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Standby vs. Portable

Comparison of Standby and Portable Generators for the Home

This information is provided to help you in comparing portable generator backup power and standby generator applications to protect your home. There are two options: a standby generator that's permanently connected to your home, or a portable home generator. Let's consider both types to help you in your decision.

Home Standby Generator

When utility power fails, home standby generators start automatically to provide emergency generator backup power.

These residential standby generators are often larger and more powerful than portable power generators. They are fueled by a natural gas or propane line (instead of an internal gas tank), and hardwired to your home electrical system (instead of plugging in cords). An automatic transfer switch makes the whole process simpler for homeowners by activating the unit when the power goes out, and then disconnecting it when utility power goes back on.

What to Look for in a Home Standby Generator:

  • Safety Features. A standby generator is a powerful piece of equipment. Look for automatic shutoffs that protect against loss of oil pressure or overheating.
  • Exercise cycle. A regular test cycle helps keep a standby generator in top working condition.
  • Rugged Design. A standby generator must be built to withstand the harshest elements.
  • Noise Reduction. A standby generator produces plenty of power and sound, so noise reduction technology is essential for home use.
  • Emissions compliance. With pollution regulations increasing, a standby generator must meet the latest restrictions.

Portable Generators

A portable generator can be pulled out when you need an emergency generator for your home over shorter periods of time.

As a point of comparison, these lightweight generators are usually smaller, less powerful and less expensive than standby units. The biggest difference, however, is that you have to start it up yourself, either via recoil (like many lawnmowers) or battery-powered ignition. A portable generator typically has a built-in fuel tank and power outlets that accommodate household extension cords.

What to Look for in a Portable Generator:

  • Large fuel tank. The greater the capacity, the longer the runtime.
  • Portability. Some "portable" home generators don't actually include the wheels and handle you'll need.
  • Sufficient outlets. A portable power generator should have enough receptacles for the devices you want to run. Some models come with the added convenience of a multi-outlet cord you can run into your home.
  • Starting instructions. There are several steps to starting portable generators safely and successfully. Look for a model that includes clear instructions as well as over-the-phone 24-hour support.