Why choose a generator running on propane?
Compared to gasoline, propane is significantly less expensive as a fuel source to power your generator. It is also easier to store for long periods – whereas gasoline goes stale and can ruin your carburetor after a few months, propane will last for up to a year and won’t damage your generator since it is not left inside the generator’s fuel reservoir. This makes propane a great choice if you’re preparing for an emergency and don’t want to have to repurchase a fuel supply every few months.
The downsides to running a generator on propane are that it is bulkier and less efficient than gasoline, it results in lower surge and continuous power outputs compared to running on gasoline, and it will not power your generator at all in temperatures well below freezing.
How do you intend to use your generator?
How you plan to use your generator largely determines what specifications and features you should be looking for when choosing a specific model. Operating a generator to power your house when the power goes out is very different, both in terms of the output wattage required and the desired runtime, from powering an RV or a campsite. Also consider, for your intended application, for how long you will need to run your generator continuously in the most extreme cases – and how much power you’ll need in these cases. One of the advantages to using propane is that you can buy an extremely large tank, whereas gasoline is limited by the fuel tank built into the generator.
What are your power needs?
How much power your generator will need to provide depends on what appliances you’re planning to run off of it. If you are planning to use your generator to power your whole house in an emergency, you’ll want to find a high-powered generator that can output at least 5,000 W, and even more if you have a water pump or energy-hungry heating system. On the other hand, a smaller generator that puts only 3,000 W can be enough if you are trying to power an RV or a campsite. If you know that you are planning to run your generator primarily on propane, make sure you consider how much power the generator you choose can output on propane rather than gasoline.
Runtime is also important depending on your application. If you are planning to power your house and want things to run close to normally, you’ll need a generator with a long runtime of 10-12 hours at half power. However, if you are operating an RV and only need power for a few short bursts of time, for example in the morning and evening, then runtime may not be a major consideration. Consider that runtime is often measured at half power or less, so the amount of wattage your generator outputs can be a consideration in how much runtime you’ll actually get.
Conventional vs. inverter generator
Both conventional and inverter generators output AC power – the same type of power that comes from your wall outlet – although the mechanism differs enough that there are some significant differences in how conventional and inverter generators operate in practice. Inverter generators are typically designed to be more compact and lightweight and less noisy than conventional generators, which can be an advantage if you are hauling your generator from place to place rather than keeping it in a fixed location or using it in a public campground.
However, this also means that inverter generators typically have smaller fuel reservoirs – and accordingly shorter run times – as well as lower power outputs, even though they tend to be more fuel-efficient than conventional generators. Although most users will not take advantage of this design feature, inverter generators can be run in parallel to increase your power output, while conventional generators limit you to whatever wattage they are rated for.
What to look for in a portable generator that runs on propane?
Beyond wattage, there are a number of convenience and safety features that differentiate portable generators from one another.
Not all portable generators are designed to be equally portable. While some weigh around 100 pounds and come with a set of burly wheels to allow you to roll it from place to place, more powerful generators and tri-fuel models can easily weigh over 200 pounds and can be nearly impossible to move even with wheels. Small generators may be more compact, but without wheels, even these miniature units can quickly weigh you down. Consider how frequently you plan to move your generator between locations, or whether it is more likely to sit in one spot outside your house for its lifetime.
An increasingly common and much-loved feature on generators is an electric start, which replaces the traditional pull cord. Electric start generators are extremely convenient to turn on, requiring little of the hassle that has always been associated with generators. Some units even come with a remote start function, perfect for RV use since you can turn on the electricity in the morning without venturing outside.
Safety is also an important concern with generators. Generators that feature a low oil alert and automatic shutoff are common because running out of oil can cause irreversible damage to your generator and potentially present a fire hazard. Some generators also come with surge prevention to protect your sensitive electronics, like computers, from being fried and to reduce the risk of electrocution when plugging into the generator.
Finally, look for a variety of outlets when choosing a generator. Many modern models come with an RV-ready 30-amp outlet, which can be hugely helpful if you plan to use your generator with an RV. In addition, although you will find only two standard AC outlets on many generators, having four or more can free up valuable space to plug in numerous small electronics as opposed to one or two large appliances.