Generators – Portable or Standby – Which One Should you Buy?

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  1. Post Updated. Originally published August 30, 2018.

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season was one for the record books. Hurricanes Maria and Harvey battered the Caribbean and the Texas Gulf coast mercilessly. Harvey inflicted 125 billion dollars in damage in the Houston area while Maria devastated Dominica and Puerto Rico.  In 2018 Winter Storm Grayson brought blizzard like conditions to the US Northeast coast dumping seven  (7) inches of snow on South Carolina’s coastal areas.  Surviving major storms like these, and power outages caused by them, make a really strong case for investing in a backup power system for your home. 

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If you live in a region that regularly experiences power outages as a result of severe storms then you should consider a home generator installation. But what type of generator should you buy? There are basically two types of generators to install in your home, portable and standby.

Portable Generators

Portable portable generatorgenerators are smaller mobile backup power units that are generally more inexpensive and fairly easy to install. You can purchase a portable unit from you major big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Prices to buy a portable generator can run anywhere from $500 to $2000 but they wont power your whole house. All you need to install a portable generator is a manual transfer switch and a cable connected to the unit. However, portable generators are more labor intensive. You have to be be at home in order to turn it on. All generators run on an alternate source of fuel. But most portables run on gasoline, making it necessary to store gasoline for refueling. And you will need  to refuel the unit periodically as most portables can run for up to 48 hrs. Refueling efforts may include making trips to the gas station in hazardous conditions where they may be shortages in the event of a prolonged power outage.  In addition, the unit must be placed in a well ventilated area. The generator should not be placed in your garage because it emits carbon monoxide. Depending on where you live, you may also have to keep an eye on it to deter theft. Portable generators require minimal maintenance but are very noisy.

Standby Generators

Standby generators are the more expensive variety of generator power. You  usually have to order one from an authorized dealer. Your big box stores may also serve as dealerships for brands such as Generac, Briggs & Stratton, and Kohler. A home standby generator system (permits, gas, electrical) installation could between $5,000 and $20,000 depending on the size of your house and what you want to power up in the event of an outage. Home standby generators are also known as whole home generators because they are able to power your entire home in the event of a power outage. Standby generators are permanently installed and run on either propane or natural gas. Permanent standby units automatically turn on when they sense a drop in power whether you are home or not. Standby generators are more hands off but more expensive and require professional installation. You have to hire an electrician to run the power and install the automatic transfer switch, a plumber to run the gas line from your fuel source (propane, natural gas) to the unit and a fuel supplier. In addition, nost municipalities require building permits to install a standby generator. Frequent maintenance is required for standby units to ensure they are operable in the event of a power outage. However a standby generator is also noisy but it can power your home for days. 

So What Type of Generator Should You Buy?

If you are cost conscious and power outages in your area are infrequent but dont usually last more than 24 hours, a portable generator may suit your needs. However if you experience frequent storms and power outages in your area, you have small children, elderly and or vital medical equipment running in your home, a standby generator may be the best option.

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  1. This is a great article for a problem that isn’t heard of that much.  I know in my world I would be having the cheaper generator.  I am sure there are places where the stand by is the answer.  However spending 20 000 for a maybe just doesn’t constitute good spending for me.

    I was wondering if you knew where most of the more expensive stand by generators are installed.


    1. Hi Dale, it is possible to sped 20K on a standby generator if you are powering your whole home and using company that sells, sets delivers, sets, does the gas, electrical and finances it (turnkey). Some people (mainly older) people who live in areas that loose power frequently and prefer not to worry about any of the details of the installation select this option. But not all. There are many options in between. You can select to power just the major things like heat, ac, lights etc and not everything. And it also depends on how big your home is. 

  2. This is a great outline of the different types of generators to consider for being prepared during storm season! We have a portable generator. Our first one that we got was powered by petrol I believe, but it was so loud and not very practical in a suburban area. We ended up getting one based on the sound it made, which we find handy when camping too, so not only do we have it for when we lose power at home, we can also take it to recharge our technology while off grid camping too. I love that you’ve also included the stand alone option, as this would be a very good backup home generator especially if your area is prone to extreme weather conditions. Living in Queensland, Australia, we do have numerous cyclones during the summer, so it’s definitely handy to be prepared for the possibility of a power outage. Thanks for sharing and spreading the word on being storm prepared :).

    1. Your welcome Kat! A standby generator is much more convenient. You dont have to keep going out to buy gas during an extended outage.

  3. Being someone who lives in a hurricane prone area my whole life what you are talking about is so true and a lot of people are not prepared for extended power outages. 

    After hurricane IKE we were without power for 2 weeks and back then my daughter was just a month old. My wife went to stay with friends to take care of the baby, while I road the storm out at work and got to go home to no power. 

    Good thing my employer bought us some portable generators and had them trucked in from out of state. I told myself back then that I was going to get a standby generator from Generac but still have not bought one to this day!

    Glad to run across your article and remind me to think about it again! Something people may not be aware of this; you can get a standby generator sized to give enough power to run lights, refrigerators, fans and one window unit for sleeping. 

    This is something that is much cheaper than trying to power up the central air conditioning system. Food for thought!

    1. Glad to be of assistance Chad! If you were in the Charleston SC area, I would try to sell you a standby generator. We are Generac dealers! 

  4. I am in the Philippines where generators are quite prevalent.  Years ago it was common to have brownouts every other day in Manila and some of the other cities.  It is a little bit better now, however in Angeles City where I am now we had an outage for 6 hours this morning, which means the modems were down and I couldn’t go online to do my work.  A small cheap portable compressor would have been enough for me.  There was another brownout for 12 hours last week.  I am considering getting one as it really shuts my work down without power.  Do you have an affiliate here or some advice for me?  I guess probably my best bet is just to check the local market.  Thanks.

    1. Hi j52powell, sorry we dont have affiliates in the Philippines. We are strickty US based. and only operate in our local market at that! But thank you for your comments.

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