There are two basic options when buying a generator: portable models and standby units. Portable units, as the name suggests, are the ones you’ll usually see on a construction job site. They convert fuel (usually gas, diesel, or propane) into electricity to power tools, lights, and so on. Smaller units are light enough to carry, while larger ones will be mounted on wheels. Standby generators are used as a backup system for an entire home or cottage when the grid supply goes down. These models are powered by propane or natural gas and require professional installation.
There are also portable gas-powered inverter generators available. These are quieter than standard portable generators and produce the “cleaner” electricity that’s needed to prevent damage to sensitive electronics such as your laptop. The downsides are that they cost more, don’t produce as much output so they can’t power most large-wattage tools, and while they’re more fuel-efficient than conventional models, they tend to have smaller tanks so their run time is shorter.
The key stat to look for is the wattage output each unit provides. The larger the number, the more items it can power at the same time. There are a number of charts available online that can help you determine how much draw your equipment will require, or you can check the specs on each item that you plan to use individually. Larger, portable generators can also be used to power lights and other cottage appliances if the main power supply is down. A standby generator installer will help you determine the size of unit you should buy based on your cottage needs. A standard standby generator will only have a few hours’ run time, so you may want to look into a larger fuel tank for longer outages.
Gas and diesel fuel degrade over time, so if you haven’t used your generator for a few months, you’ll want to drain the fuel—take it to a hazardous waste facility for disposal—and replace it with fresh. You should monitor the oil level, and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for filter replacement. Standby generators should be run periodically to make sure that they work when you need them. You should also monitor fuel, oil, and coolant levels, and keep the unit free of debris, including any critters who try to build nests in the shade it provides.
With any gas/diesel/propane-powered equipment, pay attention to the fumes. For one, generators should never be operated in an enclosed space. Only use portable generators outdoors, in a well-ventilated area, and away from open windows or vents where fumes could seep into the cottage. Finally, portable generators can be loud so you should wear hearing protection if using one for a long period of time.