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Portable Generators vs. Standby Generators: Know the Difference

Portable GeneratorsWhether it's a severe storm during the summer or snow piling up outside in the dead of winter, you need backup whenever the power goes out in your home. The most practical solution is a home generator. Generators can provide enough power to run anything from a toaster to an entire home. Which type of generator is best for your home is something that only you can decide. Although most generators essentially work the same, they generally fall into two categories: portable generators and standby generators. Each has their own unique set of features and benefits. Below is a short description of both.

Portable Generators

Although it's important to consider how much you can afford when choosing a generator, there are other variable that can help you make the right decision. Portable generators range anywhere from small to mid-size and can be 'wheeled out' to any location in a relatively short amount of time. They are easy to set up, easy to connect to, and easy to start. They can be stored almost anywhere in a cool dry area and are easily accessible. The average price range for a portable generator is between $500 and $1500. Because of a lower price range, many Pittsburgh homeowner can afford to have a portable generator around when it's necessary.

Portable generators do have limited capacity. It is generally assumed that during a power outage that a portable generator will be used for 2-3 appliances at a time. For example, mid-sized generator which puts out about 5,000 to 8000 watts can run a refrigerator, sump pump, and several lights around the house. Cables are run directly from the appliance to the generators, so you'll need long extension cords in order to accommodate the need. Even larger portable generators that power up to 10,000 watts cannot provide enough energy to run an entire home, so you'll need to prioritize which items are the most important.

Standby Generators

If you're looking for a generator with a little more muscle and less work to power up, then a standby generator may be fore you. A standby generator is always 'standing by' ready to turn on without having to be cranked. Most standby generators have a sensor that detects when the power goes out in your home, and will automatically turn on itself. So instead of dealing with the hassle of going outside, pulling out cables and setting the whole thing up, a standby generator gives you the convenience of instant alternative power.

Whereas a portable generator is loud enough to be heard several yards away, standby generators are much quieter. A low end generator usually puts out a minimum of 10,000 watts and can go all the way up to 15,000 watts. So it's possible to generate enough electricity for nearly every item in your home with little effort. Standby generators are a much higher investment starting at around $10,000. But the payoff is much greater as you'll never have to worry about providing enough power to keep your air conditioner or heater running, while all your major appliances, water heater, lights, and outlets still have enough juice to keep your daily operations in tact.

Caring For Your Generator

Like anything else a generator will need ongoing maintenance. It's a good idea to give a portable generator a good inspection with maintenance at least once every six months. This includes basic items such as oil change, air filter change, spark plugs changed if needed, and a gas cleaner. A Standby generator needs level one maintenance at least once every two years. This is best done by a professional who can give it the proper care that it requires. Preventative maintenance insures that your equipment will perform at peak levels when you need it the most. It also gives your generator longer life.

When choosing a generator take all factors into consideration. Although it's tempting to buy a cheaper generator, will it give you the satisfaction of providing for all your needs during those cringe moments? Some things to think about is your family's immediate needs during a power outage, what equipment, machines, or systems need to still be running at all times, and the weather conditions in your area. If you foresee a snow storm that could knock the power out of your neighborhood for 10 days, then a more powerful generator may be the best option.


If you are looking for a Pittsburgh electrician with Generators experience then please call 724-590-9700 or complete our online request form.

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