Generators 101: Standby Generators vs. Portable Generators

There are two types of generators for backup power: Standby and Portable. Let’s consider the benefits and considerations for each in Sammamish.

Standby Generators – the benefits of this system

A standby home generator keeps your power on during an outage. It’s installed outside your house, on a pad (like an AC unit) and comes on automatically at the first sense of interrupted power — whether you’re home or away. Within seconds the automatic transfer switch (ATS) seamlessly transfers your home’s selected electrical circuits and appliances to backup power, such as natural gas.

The ATS acts as a safety mechanism too: It prevents back-feeding electricity to the grid, a potentially lethal practice that can start fires and harm utility workers attempting to restore your neighborhood’s power.

These generators deliver high-quality power that won’t harm your electronics and are powerful enough to power critical hard-wired systems like AC, furnace, sump pumps, well pumps, security systems, computers and large appliances.

Standby generators connect to your natural gas line, which is on demand, so there’s no refueling necessary.

It’s easiest to determine what home standby generator system is right for your household by first thinking about what household items your family wants to remain functioning normally during a power outage. The number of home appliances or electrical loads you want to power will determine the size and cost of the residential generator.

A homeowner can manage the standby home generator, receive updates via text or e-mail, and view real-time power operation and more from your computer, phone or tablet with optional Wi-Fi connection.

Once the generator system senses utility power is back online, your home is automatically transferred back to utility power and the standby generator is shut down until it’s needed the next time.

A standby unit increases your home’s value for resale.


It can cost up to $15,000 to install a powerful standby generator and you need proper sets backs, permits and a professional HVAC company to install your system.

Your generator will exercise itself and run diagnostic tests for 20 minutes each week (or less frequently) to make sure it’s ready when needed. It happens automatically and you can schedule it, but it can be noisy. You might want to check the noise ordinance for your neighborhood. You will want to be respectful of your neighbors and exercise your system during waking hours.

Portable Generators – Benefits

Portable generators provide electricity by running a gas-powered engine which turns an on-board alternator to generate electrical power. Power outlets on the unit allow you to plug in extension cords, electric-powered tools and appliances into it. In general, the more powerful the generator, the more outlet combinations are available.

No installation is required and a good, high watt generator is about $3,000.

Portable generators are not permanently installed and can be easily moved from place to place. They are priced by the amount of power they produce called watts. The size that is right for you depends on what you want to power up during an outage.

The portable is designed for job sites, camping, tailgating and other mobile activities – making it versatile.

The safe place to operate a portable generator is outside (not in garage or near doors or windows) and it’s absolutely mandatory in order to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning.

It runs on gasoline or diesel which must be stored safely so it’s ready when you need it for an emergency outage.


You will need to react when the power goes out: find, set up, fuel and start the generator (tough to do in the dark!) and run extension cords to your home.

Be sure you have the necessary components to get it running: access to the generator, safe location to run it (not near doors or windows), fuel and extension cords and know which items to power.

“Cheap” generators do not provide “clean power” and can harm your appliances, computer and furnace. It’s all about the inverter.

The amount of items that can be powered depends on the size of your generator – make sure you identify what items you’d like to power and what the watt demand is to ensure that your unit can safely power those items.

Remember, the best time to buy a portable generator or install a standby unit is before you need it.

Be safe and prepared!