What’s a Portable Generator?

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A portable generator is a temporary power source that uses a gas or diesel engine to create electricity. It can be used for construction sites, sports events, or during power outages. Safety precautions must be taken, and the generator’s capacity should be checked before use.

A portable generator is a gas or diesel powered device that provides temporary electrical power. The engine turns a small turbine, which in turn creates usable electricity up to a certain power level. Users can plug appliances or tools directly into generator outlets, or the generator can be professionally wired into a home’s sub-panel.

Many construction crews use a portable generator to power tools and lights at a remote site. Sports officials may also bring one to aid in night play or to run an electronic timer/scoreboard. Most commonly, residents and businesses left without power after a weather event will use a portable generator to keep vital appliances running. These devices usually have enough power to keep a freezer, refrigerator, television, and some lights running.

Since a portable generator uses a combustion engine to generate electricity, it must have several regulators on board. The motor must spin at 3600 rpm to generate the standard 60hz of alternating current in North American homes. To control engine speed, a generator uses a “governor” that mechanically prevents the engine from turning too fast. A voltage regulator also maintains the 120-volt output, which keeps electric motors from burning out.

For safety reasons, these devices must be used in dry conditions in a ventilated outdoor area. Carbon monoxide fumes can build up from generator engine exhaust, so indoor use is strongly discouraged regardless of ventilation system. Touching a working portable generator with wet hands can cause electric shock. A canopy can be placed over the generator to protect it from the elements, but the soil underneath should be dry.

A portable generator is designed to be a temporary electrical generator, measured in hours of use rather than days. Size matters when it comes to device capacity. The key measure is total horsepower. All electric motors need more power to start than to run. Before you hook up the appliances to the generator, add up the total number of watts they’ll all be requiring. This information should be found on a nameplate near the plug. Compare this number to the power rating. The generator must produce an equal or greater amount of watts to operate safely. This may mean sacrificing the use of an air conditioner in favor of a refrigerator. A larger generator with a higher power rating means more power available for higher wattage tools and appliances.

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