understanding electricity for portable generators benjamin-franklinDo you recognize this man?  I’d ask you to look on a hundred dollar bill, but if you’re like me, you don’t have one lying around.  Well it’s Ben Franklin.  Remember him and his kite and his key in the lightning storm?  Well from lightning to the shock that you’d give your sister after rubbing your feet on the rug, we know it’s there but don’t know much about it.

But now you’ve purchased a portable generator or are thinking about it.  You want an understanding of electricity for portable generators to get the most use out of one, but also to operate it safely.  You know that a motor turns mechanical energy into electrical energy (read “How a Portable Generator Works” on this site).  You see receptacles on the power panel.  Some look simple enough – like the ones on your kitchen walls.  But some larger models have some funny looking power outlets. For a general review of some typical outlets and necessary power cords, check out the article on extension cords on this site.

You might be confused by the designations on the power panel like 120V/240V, 30A, 60Hz and the model number is based on its watts.  You want at least enough knowledge to know how to safely use a portable generator.  You will not be a certified electrician after reading this (nor am I), but you will gain a basic knowledge of electricity whether supplied by your power company or by your portable generator. Read the rest of this entry

How to Safely use a portable generator signHow to safely use a portable generator is the first thing you should know before you purchase one or begin operation.  It goes without saying that proper periodic maintenance will keep your portable generator running for years.  But safety is not periodic.  Safety is ALWAYS.  Most safety considerations are common sense, and as such, can often be overlooked or ignored.  A portable generator that lasts for years is of no use if YOU don’t.

Whether you use your portable generator around the house, on the job-site, or for recreational power, most safety considerations are common every time you use one.  Remember you are dealing with an internal combustion engine and an electrical power source.  Both have their considerations.

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Let’s Start with the Battery Inverter

what is an inverter generator batter inverterSo exactly what is an inverter generator?  To understand the portable inverter generator and how it compares to the common portable generator, we’ll first look at inverter technology in its simplest form.

You might be familiar with a common 12 volt battery inverter which is an electrical device that converts 12-volt DC power into 120-volt AC power.

Typically you run this type of inverter off of your car’s battery or off of a deep-cycle battery that you buy specifically to power the inverter.  Although fairly inexpensive, the shortcoming is that typically an inverter is a useful solution if you can keep your power demands in the 200-watt range.

You could get one with a more useful 2,500 watts, but it will cost close to $1000 and that’s not including the bank of deep-cycle batteries and a charging system.  For more demand than that, you should consider a fuel powered inverter generator.

Consider a car’s battery has a reserve capacity rating.  A typical rating is 80 minutes, which means the battery can supply 25 amps at 12 volts for 80 minutes.  Without going into the math, if you draw 120 watts continuously, at 10amps, this might last three hours, possibly eight hours on a deep-cycle marine type battery.  But then you have to recharge the battery.

The reason I mention that is, some will opt for a portable generator for most of the daytime duties of a power outage, then run a couple of lights at night off of an inverter.  You can run a couple of 15 watt bulbs (2.5 amps) for about 12 hours on a car battery.

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how does a portable generator work unspecified 1500W portable generatorThe Simple Basics

So how does a portable generator work? Well it’s best to start at the beginning.  A Portable Generator basically consists of a power generator head, an engine, a fuel source and power outlets.  For this reason, they are sometimes known as an engine-generator set, or a gen-set by some people. That description is its simplest form and an explanation of how they work separately and together follows.

The generator head is the component that produces the electricity that supplies the power outlets.  The engine runs the generator head and the engine must be supplied by some sort of fuel, usually gasoline, liquid propane, natural gas or diesel.

Regardless of the type of fuel used, an engine, usually a 4-cycle, overhead valve type of varying horsepower will provide the mechanical energy necessary to the generator head by spinning a shaft.  A constant speed regulaor (governor) controls the speed of the spin.  There must also be a cooling system and method of lubrication of the moving parts.  The generator head then converts the mechanical energy to electrical energy and supplies the electricity to the power outlets.  An inverter type generator works a bit differently.  But just how does a generator provide electricity?

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A special message for my friends –

With the types and number of storms we’ve been getting, you might be looking for a new generator, or hauling out the one you’ve been storing in the garage.  Unless you already have a transfer switch, you don’t want to be caught off guard with an inadequate generator extension cord.  Make sure that it is of sufficient gauge and length for your purposes.  Remember, you must keep the running generator AWAY from any living space.  Don’t put your family in jeopardy because your cord is too short.  ALWAYS be safe.

What Are the Differences?

Coleman 100ft 15A Extension cord for generator

Standard outdoor three prong 5-15 male and female ends

Here you will find out what you need to know about extension cords for portable generators.  These are also referred to as generator cords.

How do you understand gauge wire sizes and how does it relate to the length of cord?  What’s the difference between a four prong extension cord and a three prong one?  What does AWG mean?  These are the most common question and you will find your answers on this article.

You probably have extension cords of different gauges and lengths lying around the house and in your garage.  But are they suitable for use with your portable generator?

You know that for safety and the possibility of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, you have to operate your portable generator at least 20 feet from your home and never in a basement or garage.  So if you’re using it for powering devices in your home, that means you’ll need long generator cords to run appliances in your home, right?

So why can’t any old cord do as long as the plug fits?  Should you care how long the cord is?  The answer is YES!  First, we’ll have to look at how cords are rated.  And then there are those plug configurations that we’ll need to understand.  Above all, we’ll want to insure the safety of our families and ourselves.  Ready?

If you feel the need to look at the wide variety of generator cords (and household types), there is no better location to search for just about any extension cord you could need than at Amazon.com.

Don’t expect that your local hardware or home improvement store will have a large enough selection.  You can browse when you’re ready by clicking the Amazon button, and type in some of the descriptors that you’ll be reading below:




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What Size Portable Generator do I Need Questions and new ideas

This is a bad hurricane season.  You want to be ready so you ask yourself, “What size portable generator do I need?”
A storm like Harvey doesn’t happen very often, thank goodness.  Here at the Generator Grader, our hearts go out to all those affected by this storm of the century.
When a storm threatens, we consider our options in a power outage.  Will we be lucky again?  Or unlucky again?  Truth is, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  A portable generator is a good investment even when the weather is nice.  If you’re visiting this site for a possible emergency, or if you already own a portable generator, just remember, “Always be safe!”
To save you some time, many new generator purchasers are only interested in one that can handle their refrigerator/freezer in a power outage.  If that is you, look at one that provides at least 2000 surge watts.  Although most refrigerators require less than 1000 watts to run, when the compressor cycles on, they need the additional watts.

What size?

You’ve made a decision to get a portable generator.  Great!  A common question that I get from shoppers looking for a portable generator is, “What size portable generator do I need for home use?”  The best answer to this question is not very popular.  The answer is, “It depends”.

Many people go make their portable generator purchase and wish that they had considered all the factors first.  Let’s face it, generators are expensive and you don’t want to waste one while you purchase the one you should have bought in the first place.

Take for example two best selling generators.  The Earthquake ig800w is an 800 watt inverter generator that can only power one or two items at a time.  The equally popular Generac xg8000e is an 8000 watt generator that has enough power to hook up to your home’s power panel to supply most of your needs in a power outage.

Why one group of people think that one size is what they need and another group of people think a completely different size is what they need is why “it depends”.

For a better explanation of “it depends”, read below and take a look at the handy table which provides the estimated wattage requirements of some standard household devices and appliances.

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