How to Buy a Portable Generator
Updated February 2014
What every best
portable generator has
extra cushion of power. Experts say generators last longer if operated at about 75
to 80 percent of their rated wattage, rather than running continuously at peak
outlets to suit your needs. For household use, look for at least four electrical
outlets, preferably lock-on with a GFCI to help protect you in wet conditions.
emissions. Portable generator engines that meet CARB requirements,
sometimes called 50-state compliant models, pollute the least.
mode or an electric throttle. These features adjust the engine speed to meet the
electrical load, further reducing emissions and fuel use when you don't need
the generator's full power.
safety features. Low-oil shut-off protects your generator's engine from
damage if it runs too low on oil. Outlet covers protect plug-ins from the
elements. GFCI outlets protect you from electrocution in wet conditions.
fuel gauge or hour meter. A fuel gauge saves you from guessing how much gas is left in
the tank; an hour meter makes it easy to schedule oil changes at the
lubrication with a spin-on oil filter. Reviews say portable generator engines
with this feature cost more, but last up to three times longer and require less
Know before you
your peak-wattage needs. Check the owner's manual to determine an appliance's peak
wattage. This is how much power it takes to run at its highest level of power
consumption, usually at startup. To determine whether your portable generator
has the juice it needs to power up, add the peak wattage of all the appliances
you want to run. The sum must be less than your portable generator's listed
your continuous-wattage requirements. Just because you can start everything
doesn't mean your portable generator will be able to provide a steady stream of
electricity to keep everything on. You'll need to calculate your continuous
wattage. This figure should also be listed in your owner's manual, or you can
use an online calculator like the one at ConsumerReports.org.
for a sufficient number of outlets. You'll also need a heavy-duty extension cord or two.
first: Don't run a generator indoors. Portable generators release potentially
harmful carbon monoxide emissions. They should not be operated indoors, in
garages, basements, attics, crawl spaces or sheds, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
first: Keep portable generators high and dry. Like any electrical appliance, portable
generators pose a potential electrocution hazard if they're exposed to water.
Keep your generator and cords dry, and sheltered from the elements, and never
handle them with wet hands. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends protecting
your portable generator with "an open, canopy-like structure."
The dollars and cents of it
Most generator companies require you to use approved service
centers for warranty repairs, and they won't pay for the cost of transporting a
generator to and from the service center. In other words, you'll either have to
pay the repairman to come to you, or pay for the service company to pick up your
generator and then return it. Keep that in mind when making a budget for a
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