Can a Portable Generator Power the Whole House?

It’s a tired axiom, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to weather emergencies. Snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes can knock out the power for days. If you have a portable generator, you don’t have to eat prepackaged food while you freeze in the dark. Portable generators are easy to use, they and offer a ton of value for the money.

What’s the Difference Between a Portable and a Whole-Home Generator?

Whole-house, or stationary, generators are permanent fixtures once they are installed. These generators are massive, and they connect to the home’s existing electrical wiring. Some require propane while others are hooked up to a gas line. Although whole-home generators can handle a high power load that will keep all your major appliances, electronics and lights running, they’re expensive. We’re talking 5 to 10K here, not including professional installation.

Portable generators cost much less than whole-home versions. Ranging from several hundred to $1,000, portable models are affordable for the average homeowner. They are also smaller, which means you can set up one wherever you wish. Due to their smaller size, portable generators can’t power an entire house, but they can keep your refrigerator, a few lights and other essentials working. Most portable generators need gasoline to run; however, some models take both gasoline and propane.

What Determines a Portable Generator’s Size?

A generator’s size is not measured by its exterior dimensions. Instead, it’s measured in watts, which is the amount of electricity the generator produces. You can connect as many appliances to a portable generator as you want, but you can’t exceed the generator’s running watts. Otherwise, you risk damaging the generator and the appliances and electronics connected to it.

How Do I Figure Out the Size of Portable Generator I Need?

Determining the size of portable generator you should buy for your home is easy. It’s just a matter of simple math. Start by writing down what appliances you want to connect to your generator, such as a microwave, a space heater, and a table lamp.

Then, find the wattage each appliance draws – This information is usually etched or printed on the back or the cord of the appliance. Keep in mind that appliances like refrigerators have a surge wattage, which is higher than their running watts. You’ll want to base your calculations off the surge wattage.

Add all the appliances’ watts together, and that figure will tell you what size of portable generator you need. Make sure the portable generator you choose exceeds that number.

What Do Running Watts and Surge Watts Mean?

Running watts are just what the word “running” suggests. They are the number of watts an appliance draws during normal operation. Surge watts, also known as peak watts and startup watts, is the number of watts an appliance uses when you first turn it on. Some appliances draw two times or more power upon startup in comparison to when they’re continuously running. If you don’t account for an appliance’s surge watts, you risk overloading the generator and causing a fire.

How Do I Safely Use My Portable Generator?

You already know about the dangers of overloading a generator. Beyond that, portable generators are perfectly safe as long as you take the proper precautions, and that begins with where you set up the generator. Since portable generators run off combustible fuel, you should only place your generator in a dry, outdoor spot that’s away from areas where exhaust fumes can enter your house, like doors and windows, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

The way you connect an appliance to a generator is also important. Refrain from using an extension cord. The longer the extension cord, the bigger the voltage drop. This may lead to reduced appliance efficiency and an overheated appliance cord. Instead, plug the appliance straight into the portable generator.

What Are the Pros and Cons of an Electric-Start Generator?

Portable generators have one of two start mechanisms – a pull cord or a push button. In comparison to a pull-cord start, an electric-start button is easier to operate, especially when it’s cold outside. However, manufacturers of newer portable generators have improved on the pull-start mechanism, making it more reliable than older models.

How Long Does Gasoline Last?

Without a stabilizer, gasoline won’t degrade for about a month. However, with a stabilizer, you can store gasoline for your portable generator for approximately 2 years. A fuel stabilizer is an additive that extends the lifespan of gasoline by preventing oxidation. In order to prolong the gasoline’s freshness, you should add a stabilizer as soon as you fill the gas tank, not months after the gas has been in storage.

Is It Better to Use Gasoline or Propane?

If you own a dual-fuel portable generator, you have the choice of using either gasoline or propane. While neither fuel is better than the other, each type of fuel offers certain benefits. When it comes to starting your generator in cold temperatures, gasoline is the clear winner. However, propane increases the generator’s runtime, and it burns cleaner than gasoline.

Are Portable Generators Noisy?

There is no such thing as a quiet generator. Of course, some models are louder than others. Manufacturers typically list a generator’s decibel level in its specs, and they measure the sound output 7 meters from the generator. The decibels range from 55 to 85 dBA. Since a portable generator is meant to be placed outside, and you will be inside, the noise it makes is less important than the generator’s performance.

What Is a Transfer Switch, and Why Do I Need One?

A transfer switch is an optional component you can purchase. It automatically transfers power from your home’s circuit box to the generator, so the major appliances connected to the generator don’t get damaged when the electric company restores power. A transfer switch also allows you to power your appliances without using an extension cord. You can still use your portable generator without a transfer switch, but this mechanism does let you provide power to hardwired appliances like a water heater.

Should I Get a Wheel Kit?

Some models come with a wheel kit. If yours didn’t, you can buy one. Wheel kits simply make a portable generator, well, more portable. Instead of lifting it (if your generator doesn’t have wheels) or bending or crouching to pull or push it (if it does have wheels), the wheel kit not only puts the generator on wheels but also elevates the generator, allowing you to move it without hurting your back. A wheel kit is ideal for those who don’t have the upper body strength to move a portable generator on their own.



Recommended Portable Inverter Generators
Honda EU2200IC 2200-Watt Companion Super Quiet Portable Inverter GeneratorChampion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator with Electric StartWEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator, CARB Compliant
HondaChampionWEN
EU2200IC7653356200i
2200-Watt3800-Watt2000-Watt
21 x 20 x 14 in26.3 x 24.8 x 22.9 in18 x 11 x 18 in
46.5 pounds122 pounds48 pounds



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