total run time possible and the cost of the fuel, you will be able to decide which fits both your budget and use. Many portable generators hold 6 to 12 gallons and up.
Fuel Type & Noise Level
The type of fuel can influence how cleanly your machine burns, how much your overall fuel costs will be, and how long the machine will last due to the octane rating. The higher the octane, the less the engine shakes which makes noise. If you want a quiet portable generator, go for the cleanest fuel type possible.
The Top Manufacturers
The top generator manufacturers:
Briggs And Stratton
Based in Wisconsin, Briggs and Stratton is one of the most important gas powered generator manufacturers in the world. They produce dozens of millions of engines and heavy machinery every year. A Briggs and Stratton portable generator is usually durable due to their engineering team following a more than hundred years of innovation template.
Duromax is one of the best cost efficient portable generator makers on the market. A duromax portable generator usually is built to withstand the elements and deal with moisture more effectively than almost any other producer.
Honda is known globally for its innovation as one of the strongest leading engineering and tool manufacturing companies in the world. A Honda portable generator mixes perfected Japanese design with excellent cost affordability without sacrifices in its ability to last a long time.
Another Japanese company, Yamaha powers everything from high-end ATVs to dirt bikes and beyond. A Yamaha portable generator is built for power and aesthetics, so you are likely to have something that is great to look at and reliable.
Goal Zero is a unique company producing generators. Their range of solar products is extremely cost effective for the long term value they offer. A goal zero portable generator is good for low to middle-end emergencies and powering whenever using fuel isn't an option. It's also great for use beyond emergencies such as camping, outdoor events, and more.
How To Make A DIY Portable Solar Generator
Just as a summary, if you are considering building a DIY solar portable generator, you will need a few parts. This brief section is meant just to get your ideas rolling.
You will need at the basis; a power converter, battery, solar panels, and a controller.
The power converter changes the type of current from DC to AC so that you will be able to use the electricity made by your generator to power your electronics.
The battery holds the total charge, and you need to know exactly how much energy you plan to use it for to purchase the appropriate one.
The solar panels are what generates the electricity, and you will need to know much energy they produce per hour and total within a given time span.
The controller regulates everything, so nothing goes awry.
You basically will need to pick up each part, calculate the energy output you need and the energy production required and ensure each part can handle the total wattage without problems. You want your battery to have plenty of extra energy because completely depleting it can lead to it not working anymore, and if you put too much into it, it can overheat or worse.
It's easy to find the proper wattage conversion formula, and you should research each part thoroughly before picking them up as part of an entire unit.
A Few Final Tips On Maintenance
Buying a portable generator is not enough. It’s important to keep a close eye on how clean it is and how well it runs.
- Check output and input levels and each piece of equipment thoroughly periodically.
- Ensure that if left without usage for longer than a year you replace fuel and check for residue.
- Spot clean what you can and never do so while it is still hot.
- Change the oil of your machine often.
Check your starter for your machine often as well, as problems starting may mean switches or starter plugs are broken/fading.
By now, you should know that generators are extremely valuable and complex pieces of equipment. The necessity of one cannot be understated. It’s better to have and not need one than to need one and be stuck. For more info check out our buying guide.