With all of our hurricanes and storms, purchasing a generator is practically a requirement of being a Florida resident.
Many start with a smaller portable generator before upgrading to a permanently installed standby unit. The problem is, there are so many options out there for portable generators— determining which generator is truly the “best” for you can be confusing and overwhelming.
Before you make any decisions or even start shopping for a portable generator, here are eight questions to ask:
1. How much power do you need?
This is one of the most important questions to ask before purchasing a portable generator because sometimes a smaller unit just doesn’t cut it!
During a power outage, it’s very unlikely that a portable generator can keep your whole house humming. Most smaller portable units will be able to power several appliances, but a whole home is out of their league.
Take time to evaluate what appliances and devices you would want to power. Then, read our article to determine how many watts your home’s electronics and appliances will need to safely operate.
2. How long do you need your portable generator to run?
There are a few factors that determine a generator’s runtime before needing more fuel. One of the biggest considerations is the fuel tank capacity.
On average, a fairly simple portable generator will have about a 5-gallon fuel tank, giving you approximately seven hours of running time.
Higher-end, more fuel-efficient models can run for hours on a single gallon of fuel, but these are going to be more expensive. Most portable generators use gasoline, while some can utilize liquid propane or natural gas. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks, which will vary with your individual needs. Compare the pros and cons of each generator fuel type here.
There are a number of factors that influence a generator’s run-time, which is why we wrote a whole separate blog on the topic!
3. Will you be using your portable generator frequently or consistently?
Portable generators can be a real life-saver in a pinch, designed to provide short-term power. The keyword here is short-term. Portable generators will run just fine for a few hours or even a day. They are not, however, designed to run continuously, day-after-day, all day.
If you have a power outage and need to supply your home with power for 4-5 days, a portable generator is not the ideal candidate for the job. Overrunning or overworking your portable generator could damage your electronics or the generator itself.
If you’ll rarely be using a generator and just need a few hours’ worth of power to get you by, a portable generator is often a smarter choice than investing in a standby unit.
4. Just how portable do you need your generator to be?
Think about how you plan on using your generator in terms of portability. Will this be a backup for your home and stored in the garage or shed until needed, or will you be taking it with you on camping trips or to a work site?
The general category of “portable” covers basically any generator not permanently installed so they can vary greatly in terms of true portability, ranging from “un-wheeled” and difficult to move to lightweight with easy rollers.
The lighter, more portable options can be more expensive. However, some of the larger portable models have kits available that allow you to add wheels and handles for easier portability— in fact, this is standard for some models.
5. Do you prefer an easy-start generator?
Some more basic portable generators use a starter rope pull design, much like a lawnmower. This requires some upper body strength and just the right pull to get it going. Other mid-range models have a much easier-to-operate push button or turn-key style start.
As with the lightweight portables vs. the larger models, added convenience comes with a heftier price tag, so this is something to consider when making your portable generator selection.
6. Can I use a portable generator during a storm?
Portable generators run on fuel. Just like your car emits carbon monoxide, generators produce exhaust.
Many make the mistake of running portable generators in a closed garage or part of their house, which is a HUGE no-no since carbon monoxide is poisonous and deadly in enclosed spaces.
It’s not safe for your generator itself or your family to run a portable generator in the middle of a hurricane, letting it be exposed to all the elements! Permanently installed standby generators, however, are safely bundled in protective housing so they can run during a storm. With this in mind, a portable unit would be okay to run after the storm has passed to provide power in an open space like your yard or under a tent/covered overhang, just not in the middle of a storm.
Here are a few more important questions to ask when choosing between a home standby generator and a portable unit.
7. How much will a portable generator cost?
Obviously, this is a huge make-or-break for some people, who want an affordable generator. Unfortunately, this isn’t a simple answer. There are a number of factors that will influence your portable generator’s cost, including how high of wattage you’ll need, the quality and the brand of the unit, etc.
Let’s use one of our favorite brands, Generac, for example. Their smaller GP2200i inverter generator is only $549 at the time of writing this article. One of their heavier-duty XT8000EFI Electronic Fuel Injection portable generators is $1,429. Generally, this is a good rule of thumb for most portable units; you can expect to pay between $600 (for lower wattage units) to upwards of $2,000 (for the best portable generator).
Review a side-by-side generator size comparison of Generac vs. Kohler vs. Briggs & Stratton here.
8. How often will a portable generator need to be serviced?
There’s no getting around it. A machine like a portable generator is going to need some level of maintenance and upkeep to keep it performance-ready for when you need it most.
Some models require more extensive and constant maintenance than others— for example, a brushless motor will need less attention than one with brushes. You’ll want to do some research on how often each model you are interested in needs service before making a final decision.
Here are a few important tips for maintaining and servicing your generator on your own (though, we’d be happy to annually inspect it for you!). You’ll be amazed by how simple check-ups on your fuel lines, air filters and more can promote longer longevity for your unit.
See How the Standby Units Stack Up
While portable generators work wonders in a pinch, many Florida homeowners need more reliable, consistent power to prepare for major storms.
You may be surprised by how some of the best portable generators compare in efficiency and price to the permanently installed standby units.
In our Battle of the Home Standby Generators guide, we compare three of the biggest generator brands— Generac, Cummins, and Kohler— looking at the pros and cons of THREE different generator sizes to help you explore all the best options on the market.
Download our free resource today.