How do I Choose the Best Propane Generator?

B. Turner
B. Turner
A propane tank.
A propane tank.

A generator is a device capable of providing temporary electrical service during a power outage. While traditionally powered by oil or natural gas, many newer models use propane instead. Propane is a liquid fuel derived from crude oil production, and is considered a safer and cleaner fuel for use and around the home. When purchasing a propane generator, there are many different factors to consider to ensure you choose the right model to meet your family's needs.

Choose a propane generator that is appropriately sized.
Choose a propane generator that is appropriately sized.

The biggest decision when it comes to choosing a propane generator is whether to select a portable or standby unit. A portable generator is a smaller device with built-in wheels that will provide electricity for a few hours on a single tank of propane. A standby generator, on the other hand, is a larger machine that is permanently installed in the home, and is fed by underground propane tanks. The standby unit can provide power for several days or even weeks. Depending on the frequency and length of outages in your area, you can select the most appropriate type of propane generator for your home.

Next, you'll need to choose a propane generator that is appropriately sized. To do this, you'll have to calculate the total sum of electricity used by the crucial appliances in your home. You can use the labels on each to add these items up individually, or rely on general wattage estimate used by many electrical professionals. For example, the average single family home with eight circuits and window air conditioners will need a generator that can produce about 7,000 watts of electricity. For ten circuits and a small central air system, you'll need about 10,000 watts.

Portable propane generators will typically only be available in smaller wattages, usually 7,000 to 8,000, while standby generators can produce up to 16,000 watts or even higher. In general, the higher the wattage rating of a generator, the higher the price will be. Keep in mind that portable generators may only last a few hours on a tank of propane, and the higher the wattage rating, the quicker it will use up the fuel.

If you decide to go with a standby propane generator, there are several additional items that must be considered. The most important is whether your local zoning laws permit underground storage tanks, as these are used to store the propane. In areas where they are permitted, you will need to check on size limits. A 250 gallon (946 liter)tank can power a 7,000 watt generator for around five days, while a tank twice that size should last closer to ten days.

When selecting a standby propane generator, you'll also have to decide if you want a unit that is automatic or manual. Automatic generators come equipped with a transfer switch that immediately turns the unit on when the power goes out, then turns it back off when power is restored. Manual units require that you go outside to the generator to turn it on and off. In most cases, an automatic propane generator will be more expensive. You will also have to decide if you want a generator that is self-maintaining, or if you would rather manually maintain it each month, including starting the unit up and running diagnostic programs.

Discussion Comments


Most NG utilities will require you to have a separate meter for your generator. Since you have to have a separate meter, ask for a 2 or 5 lb meter that will be able to handle the generator. Remember 1/2 lb (8oz) service is only after the meter. Before the meter you have line pressure that has to run the entire neighborhood.


I have been looking at buying a used onan generator 230-208 volt 3 phase around 30 amps 10 kw, with auto start. not sure the size of the engine. I haven't looked at it yet. The gen was used at a local hotel Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada for backup power. It is set up to run on natural gas.

I am told that the natural gas pressure at a home service, which I think is only an ounce or two, is not sufficient to operate the machine.

Is this true and also if it won't work on a normal home natural gas regulator, can I change this machine over to operate on propane without much money or time involved?

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    • A propane tank.
      By: Ty Konzak
      A propane tank.
    • Choose a propane generator that is appropriately sized.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Choose a propane generator that is appropriately sized.