What the Heck is an Inverter Generator?
Lighter, more portable, and much cleaner with the electricity they produce,Inverter generators are a breed of their own. These generators typically provide lower wattage, but give the option to “invert” the electricity back into more constant flow and stable power.
What Are Benefits of Choosing an Inverter Generator?
In short, not only will you be receiving a higher quality output, but according to Honda that power will be just as reliable as one of the outlets in your home. They mentioned other features like higher fuel efficiency and also another cool feature called parallel capability. This allows two generators to be paired together allowing for double the power capacity.
One of the difficulties of running a portable generator is trying to maintain the same voltage if the engine varies in RPM (revolutions per minute) speeds. This is the beauty of an inverter generator. The power doesn’t fluctuate, but instead becomes more of a stable and constant power source.
Back in the time around the late 90s, Honda saw the benefits of the portable generators, but knew they could be better. So what did they do? Began the pursuit of inverter technology which really no one else at the time was successful with.
As mentioned in our buying guide, inverter generators are typically used for recreational purposes. Taking them camping, finding a place to store it for an RV, or just for tailgating parties. On average, they’re usually smaller and more reliable without the hassle of wondering about the burden.
The way they work is similar to a car — a fossil fuel is used to power the engine on the generator. The engine in turn powers an alternator and that alternator “generates” your electricity. Pretty cool concept, huh? I think that was the thought about the car too — cool concept 🙂
Honda was actually the first to be successful in integrating what was then known (before 1998) as the “sine-wave inverter” control system. Believe it or not, in 1965 Honda actually had the first commercially released generator!
The big struggle in the beginning was trying to maintain the heat and sound created by the older generators. They seemed to do well when the size was larger, but trying to contain the newer components was not working out well. So, Honda took the approach to run some trial and error tests (in stages) until the power was consistent and stable enough to be used for things like electric appliances and other technology coming into society.
Okay, enough with the history lesson.
What’s The Difference Between a Conventional Generator and an Inverter Generator?
Conventional generators are the most well-known. They have been around for the longest time with the best track record. You can use a variety of gases (like diesel, regular gasoline, or propane) and simply power a motor to create electricity.
Inverter generators are still considered newer technology (within the last 20 years) and are made specifically for recreational activities like camping, outdoor fun, and similar get-together occasions. Although they may not put out the highest wattage, they tend to run cleaner and provide that stable power system.
✔ Noise Levels
Conventional generators are known for being a little on the loud side when being used. Now, I’m assuming this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem with neighbors in the case that everyone is out of power, but you just never know people’s reactions.
Since inverter generators are designed from the beginning to be quieter, that’s what you can expect. This is a similar setup to website design (don’t ask about the comparison) where websites are now written with code from a mobile first perspective. That allows developers to focus on that aspect first and then move on to the remainder of the project.
✔ Wattage Output
With a conventional (or portable) generator, you can sometimes find them with outputs of up to 20,000 watts. Not only does this give you the power you’re looking for, but it can also be used in a situation when you lose power at home.
When using an inverter generator, you are most likely not going to see that 20,000 watt power output. Expect ranges of about 500 watts to 5,000 watts. In an average case where an individual may not be using many plugs, 5,000 watts might just be plenty; however, add additional wattage for a “cushion” of unexpected uses.
✔ Fuel Efficiency
In the scenario of a conventional generator, the engine will run an average of 3,600 RPM when giving a max output. That allows for a great amount of power, but it can also create a surge in power leading to damaged electronics or even fried circuit boards. This is the last thing you want to worry about when trying to have fun outdoors, right?
The technology in the inverter generator is a digital electronic alternator and adjusts depending on the user’s needs. With this smarter control, the engine is maintained more precisely above or below 3,600 RPM. With a more varied and maintained engine comes better fuel efficiency and better quality power.
✔ Powering Sensitive Electronic Equipment
Laptops, electric grills, and other equipment with fragile circuits will benefit from an inverter generator. The distortion of power is far less than a traditional generator and helps with the sensitivity of the electronics.
✔ Long-Lasting Runtime
A good feature of both traditional and inverters are that you’re going to get a nice runtime. The technology has come increasingly farther to get the longest runtime out of a single tank of gasoline. Some models will last for 8-12 hours on a full tank — perfect for events where you’ll be outside for a majority of the day.
This Champion comparison video does a great job of showing benefits of both traditional and inverter generators. It’s compacted into a brief 2-minute overview of some of the features listed here in this article.
Higher Quality Power
The cool feature of an inverter generator is the science and technology of the way it works. When you start the generator, it creates a current that goes through an alternator. That type of current is in the AC (alternating current) form. Generally speaking, AC will move rapidly in different directions and although it can be a strong source of power, it’s sporadic.
Once the generator grabs the AC that’s being created, that current is converted into DC (direct current) for a more stable and constant power. The advantage to having the DC is that the current is now flowing more consistently in the same direction.
That last phase is for the generator to take that DC and turn it back into AC (the same type as your home outlets) to be used for the outlets on the generator. This is a game changer because now you have a high quality power source that’s going to be more reliable for your needs. Not only is it more reliable, but less worry of electricity being erratic.
Can I Use One to Power My Home?
Since inverter generators are designed to be quieter and more efficient, they don’t allow for the excess power to distribute the proper load things like a high consuming electrical appliance or multiple outlets. Now, in a special case, where you live in an RV, it may be more typical to use an inverter generator’s capabilities. But one other thing to think about is that depending on what you are running in the RV is going to decide whether it’s a good type of generator for your needs.
Quick Safety Tip
Another exception to using one at home is if you have some guests over and you will be using electrical tools or items in the backyard. You’ll be able to benefit from the quiet noise of the generator and get a more stable wattage. Perfect for better fuel efficiency and saving money!
Are There Any Additional Items I Need To Run An Inverter Generator?
Typically the generator you purchase will come with the necessary components; however, you will need fuel and possibly batteries (for an electric start). If you choose to get a model that does not use an electric start, you won’t need batteries to power it, but be advised that you may have to pull-start the machine.
One accessory you may need to purchase is additional cables for using two identical models to run with parallel compatibility. With the two connected, you will be able to double the power capacity of your generators. A perfect case for having the smaller size and portability, but increasing your power output.
Is an Electric Start Option Included?
It depends on the model that you purchase. It’s an added option sometime as a convenience to skip the pull-start feature. If you’re really lazy (or like to be efficient) you can check out the Champion Power Equipment 75537i 3100 Watt that includes a wireless remote start function. Yep, that means you can lay in bed and start your generator.
The range for the remote start is about 80 feet — roughly the same distance as using your car door lock remote.
*Keep in mind that by having the remote start, you’ll need to periodically check the remote’s batteries to ensure they are working correctly.
All of These Features – What’s the Catch?
There’s not really a “catch” so-to-speak, but more of a question for you to consider. How much are convenience and features worth? This is not a question just for a generator purchase, but really any type of technology that saves us time or money.
The downside — and I’m not sure I would call it a downside — is that you will have to spend a bit more money to get the inverter generator you’re looking for. One of the best sellers on Amazon, the WEN 56180 model is less than $200 as of December 2016. Not a bad price for having a consistent backup power source!
Let’s just reiterate some of the advantages that you’ll be getting should you decide to go with an inverter generator for your next camping trip (that’s an example, sorry if you aren’t a happy camper):
✔ Convenience: Getting the advantage of a quick start and long runtime.
✔ Size & Portability: You won’t have to worry about lugging some excessive weighted machine.
✔ Double Power Capacity: Carry two lightweight generators and get the same power as a conventional model.
The above is not an all-inclusive list, but may remind you of the significant advantages versus using a traditional generator. From a personal standpoint, I think the advantages are far worth it especially given the fact that once you own it, you can see the difference.
Don’t forget to check out our in-depth guide all about generators, their features, and options to consider when trying to find a generator.
Summary and Thoughts
More and more people are rooting for the better features of products. The usefulness, design, and overall options available. For an inverter generator some of these features include convenience, portability, and stable power. Having a quieter generator is certainly a plus.
One other thought about the traditional generators is that if you really attempted to get two birds with one stone, an example use of a conventional generator would be to use it outdoors at places like a campground and also have it as an alternative for backup home use. This would definitely be helpful if you needed to fire up the generator in a blackout and you wouldn’t necessarily have to worry about the limitations of an inverter model.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you’ve found value in this post. It’s important to think about backup equipment for unexpected circumstances. Being proactive can make a disheartening situation much less stressful to help yourself know that you’re prepared for the future.
Take care, and we’ll discuss more in the next one!
–Nick the Lawnaholic