Portable generators provide power in numerous situations from electrical outages to picnics and tailgate parties. While you may feel tempted to pick up whatever you see available in Home Depot or Lowe’s, many of those generators only fill minimum needs. They may power basic items like a light and charge cell phones and computers, but won’t be capable of running a refrigerator or air conditioner.

Remember that unless you choose a battery-powered 24-hour unit that creates no emissions, you must run your generator outdoors. Regardless of their fuel source – gas, propane, etc. – a generator produces carbon monoxide when it runs. Running one indoors poisons the air and kills people and pets.

Consider Your Needs

You’ll find a plethora of generators out there, but not all fit your needs. Make a list of where and how you want to use your generator.

  1. Will you use your generator for:- camping trips,- emergency situations like power outages,- job sites to power tools,- picnics and tailgate parties?
  2. Do you need portability or a permanent installation?
  3. With what voltage outlets do you need to use it, 120 or 240 volts?
  4. How many and what wattage items do you need to power simultaneously with the generator?
  5. What fuel do you want to use?
  6. What type of start mechanism do you want to use – push button, pull start, remote control?
  7. How much can you afford to spend? With respect to number four, you can use the following averages to calculate load:- computers, 60 to 300 watts,- lights, 60 to 600 watts,- portable heater, 1,500 watts,- refrigerator, 600 watts,- sump pump, 750 to 1,500 watts,- window air conditioner, 1,000 watts.

With these questions answered, you’re ready to begin your Internet research for the right generator. Better models offer features that can save you money in the long run and can reduce your need to refill the tank as often.

Look for these seven key features for the best investment and performance.

Low-Oil Sensor

Running a generator continuously for hours causes the oil level to drop. As the oil level reduces, it can hit a level at which it no longer lubricates the engine appropriately. This can damage the motor. Units with a low-oil sensor turn off the generator for you when the oil level reaches a too low point. If the unit receives oil separately from its fuel, check the oil before each use. Always keep the oil level topped up before cranking the generator.

Electric Starter

Pull starts pervade the selection of generators, but push button and remote control models have become more popular. Pull starts work like push lawn mowers. You pull a cord that cranks the engine. If you’re not interested in that kind of workout, an electric starter saves you the trouble. These devices have a built-in battery that powers the electric starter. Keep the battery charged. A standalone charger that maintains the battery, but has an automatic shut off so the battery doesn’t overcharge accomplishes this.

Automatic Starter

Automatic starters appear as a feature on units that hardwire into a home. These larger power units feature an automatic starter that recognizes when the grid power goes offline and transfers power need to the generator. These require the installation of a transfer switch by an electrician. They should do this when they wire it into the home.

Multiple Receptacles

Many units have a single 120-volt receptacle. Others may carry two to three receptacles. If you need to power larger items though, you’ll need a 240-volt receptacle. Look for GFCI receptacles if you’ll need to run items on extension cords or in a damp location. Humidity counts.

Multiple Fuels or Specific Fuel Type

Gas generators prove the most common. Your community may restrict gasoline storage though so this may limit you to 25 gallons or less. Propane generators use the same type of small tanks as a gas grill. Solar generators hit the market in the last few years and simply charge using sunlight. They store their charge in batteries that you can then access later in the day when you need the power. Overnight generators that hold only a 24-hour charge, you keep plugged into an outlet until the power dies. The electricity charges a battery inside it that then provides 24 hours of use. Some models offer more than one fuel type. These offer the greatest versatility but cost more.

Fuel Gauge

Units with a fuel gauge let you know at a glance how much fuel remains. Since fuel equates to run hours and load bearing, this lets you know how long you have until you need to manually refill the tank.

Removable Console

A removable console connects to the generator face enabling you to plug items in without the need for an outdoor extension cord. Even using an outdoor extension cord can create a hazard during a storm.

Now that you know what to look for, check to see some of the highest rated portable generators. That’s the type most people start with since it lets them use it in a number of situations to understand what serves them best. A backup generator proves an indispensable item whether in an emergency, at the job site, or powering your picnic. You’ll probably find you want one for home and one for work.

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