How Does A Household Generator Work?

house lights turned onThere are different types of generators you can use to provide electrical power when the grid goes down. Storms, falling trees, vehicles hitting utility poles, rolling blackouts during peak usage and more can cause power outages. Plus, they often occur when it is either really hot or cold outside, making AC and heat a critical necessity. Here we will look at how the various household generator types work to provide your home with electricity during power outages.

Generator Basics

Electrical generators operate somewhat like an electrical motor in reverse. If you have ever seen the insides of an electric drill or other motor that turns a shaft to provide power to a tool, blower, vacuum or other device, they look pretty much the same as the insides of a generator. The two main parts of a generator are the rotor and stator.

The rotor is the part that spins. The stator is stationary and surrounds the rotor. In a motor, the stator makes electricity spin the rotor. In a generator, the rotor is spun by an engine to make electrons move to generate electricity.

Generator Fuel Types

You are using the power of fossil fuels in an engine to spin the rotor of your generator at home to generate electricity. Generator engines can be powered by gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas or propane. You want to pick the fuel type that is easiest for you to provide in ample quantity during power outages.

a city at night timeIf you already have propane-fueled appliances at your home, then a propane generator is an option. Also, since natural gas supplies usually remain intact except during a major earthquake, it is an option. Remember, you will have to drive to fuel stations that have power in order to purchase liquid fuels. Diesel can more easily be stored but does have a shelf-life, and even treated gasoline has a shelf-life of only a couple of months.

Generator Types

Generators come in two types, which are portable and fixed. Portable units can be as small as a four-cycle unit that runs on a gasoline and oil mixture similar to what weed trimmers use to large generators that are built into steel frames with wheels. Fixed units can be purchased, which will power everything in your house that the grid powers.

Portable units have greater limitations in the amount of watts they can generate. You will use extension cords with portable units to plug in items such as lights, a refrigerator and electronics. If you are going to power sensitive electronics, you want a generator that outputs a pure sine wave of electrical energy. The technical specs for a generator will specify this.

Fixed units are wired into your home’s electrical service box, and the switching back and forth from line to generator power is usually automatic. Some larger portable units can be wired into your home’s breaker box to control a limited amount of circuits through a manual transfer switch. The portable unit is operated outdoors, and a special temporary plug-in cord is used to connect it to your home’s electrical service panel.

You should purchase a household generator based on how many watts of power you need to operate when the power is out as well as the easiest fuel type for your area. Computing watts is pretty straightforward. Look at peak watts for motors such as furnace blowers and compressors for refrigerators and freezers. Then, add up the watts of how many lights and electronics you will be using.

If the info is not printed on the appliance, you can find it online. Just keep in mind that a hairdryer can be upwards of 2,000 watts by itself, so plan your generator use accordingly.