Design & DIY

3 types of generators that will keep you powered up all summer long


This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

You’re at the cottage, and the power kicks out, as it tends to do. There was a time when this was merely irritating—you lit a few oil lanterns and carried on; deal the next round! But now, as more cottagers rely on electric-powered water and septic pumps, a power outage spells trouble. For this reason, more and more cottagers are turning to generators as an insurance policy, says Steve Day, the owner of Muskoka Generators, “something to keep their cottage running when the power inevitably goes out.” And, thanks to improved fuel efficiency, a backup generator is a smart solution. You just have to know your options.

Portable generators

Photo by Liam Mogan
A 6,250-watt portable runs most basic cottage systems.

This is the standard choice for portable power at the cheapest possible purchase price. A gasoline, diesel, or propane engine creates electricity for backup power during outages or for construction beyond the grid. You can choose models that produce 120 volts only or a combination of 120 and 240 volts at the built-in outlets. A 1,200-watt portable generator will cost you about $400 and can run a hot plate, a microwave, or a small water pump, one at a time. $6,000 gets you a top-of-the-line 10,000-watt portable that runs almost everything in most cottages all at once.

Inverter generators

Photo by Liam Mogan
A 2,000-watt inverter can charge your phone and run a pump.

Every bit as portable as “portable generators,” an inverter generator is for people who want the cleanest, quietest, and most fuel-efficient operation. Inverters are powered by gasoline only, but with a twist. Instead of the engine running full blast all the time, as with a portable generator, inverters speed up or slow down, depending on how much electricity you need. This is the key to their legendary efficiency. Cost is higher per watt of output than standard portable models, and they don’t get as big. You’ll find inverters from 1,000–7,000 watts selling for $500–$5,000.

Standby generators

Photo by Liam Mogan
Most standby generators can run a full modern cottage.

This non-portable option is permanently wired in to your cottage and ready to automatically start up and provide power whenever the grid goes down. Budget about $3,500 for an 8,500-watt automatic standby, plus another $3,000 or so for installation. Some off-grid cottagers use a standby to supplement wind or solar energy, and some use it as their main source of power. The largest air-cooled models cost $6,000 and produce 22,000 watts— enough to run everything in a mega-cottage, including electric heat. Since gasoline and diesel fuel degrade after six months or less in storage, automatic standby generators run on propane or natural gas, which never go stale.

Looking for more handy tips? Check out our special Get-ready Guide in the Spring 2017 issue—on newsstands now!