How to Pick the Right-Sized Portable Generator for Your Home

right sized portable generator
Portable Generator Advice

If you’ve ever had to live even a few days without power, you’ll likely be able to list, in order, the appliances you missed the most. First might be the loss of a refrigerator, forcing you to eat room temperature beefaroni.

Second, maybe your HVAC. Without AC or Heat, temperatures fall or rise along with patience.

And, no matter if it was a winter storm or hurricane which left you powerless, you likely quickly regretted previous reasons you didn’t purchase your generator.

Of course, the lights, TV, and Computer may come in next. And, this list is exactly what you need to consider when getting the right sized portable generator so there’s no “next time” of suffering days or weeks off the grid.

Decide What You Want, Then What You Need

Knowing now what you prefer to keep powered-up will help you decide which is best for you. It’s all about the amount of wattage. And, prices go up with the amount of power each unit provides.

So depending on your budget, you might need to whittle down the list of must-haves with a few “live-withouts”, too. With prices ranging from $500 to over $2,000, there is a myriad of choices.

And, a right-sized portable generator is generally less expensive than their fixed generator counterparts, which start at 2K.

“Portable” also means you are schlepping the unit outdoors yourself, so consider what you can physically handle. And, make sure you have a level, safe spot for it at least 15 feet from the house.

Calculate the Watts You Need for Starting and Running Appliances

Luckily, some of our appliances are very forthcoming about the watts they require to work. For example, microwaves come in 620-1000 watt ranges.

Light bulbs come in 60-75 watts. Watts are merely a measure of the electricity needed to make them work.

In addition, when deciding on the list of appliances you “must have”, you’ll need to consider the additional starting watts.

Which means there’s an additional surge of power (watts) needed to start many appliances.

For appliances that don’t include their wattage, we have to find the information on our own. Luckily, we’ve done some of the homework for you.

Here is a list of watts needed with starting (surge watts) in parentheses.

  • Refrigerator/Freezer 700 (2200)
  • Microwave 620-1000 (0)
  • AC (10k BTU) 1500 (4500)
  • AC (24k BTU) 3800 (11400)
  • Furnace Fan-1/2 HP 800 (2350)
  • Furnace Fan-1/3 HP 700 (1400)
  • TV 500 (0)
  • Lights 60-75 watt 60-75 (0)
  • Computer 800 (0)

So, if you decide to add the refrigerator to your list, and this is the highest starting watts on your list, add 1500 watts to your total. (2200-700=1500).

Keep in mind you’ll only need to add the additional watts from the highest need on your list, not each appliance.

Once you’ve determined the wattage you’ll need for your right-sized portable generator, then you’re ready to look at the features best for you.

How to Power the Generator

Then, it’s a matter of deciding on the power you prefer. Gas or propane is available. If you own a propane grill already, this may be the best option.

And, it burns much cleaner than gas, giving the environment and your neighbors a much welcome break from the fumes.

An important consideration is the storage. Gas can take a hit the longer it’s stored, and can have a pesky way of gumming up machinery when it’s been compromised.

And, depending on the time of year, it can be costly and hard to find as communities brace for storms. However, it may also be the first thing available after the storm passes.

Propane burns cleaner and is much more environmentally friendly. Because of the storage tank designs, it can stay on hand in the garage longer, too.

However, the cost of propane over gas is much higher. And, propane-powered generators cost a bit more up front. When comparing gas and propane side by side, the cost per hour of running a generator is higher with propane.

When choosing your right-sized portable generator, consider up-front and running costs to fit your budget and needs.

Important Safety Features

After a power outage, stories of generator fails abound. With all the public information about never putting a generator inside the house, people still do it.

Aside from the obvious, there are important safety concerns to consider. After all, gas and propane are highly combustible, and if a component fails, well, it can be devastating. What to look for:

  • CARB Compliant-Of course the emissions from portable generators is toxic. This compliance indicates emissions are reduced.
  • Transfer Switch-It’s easy to just power up the generator and plug it in. And, just as quickly, you can fry all of your appliances. They run on the grid or your generator, not both.
  • Dry Conditions-Generators are producing electricity, and water is not welcome in the mix. Rain or snow makes electrocution inevitable. When planning your outdoor space for the portable, make sure it’s covered.
  • Extension cords-Most models come with UL-rated extension cords. If not, buy them. Even the smallest of frays can cause big problems when power runs through it.
  • Fuel Gauge-An accurate, at-a-glance fuel gauge takes the guesswork out. Understand the need for your right-sized portable generator to cool down before refueling.
  • Low-Oil Shutoff-If the oil dips below needed levels, the generator automatically shuts down to prevent damage.

How Long Will Your Right-Sized Portable Generator Last?

Once you’ve decided on the purchase, you’ll want to make sure your investment sticks around for awhile. And, we’ve offered up some great options here.

Manufacturers offer suggested maintenance. And, it’s important to follow it to add to the life of the generator and ensure the warranties can be used if needed. An oil change once a season is usually recommended.

And, with gas-powered generators, starting them a few times a year will be crucial so it doesn’t let you down when you need it. A well maintained portable generator should last several hundred hours. More than enough for a week’s worth of powerlessness every year.

Check Reviews, Too

There’s nothing better than getting advice from those who have used the models you’re looking at. We’ve collected a few here. Whether you are replacing a unit or upgrading, we are experts at information and advice.

Weathering the next storm doesn’t have to break your spirit or your budget. That’s why we’re here.

We can answer questions about manufacturer’s specifications, customer service ratings, and make sure your new, right-sized portable generator is perfect for you and your home. Contact us now with any questions or for more help.

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