Generators, Standby vs. Portable

Considering installing an emergency backup generator?

There are a two primary types of backup power generation systems, standby & portable. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two and figure out what would be the right fit for your needs.

1) Standby Generators

W E Electric Standby Generators Service, Installation & Repair

The most common models of standby generators utilize natural gas and propane powered engines. Although there are both gasoline and diesel powered models available, the NG/LP powered models are the most popular as fuel supply is almost never an issue. Depending on the size of system selected standby generators have the capability to completely power all the circuits of your home in the event of an outage.

Pros of Standby Generators

  • Power! If you want a “whole house” backup power solution there is a standby generator that is up for the task!
  • Hands off. Standby generators utilize an Automatic Transfer Switch or “ATS”. The ATS constantly monitors power. In the event of an outage it will automatically start the generator. It will then switch from the homes main power panel to a mirrored auxiliary panel powered by the generator and energizing those circuits designated by the homeowner at the time of installation. When power is restored, the transfer switch shuts off the generator and switches power back to the homes main power panel. This a completely automated process.
  • Quiet. The standby systems are substantially quieter than the portable systems making for a much less disruptive experience in the midst of an unpleasant situation.
  • Secure. As a result of quieter operation thieves are less likely to investigate the property in the event of an outage. Should someone be bold enough to attempt to steal a standby generator they will have their work cut out for them! Standby units are extremely heavy starting at around 500lbs. Standby systems have permanent fuel connections that cannot be removed by hand and the unit itself can be bolted or staked to the ground.
  • Confidence. Standby generators perform an “Exercise Period” that occurs once every week at a time designated by the homeowner at the time of install. This gives the homeowner the opportunity to select a time when he/she knows they will be home and can confirm proper operation ensuring a constant state of readiness.
  • Value. Standby generators increase the value of your property. On average, you can expect to recoup roughly 50% of the money spent installing a standby generator upon the sale of your property.

Cons of Standby Generators

  • Cost. Standby generators are considerably more expensive than portable systems. Power, security, and convenience comes at a price.
  • Maintenance. Standby generators and their ATS system require yearly maintenance and testing to ensure a constant state of readiness. This must occur in order to satisfy the manufacturers warranty for the coverage period. If maintenance is not performed and the unit malfunctions the warranty will not be honored. The annual service fee for for the most common size standby generator (12KW) is roughly $330.

2) Portable Generators

W E Electric Portable Generator Service, Installation & Repair

The portable generator is usually powered by a small gasoline or diesel engine with larger models typically on a rolling chassis as seen in the image below.

Pros of Standby Generators

  • Its portable!
  • Affordable. On a limited budget, cost may overcome limitation and compromised security.
  • A smaller system is cheaper to maintain and repair.

Cons of Standby Generators

  • Fuel. Most portable generators are powered by either gasoline or diesel. They consume roughly a gallon of fuel per hour, even at 50% load. Typically, they have a 7-8 gallon tank. You’ll need one gallon of fresh gasoline on hand for every hour you want to run a large portable generator, even at 50% capacity.
  • Limited output. Generators in the 8000 watt range produce enough electricity to run a refrigerator, some lights or a stove. If you consider those critical circuits that must be energized such as your refrigerator/freezer to avoid costly spoilage, your homes furnace, hot water heater, stove, or perhaps life sustaining medical equipment you will be forced to make some tough choices as to what you can live without for the duration of the outage.
  • Connectivity. Without the additional purchase and installation of an Interlock kit or a Manual Transfer Switch or “MTS” you will need to run power cords from the generators location outside to each appliance you wish to use. Without the addition of one of the aforementioned systems you will be unable to energize home circuits (Grid power).
  • Maintenance. You will need to remember to run your generator for 15 minutes once a month. This is the recommended minimum to ensure a constant state of readiness.
  • Knowledge and ability. In the event of an outage you will be required to roll or carry the generator outside (cannot run indoors for danger of carbon monoxide poisoning) Successfully start the unit, run the correctly rated power cords to the desired elements to be energized (without overloading the unit) or throw the MTS. It is prudent that all adults living in the home are familiar with the units operation.
  • Noise. Portable, air cooled generators are considerably louder than the standby units. This is especially noticeable in the dead silence of a power outage.
  • Theft. The fact that an operational generator of this nature is both loud and portable makes it an easy target for thieves. The cords can be pulled and the unit rolled away to a waiting vehicle.