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Portable vs. Standby Generators:Which One Is Right for You?

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Rapid climate change isn’t only an abstract concept scientists are worried about anymore – as the previous few seasons have shown, increasingly volatile weather activity is something more and more households are faced with.

As greater portions of the country are becoming more susceptible to power outages which can last from anywhere between an hour or two to more than a couple of days, it is imperative that you have a backup plan to keep your appliances running should the misfortune of a prolonged power outage ever befall you.

Until a few more breakthroughs in the field of green energy directly start reaching consumers, about the only viable alternative to being reliant on the national energy grid is a good generator.

Getting one is a no-brainer as the assurance that it will tide you over until things are in order again is worth every penny. The question is – should you buy a portable or a standby generator? In this article we’re examining how both types of generator perform, what to expect from and consider before buying each.

Standby Generators – Expensive, Yet Reliable

A standby generator is the ideal solution for homeowners who need full access to their house’s power grid and can’t afford to be cut off from it for more than a couple of hours. The standby generator can provide enough power to enable normal use until grid power is restored, and you don’t have to do anything for it to kick in to boot.

Once you purchase a standby generator, it is expertly installed on your property by licensed technicians. There are actually two parts to this type of power management system – the generator itself and an automated transfer switch.

The generator constantly monitors your power grid’s activity. If grid power should cease to be delivered, this is picked up on by the transfer switch, and the generator is turned on. You can expect not more than half a minute to pass between the start of the outage and your generator kicking in, which is quite convenient.

Even more convenient is the fact that the generator runs only when it’s supposed to – when grid power is restored, the generator is automatically shut off and returns to standby mode.

Its power source is either propane or gasoline, making the generator completely autonomous. What’s more, since the generator is hooked up to a gas or fuel line, there’s potentially no limit to its running time.

There are some downsides though, cost being chief among them. You won’t be able to get a standby generator for cheaper than $2,000, and that doesn’t take into account the cost of installation or maintenance; you’re reliant on licensed professionals to do either. Once a standby generator is installed, there’s no budging it.

If you want to keep it protected from the elements, the generator will need to be housed in a well-ventilated area to prevent a fire hazard. On the bright side, purchasing a standby generator adds about half of its worth to the home’s resale value.

Portable Generators – Mobile, but Limited

Most people won’t mind giving up a few luxuries as long as some of the essentials are up and running. If you are one to compromise, then the portable generator is what you should get.

As its name suggests, the portable generator can be transported from one place to another, providing power away from civilization, or to more homes in turn.

Whereas standby generators are a safety measure more than anything, portable ones are more versatile and will see frequent use in recreational and other non-emergency situations. They’re a very popular solution as they’re fairly light, can be easily moved and don’t take up much space while not in use.

A brand new portable generator will only set you back a couple hundred dollars, and even with frequent use you’d have to buy a lot of fuel for its running cost to start approaching that of a standby model.

The portable generator relies on a steady stream of gas to keep running. Although models do exist which you can connect to a local line, most still rely on their internal reservoirs and your willingness to keep refiling them.

Unless you plan on using a portable generator really sparingly, you’ll want to keep a reasonable supply of gasoline at hand. Even with the addition of stabilizers, gas won’t last longer than a year, making keeping large quantities of it on your property impractical.

When using a portable generator, you’ll need to choose very carefully what you wish to power as its capacity is very limited. Don’t expect to keep anything more than your refrigerator and few essential lights running at the same time.

Even at smaller loads, the portable generator is a true gas guzzler. Most of them will consume a gallon of gas per hour, and have tanks which hold up to eight.

The portable generator’s mobility can turn out to be one of its biggest shortcomings too – you’ll never need to worry about someone stealing your standby, while the portable one can simply be rolled away. Operating one is a messy business too – you’ll need to have canisters, hoses, and extension cords at hand before you can make any use of the generator.

Hooking all of these up may not take an eternity, but remains a far cry from the near-instantaneous switch the standby generator offers.

Click here to learn more about what we have to say about portable generators and if the noise level is an important decision factor for you, then you can check out our top 10 list of the most quiet portable generators.


Although they essentially provide the same service, portable and standby generators have a set of strengths and weaknesses which make them viable in different situations.

While you could if you were forced to, using a portable generator as your main power source for a few days isn’t the best idea. Conversely, investing a considerable sum into a standby generator isn’t the best use of your resources either if you’re living in a fair climate and close to civilization.

In an ideal world you’d get both as they complement each other well. If you need to choose though, take the strengths and weaknesses we’ve outlined above into consideration.

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