Spreetail Blog

Generators 101

5 Things to Know Before Buying


by Dan Moser
Mar 22, 2019

Not all generators are created equal. There are a number of things to consider, from fuel types and wattage to noise level and portability. And since they range in cost from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars, we definitely recommend doing some research before you start shopping.

We’ve boiled down this primer to 5 key things to think about before purchasing a generator:

  1. What You’ll Use itFor

Is the generator primarily for tailgating or camping, or do you want reliable backup power for your home in the event of an outage? In either case, you’ll want to make a list of the items you’ll need to power. 

At the campsite, consider the cooking, cooling, and entertainment appliances you’ll have along. If you have a power outage at home, maybe it’s a few appliances and lights, computers, and phone chargers you’ll need to power. You’ll also want to consider any medical equipment you or a loved one need.

Once you have this information in hand, figure out the wattage – both start-up and running – for these items. Consult your appliance user manuals for wattage information where possible; if not, a web search about your appliances can help, or consult a professional electrician. With this information in hand, you’ll be able to figure out how much power you’ll need a generator to deliver.

  1. Fuel Options

Your fuel options include natural gas, propane, gasoline, diesel, and even solar energy. 

Each type has its uses. If you have a natural gas line available, natural gas is probably your best choice for standby, stationary generators; it’s a clean, reliable, cost-effective fuel source. 

For portable generators, propane emits 40% less carbon monoxide than gasoline and has a longer shelf life, so you can keep several tanks on hand. On the other hand, gasoline produces more wattage than propane. Some generators give you the option of using propane or gas. Diesel generators typically are more rugged, but the fuel has a limited shelf life. Solar generators are great if you’re into an eco-friendly lifestyle and, while the up-front cost might be higher than with other generators, the fuel is free.

  1. Portability

Portable generators usually are lighter than stationary generators and many have wheels, making them the best option when mobility is important. A standby home generator will be bigger and provide more power, so it is best suited for permanent home installation.

  1. Noise level

If you’re setting up at a campsite or tailgating spot, you’ll likely want a quieter generator. Pay special attention to generators’ listed decibel ratings, and compare the ratings to those of other common sounds, such as vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, or normal conversation.

  1. Outlets

Double check you have enough outlets to plug your appliances into. Generators for RVs normally carry 120-volt RV outlets. If you’ll want to plug in electronics, it helps if it has a USB port or 2. 

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