How to Choose a Generator

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Choosing a generator is easier than most people think. While you may have friends or relatives suggesting a particular model because it worked well for them, we'd advise you to first know what to look for in a generator. In this article, we look at four essential considerations that even professionals have to keep in mind when looking to purchase a generator. In brief, they include:

  • Type of generator
  • Type of fuel required
  • Sizing (Wattage needed)
  • Helpful features

First thing to put into consideration when in search of a generator is the type that you need. Ideally, there are three kinds of generators you can find. They include:

  • Portable generators
  • Inverter generators
  • Standby generators

Portable Generators

As their name suggests, portable generators are your best bet when you need a mobile power source that you can easily move around in your workshop or jobsite. These usually rely on either diesel/petrol or propane or can support both.

They provide some decent power output and can power energy intensive devices such as power tools. However, this will only be possible if the portable generator you have has a power output greater than 5KW.

Inverter Generators

If you are into outdoor activities such as tailgating or camping, an inverter generator would be more ideal for a variety of reasons. Just like portable generators, inverter generators are lightweight and easy to move around. Additionally, they are also quieter and can thus complement your camping or tailgating experience.

Inverter generators are also easier to maintain because they have digital alternators rather than mechanical ones. Most also come with modern and useful features such as parallel connection capability which lets you get more power while keeping things quiet.

Standby Generators

These are the kinds of generators that can power an entire home or even an institution. They are the largest of all three types of generators and the most powerful too. You can get standby generators that use either diesel or gas or a dual fuel model that can use propane as well.

Standby Generators

With size and performance on the extreme, you should know that the cost of these generators is high up too. As such, if you're thinking of a power solution that can adequately serve you at home, you'd need to have about $10,000 or more to acquire a standby generator.

Fuel Type

Fuel type consideration is equally important. You should choose a generator that relies on fuel which is readily available to you and at an affordable price as well. Earlier in our discussion on the types of generators, we only mentioned gasoline, diesel, and propane. However, some generators also rely on LPG. Let's now delve into the pros and cons of each of these fuel types.


This is the most common type of fuel available globally and it thus makes sense to choose a generator that runs on gas/diesel if you want versatility. Many gasoline and diesel generators are actually cheaper than other kinds of generators. Diesel generators, for instance, burn fuel slowly and can thus be cost effective if you plan to run the generator for long durations.

Natural Gas

If you are in an area that has a natural gas service, you're in luck because you can easily grab a generator that runs off natural gas and save tons of cash. To power a 7KW generator, for instance, you would need approximately 2,400 cubic feet of natural gas. This will cost about $25 if you keep the generator running all day.

Things can be a little hectic if you want to use LPG cylinders. This is because LPG cylinders can run out fast. As such, you would need to carry multiple cylinders depending on your intended use.


Using propane is ideal if you live in remote areas. It is a convenient type of fuel, and the fact that some generators are dual fuel means that propane will always be an option when there's no gasoline or diesel in sight. However, relying on propane for long durations can also be expensive. Typically, you can end up using more than $50 if you keep your generator running for an entire day.

Checkout Best Propane Generator Here

Generator Sizing

Now that fuel types and generator types are out of the way, the next part involves determining which generator will adequately provide you with the power you need. Ideally, it doesn't matter whether you get a standby generator or a portable generator because each one of them will provide you with power. The real question you should be asking yourself is how much power you need, and this is where generator sizing comes in handy.

Generator sizing helps you pick a generator with the right wattage. This is important for several reasons. For one, you will always be assured that your generator will handle your loads efficiently. This is why we also don't recommend you buy a generator simply because you saw someone else using it. Your needs could be different, and you might end up buying a generator that will only handle half of your load.

To size a generator, draw up a list of all the electronic or electrical devices you intend to use when there's no power. Be sure to sum up all their wattage so that you end up with your total energy requirements. If you'll be using the generator with devices that aren't energy intensive, you will end up with a lower wattage. On the other hand, if you have a bunch of power tools on the list, you'll definitely have a bigger load that may be in excess of 5000W.

Depending on the total load, you can now comfortably choose a generator with a slightly higher rating. For instance, if your sum came up to 5000W, you can grab a 6KW generator or even a 7KW generator.

Optional but Helpful Features

Even after sizing properly, there are usually a bunch of other things that you might want to consider such as the generator's features. Since we are living in the 21st century, it wouldn't hurt to have a generator that comes with features that make your work easy. Generator manufacturers realized this and have been constantly incorporating great features on their generators. As there exist a wide variety of features, we'll only talk about three popular features.

Remote Start

Generators with remote start allow you to turn them on from the comfort of your chair. You don't need to go outside and physically turn on a generator that comes with the remote start feature. All you need is your smartphone. In addition, many of the generators with this feature also let you regularly check the health of your generator.

Fuel Life Meter

This might sound like an overly basic feature, but you'd be surprised to find out that many generators lack a fuel life meter. A fuel life meter simply shows how much fuel you have left so that you can start planning about a fuel top-up.

Parallel Connection Capability

You'll mostly come across this feature if you want to purchase an inverter generator. This feature allows you to connect multiple inverter generators together so as to achieve a higher power output while keeping noise on the low. Standby generators and portable generators hardly have this feature since they can generate enough power.

Overall, your ideal generator will depend on your power requirements and some of your personal preferences as well. Since there are three main types of generators, the first step involves choosing a generator that meets your immediate needs. Tailgaters, for instance, may prefer inverter generators as they are quieter. Next, you would have to factor in the type of fuel that is readily available to you at a fair cost. Once you're done with that, you'll remain with sizing which is the easiest part of the process since it basically entails knowing your total energy requirements.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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