Tips for choosing the perfect generator

Depending on where  you live, you may or may not have to deal with regular power outages or drastic weather changes like hurricanes and flooding. When that happens, you don’t want to be caught unprepared. But generators aren’t just for emergency situations; construction or RV needs also often call for remote electricity. Taking the Pulsar Dual Fuel 10,000W Generator w/Switch & Go Technology as a model, we take a look at some practical tips to help you choose the perfect generator for your needs, whatever they are.

There is no one-size-fits-all generator, and the right one for you will depend on how you will use it most often. There are two types: portable and stationary. Stationary generators are much larger, with more options for fuel sources but also far more expensive. Portable generators are far smaller, cheaper, and of course can be moved around fairly easily (either on wheels or with the help of someone else). For this guide we’ll focus on portable generators, which are the better choice for most consumers.

DIY electricity

The first step to choosing a generator is to determine what it will be used for. The ability to create your own electricity can be extremely practical for emergency backup situations. Keeping food fresh in a refrigerator/freezer, keeping the AC or furnace running, using a pump to combat basement flooding, and keeping lights (or even the whole house) powered can pay for itself in one go in the event of a bad storm.

Aside from an emergency backup though, if you need job-site power for construction, on-location film shoots, farm work, or even when RV camping a generator can come in handy.

Things to consider when choosing a generator

Once you know what you will use the generator for most frequently, you can start looking at the features that matter when choosing a unit.

How much power do you REALLY need?

You don’t need to swing for the fences and go for the most wattage you can find. Instead figure out how much you will actually need. This will save you extra cost up front, and larger/more powerful engines consume more fuel during operation as well.

How do you calculate what power you will need? First you need to figure out which devices you would be running on the generator power at the same time. Then you should look up the running power requirements for each of them, as well as the starting (or surge) watts.

Tip: Electronics with motors require more power to start up than they do to run, so when you are using a generator for multiple appliances you want to start them one at a time, with a three second delay in between.

Next add up all the running watts for the items you would be running at once, along with the highest starting wattage of the devices you will be operating. This will help you determine what kind of power you need from a generator in order to service your use case.

For a full worksheet from Pulsar with more appliances you can use to calculate your wattage needs, you can view it here.

For example, on the Pulsar unit, the peak power for gas is 10,000W with 8,000W constant power, while the propane is 9,000W peak 7,000W rated coming from the 420cc, 15HP overhead valve engine. What this means is that with our beast of a unit I could run a refrigerator/freezer (700W), 6 x 60W light bulbs (360W), a space heater (1,800W), a microwave (1,000W), washing machine (1,150W), and gas dryer (700W) – for a total of 7,960W- all at once on gasoline power, but not if I was using propane as the fuel source.

Max (peak) power vs. rated power

There are two power ratings listed on generators, and if you don’t know the difference it can be confusing. Similar to the ratings on a sound system, the “peak power” isn’t what you will be getting all the time when you use it. That’s what “rated power” is (generator manufacturers are much more clear about this difference in their marketing than audio companies).

Peak power is the max output you can possibly get from the machine. Most generators are pretty up front with both numbers, but be sure you are paying attention to the rated power and not just the peak. Also worth noting, the peak power can only be used for a few seconds, while the rated power can be pumped out consistently for extended periods of operation.

Outputs/receptacles

Are you going to be using the generator as a remote power source for only one or two low wattage devices at a time, or will you be powering multiple devices at once with high energy needs? Will you be hooking the generator up to your circuit breaker box to keep the whole house running in an outage? The use case you already determined should help you figure out what receptacles you need, and you can use this to help fine tune your search.

This Pulsar generator has four 120V, one 120V/240V twist-lock, 120V/240V 50A RV, 12V DC outputs which gives you plenty of options for devices to run.

Fuel sources

Most generators are gas, diesel, or propane powered and some like our Pulsar have a hybrid fuel source option. This makes it nice to have the ability to change sources depending on the situation or availability.

Gasoline doesn’t last for a very long time when it’s left sitting around. You need to use stabilizer for long periods of storage, and it can get expensive to operate for extended periods of time. It is, however, easily accessible during normal events (hurricanes have a tendency to take out gas stations though, which would cut off your supply).

Diesel is cheaper, has a longer shelf life, and is efficient, but has a tougher time dealing with cold weather conditions.

Propane is the safest to transport (and store forever), burns cleaner, and you don’t have the worry of standing fuel getting gunked up over time or rusting a gas tank. Some stationary generators use natural gas, which is the cheapest option, but generally only permanent generators have natural gas power

Our Pulsar here has “Switch & Go” technology, where you don’t need to burn all the fuel in the line from one source before switching to another. This is pretty useful because some dual fuel generators need to clear the line by burning up all the fuel before switching sources.

Other factors to consider

Power variation

On the Pulsar, the peak for gas is 10,000W with 8,000W rated, while the propane is 9,000W peak and 7,000W rated. You lose a good 1,000W of power switching from gas to propane, so it’s important to take into consideration what sort of fuel source you plan to use most often and the power associated with the unit.

Also, some generators don’t come with their own battery, so you will need to scoop one of those up on your own if it isn’t included. The Pulsar comes packing a battery, so out of the box it is good to go.

Noise

Depending on how/where you will use your generator, noise level could be a consideration when shopping around. Many portable generators are a bit on the louder side, while stationary generators for home use can be quieter, though this varies by make and model.

If you plan to use it primarily as a home appliance backup, noise probably isn’t the greatest concern since it will be for emergency use. If you plan on taking it RVing though, noise could be something to consider for the sake of your neighbors.

Buy Pulsar Dual Fuel 10,000W Generator w/Switch & Go Technology- $899

Portability

It may seem inherent, but mobility & use case is a big factor when considering a portable generator to buy. Many generators, like the Pulsar, have wheels and fold down handles, which makes them very convenient to cart around since lifting a 200lb hunk of metal out of a truck bed isn’t ideal.

Will your generator be moved frequently? If you are getting something for a job-site or RV use, then portability is an important factor to consider. Wheel kits are also available, but you can’t make a generator smaller. Note that while you should never run a generator in a closed space (garage or home) transportation and storage might be concerns for your application.

Start method

Electric push start is great and makes things very easy for anyone to start quickly. Especially when talking about cold starts in winter, this can be a good way to ensure smooth operation. Rope pulls are included as either the primary or secondary start method (on push starts).

A generator can be a life saver in a tight situation, and keep everything operating smoothly with some level of normalcy when chaos hits. They can also make life a whole lot easier when work or play call for remote power, and having the right unit for your specific use makes all the difference.

Featured in this article:

Pulsar Dual Fuel 10,000W Generator w/Switch & Go Technology- $899

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13 Responses to Tips for choosing the perfect generator

  1. Regina Fehling Alongi March 19, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    Sound great. I don’t see any mention of how many hours u can get out of a full tank of gas or propane?

    • Greg Rice March 23, 2017 at 11:41 am #

      Hi Regina,

      The run hours depends on the amount of load pulling on the generator. For gasoline, run time is 12 hours at half load or 5 hours at full load. For propane, they see a consumption rate of 2.2lb/hr. A 20lb. LP tank would run approximately 9 hours.

      Thanks,
      Greg

  2. Bill March 19, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    Greg – I recommend adding information to the article addressing power waveform stability and purity. I.e. how stable is the voltage output, especially under varying load. How stable is the frequency under varying load, i.e. does it stay at 60 Hz or does it wander +/- 5 Hz. Is the waveform pure sinusoidal or does it have spikes and harmonics? All of these questions need to be answered in sensitive electronics are to be powered by such a generator. I also found it curious that the chart of wattage consumption did not include a refrigerator – probably the most common reason folks would want an emergency generator to preserve their refrigerated food in the event of an extended power outage.

    • Greg Rice March 23, 2017 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comment. The voltage output stability is measured in harmonic distortion. Total harmonic distortion for the generator is less than or equal to 5% at 60Hz.

      Agree on the wattage chart, which is why below that I included a link which has all the common household appliances and their wattage. The chart itself along with the wattage worksheet were pulled from the manufacturer’s website.

      Thanks,
      Greg

  3. R Kertesz March 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    What would be the problem with running a generator on propane like the one featured in a detached vented garage a good 20-30 feet from the main house? The only thing the exhaust might kill is spiders and other intruders…

    • mendosceno March 21, 2017 at 10:26 am #

      No problem running generator in a garage with ventilation. I place mine in garage with generator exhaust pointing out the partial door opening. Works great, keeps the rain off, and muffles the noise coming into the house and to the neighbors. I keep a few spare bottle full of propane so I’m good for several days. Generator requires full tank pressure propane, so you can’t just connect it to a normal household low pressure propane outlet. Generator has its own regulator and is designed to run from portable propane bottles like a 20 lb. BBG style, or a 30 or 40 or larger bottle available at hardware stores.

  4. I M Brinker March 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    Please read the label on the device before misrepresenting it. The label plainly indicates the generator will produce 10kW peak and 8kW running when operated on gasoline and 9kW peak and 7kW when operated on propane. This means the generator in question is actually an 8kW generator on gasoline or a 7kW generator on lpg. I do wonder what is ‘hybrid’ about it though since dual fuel generators have been around for decades. Also, the amperage of the various connectors would be handy to have printed above the various power sockets, or at least what the circuit breakers are rated for. Finally, the socket second from the right appears to be a NEMA L14-30 (30A 120/240V) socket, and the right-most socket appears to be a NEMA 14-50 (50A electric range) socket which seems to be mounted so as to have the wire projecting upward from the plug rather than downward which may place extra stress on the socket. The most common RV/Trailer socket is the NEMA TT-30 (30A).

    • imark7777777 March 23, 2017 at 9:41 am #

      New electrical code NEC requires that the ground prongs go up, even if it means the cords have to hang down and pull the plug out! supposedly this is to prevent metal objects from falling down and hitting the hot and neutral in say a kitchen with a butter knife ( sarcastically we see this happening all the time on the news ). but think about all those appliances with cords designed hanging down and polarity dependent power bricks. I also have wonderful pictures from a hospital where all plugs in the room weren’t even fully inserted! I think we would’ve been much better off requiring a half insulated prong like the UK and outlets that won’t make contact until fully inserted. I was in a Subway restaurant and noticed their microwave with a molded 50A cord had pulled on the insulation and snapped it away exposing the inner insulated conductors just because the plug had to be facing up!

  5. James R Rapallo March 20, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    what is the decibel of this generator

    • Greg Rice March 23, 2017 at 11:46 am #

      Hi James,

      The generator has an operating decibel level of 77dB.

      Thanks,
      Greg

  6. Jack Brosch March 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    Why is Pulsar or DuroMax not even rated by Consumer Reports?

  7. James LaFrance March 25, 2017 at 5:13 am #

    I’ve also learned if you need parts for the engine on your generator such as air filters, carb parts. A brand name engine can benefit you also. Such as B & S or Kohler. You can get these parts local as to having to order them from god knows where.

  8. MH March 26, 2017 at 10:05 am #

    *EDIT*
    On the Pulsar, the peak for gas is 10,000W with 8,000W rated, while the propane is 9,000W peak and 7,000W rated. You lose a good 1,000W of power switching from *GAS TO PROPANE* {NOT propane to gas}, so it’s important to take into consideration what sort of fuel source you plan to use most often and the power associated with the unit.

What do you think?