Should You Buy a Portable Generator?

There are many reasons to buy portable generators, but that doesn’t mean that everyone ought to own one. Before you purchase a generator, you’ll want to have a clear idea about when, where, and how you’ll want to use it. Then you’ll want to balance that use against what you’ll need to pay to get it.

You may end up wondering why it took you so long to get the portable generator you always needed, or you may find that the right generator for the job is simply too expensive. Most of us, however, are finding it harder and harder to be disconnected in the event of an outage; as a result, portable generators are becoming more common than ever.

A $1200 portable home generator might offer 2000 watts of power, which would be ideal for refrigerators, microwaves, small air conditioners, and an array of the smaller devices you need to stay connected. This generator would be light and compact enough to carry, making it an option to use away from the home as well; you could, for example, bring it along when you camp or tailgate. A typical running time might be eight hours for each fueling.

Powering household systems such as heat pumps or water heaters requires a larger generator – 4000 watts at a bare minimum, but more likely 5000 to 7000 watts. A 5000-watt whole-home generator might run about $2500. This generator would be too heavy to carry, but would likely feature wheels that make it easy to move short distances. In addition to more power, this generator would also be able to run for longer periods – perhaps 16 hours between fueling.

Depending on what you plan to power, you may be perfectly content to plug your devices directly into an outlet on your generator. But this isn’t always convenient. Exhaust fumes requires generators to operate outdoors. Connecting household devices may require you to run long extension cords throughout your house and outside to the generator.

One thing you can’t do is plug your generator into a household outlet. This is unsafe, for more reasons than we can list here. If you want to safely power your whole home, you’ll need to install a proper connection – either an interlock kit or a transfer switch. Both of these connections can also allow you to power select areas of your home. Neither is particularly expensive, but both will require the services of a professional electrician. Between equipment and labor, both types of connections will cost a few hundred dollars.

Let’s recap. A generator that can travel with you won’t be big enough to power your home, but will let you power many essentials in it. A generator that can power your home will be too big to travel and will cost at least twice as much as a smaller portable. If you want to power your home (or provide power to outlets), you’ll also need to install either an interlock kit or a transfer switch. Clearly backup power has its price, but when staying connected is no longer an option, it’s a price worth paying.

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