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Portable Generators: Superstorm Salvation For The Household

Portable generators vary from basic units for sump pumps and fridges, to large units that can run a whole house with A/C. We explain what’s important when choosing one.
Generator Energized House

With storms and weather events that intensify with every passing year, power outages lasting for extended periods of time have become commonplace - a problem that's only going to get worse in the future. When power outages hit, hot water heaters, heating systems, kitchen appliances, basement pumps, security alarms, and other items that use electricity as their lifeblood are rendered useless. You're left literally powerless to control your environment against extreme temperatures, and you have no way to stop flooding and property damage that tend to go hand-in-hand with heavy storms.

And if you have a business which depends on running equipment and computers, you’re looking at a significant financial setback. While we all wish power companies would make efforts to bury power lines underground so power grids won’t be affected, the reality is such improvements are always deemed “prohibitively expensive” when push comes to shove.

Flooded Basement During Storm
When power goes out during a storm, sump pumps are rendered useless. A backup generator prevents this by supplying power when you most need it.

Portable generators are an effective solution to power outages, and come in different sizes and strengths to meet all kinds of needs. From small- to medium-size ones that can run survival appliances to large ones that can power multiple rooms to extra-large ones that can power an entire home (with air conditioning), portable generators are more affordable than you think – especially when compared to the costs of lost productivity and property damage.

In this article, we’ll discuss factors that are important to consider when shopping for any generator, and we’ll look at some of the products we offer in the Portable Generators section of our website. Whether you prefer gasoline or diesel power, we’ve got you covered.

Specifics To Consider When Buying Any Generator

Running vs. Peak Watts

Current Electricity

Running (rated) watts is the measurement of electricity the generator can put out continuously in a steady stream in order to keep items running. Starting (peak) watts refers to a maximum higher load a generator can temporarily put out for a few seconds in order to satisfy the higher draw needed for motor-driven items when they start. That includes things such as refrigerators, sump pumps, power tools, and air conditioners to name a few.

While generators are often marketed with titles that refer only to peak wattage, we’ll use running watts as the main measuring stick in this article. Next to each generator we mention by name, we’ll highlight both the running wattage and peak wattage in parenthesis. For example, “(8,000/10,500 watts)” signifies a rating of 8,000 running watts and 10,500 peak watts.


Engine Piston Displacement

This is a standard measurement of engine size, based on cubic centimeters of piston displacement volume. Automobile engines use this same measuring metric – for example, a 2.0-liter engine equates to 2,000 CCs. A smaller, less powerful generator motor may have a size of 80 CCs, while a very powerful one may be sized well over 500 CCs.

Gasoline-powered generator motors typically feature a “2-stroke” engine design, similar to most basic lawnmowers. As generator prices increase, you’re more likely to find sophisticated “4-stroke” layouts similar to automobile engines. 2-stroke engines pollute more, use slightly more fuel, and may make more noise for their size. Generators that feature a 4-stroke design usually always advertise that fact - so unless you see it mentioned, you’re getting a 2-stroke engine.

Run Time

Run Time

Unless stated otherwise, run time is measured in the number of hours a generator will run on a 100%-full fuel tank, when operating at 50% load capacity. As electrical draw increases, run times will usually decrease.

Fuel Type

Champion Fulfillment Dual Fuel Generator
The Champion Fulfillment Dual Fuel Generator.

While most portable generators are designed to run on gasoline only, we do offer a selection that can run on both gasoline and propane (not at the same time). We've even got several designed for diesel fuel only. Note that when running a "dual fuel" generator on propane, wattage output and run time will be lower by a small margin. When looking through our section, "Dual Fuel" generators will be easy to spot because those words will be in the actual product titles when they apply.

Auxiliary Power Ports

DC Outlet And Power Jack
Shown here is a typical "12-volt" DC outlet and power jack.

In addition to a main power supply output line, portable generators are equipped with extra power ports to operate smaller power devices. Typically, one or more power ports that put out 120 volts of alternating current (AC) and/or 12-volts of direct current (DC) will be present, along with 3-prong household style electric outlets. Look for extra power ports when shopping for generators, because they can prove helpful in an emergency keeping flashlights and cellphones charged.

Electric Start vs. Pull (Recoil) Start

Most generators are equipped with a pull cord that’s used to manually start the generator. This is described as “recoil” start, and is similar to basic lawnmowers, power saws, etc. Larger generators may offer an electric starting motor as standard or optional equipment. Keeping a small trickle charger on hand to keep the starter battery from dying may also be a good idea. As an emergency backup measure, many generators with push button starters are also equipped with a pull cord.

Recoil Start

Operating Decibels (dB)

Worker In Noisy Environment

Generators typically come with a decibel rating to give you an idea how much noise they make while operating. Decibels are used to measure how loud a sound is. For perspective, a whisper is usually around 15 decibels, a normal conversation takes place around 60 decibels, a gasoline-powered lawnmower generates 90 decibels, a car horn generates around 110 decibels, and a gun shot can generate 140 decibels or more.

Low Oil Warning Light vs. Automatic Shut-off

Because motor oil is essential to sustained operation of any gasoline-powered engine, all generators are equipped with a sensor to detect if the amount of oil in the reservoir has reached a dangerously low level. On lower-priced generators, such a sensor will trigger a warning light only and the engine will keep running. However, others may be equipped with an automatic cut-off switch if the sensor determines oil is too low. Keep this feature in mind when determining what type of operation meets your needs best.

Small Generators

Pulsar Gas Stage 2 Generator
"Small" generators that generate under 3,000 watts are best suited to camping, tailgating, and marine applications. Shown here is the Pulsar 1200W Generator.

Generators considered “small” (below 3000 watts) are best suited to camping, tailgating, and marine applications where powering one or two electric lights and small appliances is the only concern. These are not recommended for home or office use. We won’t focus on small generators in this article, but we do offer a number of these as well. For best value, there’s the Pulsar Gas Stage 2 Generator (900/1,200 watts), the 4-stroke Champion Fulfillment Portable Gas-Powered Generator (beginning at 1,200/1,500 watts), and the Pulsar 1200W Gas Generator (850/1,200 watts).

Medium-Size Generators

“Medium” size generators that put out between 3,000 – 6,000 running watts can power basic survival appliances in the home such as a furnace fan, refrigerator, and sump pump. If using a generator at the low end of this range, it’s best to alternate the use of these items. Generators rated closer to 6,000 watts are better equipped to run all of these devices at the same time because they can handle higher voltage draws that occur when electric motors kick on periodically.

Snap-On Medium-Size Generators
“Medium-size” generators (3,000 – 6,000 watts) can power basic survival appliances in the home such as a furnace fan, refrigerator, and sump pump.
Pulsar 7000W Diesel Generator With Electric Start
If you prefer the cool-running efficiency of diesel fuel, we’ve got the Pulsar 7000W Diesel Generator with Electric Start.

Examples of medium range generators we offer are the Pulsar PG4500C Generator (3,500/4,500 watts), the Champion Fulfillment Dual Fuel Portable Generator (3,800/4,750 watts when using gasoline), the Yamaha 4500W Generator (4,000/4,500 watts), and the Cummins Onan 5500W Generator (5,500/5,500 watts). If you prefer the cool-running efficiency of diesel fuel, we’ve got the Pulsar 7000W Diesel Generator with Electric Start (5,500/7,000 watts).

Large-Size Generators

“Large” generators typically put out 6,000 – 9,500 watts and are designed to work best when connected to manual transfer switches that can temporarily supply power to 10 or so circuits in your home’s main electrical relay panel. This allows a generator to provide power for a number of rooms in an average-sized home in addition to survival equipment we discussed in earlier paragraphs. However, generators at this level don’t have the peak wattage needed to crank up most central air conditioning units. Large generators typically have engines of 400 CCs or larger, fuel tanks that hold 8 gallons or more, and often come with standard electric push-button starting.

Large-Size Generator
Briggs Stratton Elite Series Portable Generator
The Briggs & Stratton Elite Series Portable Generator.

Some examples of generators we offer in this range are the Pulsar Dual Fuel Generator (6,000/7,500 watts when using gasoline), the Briggs & Stratton Elite Series Portable Generator (8,000/10,000 watts), and the Pulsar PG10000 Gas Generator (8,000/10,000 watts).

Extra Large-Size Generators

When you're looking to bring a standard-sized house up to full power and run a central air conditioning unit, you'll want nothing less than an extra-large size portable generator with 10,000+ running watts. If you've got a smaller house and a smaller a/c unit (3 tons), generators such as the 4-stroke Generac XP10000E With Port Generator (10,000/12,000 watts) and the Goodall 67-330 Industrial AC Generator (11,500/13,000 watts) with an advanced 4-stroke engine made by Subaru will get the job done.

Goodall 67-330 Industrial AC Generator
The Goodall 67-330 Industrial AC Generator.
Generac GP17500E Portable Generator
The Generac GP17500E is the most powerful portable generator we offer. With 17,500 running watts (26,250 peak), it can easily power most homes and central air conditioning units.

Moving up to the most powerful portable generators we offer, we’ve got two 4-stroke gasoline generators by Generac – both of which can easily start a 5-ton central air conditioner and power 15-16 household circuits. Because these are purpose-built, they will not put a huge dent in your wallet because they’re value priced under $3,000. Choose the Generac GP15000E (15,000/22,500 watts) model or the GP17500E (17,500/26,250 watts).

If you’re not sure how big your air conditioner is, the label on it should specify a measurement of tons, BTUs, or amps. A “ton” refers to the 1-hour cooling ability of an air conditioner, which usually can cool a space of 400-700 square feet depending on how well insulated a home is. 1 ton equals 12,000 BTUs, and residential air conditioning units are usually sold in ½-ton increments from 1.5 – 5.0 tons. If the label on your air conditioner is not present, look at the breaker switch on your home’s main circuit panel that’s used for the air conditioner. Most air conditioners use either a 30-, 40-, or 50-amp circuit breaker. Once you see the size of the breaker, you can determine the size of a generator you’ll need to run it (see the chart below).

Minimum Wattage Ratings Chart
If you’re not sure how “big” your air conditioner is, the label on it should specify either tons, BTUs, or amps. Shown here is a quick-reference chart with minimum wattage ratings you should look for in a generator. For example, 14kW = 14,000 watts. These wattage ratings are based on peak use when the system kicks on.
Portable Generators Product Options
If you see a gray “Product Options” box in the right-hand corner of the screen when you’re looking at any of the generators we offer, that means there’s more multiple versions available – typically with different wattages.

Once you have a portable generator at your home, you'll enjoy the security of knowing you'll never have to suffer through loss of important electrical needs during a lengthy power outage. Freezing temperatures, spoiled food, dead cellphones, pitch black rooms, and flooded basements should be worries that you can put in your past. We strongly urge you to follow all safety guidelines outlined by the manufacturer of any generator you purchase, wheeling it outdoors during any time it will be in use to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. While you may rarely need it, we trust that you will feel more secure simply knowing that your power generator always stands ready to serve.

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