Whole House Generators vs. Portable Generators: How to Choose the Right One

The Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, FL areas have been spared from major hurricanes in recent years, but those who have been in the state for more than a decade remember the devastation of Hurricane Charley and the mass power outages that followed. The best time to buy a generator is before you need one. Both portable and whole house generators improve your disaster preparedness, but they operate differently, so it’s important to consider your options.

Portable Generators

As the cheaper option, a portable generator often seems like the natural choice. It’s movable, meaning you can store it in a shed or garage when it’s not in use. Portable generators come in various sizes.

  • Small Portable: 3,000 to 4,000 watts, typically ranging $400 to $800
  • Mid-size Portable: 5,000 to 8,500 watts, typically ranging $500 to $1,000
  • Large Portable: 10,000 watts, typically ranging $2,000 to $3,000

Portable generators run on gasoline, so you’ll need to store an adequate supply. You can’t rely on gas stations staying open in the event of a major power outage. Most will run for six to eight hours at a time and require a cooldown period between cycles. These generators are not designed to power your entire home and cannot support an air conditioner. If you’re concerned about surviving the heat, a portable generator can support a refrigerator and some fans, but not whole-house cooling.

Whole House Standby Generators

By contrast, whole house standby generators are a bigger investment at $15,000 to $20,000 when installed. This type of generator sits on a concrete pad in your yard. It is directly connected to your home’s electrical panel as well as an external fuel supply. Standby generators automatically detect an interruption in service and kick in as soon as you’re off the grid. When power comes back on, the automatic transfer switch shuts down the standby generator and connects your home to the grid again.

If you want to avoid the hassle of hauling a portable generator out of the garage, fueling it up, and turning it on, a whole house standby generator is certainly the simpler option. However, these generators are not without their drawbacks. They are typically very noisy and may be prohibited in your residential neighborhood. You also need enough room to comply with building codes, which usually require generators to be five feet from the house and five feet from any flammable materials.

Get a professional consultation before you purchase a generator. Your load needs, voltage, and circuitry will determine which options can work for you. With the right generator in place, you can weather hurricane season with confidence.

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