Whether you should get a portable or standby generator depends on your needs. Portable generators are small and lightweight, which means you can bring them with you on camping trips to provide your own power. They’re also an ideal choice if the power goes out at home while you’re away. The key downside is that they can be noisy, especially when they kick on, so keep in mind where you’ll be using it and make sure it won’t disturb anyone nearby.
Standby generators are installed at your house before a storm or outage, which means they take up space outside of your house. The upside is that they’re far less expensive than portable models and don’t have the noise issue because they only turn on when the power goes out. The downside is that you have to specify where you want the generator connected at your house. If you want it installed near your pool or other water feature, then it won’t be very useful.
If you’re on a budget, a portable generator can be used as extra power during an outage and for camping trips. It’s important to make sure that the generator doesn’t overload the circuit and exceed the maximum output specification of your circuit breaker(s). If you’re more comfortable with a standby generator, then it’s best to get one that’s rated for more than 100% load capacity, so if there are multiple people using your home electricity during an outage, this is less likely to cause problems.
Benefits of a portable power generator
Portable generators have lots of uses. They’re great for camping trips to power your lights, music, and equipment. You can even get a portable generator with a built in inverter to power your TV or laptop computer. If the power goes out while you’re away from home, then you can use the portable generator to run an extension cord into your house to keep the refrigerator and other sensitive electronics running without tripping off any breakers or getting fuses wet.
- Less expensive
Standby generators are installed at your home before an outage occurs, which means they take up space outside of your house and don’t come cheap. You’ll pay around $2,500 to $15,000 for a standby generator with a 100-gallon fuel tank. A portable generator generally costs less than $1,000 and you can get it filled for about $30. If you only need it from time to time, then the cost is worth it over the course of a year.
Portable generators have become quieter over the last several years. That doesn’t mean they’re completely quiet; there will always be some noise while they kick on and off and maintain your power source. Standby generators are far quieter and less likely to disturb anyone nearby than portable generators.
- Multiple uses
Portable generators use gas-powered engines, which have a limited range of about 50 hours on a single tank of fuel. That’s because gas burns off at a certain rate and the portable generator doesn’t have any way to supply additional fuel while running on one tank of fuel. However, some portable generators come with an auxiliary power supply that boosts the engine size and usage over the original capacity, so you can use it for several nights away from home or multiple camping trips while on a single tank of fuel.
Benefits of a standby power generator
- No moving parts to wear out
One of the main advantages of a standby generator is that there are no moving parts to wear out. Electric generators have a hard life since they’re on almost every time the power goes out, which means they’ll be working overtime when you need them most. You can also drain the battery if you rely on it too much during an outage, so having power from another source is better. Portable generators use noisy gas-powered engines that will run for about 50 total hours before running low on fuel and stopping.
- No need for extension cords
When the power goes out, a portable generator can be used to run an extension cord into your home so you don’t have to worry about tripping off your circuit breaker(s) or getting fuses wet. A standby generator is installed at a pre-determined location outside of your home and will be connected automatically when it senses an outage without any further action from you. This is ideal if you’re using the generator during an outage since it’s one less thing to think about when everyone is focused on more important tasks like cooking, cleaning, and staying safe during the storm.
- Automatic transfer switch
A separate automatic transfer switch is wired to your main electrical panel, which is connected to your home’s breaker panel. This allows the generator to automatically start up when it senses an outage and provide power to any critical circuits in your home. It also automatically shuts down when the electricity returns and helps prevent damage from occurring to your generator or house if you forget that it’s running during a storm.
- More efficient use of fuel
A standby generator maintains a line of communication with the electric grid, which allows you to control what runs off of it during an outage. This means that a standby generator can be used to supply power for other appliances, such as a water heater or fridge, whereas a portable generator will typically run only its own critical appliances.
Benefits of both types of generators
- No matter what your circumstances, you won’t have to worry about it running out of fuel
Regardless of whether you use a portable generator or standby generator for your power source, if the power goes out at home or at work, then it’s up to you if you want to use them during an outage. The only difference is that portable generators typically have shorter fuel reserves and can be drained pretty quickly when they’re needed most.
- Lower initial investment
Portable generators are more affordable since the generator is physically separated from your home’s electrical system. It only needs to be powered up for an outage and then disconnected after it’s done, so you don’t need to worry about it draining its battery during a storm. Standby generators have no moving parts, so they’re less expensive to purchase and easier to install, which is why the primary purpose of a standby generator is power outages at home or work.
Standby generators work with your electrical panel (generally through a transfer switch) and are essentially just another switchboard in the wall that turns on when there’s an outage. They regulate the flow of electricity through your home and prevent power from being cut off to certain circuits. Portables generators, on the other hand, are powered by a fuel source that is similar to that contained in a gas-powered generator.
Most portable generators can be turned on and off using a remote control or a switch located on the generator itself. They also have an automatic shut-off feature if they run out of fuel, which saves money over time because it minimizes wear-and-tear on your battery during use. Standby generators automatically start up when there’s an outage and provide power to essential circuits when needed with no further action required from you.
Portable generators are not connected to the home’s electrical panel, whereas standby generators can be hard-wired or plugged into a transfer switch or power supply panel. Portable generators are powered by gasoline, propane, natural gas or diesel, whereas standby generators are powered by special purpose batteries that don’t run down as fast.
How they work and what they do
Standalone generator systems (also known as a “reserve power system”) operate in a manner comparable to that of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A UPS is designed to keep a computer operational for a period of time in case of interruption of utility power.
The UPS is typically attached to a PC by a cable and serves two primary purposes: it acts as an interface between the PC and the power line on one end, and between the power line and battery on the other.
When utility power fails, an attached piece of equipment will shut down in a systematic manner rather than suddenly. Standby generators are similar in design, but they have a more advanced control system that can work autonomously without human intervention in order to provide near-continuous back-up electrical power for critical systems such as security alarms, medical monitoring equipment or any other non-interrupted essential electrical items.
A standby generator offers several advantages over UPSs:
Reduced installation costs compared to UPSs.
Better load stability since the generator is not attached to the building.
Simpler installation compared to UPSs as there is no need for wiring of protective devices, and fewer changes are required to the building’s electrical system. In most cases, no additional wiring is required.
A standby generator can provide up to 5 hours of emergency power for critical loads and as much as 10-12 KVA continuous power for small offices or personal computers. Because generators are powered by the fuel on hand, they do not require access to utility power in order to start up if an outage occurs. Power starts almost immediately after manual start or automatically once lines and fuel tanks have been filled with fuel: a process that takes less than 15 minutes.
Standby generators have internal controls that allow them to be connected to an existing building power system and to run without any attendant control. This makes them ideal for commercial buildings. They are useful in homes, as well, where they can provide electricity in case of a power failure during bad weather or other emergencies.
Standby generators typically are more expensive than comparable-size portable generators. They require installation by a qualified technician and require an operating cost (fuel) and periodic maintenance (filter replacement, generator inspection). Many standby generators offer UPS capability as well as interfaces to connect computers, printers, fax machines or other devices that need continuous operation during extended power disturbances. The extra cost, however, is generally well-justified by the peace of mind that comes with knowing essential electrical equipment will keep running in the event of a power outage.
Standby generators come in many models and sizes to meet a wide variety of power requirements and price points. For example, a standby generator can be added to an existing building to provide backup power for critical systems or equipment. They can also be installed as part of a new construction project or built into an existing building (home or business) during renovations to provide emergency back-up power generation.
Do I really need a standby generator?
In most situations, a standby generator makes sense for commercial building applications. For example, it is a common practice to install standby generators in hospitals and nursing homes so medical equipment is always available in case of an outage. Standby generators are also the preferred solution for small businesses that rely on uninterrupted electricity to keep computers, security systems and other essential items operating.
Some homeowners, however, opt for standby generators to address occasional power outages resulting from severe storms or hurricanes. Some homeowners feel that the convenience of a backup generator outweighs the minimal expense associated with using it. Some states offer tax incentives to encourage residents (and businesses) to purchase backup generators; these incentives typically are available through government programs based on your income level.
How you choose to use your standby generator will depend on your needs and the value you place on peace of mind. If you’re in an area prone to frequent storms, then a standby generator can help ensure that your family’s basic needs are met even if power gets knocked out. If you rely on expensive equipment to keep your business going, then it makes sense to invest in a standby generator so that down time is minimized and productivity is not compromised.
Choosing the right size generator for your needs
Standby generators come in different sizes and are typically rated according to kilowatts (kW). This is the amount of power they generate or consume at any given moment. For example, a 3 kW standby generator can produce enough electricity for about seven typical home appliances (refrigerator, microwave, TV and so on).
Be sure to check the wattage of each of your appliances before choosing a standby generator to ensure you have enough power. You should also find out how much fuel your generator will consume on an average day. This will help you determine how long your generator needs to run to consume one gallon of fuel. Diesel generators typically consume around 1.5 gallons per hour, while gasoline units use about 1 gallon per hour.
Standby generators are installed near the point of consumption and must have a reliable source of fuel; they require regular maintenance and can be expensive if you don’t take advantage of available incentives or tax breaks that help defray the upfront cost associated with installing a standby generator system.
The same type of standby generator may have different ratings depending on the location where it is installed. For example, a standby generator in a rural area would likely be rated to operate on electricity from a single-phase line, while one in an urban location might be rated for use with three-phase service lines.
Whichever model you choose, you should at least find out what the specific ratings for your appliance are, and whether or not they will work with your power system in order to give yourself peace of mind. Remember, too, that standby generators can take time to turn on so be sure to factor in the amount of time your generator will take to get up and running.
Deciding where you need backup power
Standby generators can be installed as part of a new construction project or as a retrofit onto an existing electrical system. Standby generators must be placed at a location that is readily accessible for servicing and fuel delivery when needed. They are not designed to be moved once they are installed, so you should choose an installation location carefully. Standby generators typically operate on diesel fuel or gasoline and require access through the lid for service and delivery of fuel.
Standby generators require access to an uninterrupted fuel supply. Diesel generators require diesel fuel which is delivered by a fuel truck. A transfer switch will be installed to control the flow of electricity between the utility lines and the generator. These switches are designed to provide either automatic or manual start-up of the standby generator as well as perform a load transfer in conjunction with utility power when available, and locally power loads in case of utility failure.
As such, access to the transfer switch must be maintained in order to properly test and service the generator. In addition, standby generators typically require weekly maintenance and should be inspected prior to any hurricane season or other natural disaster season such as tornado season. Important electrical components such as the engine, generator and inverter can be damaged or destroyed if a generator is not properly maintained.
If you are choosing to install a standby generator as part of a new building project, then it will need to be connected to a transfer switch on site. This switch will allow you to manually operate the generator or automatically turn it on in the event there is an outage at your location (and not at another building with a transfer switch). If you are retrofitting an existing building with a standby generator, then you may have additional options in terms of compatibility with your existing electrical system. In either case, the switching system must be properly maintained and checked periodically for proper operation.
Does a standby generator add value to a home?
A standby generator is a good investment in the home or business if you find yourself regularly losing power during storms or other power outages. Standby generators cost anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 on average, but they can certainly pay for themselves when used to help your business get back up and running quickly after an outage and protect your most valuable equipment (and data) from damage or loss.
If you feel that a standby generator will provide you with the peace of mind you need in a given situation, then it’s probably best to invest in this type of back-up generation system.