Inverter generator open frame - Photo by Steve Maxwell
I’ve been using generators since 1988 and I own and still use several of them now. The thing I’ve noticed is that a little bit of electric power can make many areas of life better, including outdoor living. The thing is not all generators have the good manners needed to make it pleasant to be around them outside. Most don’t. Choose wisely and you’ll enjoy both backup power for your home as well as better tailgating, outdoor music events, camping, RVing and off-grid get-togethers when the sun goes down.
No one likes a loud generator, especially when it’s nearby. This is why quiet operation is one of the most important features to look for when buying a portable generator for outdoor living. So what does quiet mean?
Never buy a portable generator for outdoor living without first identifying the noise output of that particular model. Noise is measured in decibels (dBA) and the best models have a rating of less than 60 dBA at full throttle. The very quietest models are about 53 dBA, and even quieter if it’s an inverter generator operating at partial capacity. Loud generators run over 70 dBA and are definitely not welcome in trailer parks, campsites or anywhere near people outdoors. You can trust the dBA numbers to give you an accurate expectation of noise output. Don’t buy anything unless it has a published dBA output rating.
Clean power input - Photo by Steve Maxwell
Grid power is what’s called “alternating current” or AC. This means that the voltage moves from positive to negative rapidly and repeatedly. In the case of most modern power systems this flip-flop from positive to negative and back again happens 60 times each second. The smoothness of this polarity flip-flop is referred to as purity of the power or its cleanliness, and this matters when it comes to powering sensitive electronics. The best generators for outdoor living put out power that’s a clean, smooth sine wave pattern, without spikes or jagged edges on those sine waves. Without this level of refinement sound systems can have a loud hum, computers can be damaged, and electronics may operate strangely or not at all. The best way to ensure perfectly clean power is with something called an inverter generator. These always produce perfectly clean power that’s at least as clean as grid power. Inverter generators are coming down in price, too. The best value options are called “digital hybrid” generators by one leading manufacturer.
Any generator for outdoor living will be moved around a lot, and that’s why light weight matters. The best way to minimize the weight of a generator is by determining the size you need and don’t go bigger. Google “generator selector tool” for an easy online option for determining the size of unit you need. Also, not all generators of the same wattage output weigh the same. Determine power-to-weigh ratios as you’re choosing because it makes a difference. The lightest models can weigh more than 50% less than a heavier unit with the same power output.
Generator phone charger - Photo by Steve Maxwell
The most common type of power you’ll need is 120 volts AC (alternating current), just like what we get out of a wall socket here in the Americas. But outdoor living often involves charging batteries, recharging phones and lap tops, and delivering 12 volts DC (direct current) for some applications. The best generators for outdoor living deliver the standard 120 volts, but also 12 volts DC with ports to match different applications.
Generator wheels - Photo by Steve Maxwell
Even a light weight generator is still a lot to carry. This is where wheels can help. When I bought my first generator in the late 1980s, no generator on the market came with wheels. If you wanted wheels you needed to build a cart or weld something up yourself. These days the best generators have wheels built right in. This may seem small, but wheels make a big difference and not all generators have them.
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Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on Google+.
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