Standby Generators vs. Portable Generators

Tomorrow has come. And you start looking into generators. But questions arise, like what do you want running when the power goes out? Do you want your entire house running like your home office, all lights, the washer and dryer? Or do you just want the necessities like a few lamps and the refrigerator? Should you get a standby generator or a portable one? Here is the breakdown between the two.

What you need to know about standby generators

Residential standby generators can deal with more electrical demand than a portable generator. These generators are typically installed permanently on the outside of your home and can run and last longer than a portable one. Standby generators can be fueled by natural gas, propane, or diesel. Go with a standby generator if you want a longer run time for your appliances and if you can afford to (costs are higher than portables and include maintenace). Ensure your home is running and safe during an outage or natural disaster.

What you need to know about portable generators

Portable generators give you more flexibility, they are cost efficient, and they don’t require installation. A portable generator is much cheaper than a permanent standby generator and can be taken on camping or RV trips. Portable generators are often used to power certain appliances in the house. . Portable generators also involve more work when deployed for back-up power. When the utility power supply gets interrupted, the homeowner has to roll out or move the portable generator outside the house to an area that is safe for the generator to operate in. portable generators cannot be operated indoors, under any circumstance, because of the presence of carbon monoxide in the exhaust of the generator . Carbon monoxide inhalation can result in dizziness, headaches, vomiting and nausea and can eventually lead to unconsciousness and even death, if inhaled in large quantities. Most counties also require portable generators to be stored indoors and without fuel. The fuel must be stored in approved containers to prevent fuel fumes from permeating the living area of a house. Storing portable generators in an outdoor shed necessitates a building permit to be obtained in many counties. This requires the homeowner to have to transport the portable generator from the storage area indoors to a safe and well-ventilated location outside the house, fuel the generator, set up the electrical connection to the appliances in the house that are to be powered by the generator and then manually start the generator during a power outage. Often power outages are caused by inclement weather and therefore, the homeowner has to brave the elements while performing the deployment of the portable generator outdoors, setting up the electrical connections to the household appliances, fueling and starting the generator. Once power is restored, the homeowner then has to manually stop the generator, manually disconnect the electrical connections, defuel the generator tank and store the remaining fuel in an approved container and then transport the generator back indoors. Hence, the homeowner trades the lower cost and portability of owning a portable generator with the inconvenience of having to manually connect the generator during a power outage, arrange for the fuel and then stow away the generator when utility electric service is restored.

Please note that all internal combustion engines, including those used in both portable and standby residential generators, produce carbon monoxide due to incomplete combustion of fuel in the engine. Because standby generators are installed outdoor, and in well-ventilated areas if installed properly, the carbon monoxide exposure from standby generators is considerably less of a concern that that produced by portable generators that may be deployed close to air-inlets or vents of a house. If portable generators are deployed in indoors or in a garage (even with the door open), risks associated with carbon monoxide exposure can become very significant.

Both options are great depending on your lifestyle and what your needs are during an outage. If you have medical equipment that needs to be constantly on or if you have a newborn baby at home, the standby generator might be your best bet. But if you need a backup generator quickly due to a forecast of a natural disaster or if you’re trying to be budget friendly, the portable generator will be a great option.

Standby vs. portable generator

Here is also a comparison chart that summarizes the differences between a standby generator and a portable one:

  Standby Generator Portable Generator
Capacity Typically, 7,000 Watts to 150,000 Watts. Can potentially be sized to power the entire home. Typically, a few hundred Watts to 7,000 Watts (though some are as large as 15 kW). Sized to power a few appliances only.
Space and installation requirements Installed outside by a certified dealer. Needs a level surface to install on a pre-fabricated concrete pad. Is often mounted on a skid base. Much larger in size - anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet in length, and up to 5 feet in height. Is usually in a weather protected (and often sound attenuated enclosure) No installation necessary. But, has to be stored indoors; have to be placed outdoors by homeowner during operation; generally, the size of a large dog carrier crate. Is exposed to the weather
Maintenance Needs periodic maintenance by a certified technician Minimal maintenance; can be performed by homeowner
Longevity Air-cooled engines can last up to 1000 - 1500 hours, liquid-cooled engines can last up to 10,000 or 20,000 hours depending on levels of stress. Generally last only around 2000 hours of run time.
Fuel supply considerations May be fueled by household natural gas supply (hence, no refueling needed) or fuel tanks which generally hold a considerable amount of fuel (can usually run over 3 days at a stretch). Generally fueled by natural gas, propane or diesel May only be fueled by tanks, which generally only hold enough fuel for a short run (usually 5-10 hours); has to be fueled every time the generator runs and the remaining fuel must be drained after each run. The fuel has to be stored outside. Generally fueled by gasoline
Start-up process Has to be connected through an automatic transfer Switch, which starts the generator automatically during an outage Usually manual, with the help of a recoil pull-cord. Must connect the generator to the house appliances for each run
Cost (excluding installation) ~ $7,000 to $10,000+ ~ $200 - $5,000+

Get Started

Use our Power Calculator to find out your energy needs.

Get Started