What Are The Differences?

The Differences Between Standby & Portable Generators

Generators can be a lifesaver during some of the worst times. I’m originally from Michigan and I still have family that live in the northern part of the state. Generators are a necessity up there, especially for those that live out in the country. There are times where multiple feet of snow can fall in just a day or two. If you are out in the country miles away from the city and your power goes out you may be looking at a few days or maybe even a week before your power comes back on. These people need to have a solution so that they can get through the winter months. Generators are just that solution.

When people think of generators they typically think of the products that you see folks wheeling around camp outs. They hook up some floodlights to it, their phone chargers, and maybe even some speakers. These products are known as your portable generators and are the most common. There is however another type of generator that can be found in areas prone to blizzards or hurricanes. This product is known as a standby generator. In this article we’re going to take a look at each of these generators, identify their Pros and Cons, and provide you with the facts so that you can make an informed decision on exactly what type of product that you need.


Before we get into the differences between these two products we need to determine exactly how many watts that you need. A generator’s power is measured by watts. The larger the number the more appliances and systems you will be able to turn on during a power outage. Depending on your watt needs you may be forced to go with a Standby generator. (Portable units can only go so high in wattage capacity.)

Now, the best way to determine the right wattage requirements for your needs is to simply add the watts of each appliance/product that you want to use during your power outage and then add them all up for your total amount. (This guide from Amazon helps give you watt estimates on certain appliances.). If you go this route, please be aware that some products have a cycle on process when being turned on. During this cycle on they may need additional wattage and then cycle back down to their normal watt usage.

To make things simple we’re going to give a quick estimate of watts and what can be used. Please note that this is an estimate and it is best to add your wattage like we mentioned above.

  • 2,000-3,000 Watts – This is enough for a refrigerator, a computer or two, some lights, and a few phone chargers.
  • 4,000-5,000 Watts – Along with what we mentioned above you can also add a clothes washer and dryer.
  • 6,000-8,000 Watts – Along with what we mentioned above you would have enough power to turn on your furnace.
  • 9,000 Watts & Up – Here is where we move out of the portable generator territory and head over to the standby units. Most people won’t need a size this high, especially if they are just getting through a couple of days while their power comes back on.

Portable Systems

Ok folks, so now that we’ve got the sizing requirements out of the way let’s take a look at portable generators. These units are a great solution for those people who are looking for relief during a power outage but who also do not want to spend thousands of dollars on a standby generator system. These portable units can be bought for a relatively low price when compared to their much pricier standby alternatives. As an example, we can find the WEN 56200i 2,000 watt generator on Amazon.com for less than five-hundred dollars. (Please note that prices can change at any time.) While that price may seem high let’s put it into perspective. A typical standby unit can start at around three-thousand dollars. Also, for five-hundred dollars you get peace of mind for you and your family when a prolong power outage occurs.

Wen 56200i Portable Generator

A portable generator can, you guessed it, be moved around. That means that if you have a lot of land and you need power in your garage, home, or barn all you have to do is wheel the generator over and you’re good to go. Standby units are immobile and stuck wherever you have them installed at. That being said, there is a setup involved when using a portable generator. You need to wheel the unit to a safe place away from your home. Most people suggest around fifteen feet and to have the exhaust vent pointed away from your home/building. Along with that you have to route an extension cord to the unit and back to your home. On top of that, you have to route all of the appliances/systems that you want plugged in to that extension cord. This can be burdensome.

That’s not the worst part though, every few hours you are going to have to go back outside and refill your generator with gasoline. Some of the larger portable units may take up to six or seven gallons but if you are only purchasing a two or three-thousand watt unit then it may only be able to hold one or two gallons of fuel. That means in the event of a prolonged power outage you are going to have to have a stockpile of gasoline. That isn’t a problem for some. I have six or seven five-gallon gas canisters I store in my shed. But, for those of you who live in a neighborhood it may be difficult to store that much gas.

I mentioned this earlier in the wattage section but I’ll bring it up again. Portable units can only go so high on the wattage scale. Typically, the largest portable system you will see is around eight to nine-thousand watts. Anything above that nine-thousand mark and you are going to be forced to go the standby route.

Standby Systems

Standby generators are the best of the best when it comes to solving a power loss. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you are in Springfield, Missouri in late January and a large ice storm has just hit town. The ice went on for hours and about half-way through the storm the power went out. (I’ve been through this exact scenario before, not fun!)

In this situation if you had a portable generator you would have to find it, wheel it out into the cold and ice, fill it up with gasoline, setup the extension cord, and so on and so on. However, if you have a standby setup then you will see your power go out for a few seconds and then the power will come right back on like nothing even happened. That ladies and gentlemen is the power of a standby system. On top of that, once the power does come back on your standby system will be smart enough to turn off by itself and defer back to the main power source.

Another thing that I really like about these standby units is that they can use either gasoline or propane for their fuel source. For those of you country livers, like me, being able to power your generator off propane is absolutely awesome. Nearly everything already is powered from propane on my land and having the generator added is perfect. Talk about making things easy.

All that being said, standby units aren’t all a bed of roses. Like with anything in this world, there is a downside. The downside on these can be big to a lot of folks. The cost on these standby systems can be extremely expensive. We’re talking a cost starting at around three-thousand dollars and topping off at around seven to eight-thousand dollars. But wait, there’s more! That price I gave doesn’t even account for the professional installation that your standby generator will need. Yes, that’s right, you will need a professional electrician to install your standby system and that install price can be a thousand dollars or more.

The good news is that standby generators have significantly more power than your standard portable system. If you purchase a standby system the chances are that you will be able to power everything in your home without an issue during a severe power outage.


Well folks, that about sums it up when comparing portable and standby generators. I do want to take this time though and emphasize the safety that is needed when it comes to working with generators. Remember, that generators emit exhaust just like a car does. A generator should NEVER be setup in your home, basement, garage, or any enclosed area. In fact, when we run our generators I always make sure we have our carbon monoxide detectors on and fully powered throughout our house just to make sure.

Thanks for reading and I hope this article was helpful,

Alec Johnson


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