There shouldn’t be any dilemma when choosing between a portable and a standby generator. Both serve the same purpose, yes, but the execution varies in terms of run time, continuousness, and stress endurance. Even when they perform the same task, their cost and convenience are as further apart as one can expect, most portable generators run on gasoline and may quickly burn through 10-20gallons of gasoline each day. However, it will depend more on things like usage, load, and user requirements. There are portable generators that run on propane, but they are not as common as gasoline ones. Most of the portable generators also tend to be noisy while producing lesser output than a standby generator. Inverter generators are much quieter, and they also provide clean energy, they cost more but sometimes aren’t able to provide for people who need more energy to power their houses and their preferred peripherals. We will leave out inverter generators for now as the Inverter generator is a topic for another article. You can read up more on them here.
Another thing to note about the portable generator is that they need to be turned on manually during a power outage. If the power outage happens during bad weather, you will have to protect the portable generator with a model-specific cover. You can’t keep portable generators inside your home or garage because it can cause Carbon Monoxide poisoning that can be potentially deathly. All portable generators produce carbon monoxide, and if you end up keeping the generator in an enclosed area, CO accumulation takes place. It has no smell or visual cue, making it even more deadly. Read “Generator Safety Tips” for better insight on the matter.
As for Standby generators, they are permanently placed by a professional. Once set, stationary generators (another name for standby generators, also known as full house and whole house generators) are accompanied by insulated weatherproof protection cover housing. The cover keeps the generator away from any external harm like rain and storm. Standby generators don’t need to be turned on manually in the occasion of a power outage or blackout, and they run on propane. There are advantages to propane-based generators that we will discuss later on in this article. They can also utilize natural gas, allowing them to operate for days and weeks on end. By using natural gas, the standby generators can run indefinitely. However, the advantages of a whole-house standby generator come with a caveat; their price is higher. Although they cost more, they are considered the gold standard of backup power. They can outperform all other generator variations in power production and output. Despite all the factors, people, most of them will opt for the typical portable generators for their price.
Portable Generator’s Advantages and Disadvantages
A typical portable generator that produces 3000 watts to 8000 watts will cost around 400USD to 2000USD. They will use anywhere around 10-20 gallons of gasoline per day, depending on the load.
Portable generators are cheaper, and they come in variable price ranges. They need to be connected to your home’s circuit breaker panel with a transfer switch. What is a transfer switch? You may ask. A transfer switch is like a controller for your portable generator that adds various features to the generator and adds convenience and safety.
Some portable generators can power almost equivalent to a standby generator, and they have built-in outlets allowing for direct connection of extension cords in the event that you haven’t installed a transfer switch, which we don’t recommend.
A portable generator requires more manual operation and close monitor, and you must be near the generator to start it. You will have to wheel it out and connect it to the transfer switch whenever a power outage occurs. The typical portable generator also requires proper storage of gasoline, which requires a fuel stabilizer to ensure consistent fuel quality. Bad fuel can cause a whole set of issues. So, either store fuel with a stabilizer to clean up the fuel before use or be wary of buying fuel frequently.
In contrast, a standby generator runs automatically when a power outage happens, and the further inconvenience that is accompanied by typical portable generators include gasoline usage. Since a tank can only hold so much gasoline in it, you have to fill it up from time to time, and then there’s CO poisoning to be wary of, but it’s an easy fix, fortunately. It’s better to place portable generators 10-20 feet away from your home. Over the years, many generators have adopted new features like the CO detection meters and auto shutdown features when a high level of CO accumulation is found. A portable generator requires protection in the form of generator tents or covers to save it from water, rain, and other disasters. There are various ways to make DIY enclosures for your generators, and we have already made some guides regarding DIY generator box and covers as well as different DIY methods to calm down a noisy generator.
Standby Generator’s Advantages and Disadvantages
A typical standby generator will cost anywhere from 6000$ to 10,000$ with the installation. The output will range somewhere around 10,000 watts and up. Generators like these will require around 3000$ to 5000$ without installation that can power an entire house. The expense on the installation itself is somewhere around 2000$ to 4000$, which is a turn off for many buyers.
However, compared to portable generators and inverter generators that can power some lights and a handful of appliances, a standby generator can power the whole house as to why it’s also called whole house generators. Standby generators are much quieter than portable generators, and they are a hands-free experience as they turn on automatically when there’s a power cut. They are safer than portable generators and have an automatic operation, as mentioned, making it much more convenient but at the cost of higher expense. It’s important to note that all standby generators must be installed with the help of a professional, which costs a good sum. Standby generators are more premium, and they last for a long time, about a decade and a half or more. Not to mention you can sell these standby generators, and it will net you half the price you bought it for. Maintenance, much like the standby generator, is also necessary for a standby generator, but it’s required much less frequently. Only once every two years you need to get a professional to maintain it for you. In places like hospitals and homes where vital medical equipment requires uninterrupted operating, a standby generator has no alternative. These types of generators also increase your property value. In some cases, standby generators have a return of investment of around 54%
Standby generator or portable generator Uses
Portable generators have a wide selection range. They come in various types and sizes, which ultimately determines the run time of their operation at any given time. In an ideal portable generator, you would want it to run your lights, fans, and sometimes refrigerator.
Some portable generators are big enough to handle electric stove and microwave. You might sometimes have to turn one appliance off for the other to run like turning off the water heater to run your stove or turning off the fridge to run your microwave or stove. Some appliances require starting power, whereas all devices require running power.
Knowing the difference between them is pretty important as getting a generator to figure out it lacks the starting power to power one of your vital appliances would prove to be a disaster. Learn about generator starting power and running power here. If you get a portable generator, make sure you have a transfer switch as it makes things much smoother and safer.
Standby generators also do range in sizes but have lower size-diversity than portable generators and inverter generators. Most of these generators have a total power load, and if you run more equipment that exceeds the capacity of the load, it can cause the standby generator to shut off. When you get your standby generator, talk to the experts about the power use of your home, the available headroom you might need, and the experts will choose the best standby generator for you. You can also figure out your home power requirement using a Power Calculator. A Standby generator can power things like a water tank, water pump, water heater, furnace, lights, fans, and other appliances. However, a generator as powerful as this still might not be able to handle stoves and microwaves at the same time when it’s operating other heavy appliances.
Which one’s for you? Standby generator or portable generator?
The decision will vary from person to person as it depends on your use case.
What would you like to power?
How much power do you need?
You can also make a list of the equipment you cannot do without and balance the comfort against safety and your overall budget. Use a power calculator to assess the required wattage for your need and then proceed to choose a generator as a rough estimate refrigerator requires around 600 watts where lights require 80 watts and heaters require something like 2000 watts.
Portable generators are measured in watts, and standby generator sizes have a different metric due to their huge disparity in power output compared to a portable generator. They are measured in kilowatts; one KW equals one thousand watts. If you are hunting for a standby generator, divide your sum by 1000. If you have a power requirement of 4000-6000 watts, then a portable generator will be more prevalent.
Some portable generators are able to provide monstrous outputs like the 12,000-watt portable generators almost compete against some of the standby generators. Usually, if you have a requirement of 12,000 watts or higher, opt for a standby generator if it fits your budget.