Portable Generators

by The Carpenter

An electric generator can serve several regular purposes as well as being a literal lifesaver in an emergency. The basic concept is that an engine, usually powered by gasoline, is run to create electrical power that can then be used in any electrical appliance or tool. They are routine equipment on job construction sites to power the tools of the industry in places that are not yet wired to the grid. Many people use them in their homes either to supplement their energy needs or to provide power in an emergency where regular electrical services are shut down.

The least expensive generators are the two stroke (cylinder) motors that run on gasoline with four stroke generators of this type being mid-range in cost. While most generators run on gasoline, propane and natural gas units are available and some newer models even use solar power. The greatest problems with gasoline driven generators include the noise, smell, fuel costs, and the toxic fumes emitted. When considering one of these units, check not only the exhaust vents of the generator but the fume removal system where you will be running it.

Choosing the size of unit you will require involves finding out how much electrical power you need to have generated and for how long. Since most equipment ratings are based on maximum output and efficiency, remember to add a little extra for the usual less than perfect conditions the generator will be working in.

The smallest generators produce between 750 watts and 3,500. This is usually sufficient for a couple of appliances and lights. If your equipment cannot safely handle power fluctuations, an inverter generator that provides a steady flow will be required. Most mid-range generators will provide between 4,000 and 8,000 watts which is sufficient for emergency power to a small, up to 3,000 square foot, home. For larger dwellings and those who still want numerous appliances including air conditioning to run from the generator, the large 10,000 to 17,500 watt generators will be required.

A rule of thumb way to determine how much power your generator will need to produce can be found by checking your circuit box. Add up all the amps from the circuits you will want to keep running and multiple by 100 then add a little extra to cover start up surges.

You will need to determine what type and how many transfer switches you will need. As a minimum, two 120 volt AC switches and a DC outlet for a vehicle, should be included. If you have heavy equipment or appliances that use 220 volts, make sure the transfer switch size is included or that one can be added.

Check for the environmental compliance on the generator you are looking to purchase. Those that conform to the California Air Resources Board requirements (CARB) will be less polluting and acceptable throughout all 50 states. Check the decibel level. Most generators run between 47 and 79 decibels. Local sound ordinances may limit the model and size of generator you can legally run in a given area.

If you require more long-term generated power, the addition of a storage battery array may need to be added to the list. By using the generator to charge batteries that then provide power to your appliances, you may be able to save on fuel costs by not having to run the generator all the time.

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