Weather related power outages are a common problem in almost any part of the country. It varies by season, but chances are good that you've experienced a power outage of some sort within the last several months. These outages can cause a number of problems, such as an inability to cook, loss of use of your telephone, food going bad and many other things. Gas powered generators can help to avoid these problems when the power goes out unexpectedly.
Light duty portable generators start around the $300 mark, so avoiding the discomfort and inconvenience of a power outage doesn't have to be an expensive proposition.
Gas powered generators are classified by the amount of power they can output. Consumer Reports classifies them as follows:
Small generators - 3000-4000 watts
Mid-size generators - 4500-7000 watts
Large generators - 10000+ watts
These portable generators can be powered by several types of gas - propane, gasoline, diesel or natural gas models are all available. There are some that use multiple types of fuel but gasoline powered generators tend to be the most popular for the average consumer. Gasoline is readily available and most people are more comfortable with it just because it's familiar. A recent market study shows that roughly 2% of small generators run on fuels other than gasoline. That means 98% of them are gasoline powered.
A portable generator is made up of an engine and an alternator, at the most basic level. The alternators come in two types - standard and inverter.
A standard alternator is made of heavy copper coils that generate raw electricity. This electricity is not as "clean" as what your local utility company supplies through your normal wiring so it is not a good fit for running sensitive devices like computers or home theater equipment.
Inverter alternators generate electricity in a different way, which provides a much cleaner current. They are better suited for sensitive components, but that advantage comes at a cost as you will pay more for this type of generator.
Inverter technology has other advantages as well. It is lighter than a standard alternator and it allows the generator's engine to run at varying speeds. This can make a significant difference in the amount of noise the generator creates, as well as overall fuel efficiency.
When choosing a gas powered generator, you will need to have a rough estimate of how many watts you'll need to supply to run everything you want. Appliances, tools and other devices generally have their power consumption marked on a sticker or in the manual, but if not you can use an inexpensive watt meter to measure their usage.
Keep in mind that you don't need to run your entire household from a generator, only the items that are critical when the power is out. And because they'll need to be plugged into the generator in order to work, their location in the house will have a bearing on this as well.
When estimating the number of watts you'll need the generator to output, you'll need to consider two measurements - running watts and surge watts. Running watts is what the device will need keep it running, while surge watts is the power it requires to turn on and get started.
Some appliances may need as much as four times more power to start than they do to continue operating. This is particularly true for refrigerators and freezers, which tend to be some of the most common appliances that people want to power from a generator. Other appliances like microwave ovens and TVs have very little surge wattage requirements. Keep in mind that you won't be powering every appliance on at once, so you don't necessarily need the total surge wattage requirements in your generator.
The key is to decide on what your "survival" appliances and devices are, and then estimating your power needs based on how many would be running at any given time. Keep in mind that it's always better to overestimate your needs than to find out your generator is underpowered when you really need it. Most generators do have a bit of a buffer built in however. They can usually deliver surge power up anywhere from 25% to 50% above their rated output.
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