12 Things to Look for When Buying a Generator

Last Updated: August 8, 2022
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Whether you’re planning for an emergency, need to power a job site, or want to use a portable generator for recreational purposes, there is a lot to think about when buying a portable generator.

To assist you filter through the plethora of possibilities available, we’ve compiled a list of what our expert team looks for when looking for a new one.

What to Look for When Buying a Generator?

1. Types of Generators

There are several types of generator to choose from. Home generators are permanently installed, can run on natural gas or propane, and turn on automatically during a power outage.

Depending on the size of the generator, it can be carried and can be found in a variety of sizes. Some should be left on your property as a backup power source, while others are better suited for transportation to the tailgate party.

Indoor generators a.k.a portable power stations have big batteries that store electricity for when you need it, making them the only alternative for someone who lives in an apartment and cannot run a generator securely outside.

2. Fuel Type

The most prevalent are gas generators. Fuel is plentiful, except during the panic preceding up to and following major hurricanes. Diesel generators offer superior fuel efficiency if you want to spend the extra money. You will also get rid of the blocked carburetor, which seems to get stuck at the worst of times. Diesel is a good choice if you’re looking for a whole-house generator. Diesel is not always easy to come by as gasoline.

A propane generators or dual fuel generators are another alternative. If you want to use a more eco-friendly fuel source and don’t mind it being a little more complicated, then it’s a good option.

The advantages of battery-powered indoor generators include being able to run quietly, eco-friendly, and being able to recharged via solar panels. But they’re expensive, take a long time to charge, and sometimes don’t have enough power.

3. Surge Watts and Outlets

It’s important to figure out the size of generator that will work best for your needs before you buy one. That means you’ll need to figure out how much power you’ll need. Your refrigerator may only require 700 watts of power to operate, but what happens when it requires 2100 watts of starter power? Ensure that you know the startup and running wattages you will need to power the equipment you plan to connect to the generator.

The other side of the question is what kind of outlets you require. Smaller inverter generators will typically have two 120V AC outlets and possibly two USB ports. When you reach 4000 watts, you’ll notice 240V plugs appear alongside more 120V outlets. If you want an electrician to wire your generator directly into your panel, you’ll need a 240V plug. Because you will be using your generator outside, check for one with GFCI protected outlets.

4. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)

The waveform is important if you intend to run sensitive electronic devices such as laptops or lab equipment. In general, total harmonic distortion should be less than 6% to avoid harming electrical circuits. It is a more consistent and predictable level of voltage, often known as “clean power” or “pure sine wave.”

Pure sine wave generators are more expensive and typically seen in lower-wattage models with few exception.

By the way, not all battery inverters have low THD. Some generate square waves. If you know you require clean power, look into the requirements.

5. Occasional or Regular Use

Most generators come with a consumer warranty that covers you for several years. Any renowned brand will suitable for emergency or recreational use.

If you have a team that requires a generator almost every day, you’ll be better off searching for a model with a genuine commercial engine. Not only will it be a better fit, but you’ll also probably get a warranty that lasts a lot longer than a year. The obvious disadvantage is that these are usually more expensive.

6. Noise Level

A silent design is possible for smaller generators. There are some that are quieter than usual. If you’re tailgating or camping in an area where generators are allowed, your neighbors will enjoy it. There isn’t much in the “less noise” class by the time you get to the 4500 watt class. The source of the fuel is a factor to consider. Diesel engines make more noise than gas engines.

7. Fuel Tank & Runtime

If you have a larger fuel tank you can go longer. That is clear. A fuel tank can provide up to 8 hours of operation at 50% load for most generators. If you use less power, you’ll run longer; if you use more, the fuel will run out faster. It will become heavier with a full tank of gas though. There are also gas and plastic fuel tanks. Both types have advantages and disadvantages. We like plastic because it doesn’t have corrosion issues.

8. Manual or Electric Start

If you prefer pulling a recoil rope on an engine, you should avoid the electronic start. If you can afford the extra cost, electric start engines are an excellent choice. Most portable generators still use lead-acid batteries similar to the ones found in automobiles. There are some with there are some lithium-ion. Make sure the battery is fully charged before you use it. If the charging point is left plugged in between uses, most generators will be fine.

9. Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)

Electronic Fuel Injection is an excellent feature to have. Carburetors are no longer required. You can still have problems if you do not maintain it, but none of them will be caused by a clogged carburetor. Your generator will start easily in the winter.  

10. Carbon Monoxide Detection

Several manufacturers have generators with carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in them. There is a plan to implement it across their entire portfolio by Honda. If the levels of carbon monoxide around the engine become too high, these can be used to turn it off. They are more effective in preventing CO-related illness and death than the ones you put in your home. The industry appears to be moving in the direction of integrating this feature in newer models.

11. Hook Bar

If you are buying a portable generator for commercial or industrial use, you will most likely need to move it to a higher floor at some point. A lift hook bar can provide a significant advantage that can save you time and effort.

12. Wheel Kit

Despite the fact that generators are large and heavy, not all of them include a wheel kit. Check twice before you buy one because some stores will require you to buy it separately. There are generators available with two or four wheels. You can buy aftermarket generator dolly kits to add wheels to a model that doesn’t have them.

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I am a mechanical engineer with years of experience working on Internal combustion engine and fixing electrical and mechanical systems, generators, transfer switches, and equipment related to storm water and sewage pumping stations.