A Brief Guide to Portable Generators

With portable generators you can create home electrical power during outages or in isolated areas. Learn more about choices, features, output versus consumption, and installation and hookup.

| September/October 1989

  • 119-088-01.jpg
    The ability to supply your own electricity can be a real work-saver if building projects take you to areas beyond the reach of an extension cord.
  • Portable Generator Diagram
    Any generator typically consists of a gasoline engine mounted directly to an alternator, both units within a frame or housing.
  • Construction Crew
    Even a single power failure can cause financial losses if it lasts more than a few hours.
  • Small Generator
    Outdoor recreation may very well take you to areas isolated from a regular power supply. A small generator can operate lights and other equipment.

  • 119-088-01.jpg
  • Portable Generator Diagram
  • Construction Crew
  • Small Generator

At last—the weekend is here and you're ready to knock off those few chores and kick back to relish what may be the last of an all-too-short Indian summer. The shopping's done, the freezer's full, and all is right with the world. There's plenty of time to catch news and weather in the a.m.; right now you're going to enjoy the moment doing what you like doing best: absolutely nothing. Who'd guess that within 24 hours, you'll be slogging through an ankle-deep quagmire in the black of the basement, foraging for hurricane lanterns and muttering under your breath—still accomplishing nothing but not enjoying a moment of it.

Welcome to yet another power failure. Statistically, utility outages occur with almost the infrequency of jackpots and fatal lightning strikes: During 1988, the average home was without power only about two hours in the year.

Rural residents, though, can't depend on that kind of reliability. Overgrown rights-of-way, exposure to the elements, and inaccessibility all stack the odds against the country dweller. And statistics don't always reflect the damage wrought by extended outages—the long stretches, which burst plumbing, thaw freezers, and shut down pumps, furnaces and electrical appliances at the risk of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in losses.

Portable Generators by Usage Type

The fact is, no one has to be at the mercy of such misfortune, regardless of whether it's brought on by natural causes or by equipment failure. Hospitals, dairy operations and businesses that bank on 100% reliability all have standby generators that kick in the moment utility power drops out.

If you're ready to commit to that kind of auxiliary system, or if your homesite is so isolated that a utility tie-in would be prohibitively expensive, a permanent home power plant may be the best solution. Otherwise, a portable generator sized to your needs can provide effective and reliable insurance against everything from inconvenience to sheer disaster.

Choosing a generator on the basis of output alone is hardly prudent. The device's wattage is really a relative measure—losses in the power cord, and the diverse character of different tools and appliances, make it necessary to plan the work load to some degree (see chart). Even less obvious factors are important: Quiet operation, fuel consumption, running time per full tank, and working weight are all significant when you're faced with actually using the tool.


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