street lighting. night. The generator is yellow. Generates electricity. Used as a backup power supply

Standby vs. Portable Generators for Backup Power

Asudden blackout makes people realize how reliant on electricity everyone is. Sitting alone in a dark room, no social media, no TV… even the fridge becomes compromised! As one’s mind races and they hope that the electricity comes back as soon as possible, people start thinking of alternate sources of energy.

No, not candles or rechargeable torches, but generators. Generators produce electrical energy that can be used to perform all regular domestic functions. When it comes to generators, there are 2 primary types: portable and standby. Here is a quick guide on the two types and their similarities and differences.

Portable Generators

These are generators that use a gas-powered engine (gasoline, propane, or natural gas) that generates electricity through an onboard alternator, either brushed or brushless. Since they are powered by gas, they must be refilled periodically when the main source of electricity goes out. Using gas also releases carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, making them less safe for the environment.

Portable generators are relatively inexpensive at $600 – $2,500. However, they are labor-intensive due to their manual operation and frequent monitoring. They are, however, fairly user-friendly. In general, the higher the wattage of a portable generator, the more objects it can power. When the lights go off, they usually power a home’s vital appliances.

Standby Generators

These are also known as whole-house generators. They are power-producing machines that provide a backup power solution to homes, businesses, commercial facilities, and even industries. While a portable generator can mostly only power essential appliances, standby generators are powerful enough to power all of the appliances a family is accustomed to using.

While everyone else struggles in the dark, a standby generator maintains normalcy in a home. Standby generators are quieter and safer than portable generators, and they run on their own. That convenience, of course, does not come cheap. An average system costs around $10,000, including professional consulting (which is critical in choosing the optimum generator size) and installation.

On the flip side, standby generators survive a long time, roughly 15 years, making the price tag more bearable. And when it comes to home resale, these gadgets pay for themselves.

Differences and Similarities

There are barely any similarities between the two, besides the fact that they are both backup power sources and use fossil fuel products as a source of energy. As for the differences, they are as follows:


Typically, home standby generators are permanently installed on the property. A licensed electrician or a certified dealer installs them professionally. Portable generators, on the other hand, do not require any installation and only require proper storage (see Can a Generator get Wet).


Standby generators are automatic meaning that they start by themselves when the power goes out. On the other hand, portable generators are started with a pull cord, hence they are manual.

Capacity to Generate Power

Standby generators can power essential home needs including a refrigerator, water heater, and lighting. They can also power almost any high-wattage appliance, such as an air conditioner and heater. Portable generators do not create as much electricity as standby generators. Therefore, you must be pickier about what you can power. Some portable generators are powerful enough to power a small air conditioner or heater, but you will normally need to choose other appliances to turn off while the AC is on.

Pros and Cons of Portable and Stand By Generators

Portable generators


• Affordable; typically, much cheaper than a standby generator.
• It is portable and may be used in a variety of settings around the house or at a worksite


• More human operation and monitoring are required.
• Its exhaust poses a carbon monoxide poisoning risk, and it must be installed outdoors, away from the house, which may necessitate weatherproof casing.
• Not well-suited to days-long outages—typically a temporary fix
• Noisy (learn how to make the generator quiet)
• Increasing the frequency of fuel refills

Standby Generators


• Requires less manual intervention, and in some cases none at all.
• It comes in a waterproof, insulated shell that makes it significantly quieter to use.
• Typically uses a propane tank (which may last weeks without recharging) or natural gas (which doesn’t require any refueling).
• No risk of Carbon monoxide poisoning


• Expensive; the unit and installation cost is usually between $10,000 and $20,000.
• Not portable. It’s hardwired into your home’s electrical system and can’t be moved.

Standby vs. Portable Generators: Which One Is Better?

In recent years, major storms have caused many homes to reconsider whether or not purchasing a generator is a wise idea. Electricity is a necessity and investing in a generator is a worthwhile venture. When considering which one to buy, the standby supersedes a portable generator but ultimately, you will weigh the pros and cons and decide which one suits your home, depending on the budget and frequency of power outages!