The best purchase we made while living in our RV, and possibly ever, was a portable generator. We continue to use it on a regular basis now that we are in a house too. It was a daunting decision at the time, but I would spend that money all over again in a heartbeat. Here are some of our tried and true tips for how to choose a generator.
Back in the RV, we used the generator to boondock (park off grid). Now that we are in a house, it starts our van when the battery dies, and powers a fan while we sell chickens at the flea market. We live in the Appalachia Mountains where a storm is almost guaranteed to knock down trees and our power along with it. The generator gives us peace of mind that we can sustain ourselves when modern conveniences are unavailable.
Shopping for a generator can be intimidating. You will be bombarded with technical information and multiple brands to choose from. My goal with this post is to simplify the process so that you can be confident in your purchase.
Some generators come with a built-in inverter. An inverter converts AC to direct current (DC), and stores it in an internal battery. With a DC electric supply, you can run delicate electronics and household appliances because the current is more stable. Inverter generators are more quiet than traditional generators because they throttle up or down as more or less power is needed.
How to Choose a Generator
When choosing a generator, the first thing you want to do is determine how much power (watts) you will need. Make a list of the appliances you will likely run with the generator. Then read their labels, or search the internet, to determine how many watts they require.
For example, a laptop typically uses 250 watts. A microwave will use many more, usually 600-1200 watts. How many appliances on the list will you use at the same time? Add up the watts, and that is the minimum you need the generator to generate.
Now consider where you will be using the generator. Will it be used at campgrounds? In the Walmart parking lot? At your private residence? Or in the middle of nowhere? This is important because the noise level of generators can vary a lot. Some are so quiet you will forget they are there. Others will turn neighbors into enemies real quick.
How long will you need the generator to run? If you are looking for a long-term solution for camping or boondocking, look for an extended Run Time.
Take a look at the outlets offered on the generator too. Will you need a 3-prong outlet? If you are hooking into a RV, you probably do. Some have USB outlets. Is that important for your needs to charge a phone or camera?
Finally, what kind of fuel do you prefer? Most generators use gas or propane. However, you can purchase a kit to convert your generator to another fuel source, such as natural gas.
Now that you have an idea of what you need in a generator. Let’s look at some popular brands and what they have to offer.