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Portable Generator vs Standby Generator

If you live in an area that has severe power outages (either due to poor grid infrastructure or natural disasters), then investing in a good-quality backup generator is an ideal choice. In this way, you can power not only smaller devices but also large appliances. Are you in the market for a new backup generator? Is this your first time purchasing a generator? Then you will hear a lot of names such as Inverter Generators, Portable Generators, Standby Generators, etc. What do all these technical terms mean? Which one to buy among Portable Generator vs Standby Generator?

In this guide, let us understand the basics of both Portable generators and Standby generators, and look at their advantages, disadvantages, and applications. We will also make a simple Portable Generator vs Standby Generator comparison so that you will get a better idea of the two.

What are Portable Generators?

A Portable generator is a small, lightweight, and mobile source of power that can produce electricity during power outages and emergencies. Portable Generators contain an Internal Combustion Engine that is often fueled by gasoline, propane, natural gas, or diesel and an alternator that converts the rotation power of the engine to electric power.

You can access the electricity from the generator using the electrical outlets present on the front panel. Just plug the device or appliance into the outlet or use a good-quality extension cord. Speaking of devices, depending on the power rating of the portable generator, you can power small lights to large refrigerators or heaters.

The main selling point of a portable generator is, well, its mobility. Since it is a relatively small unit, you can carry or move it from one place to other with ease and generate power on demand.

Most portable generators come with mechanical support (handles, wheels, etc.) that helps in moving in the generator.

Another highlight of portable generators is their versatility. While you can use it as a backup power system for your home or business and run different electrical appliances and devices, you can also use the main source of power while camping, construction or worksites, tailgating, etc.

In all these applications, you can use portable generators to power lights, home, and office electrical appliances, power tools, and large electrical devices (heaters, freezers, etc.).

Key Points about Portable Generators

  • You can get portable generators that run on gasoline, propane, and natural gas. Diesel Fuel is also an option but it is quite uncommon for you to see small-size diesel generators (diesel fuel is the primary fuel for large standby generators and commercial generators).
  • Regardless of the fuel, the generator burns the fuel to run the engine and, in this process, it releases harmful gases. The two main exhaust gases are Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO). Of the two, Carbon Monoxide is very dangerous.
  • It is colorless and odorless and if anyone inhales it (even a small quantity), the consequences can be dangerous (sometimes life-threatening). So, the placement of the generator is very important. Never run the portable generator (or any generator that burns fuel) indoors or in an enclosed space without proper ventilation.
  • Another important feature of a portable generator is its cost-effectiveness. Of course, this is a comparative feature i.e., a portable generator is cost-effective if we compare it with a permanent backup generator (standby generator).
  • The cost of portable generators is less and in the majority of cases, you won’t need a professional installation.
  • Even when you are not using portable generators, storing them is very simple (with necessary precautions). Maintenance-related tasks such as cleaning, changing oil, etc. are also less intensive.
  • Portable Generators are basically internal combustion engines. So, naturally, they are loud devices. This might become a problem in residential or camping situations.
  • For a safe and accident-free operation, read all the documentation and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when setting up, starting, refueling, or using a portable generator.
  • Make sure that the generator is properly grounded and the electrical load does not exceed the generator’s capacity.

Advantages of Portable Generators

Here are some advantages of Portable generators.

  • The first advantage of portable generators is in the name itself i.e., they are portable devices. You can easily move them from one location to another or carry them in your trucks or RVs.
  • If you compare the price of portable generators and other types of generators (inverter generators or standby generators), then they are the least expensive option. So, if you want a cost-effective power backup system, then portable generators are the primary choice.
  • Continuing the cost-effectiveness of portable generators, you don’t need a professional installation as portable generators are very easy to use. Portable generators are easy to set up and use. They are also easy to refuel.
  • You can get portable generators in a variety of sizes and power outputs, making them suitable for a wide range of applications, from powering small appliances to providing backup power for homes and small businesses. You can also use them for outdoor events, camping trips, and other outdoor activities that require temporary power.
  • Due to their small engine and low power output, the fuel consumption of portable generators is low. But in order to increase fuel efficiency, we have to connect 80 to 90% of the rated load to the generator.
  • You can run the portable generator without any installation just by plugging in the devices to its outlets (either directly or using extension cords). This is a low-cost solution. Alternatively, you can also make a permanent setup out of the portable generator by integrating it with the current residential electrical system. Don’t forget to use a Generator Transfer Switch.
  • Another cost-saving feature of portable generators is low maintenance. Apart from regular cleaning and occasional oil changes, there is no need for regular servicing.

Disadvantages of Portable Generators

Here are some disadvantages of Portable generators.

  • While the small size and portable nature of Portable Generators make them easy to carry or transport, it also limits the total power output of the generator. At best, you can get portable generators with a power rating of 15,000 Watts. Look for the Starting Watts and Running Watts ratings of the generator as well as the appliance.
  • Open-frame portable generators can be noisy. So, if you plan to use them in residential areas or camping sites, you will draw unnecessary attention. You have to check the noise levels of the portable generator while making the purchase and avoid any noise complaints.
  • Traditional portable generators need a constant supply of fuel. This can be a problem if you plan to use the portable generator continuously for backup power. Also, portable generators run at a constant speed irrespective of the load. This means the fuel efficiency is very poor if you use less than 50% of the rated power.
  • The fuel tank sizes of portable generators are small. So, you have to refuel regularly. Larger propane tanks might be a better alternative than gasoline if your generator supports dual fuel.
  • For a problem-free operation, you have to perform regular maintenance on portable generators. This includes cleaning, changing the oil, replacing filters, etc. Depending on your usage, this can be a costly and time-consuming job.
  • Leaving the generator out in the open makes it vulnerable to severe weather or even theft. You have to take proper care to secure the generator and also place it in a shed (or similar structure) so that rain or snow cannot cause any damage.

Applications of Portable Generators

Portable generators have a wide range of applications, including:

  • Residential Homes: Portable generators are commonly used in residential homes as a backup power source during power outages, allowing homes to maintain essential services such as lighting, heating, and refrigeration.
  • Outdoor Events: Portable generators are commonly used at outdoor events, such as camping trips, tailgates, and festivals, to provide power for lighting, cooling, and charging devices.
  • Job Sites: Portable generators are used on job sites, such as construction sites and roadwork, to provide power for tools and equipment, allowing work to continue even in remote locations where power is not available.
  • Emergency Services: Portable generators are used by emergency services, such as disaster relief organizations, to provide temporary power for essential equipment and services during emergencies.
  • Agriculture: Portable generators are used in agriculture to provide backup power for essential equipment, such as pumps, allowing essential tasks to be performed even during power outages.
  • Recreational Vehicles: Portable generators are commonly used in recreational vehicles, such as RVs and boats, to provide power for lighting, cooling, and charging devices when traveling.
  • Power Tools: Portable generators are used to power portable power tools, such as chainsaws, pressure washers, and air compressors, allowing work to be performed even in remote locations where power is not available.

Portable generators have a wide range of applications, including residential homes, outdoor events, job sites, emergency services, agriculture, recreational vehicles, and power tools. These applications demonstrate the versatility and portability of portable generators as a backup power solution.

What are Standby Generators?

With Portable Generators, you have the choice of using them as a temporary backup system or you can even hardwire it to the residential electrical system to use them as a permanent backup system (the latter is very rare).

If you are looking for a true “permanent” backup power system, then Standby Generators are the ultimate choice for homes and small businesses. They act as a reliable source of power during power outages, brownouts, or other emergencies.

We have to connect the standby generators to the electrical system of the building or property. The name “Standby” means that these generators automatically kick in when the main electrical power source fails.

They continuously monitor the state of the utility power (usually the voltage). If it detects a power outage (when the mains voltage falls below a certain threshold), it disconnects the utility power from the main breaker panel, starts the generator, waits till the output is stable, and then connects the generator’s output to the breaker panel.

Technically, it is the job of the Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) to detect utility power and switch on the Standby Generator.

Standby Generators are large units with very high power ratings. Hence, we usually install them at large homes, businesses, or applications that need instant backup (medical, food, small industries, etc.).

Key Points about Standby Generators

Standby generators are a popular choice for large homes and businesses because they offer several advantages over portable generators. Here are some important points about Standby Generators.

  • The power rating or power output of Standby Generators is very high in comparison with portable generators. You can power several large electrical appliances or devices without any worry of overloading the generator.
  • An important feature of Standby Generators is Automatic Operation. When you combine Automatic Transfer Switch and a Standby Generator, there is no need for human intervention. The Transfer Switch will continuously monitor the status of the utility power and automatically turns on (or turns off) the Standby Generator. The entire operation is very seamless.
  • Standby Generators have a quiet operation and are more reliable than portable generators. As we place them permanently in a secure position, they are not vulnerable to theft or damage. Some models have additional safety and security features such as alarm systems, warning owners if there is an issue or problem, etc.
  • Residential and Small business Standby Generators usually run on propane or natural gas. You can also get some models that run on Gasoline and Diesel fuel. Of the two, diesel fuel is the primary fuel for larger generators. Also, if you connect the generator to an existing propane or natural gas line, then you can use them for continuous operation without refueling.
  • Standby generators are more expensive than portable generators. Unlike portable generators, you need a professional installation for safe operation. These two factors make the choice of selecting a Standby Generator a large investment option.
  • You have to clean, service, and maintain the Standby Generator for long life and problem-free operation.

Advantages of Standby Generators

Here are some advantages of Standby Generators.

  • The power output or power rating of Standby generators is very when compared to portable generators. You can power an entire house or an office building with Standby Generators. For regular applications, you can run several large electrical appliances, tools, and devices.
  • Most modern standby generators are designed with automatic operation in mind. Some units come with a built-in Automatic Transfer Switch. If not, you have to use an external Automatic Transfer Switch. The combination of these two will provide the user with a complete automatic backup power solution.
  • The installation of Standby Generators is permanent. While this needs a professional installation, the benefit is you have a secure system. You don’t have to worry about theft. Also, the design of the Standby Generators ensures that they can withstand severe and harsh weather conditions. Due to its automatic operation, you don’t have to go to the generator while it is raining or snowing.
  • The benefit of a permanent installation is that you can place it far away from the house (or business), thus avoiding any noise from the generator. Moreover, modern standby generators are much quieter than portable generators. So, you can install it in residential neighborhoods without the risk of noise complaints.
  • The fuel efficiency of Standby Generators is not out of the world but generally, they are more efficient than traditional portable generators.
  • If you are looking for a backup power system that can provide continuous power for an extended period, then Standby Generators are the only choice.

Disadvantages of Standby Generators

Here are some disadvantages of Standby Generators.

  • The main disadvantage of Standby generators is their cost. Standby generators are available with high power ratings with several advanced features (the main one is automatic operation). As a result, they tend to be way more expensive than portable generators.
  • Permanent installation is the only way with Standby Generators. There is no question about moving them from one location to other. Also, all standby generator manufacturers recommend professional installation.
  • Standby generators require regular maintenance. This includes cleaning, oil changes, and air filter replacements.
  • If you combine the high cost of the standby generator with professional installation, you are looking at a large initial investment. In addition to this, you will also have to bear the cost of maintenance and fuel. Overall, the Standby Generator is an expensive affair.
  • Speaking of fuel, propane, and natural gas is the primary choice of fuel. Large Standby Generators usually run on diesel fuel. But depending on the manufacturer, model, power rating, and other factors, you can get Standby Generators that run on gasoline, propane, natural gas, and diesel. Diesel fuel and gasoline may be available everywhere but propane and natural gas might not be available in rural areas.
  • Standby Generators are large units and are way too complex than traditional portable generators. In case of repairs, you need to contact professionals.

Applications of Standby Generators

Here are some applications of Standby Generators.

  • The primary application of standby generators is a backup power system for homes and small businesses in the event of a blackout or power outage. Depending on your setup, you can power an entire home (or a shop) using the standby generator.
  • As most standby generators have automatic operation i.e., disconnect the utility power, turn on the generator, and connect the generator to the main breaker panel in the event of a power outage, most commercial buildings, offices, retail stores, shops, etc. prefer this over portable generators.
  • There are some institutions and facilities such as medical, food, industries, etc., where instant backup power is mandatory. In all these cases, standby generators are the primary choice of backup power.
  • Almost all emergency services such as fire departments, police stations, etc. use standby generators to provide backup power for essential equipment (radios, lights, etc.).
  • Data centers have a tricky backup solution. The entire system usually runs on a UPS (very large UPS system obviously). If there is a power failure, batteries in the UPS system provide the power until the standby generator kicks in.
  • Another similar application is telecommunication systems such as cell towers and radio towers. They use standby generators to provide backup power for critical equipment during power outages.
  • Agriculture, especially in rural areas or regions with unreliable power supply, uses standby generators to provide backup power (or in some cases as the main power source). You can run all the essential farming equipment, pumps, lighting, etc.

Portable Generator vs Standby Generator

Portable generators and standby generators are two common types of backup power solutions. If you are in the process of buying a generator and couldn’t decide between Portable Generator vs Standby Generator, then here is a simple comparison of the two.

Size and Weight

Portable generators, as the name suggests, are portable in nature i.e., you can easily move or transport them from one location to other. So, they have a small size and are reasonably lightweight.

Standby Generators on the other hand are large and heavy units. You have to decide on a location and permanently install them. There is no scope for moving them after installation.

Power Rating (Output Power)

Portable generators typically have a low power rating (lower power output) compared to standby generators. You can get portable generators with a power rating of 2,000 Watts and can go up to 15,000 Watts.

Coming to standby generators, you can get them with high power ratings of 25,000 Watts or more.

With portable generators, you can power several small electrical devices and some large appliances. But with a standby generator, you can power an entire home, small shop, or business.


Most portable generators in the market are manual devices. Even if you opt for a model that has a remote start feature, you have to manually start it in the event of a power outage.

Standby generators on the other hand are designed for automatic operation. When you combine a Standby Generator with an Automatic Transfer Switch, the entire operation becomes fully automatic without human intervention.


With portable generators, you have the option of using the generator without any wiring as it has outlets on its front panel. You can simply plug in your devices and appliances either directly into the generator or through a generator-grade extension cord.

Alternatively, you can hardwire the generator to the residential electrical system. But be careful and include a transfer switch.

Standby Generators do not have the luxury of direct connection. You have to wire the generator to the main breaker panel with a transfer switch (preferably an automatic transfer switch).


Whether it is a portable generator or standby generator, internally they have an engine that burns fuel and produces electricity. So, both require regular maintenance, including cleaning, changing the oil, and replacing filters.

Type of Fuel

Portable generators use gasoline, propane, or natural gas as fuel sources. Of the three, gasoline and propane are very popular.

Standby generators typically use propane or natural gas or propane. If you have a propane or natural gas line in your home, then you connect it to the standby generator and operate it continuously for extended periods.


Last but not least, the cost of a Portable Generator vs Standby generator. From the above discussion, you might have guessed the typical cost of both backup power systems.

Portable generators are generally less expensive compared to standby generators. Standby generators require a larger initial investment, as they need professional installation and also require a permanent location for installation.


Portable generators can be an extremely useful tool for providing electrical power in a variety of situations, but they also require proper use and maintenance to ensure their safe and efficient operation. Whether you are using a portable generator for backup power at home or as a mobile power source on the job site, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Standby generators are a reliable and convenient source of backup power for homes and businesses. They offer automatic operation, consistent and reliable power, and are more secure and convenient to use than portable generators. However, standby generators require a larger upfront investment and professional installation, as well as regular maintenance and service to ensure their safe and efficient operation.

In this guide, we saw the basics of portable generators and standby generators along with their advantages, disadvantages, and applications. After that, we made a Portable Generator vs Standby Generator comparison.

We hope that this guide could help you understand everything about portable generators and standby generators. If you feel we missed something or want us to add anything, do lets us know in the comments section. It will not only help us but also other readers.

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