Gas Generators: Everything You Need to Know


Sunday, February 6, 2022


Generators come in handy as a home backup power source when you are facing an unexpected power outage. When you are in the market for them, you will find many different types to choose from. Amongst the portable generators, gas generators are one of the most common types you’ll come across. If you are interested to know more about gas generators, we can help. Today, I will discuss all the basic things about a gas generator you should know.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

How Does a Gas Generator Work?

A gas generator is just like other power generators and utilizes the following parts to produce electricity –

  • Combustion Engine: Using the carburetor, mixes a specific amount of air and gas and injects this mixture into the cylinders.
  • Piston: Compresses the fuel inside the cylinders or chamber.
  • Spark Plus: Ignites the gas.
  • Crank Shaft: Gets activated by the spark plug and spins the rotor.
  • Rotor: Spins inside an electromagnetic field to produce electricity.

The gas can be directly connected to a home’s gas supply. If your house does not have a connection, you can also use gas tanks, such as propane tanks.

Types of Gas Generators

Depending on the usage, gas generators come in all sizes and shapes. Here are the most common types –

Gas Powered Portable Generators

These are small and, as you can guess, easily portable. Portable generators are great for when you do not want to undertake the costly process of installing a bigger one in your home. The best portable generators are generally dual-fuel, meaning they can run on both gas and liquid fuel. This is because it is tough to always find a natural gas source ready to be hooked up to the device. Liquid fuel is more convenient and easier to hook up to a portable generator. Since they are small, portable generators cannot power up many appliances at once. Hence, they are more suitable for use in a pinch. If you live in an area that rarely gets power outages, then you may not need a dedicated home backup power supply. Portable generators are perfect in this case, as they are less expensive and will be useful for the rare event when your power does run out. Them being portable is another bonus, because you can take them with you in case of need.

Standby Gas Generators

This is the equipment that commonly comes to mind when you think of a gas generator. It connects to a gas supply from the underground pipelines. As the name suggests, this is only a standby home backup power source meant to run when you have emergency power outages. These machines start automatically when the power goes out. You don’t have to manually power it. As a home backup, these machines cannot run for a very long time. If you leave it on for too long, the generator may malfunction. To know how many days or hours it can be run safely, refer to the instruction manual of the manufacturer. Stick to the recommended run time. Standby generators can be found for both residential and commercial use.

Prime Gas Generators

These are the least common out of the three types. These generators are meant for use in places that have no power source available. Because they are made for such places, prime gas machines can run for long hours without any malfunction. This is the main thing that sets them apart from the standby ones. Apart from much longer runtimes, prime generators are also capable of taking a larger load. As a result, they can make a lot more electricity and power a lot more appliances. They run continuously without any issue. Typically, prime gas ones are used for commercial purposes only. It is not very cost efficient for residential use.

How to Choose a Gas Generator Size?

Gas generators, not to be confused with propane generators, come in several different sizes, for homes of all sizes. To choose the size you should go for, you have to consider the things you want the equipment to power. Naturally, bigger homes will have more lights, air conditioning, and other appliances compared to smaller homes. And you will need generators with higher capacity for the former in order to cover the entire house. The common appliances and items generally connected to a generator are –

  • Light bulbs
  • Air conditioners
  • Fans
  • Televisions
  • Power outlets (for chargers)
  • Thermostat
  • Coffee maker
  • Personal computers
  • Home security system
  • Fridge and refrigerator
  • Washing machine and dryer
  • Electric oven and microwave
  • Electric water heater
  • Space heater

Finding the Capacity

Consider which appliances you want to connect to and how many of each. Then, do a rough calculation of the kilowatts needed to run all of these devices. You can find the required kilowatts of power for a certain item in its instruction manual. It’s best to take the help of an electrician for this calculation. Remember, there are two wattages you need to consider – the running watts and the surge watts. The former is the amount of power needed to continue running an appliance. The latter is the amount of power an appliance draws when turned on. Some appliances require slightly more power when turning on. In this case, you should count its surge watts, not running watts. Another thing to consider is the number of circuits you want to be powered up. Usually, the manufacturer will specify how many circuits a certain model can power. If the one you are considering does not match your needs, look for other models within the brand. Once you know the total kilowatts needed to run all your required appliances, find the required amps by dividing the watts by volts. Get a generator that can produce a minimum of the located capacity. You can also go a little higher load for safety or if you want to add more appliances in the future.

Gas Generator Installation & Maintenance Requirements

To install a gas generator, first, you have to ensure a connection of the national gas pipeline to your home as well as an updated electrical circuit. It takes up to 6 hours to connect a generator to energy lines and transfer switches. But before that, a licensed electrician would have to connect the generator to your homes’ electricity lines. Electrical tests to find any discrepancies also need to be conducted. All of this takes about 20 hours of work, depending on the house. On average, it costs about $4,500 to install a generator for a typical home. This, of course, varies depending on the actual amount of work needed for a specific house. The cost ranges from $400 to $10,000. After the installation, routine maintenance is needed to check if everything is running smoothly. Expect to pay around $350 - $550 for each round of maintenance. This cost can be lowered by scheduling annual or semiannual maintenance.

Benefits of a Gas Generator

As you know, there are other types of generators available – namely diesel or liquid fuel-run or solar power generators. What makes gas powered ones a better choice than them? A few pros of a gas generator are –

Accessibility

Generally, power outages happen because of natural calamities. If you are stuck in a tornado or a hurricane, you will have better luck getting access to a gas line than gasoline. Natural gas is carried through underground pipes that are storm and wind proof. So, you can be assured to have a secure source of fuel in case of disasters. Not only that, this fuel source will be unlimited. So, you can get prolonged power in case of massive disasters.

Easy Storage

If left intact, natural gas will remain usable indefinitely. On the contrary, liquid fuel such as diesel and oil may get spoiled over time. You can store diesel for a maximum of 2 years. Liquid fuel can develop sediments, grow fungus, and become gelled when stored for a long period. However, this only happens if you don’t store it properly or for too long. So, you may prevent this with proper storage techniques. That being said, imagine running to your fuel supply only to find that the fuel is spoiled. Not a great news to discover when you’re already in an emergency, right?

Environment Friendly

Compared to fossil fuels such as diesel, natural gases burn cleaner. In fact, natural gas is the cleanest burning when it comes to fossil fuels. So, a gas generator will have a lesser negative impact on the climate overall. The emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur, and nitrogen are noticeably less from a gas generator. This is an important consideration, as the world’s environment needs as much help as it can get. Gas is also less costly and more efficient compared to fossil fuels. In summary, you will be helping both your wallet and the earth in one go.

Convenience and Accessibility

With liquid fuel powered ones, checking the remaining fuel level is important. If you forget to keep track, you will run out of fuel and not have power during crucial times. Constantly checking and filling the fuel is an easily forgettable and boring task. Most generators connect directly to the gas line of your home. This drops the possibility of the fuel running out, as the pipe will continue supplying more as needed. So, you don’t have to constantly check for fuel level and fill it up. During disasters such as floods and storms, it is often not possible to refill liquid fuel in the machines. This problem will not occur with gas. Another pro is that gas is readily available in all homes of large cities as it is delivered to each house directly through underground pipelines. This makes fuel stocking and regular purchases redundant. That’s one less chore for you! Additionally, you will not have to buy parts related to liquid fuel such as fuel gauge.

Easy to Get Permits for

Generators, especially for commercial use, are held to strict standards by local environmental protection authorities. As the emissions from gas powered ones are lower, they are easy to get permits for. Non-emergency generators are held to even stricter standards, which many diesel or oil equipment fail to meet. Due to cleaner burning and fewer emissions, gas generators are easy to get permitted for non-emergency use as well. No more lengthy paperwork and running around to find compliant equipment!

Odorless & Quieter

Have you ever been around a diesel or gasoline run generator? If yes, you can recall the pungent smell gasoline engines emit when running. The sound they produce is pretty high, too. A gas generator engine does not produce such odors, as natural gas is generally odorless. By comparison, they are also quieter when running.

Perfect for Any Condition

Diesel or gasoline generators often struggle if left in a wet or cold environment. So, they may malfunction in case of heavy rainfalls or storms. This issue does not exist for gas generators. They will run in any condition.

Cost Efficient

By volume, diesel costs 10 times as much as gas. To make the same amount of electricity, the amount of required gas costs almost half than that of diesel. So, you will be paying much less for the fuel if you get a gas generator.

Cons of a Gas Generator

As great as gas generators are, they do have a few caveats that can make you rethink your choice. Here are the biggest cons of a gas generator –

Higher Buying Cost

In general, a gas generator's price is about 10 – 20 percent costlier compared to a liquid-fuel alternative. However, the fuel cost is lower in comparison. So, over time, the gas generator will save you enough money to justify the extra cost.

Higher Installation & Maintenance Cost

As you have already gotten an idea of the initial costs of installing a gas generator, it needs no saying that the cost is quite high. These generators need frequent maintenance as well. In comparison, the engines of liquid fuel run generators are sturdier and more reliable. They also need less frequent maintenance. Because gas generators have spark plugs, the maintenance cost is often higher. The engines have a shorter life span in comparison, too.

Dangerous

Gas is much more flammable than liquid fuels. And since the generator contains spark plugs, the chances of accidental fires are higher in gas generators. By contrast, diesel is the least flammable fuel available for a generator.

Less Output

If you use the same amount of gas and diesel to run generators, the latter will produce more electricity. Natural gas generators are less efficient in terms of the volume of fuel used.

Gas Generator Safety Tips

Maintaining safety when using a gas generator is very important. If used improperly, generators can pose serious health risks. The most common and deadly risk of a generator is the emission of Carbon monoxide (CO). It is an odorless and tasteless gas, which makes it hard to detect. Inhaling even a small amount can harm humans and animals. Carbon monoxide blocks the body from absorbing oxygen. If you inhale this gas for too long, you may even get Carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to irrecoverable brain damage and death. To prevent this and all other generator hazards, follow the tips –

Operate Outdoors or in a Well Ventilated Area

You should never run a generator inside enclosed spaces such as your garage, home, or basement. Keep it outdoors, at least 15-20 feet away from your home. Make sure it is not close to any window, vents, or doors, as carbon monoxide can get in through those. This especially applies to portable generators. Just because they are smaller, it does not mean portable generators are any less harmful. If you must keep it inside, make sure measures have been taken to keep the room well-ventilated. Just keeping the door or window open will not prevent CO buildup.

Keep It Dry

Although gas generators can easily withstand rain, it is a good idea to keep the device dry to avoid electrocution. You can use tents or covers to keep it dry.

Install a CO Detector

All homes that use a generator should have CO alarms in central locations throughout the house. These alarms will quickly inform you if any Co is detected, keeping you alert.

Use the Outlets Properly

Plug your appliances directly into the generator using heavy duty extension cords. Make sure the extension cords are graded for outdoor use. The extension cord will carry the electricity to your devices, so it is important to find a good match. Never attempt back feeding, which means connecting the generator to a wall outlet. Similarly, do not plug a generator line into the central electrical panel.

Avoid Overloading

Ensure the generator is running before you plug anything into it. Power lights and other appliances one at a time, instead of all at once. Make sure not to keep too many things turned on at once, as it may overload the generator. Always get a generator with a slightly higher load than you need, as the capacity slowly lessens over time.

Do Regular Inspections and Maintenance

Regular maintenance is a must to ensure the generator is in the best shape and performs adequately. You can schedule annual maintenance with a company, which will ensure you don’t forget it. The maintenance people should check the engine and all parts of the generator to ensure everything is well. Any loose or damaged connections should also be checked. Run the generator for 15-20 minutes every week. If you notice any issue, no matter how insignificant, contact a professional as soon as you can.

Ground the Generator

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proper guidelines for generator grounding requirements that must be met. It will not only keep you safe but also ensure you don’t get penalized for not following safety procedures. When grounded properly, the risks of electric shocks greatly decrease.

Get a Dual Fuel Portable Generator

If you are buying a portable generator, make sure it is a dual fuel type. As stated before, finding a gas line ready to be plugged in a portable generator is hard to come by. With a dual fuel generator, you can stay prepared.

Final Words

So, how do you know if gas generators are a good fit for you? Generally, these power sources are perfect for all home backup applications for long periods. But they are not the best choice for earthquake-prone areas. This is because earthquakes can damage underground gas pipelines, rendering the generator unusable. I hope this article has been helpful to you. Until the next time!

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