What to Look for in a Generator?

What to Look for in a Generator? Buying Guide

6 Min Read

One of the smartest decisions you can make as a homeowner is to invest in a quality generator. But how do you know what to look for in a generator?

We have all had to deal with the headache, hassle, frustration (and sometimes fear) of an extended power outage and blackout before. There’s nothing worse than having the lights go out in the middle of the night – except for your heat going out at the same time in the dead of winter.

The best way to secure your energy independence at home is to purchase a quality generator you know you can trust.

With so many different great options on the market today, though, sifting through those choices can be a bit of a challenge.

Every machine and every brand is going to promise of the best results, the most power, and the most fuel-efficient and reliable capabilities. Some of them will meet expectations, many will leave you disappointed – and a handful will exceed everything you hoped to get out of this investment.

Use the inside information below to figure out exactly what to look for in a generator moving forward!

How are You Going to Use the Generator?

Right out of the gate, you need to think about how you are going to use this generator going forward.

Are you looking for a generator that may only be pressed into action sporadically, only in emergency situations that might happen a handful of times each year (if that)?

Or are you looking for a generator that you will be using around your property where traditional electrical hookups aren’t available, on job sites, while you’re out camping, or in a bunch of other ways throughout the year when it isn’t being used as your emergency backup system?

Are you somewhere in the middle?

At the end of the day, how you hope to use your generator is going to have the biggest impact on the kind of machine you need to purchase. Square this away in as much detail as possible and you’ll have a much easier time finding a generator you are happy with.

Power and Outlet Options

The next thing you need to think about is the amount of power and the amount of outlets that your generator offers.

If you are looking for an “emergency only” system, maybe you don’t need a tremendous amount of power. Maybe you only need a generator that puts out 120 V of AC current.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a workforce of a generator you might need thousands of watts of energy, 240 V of AC/DC current, and a whole host of other outlets so that you can connect a bunch of powered appliances or tools to your generator at once.

Again, how you hope to use your generator going forward is going to help you decide how much power you need and how many outlets you’d like to have access to.

Harmonic Distortion

If you plan on running sensitive electronics (like your laptop, for example) off of your generator in a pinch you need to think about the harmonic distortion the generator puts out.

This is one of the last things anybody thinks about when trying to figure out what to look for in a generator, but it’s a huge piece of the puzzle.

Generators with lower levels of harmonic distortion (less than 6%) are a lot safer for sensitive electronics like laptops, televisions, and some appliances.

You might even need to pick up an inverter generator versus a traditional generator if harmonic distortion is going to be a big problem with the way you hope to use this hardware.

Fuel Type

Fuel considerations need to be a priority as well.

The fuel choice you select for your new generator is going to have a major impact (maybe the biggest impact) on how you use this equipment in the future.

After all, you could have the greatest generator ever made – but if you don’t have fuel to run it consistently it isn’t going to be much help at all, is it?

Most portable generators run off of gasoline or diesel fuel right now, but some are starting to run off of propane and natural gas as well. There are even dual fuel and triple fuel options to pick and choose from if you want some built-in resiliency and fuel redundancy options.

Fuel Capacity

Fuel capacity goes hand-in-hand with the fuel choice that you’ve selected.

The bigger the tank of fuel your generator has, the longer you are going to be able to run it before you have to top things off.

On the flipside, larger fuel tanks always equal heavier weight machines – which may not be exactly what to look for in a generator that you are hoping to keep portable.

Walking that fine line between capacity and carrying weight is something that you’ll want to really think about.

Starter System

You really have two different starter systems available to pick and choose from in the generator world right now:

  • Pull start models that operate similarly to the way that push lawnmowers work
  • Electric start models that only require you to push a button or turn a key to fire up

Some people like the pull start option, knowing that no matter what they should be able to crank and crank until that generator fires up. Others like the convenience and ease of use of electric start options, provided that they have a redundant pull start option built-in should be electric system fail for any reason.

Noise Level

Don’t forget about noise level issues, either.

You can usually mitigate a lot of the noise problems that even the loudest generators produce through positioning, smart acoustic blocking, and things like that. But why not start off with a generator that is a lot quieter in the first place?


One of the most important things to consider when buying a generator is whether it requires you to ground the generator or has built-in grounding.

Be sure to take note if the generator you want is self grounded or requires you to ground. Generators that require you to ground before use take a little extra effort to get set up and get running safely.


When considering what to look for in a generator, try to keep these things in mind. Generator shopping can be a little intimating with all the available options and brands. Hopefully this post will make the research and buying process a lot easier than it would have otherwise.



Brian has spent over 30 years as a general contractor, and in that time seen and faced many challenges. He brings all his knowledge of portable generators, battery powered tools, and outdoor equipment to every post he writes through real life experience. Learn more about us.

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