Portable Generator FAQ

General

What is a portable generator?

A portable generator is a gas or propane-powered device that burns fuel in order to provide electrical power. A generator’s engine drives an alternator, which in turn generates wattage. The end can then plug in tools and electrical appliances through the control panel of the unit. Learn more >

What is an inverter generator?

Inverter generators are devices that use advanced electronic technology to produce the cleanest and most stable electrical power output. With a low THD, they usually are the best choice when it comes to powering equipment that contains sensitive electronic components (e.g. microchips). They can adjust their engine speed according to the power demand and produce their power through a computer-controlled process. Thanks to their embedded technology, inverter generators are lighter, quieter and more fuel efficient than traditional, conventional generators. Learn more >

What is the difference between running (rated) watts and starting (surge) watts?

Running watts refer to the amount of power a generator can continuously produce. Starting watts represent the amount of power a generator can briefly produce without triggering its circuit breakers. Starting watts mostly apply to inductive loads (pretty much anything with an electrical motor). Learn more >

What is the life expectancy of a portable generator?

Many factors can have an important impact on the life expectancy of a generator, the biggest ones being proper maintenance and break-in.

What is the difference between portable and standby generators?

One of the biggest differences lies in the number of steps it takes to get power flowing into your house during a power outage. With a portable generator, you’ll have to transport your generator, start it up, and then connect it to your power inlet box. Once done, you must use your transfer switch to swap your house’s power source from the main line to the generator. On the other hand, a standby generator is usually set up to automatically turn itself on and off during power outages. Learn more >

What are the advantages of dual fuel generators?

Dual fuel generators can run on either gasoline or propane (LPG). These units allow you to either choose between running at full power, on gasoline, or on a derated, but more eco-friendly power source, propane. Propane is generally cleaner to run compared to gasoline, since it has a lower carbon content and burns in a cleaner fashion. These generators can be particularly useful when gasoline is not easily accessible or when you need to store fuel for the long term. Unlike gasoline, propane does not degrade over time.

Is electric start required?

Electric start is not required, but offers superior convenience. It eliminates the need of pulling a cord to get your generator’s engine running. With an electric start, the unit may be started up with a key, a switch, or a button, depending on its design. An electric start requires a charged battery.

What is remote start?

Remote start should not be confused with auto start. Remote start only applies to portable generators that already have an electric start. It allows to start a unit by a key fob or a mobile phone app, as long as you are in its range.

What oil should I use?

First, check your owner’s manual to see which oil your unit’s manufacturer recommends. Generally, SAE 10W – 30 is recommended above 32° F. However, keep in mind that prefrerred oil type can vary based on air temperature, engine design, and manufacturer.

What type of fuel should I use?

Refer to your owner’s manual for a list of recommended and compatible fuel types. According to the most cited recommendations, gasoline should be fresh, unleaded, with an octane rating of 87, and no more than 10% ethanol (E10).

What size of generator do I need?

Start by listing all the appliances that you will need to simultaneously power. Once you have this list, write down each of their running and starting watts. The total running watts you’ll need are equal to the sum of all individual running wattages. The total starting watts you’ll need are equal to the total running watts + the highest single starting wattage. Lastly, multiply the running wattage by 1.2 to avoid running your unit at full load. All of this can be done easily with our generator sizing tool.

What is resistive load?

It’s the simplest type of load. Anything related to lighting or heating (kettles, light bulbs, radiant heaters, etc.) usually is a resistive load.

What is GFCI?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a safey feature, which stops the power flow in protected receptacles if a ground fault is detected to protect you from electric shocks. If the RESET button of a GFCI outlet pops out, it can mean that the equipment plugged into the outlet is faulty.

What do CARB, EPA, and CSA mean?

CARB, EPA, and CSA are acronyms of some certifications and standards that apply to portable generators. They mostly relate to emissions. CARB stands for California Air Resources Board. EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency. CSA stands for Canadian Standards Association.

How should I transport my generator?

Your portable generator should be transported in its normal operating position. Do not lay it on its side. Before transporting it, close its fuel valve, ensure its bolts are correctly tightened, and disconnect its eventual starter battery. To prevent it from accidentally starting, disconnect the spark plug wire and move it out of contact with the spark plug.

Can I convert my gas generator to run on propane or natural gas?

If you wish to run a generator on propane or natural gas, it is always better to consider buying a dual fuel unit. If a unit is not dual (or tri) fuel, it means that it was only designed to run on gasoline. While you may find third-party conversion kits, we cannot recommend them. Such kits will modify the unit’s fuel system, which will most likely void your warranty. Additionally, such modification could lead to a violation of local/federal emission laws.

What is the THD of this portable generator?

We know that THD is an important metric. This is why we included this information in the spec table that you’ll find at the bottom of all of our product pages. If this information is displayed as “Unknown”, it means that the manufacturer did not provide us with this value. Since a low THD is an important selling point, it is fairly safe to consider that an unknown THD means that it is not low enough to power appliances that contain sensitive electronic components.

What is the noise rating of this portable generator?

Everybody likes a quiet generator. You will usually find noise ratings in the spec table at the bottom of all of our product pages. However, this information may sometimes be flagged as “Unknown”. There are currently no standards set by governmental or regulatory bodies to define noise measurement conditions. While most manufacturers agree to measure noise emission at 23 feet, some may measure it at no load, at 25% load, at 50% load, with different types of fuel, etc. As a consequence of this lack of standardization, some manufacturers simply refuse to communicate the noise rating of their generators.

Can this generator run this appliance?

As much as we like to help you, we cannot do the guess work for you. We can only give you approximate wattage values (e.g., not all fridges, A/Cs, or sump pumps are alike). The wattage your appliance will need to operate depends on its brand and on its model. You should determine your running and starting wattages. You can then use our filters to find a suitable unit or insert these values as a “custom appliance” in our generator sizing tool.

Operation

Can I continuously run my generator?

While it is possible to run a portable generator non-stop, there are two things to keep in mind. Maintenance intervals should be strictly followed and since gasoline is highly flammable, you will have to stop your unit and let it cool down before refueling it.

What happens if I overload my generator?

Over 99% of the portable generators sold in the US feature circuit breakers, which prevent engine damage by overloading. If you overload your unit, the circuit breakers will simply trip and interrupt the power output to protect both your equipment and your unit. Circuit breakers usually cool down in about 10 seconds, after which they can be reset by pressing a button.

Can I start my generator with appliances connected to it?

No. Your generator’s engine needs to rev up before you apply any type of load to it. Starting your unit under load could cause its engine to stall. Think about it in the same way as if you were trying to start a stick shift car with the first gear on. Learn more >

Can I shut down my generator with appliances still on?

While this most likely wouldn’t hurt your generator, you shouldn’t shut your unit down while appliances are still connected to it. If your appliances are still running during shutdown, they could encounter varying voltage and frequency, which may damage them. Learn more >

Can I plug an extension cord in my portable generator?

Appliances can be individually plugged into your generator with an extension cord, as long as you ensure that the cord is heavy-duty, outdoor-rated, and its wire gauge is adequate for the load applied and for the length of the cord. Overloading your extension cord could lead to fires or irreversible damage of your equipment. Never use damaged extension cords.

What can I do to make my generator quieter?

We do not recommend any unauthorized modifications to your unit. To reduce your portable generator’s noise emissions, consider using an enclosure. However, keep in mind that portable generators are air cooled and thus must be run with enough airflow to keep them cool, otherwise damage could occur due to overheating. Moreover, exhaust gases must be allowes to efficiently disperse to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide and poor running conditions.

How much space does a portable generator need?

As a rule of thumb, you should allow at least five feet of clearance on all sides of the unit.

Where should I operate my portable generator?

Only operate your portable generator outside, away from doors and windows, on level surfaces, and where it will not be exposed to rain, snow, water, moisture, dirt, or dust.

What accessories are available for my generator?

A good array of generator accessories exists. Parallel kits allow most inverter generators to run in parallel. Wheel kits let you transport open frame units more easily. Storage covers protect your generator when idle. Storm covers shield your unit from the elements. You may also find lifting hooks, optional remote starts, and all sorts of adapters.

Maintenance

How often should I inspect my portable generator?

Inspect your generator before each use. All portable generators require routine maintenance, such as filter and oil changes. Refer to your owner’s manual for maintenance procedures and schedules.

When should I disconnect a portable generator’s spark plug?

For safety reasons, you should disconnect the spark plug when you are transporting or repairing your generator.

What will happen if I add too much oil?

Although this may seem sound odd, too much oil can actually lead to an increased resistance (more friction) between the engine’s moving parts. It can also lead to oil leaks and spark plug fouling, which may prevent your unit from properly running. The exhaust might also emit some white or blue smoke. Always check your owner’s manual for the appropriate amount of oil to add.

Can I power wash my generator?

Absolutely not. Your generator features numerous components that could be damaged by the high pressure and water of a power washer.

How do I clean my portable generator?

First of all, do not use gasoline, toluene, and other organic solvents. They are dangerous and will also ruin your unit’s paint. Use compressed air, or a damp cloth and soapy water. Then proceed as following:

  1. Make sure the generator is turned off and is cool.
  2. Avoid using too much water and avoid any electrical components.
  3. Remove all dust and debris from around the exhaust.
  4. Clean the generator, particularly the alternator and engine air inlets and outlets.
  5. Check your unit’s general condition and, if needed, replace any consumable parts (filters, etc.).

Which parts will I have to eventually replace?

Your owner’s manual will contain all the information regarding the parts that you will have to periodically replace. These may include the generator’s filters (fuel, air, and/or oil), fuel tubes, carburetor, spark plugplug, and some sensors (carbon monoxide detector, etc.). Your manual will also contain a maintenance schedule explaining which parts you can replace yourself, and which parts should only be replaced by a servicing dealer or by a professional.

Safety

Can I use my portable generator indoors?

NEVER use your generator indoors, even in well-ventilated or partially enclosed areas. It can kill you WITHIN MINUTES. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, a deadly poisonous gas that you cannot smell nor see. ONLY run your portable generator outdoors, FAR AWAY from windows, doors, vents, etc. Learn more >

Can I place my generator inside if I vent the exhaust out to an outdoor area?

Absolutely not! You must always take your generator outside (opens in a new tab), where there is enough airflow and ventilation. Never run a generator indoors.

Can I operate my generator in my garage if I leave the door open?

Again, this is a big NO! Your generator must only be operated in a fully open area. If airflow and ventilation are not sufficient, you may be killed within minutes by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Can a portable generator explode or injure me?

Portable generators run on gasoline, an expendable liquid that is highly explosive and flammable. Never overfill your unit’s fuel tank to leave room for fuel expansion, or else fuel could overflow and reach the hot engine, which could lead to fire or explosion. Always let your generator cool down entirely before refueling it, and never smoke near your unit or fuel. Learn more >

Do I need to ground my portable generator?

To prevent risks of electrical shock, your generator should always be properly grounded. If the generator is not grounded, you run the risk of electrocution. The NEC (National Electric Code), and many other local electrical codes, may require your unit to be connected to earth ground. Grounding requirements are specific to the set-up you’re running, which can’t be predicted by us nor the manufacturer. A licensed electrician will need to determine to what extent grounding is required or needed. Learn more >

Can I operate my portable generator in the rain or snow?

Electricity and water do not mix well. So no, to avoid being electrocuted and/or damaging your unit, do not operate your portable generator in bad weather, rain and snow, unless it’s properly sheltered. Learn more >

Can I plug my portable generator into one of my household outlets?

Absolutely not. This is called “backfeeding”, which can be deadly. Doing so can “back feed” current into the power lines that are connected to your household and severely injure utility workers or your neighbors. Learn more >

Will my generator backfeed the power lines?

The only way your generator could backfeed the power grid would be if it was connected to your home’s circuit without using a transfer switch. With a transfer switch, backfeeding becomes impossible.

What is a transfer switch? Should I get one?

A transfer switch is a panel that can be installed between your house’s distribution board (panel) and your portable generator, to allow the latter to safely be used as a direct source of power for your home appliances. It allows you to switch between the power grid and your portable generator, avoiding backfeeding the grid. It is something that you should consider getting installed by a licensed electrician if you plan to use your unit as a home backup solution.

Storage

How long can I leave gasoline in my generator’s tank?

That depends on a variety of factors, such as heat, humidity, and other conditions of your generator’s storage. Moreover, it’s difficult to know how old the gas was when you bought it. It could have been fresh from the refinery, or already a few weeks old. Gasoline can start to deteriorate in as little as 30 days. As a rule of thumb, do not leave gasoline in your generator’s fuel tank for more than a couple of weeks, or make sure to use a fuel stabilizer.

Should I use a fuel stabilizer?

If you do not intend to use all the fuel within a short period of time, this is highly recommended. Add a stabilizer to both your unit’s tank and to the containers in which you store your extra gasoline. The stabilizer will prevent gasoline degeneration by neutralizing the damaging effects that ethanol has on the components responsible for combustion. When adding a stabilizer, ensure to precisely follow its instructions (ratio, etc.) and to take note of the duration it will be effective for.

What should I do if I do not intend to use my generator for more than 30 days?

Long-term storage of your generator will require preventive procedures aimed at avoiding deterioration. The first thing to do is to refer to the storage guidelines that you will find in your owner’s manual. They should cover various aspects of storage, such as cleaning, storage conditions, draining of the fuel tank, and adding fuel stabilizer.

Do I have to regularly operate my portable generator?

It is considered good practice, since it will allow keeping your unit in a good running condition. Your owner’s manual may contain instructions on how often you should run your generator’s engine. Additionally, make sure to stick to the maintenance schedule that is detailed in your owner’s manual. Learn more >

Can I build an enclosure around my portable generator?

You can absolutely do it, but you have to remember that portable generators are air-cooled. Thus, they need to “breathe” to properly operate. Make sure that your enclosure has good airflow to allow the air heated up by the running generator to be replaced by cool air.

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