Generators ~ Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy

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Generators ~ Everything You Need to Know about Generator before you buy. When you hear the word generators, what is the first thing that comes to mind? It’s likely you would think of the small appliance that you turn to whenever there is a power outage. But did you know that generators do more than that? They can provide a secondary source of electricity to homes, businesses, hospitals, restaurants and similar establishments. Home backup generators can also provide power in remote areas.

Generators Potential

It is easy to forget how useful generators can be. After all, we only appreciate these machines when there is a power failure. A generator is a very practical piece of equipment that has provided power to the world for over one hundred years.

History of the Generator

Present day generators traces its history to a very simple apparatus created by British scientist, physicists and chemist Michael Faraday in 1831. It was composed of a tube made of neutral material, a coil of wire, bar magnet and was insulated in cotton. Faraday connected that apparatus to a galvanometer which detects electrical current. He realized that the needle of the galvanometer kept moving whenever he moved the magnet back and forth through the coil of wire, even if the latter remained stationary. This suggested that there was electric current flowing in the coil of wire. He later built the Faraday disc, considered as the first electromagnetic generator. It had a copper disc that rotated between the poles of a magnet that looked like a horseshoe, and it produced a small direct current (DC).

Michael Faraday Inventing Generators
Michael Faraday Inventing Generators

Other scientists would eventually pick up from where Faraday left off. A year later, an instrument maker in France named Hippolyte Pixii created the first magneto electric generator applying the same magnetic induction principles postulated by Faraday. Throughout much of the 18th century, however, batteries were the most reliable sources of energy. Electricity was not commercially available until Zenobe Gramme increased the power of generator (also known then as the dynamo) to the point that this appliance produced enough power for commercial applications.

AC Dynamos Generators

Before the turn of the 19th century, dynamos were popular in Europe. Scientists were into the research and design of these appliances. In 1878, the Ganz company started to use AC dynamos in Budapest for small commercial installations. Two years later, Charles Brush helped usher in the electrical age by having 5,000 arc lights in operation. Brush is the man behind Brush Electric Company, one of the forerunners of General Electric. By the 1890s, General Electric and other companies that remain viable today like Westinghouse and Siemens were at the forefront of generator design and manufacturing.

The predecessor of today’s home backup generator was the Kohler electric plant that provided electricity for lights at Wenonah Lodge from 1936 up to the early 1950s. It produced 110 volts and automatically switched on whenever there was a power failure in the area.

Generators Convenience and Comfort

Indeed, Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction and its subsequent application in the design of standby generators has ushered in an era of convenience and comfort. Imagine how great it is to be able to have power in your house even when the entire community is in the dark due to a power outage? Or how wonderful it is to have electricity to power a small refrigerator or low wattage lights while you are camping in the woods? With a generator, anyone can have electricity anytime, anywhere.

What Does a Generator Do?

Portable Electric Generators for Outdoor Recreational Activities

With portable generators camping has become more convenient and safe. The conveniences of modern living like having a refrigerator for safe storage of food and perishables and having a coffee maker to brew your favorite drink in the morning are now possible to enjoy at a rustic campsite, thanks to a portable generator. With a Yamaha generator, you can bring along and use appliances like an electric fan and microwave oven while in the woods. You can also protect yourself and your family even better with low voltage lights powered by a compact electric generator called an inverter generator.

Some ways to use portable generators include:

  • Camping, RV-ing
  • Tailgating
  • Portable power for lights, music, etc.
  • Food trucks

Generators for Business, Commercial and Contractors

This is particularly important for contractors and workers working on construction sites without available electricity. With portable generators, construction workers would be able to operate their tools, including sprayer systems and roofing nailers. Of course, they’ll also have lighting to work indoors and during the night. Small entrepreneurs would also be wise to invest in a generator, especially if their business would be affected by a mid or long-term power outage. 

For example, markets, butcher shops, and restaurants could suffer from tremendous loss during a power outage as the perishables stored in refrigerators and freezers may become spoiled. The same goes for companies that provide Internet-based services, as a power outage can affect their operations even if power is out for only a few hours. Backup electricity source is also essential healthcare providers like small clinics and hospitals.

Reasons to have a generator

“Hurricane Irma is tracking to strike southern Florida head-on, and will “devastate” parts of the U.S. FEMA and Grid operators are bracing for the worse, as more than 4 million people be without power for days and weeks — perhaps even months”

Generators for Backyard Use

Aside from providing backup power during outages, a generator can offer auxiliary electricity for home improvement projects. Portable generators can give backup power for electric powered equipment like saws and drills. These generators can also be used for sanders and grinders as well as work lights and fans. There would be no need to string extension cords out of the back door. Portable generators offer an alternative source of energy for home improvement projects so you can complete the tasks easier.

Backup Generators for Extreme Weather Conditions

A backup generator is a good investment for people who live in areas where severe climate or weather conditions are a threat. A generator is essential for individuals who live in extremely cold climates where a power failure could be lethal, as heaters and home furnace won’t be able to run. With a portable or standby generator, families could use these heat-producing appliances even during a power outage. 

Families who reside in coastal areas, where storms and tornadoes occur, should invest in a generator. Power outages are often caused by storms. A generator can provide backup energy during emergency situations. Having a backup generator would also enable families living in storm-ravaged areas to monitor the latest news and weather updates, since they would have access to information through television and radio.

Generator for Blackouts Comfort, Convenience for Family Members

Perhaps the most compelling reason why people invest in generators is to provide comfort and convenience to their loved ones, especially their children or elderly parents. Power outages can be very stressful. By investing in a generator, families would be able to avoid any unnecessary inconveniences, especially if you need electricity for medical conditions.

Getting the Right Size Generator

Whether you want to have one permanently installed to keep your home running during power outages or a portable one for recreation, it’s important to get the size you need. Consider what you want to power — your reason for wanting a generator — and learn what size generator do I need to find the size right for you.

Types of Generators

As you can see, there are a lot of benefits that you can gain from investing in a generator. Now, let’s look at the two kinds of generators that you can choose from. They are standby, home backup generators and portable generators.

1) Home Backup Generators

There are many reasons to get a home generator. Home backup generators provide a viable, long-term energy source during extended outages that may be caused by storms and hurricanes. There have been instances when a storm can knock down transmission lines, causing utility downtime that may last up to a week or so. During these unfortunate times, your home can source energy from a home backup generators, even when you not at home. 

A backup generator is also referred to as a whole house generator or a standby generator. It is permanently installed on a concrete part of your yard and can give uninterrupted, backup energy for as long as the fuel source last. It looks like a big air-conditioning system. It is connected directly to the electrical panel of the home and powered by fuel supply like diesel, liquid propane, and natural gas. When there is a power failure, an automatic transfer switch disconnects your home from the utility. It then starts up the generator and transfers its power to the electrical panel of your home.

The system is powered by an internal combustion engine often fueled by natural gas, or liquid propane, or diesel. Once power is restored, the automatic transfer switch shuts down the generator. It will automatically reconnect your house to the utility grid. The automatic transfer switch prevents back-feeding energy to the utility grid. This feature helps prevent fires and accidents to utility personnel working to restore power in your area.

How standby home generator systems work
How standby home generator systems work

Backup generators requires maintenance if it is running continuously for hours. A backup generator would need to get serviced after 24 hours of continuous use. And after 10 days, a professional would have to change the generator’s oil and filter. 

Backup Generator Pricing

Prices of backup generators can range from $3,000 to $30,000 depending on the size and output, not including installation. Most likely, you will need to hire a professional to install your standby generator, someone with advanced electrical and plumbing skills, and very familiar with local building codes. It is important to secure permits before you start installation of a backup generator.

Determine the Size of Backup Generator You Need

It is recommended that you determine your family’s needs in an emergency before you shop and buy a standby generator. To give you an idea of the size of the standby generator you need in your home, an entry-level home backup generator has an output of 7 kw to 12 KW. This home backup generator is about the size of a large trash can and can power up to 16 critical loads including two lighting circuits, a refrigerator, and an oven, although not all at once.

A midsize generator has an output of 12 kw to 20 KW. It can simultaneously power four lighting circuits, a refrigerator, a well pump, a television, desktop computer, laptop, and a central AC. A standout feature of this kind of generator is load-shedding function that shuts down unimportant appliances, so it can power up high priority circuits.

A large generator has an output of up to 48 KW. This type of home backup generator can power an entire house. It is important to select the correct size for your home.

Types of Standby Generators

There are two types of standby generators—alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) generators. Both produce currents based on the fundamental principles of electromagnetic induction of Faraday. As Faraday discovered in 1831 when he moved a magnet back and forth through a core of wire, moving a magnet near a stationary wire can create a steady flow of electrons. Standby generators use electromagnetic induction to change mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Alternating Current (AC) Generators ~ Inverter Generator

In an AC generator, the electrical current occasionally reverses direction. This is due to the design of the generator, with the north and south poles of the magnet causing the current to flow in opposite directions. AC Inverter generators are typically used in homes. They enable you to power small motors and electrical appliances like food mixers, juicers, and vacuum cleaners. Inverter generators are the way to go for my family.

Direct Current (DC) Generators

The current flows in just one direction in a DC generator. This is because the coil through which the current flows is rotating in a fixed field. DC generators are used for powering large electric motors like those used in subway systems.


Home Standby Generators
Home Standby Generators

Home Backup Generators – What’s best for my home?

Now that you are familiar with the types of generators, the next question is: What is the most appropriate unit for your home? To answer that question, you need to take in several considerations. Your budget would be one of the most important factors to consider. How much are you willing to spend for a home generator? Do you have enough money to spend on an expensive standby generator? You ought to keep in mind that aside from the cost of the unit itself, a standby generator also requires professional installation and regular maintenance.

Learn about generators that can power an entire home:

Power Requirements for Your Home Generator

You must also estimate the power requirements at home to determine the size of generator that you will buy. You can get the exact wattage of your appliances by referring to the owner’s manual. Add up the wattage and multiply it by two to determine the estimated wattage you need at home. If you are to get a standby generator, make sure that it has an automatic transfer switch. This will detect a power outage and turn on the generator. It should also have an automatic voltage regulator. This will stop voltage fluctuations that may damage appliances like home theater sound system, television, and computer. A quality standby generator must also have an auto safety shutdown. It would activate during unsafe operating conditions like low coolant, low oil pressure, and low oil levels. It must also have circuit breakers to prevent damage to connected equipment. Liquid cooling will make the generator run quietly and reliably.

2) Portable Generator

Unlike the standby generator which is permanently installed in the backyard, a portable generator is compact and mobile enough to be brought to various places like campsites, job sites, and even in your backyard. It is also cheaper than a standby generator, with a decent portable unit costing around $400 – $600. And unlike a standby generator, it does not require installation time. It can provide power for only a few hours, and for a handful of appliances, not like its bigger counterpart.

How Do Portable Generators Work?

A portable generator has to be manually started during a power outage. This differs from a standby type that would start on its own once it detects that there is a power failure. Another difference is that a portable generator is usually powered by gasoline while a standby generator is powered by natural gas or liquid propane. Although a portable generator may appear to have very modest features when compared to a standby generator, it does have its uses. Portable generators can provide 3KW to 10KW of power. That output should be enough to power household essentials like water pump, several lights, a heater, and even a refrigerator. 

The electricity generated by the portable generator type can come in handy during an hour or so of power outage. Just don’t expect the smaller generators to power the full size AC or your plasma television. But inverter generators can very easily power portable air conditioner.

Choosing a Portable Generator

If you choose a portable generator, choose one with at least 5 KW. That output would be enough to power several lights and a refrigerator so your food won’t become spoiled. You’d also need to access the generator’s weight, dimensions, handle and wheel type if you intend to transport it regularly. Once you have bought a home generator, keep in mind basic safety tips. For example, do not add gas while the portable generator is running. You must never overload a generator. 

Remember to always use heavy duty extension cords to prevent equipment damage and fires. Having a generator at home can give you peace of mind knowing that you can have backup power in case of a power outage. Generators let us enjoy simple conveniences like lights and electric fans while camping out. Generators can make our lives a little more comfortable.

Generators for Camping and Recreation

Portable generators can also provide backup power during camping trips. The electricity generated by these devices should be enough to charge your phone, or to power a grill. Its output can energize several lights and an electric fan. And because it is cheap, a portable generator appeals to most budget-conscious buyers. Prices vary depending on the output of the generator. There are companies who make quieter and more environmentally-friendly generators as well.

Recommended Portable Generators

One of the most important things to consider when researching portable generators is what is the primary reason you want it and if you want a dual fuel or tri fuel source. There are many best portable generators you can buy for general backup home power during power outages. They will power several appliances. 

Keep thinking about what is the reason you want a portable generator. Likely, you will find other purposes but consider your main reason. Perhaps it’s to have backup power for a CPAP machine or other medical devices when the power goes out. Or maybe it’s so you can save the food in your refrigerator and freezer.

Perhaps you want to take it camping, RV-ing, or to have portable electricity for tailgating or a booth at an event. Do you want to power lights and music at a party? Maybe you want to use it to work on jobs on your property or in your garage. Whatever the reason, be sure to get one big enough to meet the requirements of what you want to power. 

In addition to needing the budget to buy a generator, you’ll also need to consider the fuel source and access to it. You will need a plan and learn how to store a generator as well as an understanding of maintenance requirements. If you are considering a large portable generator for recreation or to bring to jobsites, you will need a means to transport it to wherever you want to use it. In addition, you may need to be able to lift it in and out of the vehicle.

Keep reading to learn all about generators:

16 thoughts on “Generators ~ Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy”

  1. I wanted to thank you for the interesting article about generators. You mentioned that portable generators can help give backup power for electric powered equipment. I’m kind of interested to learn if a portable generator can come in any size.

  2. It makes sense that portable generators would be a great option for construction workers who have a lot of tools that need to work in spots that don’t have direct access to electricity. My husband and I are constructing a house in a fairly rural area, so our contractors will likely have to use generators to power a lot of their tools. Hopefully they can find a great company to rent or buy them from.

  3. Once power is restored, will my portable generator shut off after I use my interlock kit to turn appliances back on? What do I do with the portable generator? Turn key off and open the choke?

  4. Please advise steps to follow with portable generator once power is restored and I use interlock to turn appliances back on. What do I then do with the portable generator? Does it shut off automatically?

  5. I just purchased a non-inverter type generator for weather-related power outages at home. Since my purchase, I’ve been reading that these types of generators can destroy refrigerators and flat-screen TV’s. What type of add-on equipment should I get to get to improve the quality of the power produced by this generator? I hear people talking about “line conditioners” and “pure sine wave inverters” but have yet to find out what these items actually do, how to use them, and if both types of equipment are needed or do they both do the same job in different ways. Any advice? Many thanks for your time.

  6. I highly recommend buying a pure sine wave inverter. I have this both a Pure Sine Wave inverter and a Modified Sine Wave Inverter – Energizer 3000 Watt 12V Power Modified Sine Wave Inverter and the WZRELB 3000w Pure Sine Wave Solar Power Inverter. Both are excellent, but if and when I buy another inverter or replace one of these I will go with a 2,000 watt version. I just need the extra wattage capabilities personally.

  7. 5000kW seems a little much for a few lights and a refrigerator (unless you produce live theatre in your home).
    “If you choose a portable generator, choose one with at least 5,000 KW”

    Are you sure?

  8. i am interested in a 6000 watt generator. i have 2 subpanels and am having some cost and complication installing a transfer switch and am considering instead using the generator by plugging appliances into the outlets on the generator. but how then would i connect things that dont have a plug? like a septic pump, well pump, electric heater, electric range, electric hot water heater, etc, some of which might be on 240 volt circuits. i might need to power all of them (one at a time of course) during an outage. thanks for any advice.

  9. You made a good point that generators would be invaluable in providing backup power for some tools like chainsaws. The place where I live tend to get some power interruptions when there are strong winds coming from the coast. With the right generator equipment, such interruption would not be able to stop me from tending to my trees when they need pruning.

  10. I emailed Generac and asked them your question. They responded with: The Generac guardian 22kw HSB unit has a Generac G-Force 1000 Series 999cc engine. The Generac G-Force engines are purpose-built, pressure-lubricated engines capable of handling the rigors of generator use, resulting in power that’s more reliable and requires less routine maintenance than any competitive engine.

    Generac didn’t answer about where the 22kw engine is made. I’m emailing you the spec sheet for the 22KW unit that gives more detailed specs on the engine.

  11. Thanks for explaining that different kinds of currents can also be utilized on commercial building generators. I’d like to get a commercial building generator installation services soon because backup power might be necessary for a commercial property that I bought recently. That might be a good contingency to have when I start my own business with that property as its base of operations.

  12. It’s interesting to know that portability is also a factor to consider when it comes to getting new home generators. I’d like to get one installed in my home soon because I’d like to be more prepared for stormy days. There are times when my local area experiences a blackout whenever the winds are too strong.

  13. Very well written article. I love how you provided complete information when it comes to generators. Just a question, how much gas does a gas generator usually need?

  14. A portable gas generator can run for 6 hours to approximately 12 hours on a full tank of gas.

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