Standby Generators vs Portable Generators

Standby Generators vs Portable Generators

Published: July 5th, 2016

What’s out there, and what to consider

When considering the purchase/installation of a standby VS Portable generator, for most Pennsylvania shoppers it becomes a question of COST VS. CONVENIENCE.  In this article, we’ll look at the initial consideration of where to go for your purchase. In subsequent articles, we’ll discuss more about their cost, maintenance, safety and function.

First, we’ll answer the question “What's out there?”  Answer…all kinds of folks claiming to be in the generator business.  There are major brands (Kohler, General Electric, Briggs & Stratton, Onan, Winco, Generac) sold by a local network of established Factory-Authorized Dealers.

Factory-Authorized Dealers are usually  a source for both standby and portable generators. These dealers purchase directly through the manufacturer and have received specific training and approval from the manufacturer regarding the product and  proper installation. To obtain approval, they have demonstrated stability and experience. Many dealers offer factory financing , and accept major credit cards . These dealers provide a source for factory-trained service, parts and warranty administration if and when the product requires attention.  They usually provide professional installation …the electrical portion of the work performed by a licensed electrician, the gas by a licensed pro, and are factory-trained to make any adjustments that are necessary, either on your site (standby generators) or at their shop (portable units). Many are certified small engine repair experts as well.  By far, this is the least risky way to invest in a new unit.  There is the built-in assurance that there will be someone local to turn to for proper installation, and to rely on to fix it, if something goes wrong. There is also a direct line back to the manufacturer for support if the problem is serious.  Parts are usually available through these dealers for all models, even models that are many years old. They usually offer competitive pricing.

Electricians who purchase their products through home centers or a variety of supply houses, often offer installation of standby or portable generators.  They usually provide the electrical experience to safely install these units.  They don’t always have  training specific to generators, although some may attend training offered by their distributor. They can offer the knowledge to install the electrical  portion of the installation, safely and according to the National Electric Code.   The problem with using an electrician who is not a factory-trained installer or dealer is that they have no factory training specific to making adjustments to the  engine or alternator (makes the alternating current), should adjustments or repairs be required. It is not unusual for the need to make adjustments at the initial installation.  Although a generator will usually work straight out of the carton, improper or the lack of adjustment may cause it to fail in a short period of time.  At that time, the electrician will need to turn you over to others for help. The factory people will need to determine if their instructions for installation were complied with,  in order to cover the failure under their warranty. There are many concerns in a properly-performed installation other than just the electrical connections.  In our opinion, all installers should be factory trained, so our advice is simply…choose an electrician with formal generator training (They get certificates for completion), or simply deal with an experienced and seasoned installer. .

Home Centers are another popular destination when looking to purchase a standby or portable. They offer good pricing, and the use of a credit card or financing program.  Unfortunately, they offer little in the way of support once you purchase the product.  They usually leave you on your own to find a servicing dealer if you experience a problem. Some home centers offer installation.  You need to keep in mind that home centers usually pay a very low amount for installation to the subcontractor that they use.  Because the subcontractor is installing for a low price, too often the installation reflects that low price.  Home centers do not offer factory trained service or parts so you will be on your own after the installation. To the best of our knowledge, they do not accept returns on these units.

Finally, there is the internet, the ultimate shopping mall.  Sometimes the lowest priced units because of the lowest level of service.  You will pay no sales tax (you are required to do this on your own), and even sometimes receive free shipping.  Charge cards are the accepted form of payment. They will usually drop the generator at the end of your driveway.  You will need to find a qualified installer who doesn’t mind taking the risk of handling and installing something he did not supply.  Most experienced installers frown on these because they become financially involved and responsible for something that they have little or no control over the support they will receive if there are problems.  If the product is damaged or defective, they become caught in the middle of a problem that they don’t need.  KEEP IN MIND, when you purchase a generator from one of these sources, you can expect to receive little or  no support if you have a problem.  You may find yourself on an island and you will certainly be in need of support at some point along the way.  Parts and service will become your responsibility.

In general, when you are looking at any generator, you should consider the service network for the product.  Generators utilize an internal combustion engine as their power source.  Internal combustion engines, whether they run on natural gas, LP gas, diesel, or gasoline, need regular maintenance and   eventually, parts will need replacement.  As even a bargain deal on a standby or portable generator still involves a lot of money, ask yourself the following question, before the making the purchase. It will help you make the right choice… Does the source where you are purchasing your generator offer the support you may need after the unit is in place, and does your installer have the experience, and certifications to provide a well-planned, safe and code-compliant installation?Te