Can Portable Generators Damage Home Appliances?

in Home Energy

We recently decided it’s time to install a backup power generator for our rural home/office.

Electronic fridge controls Choosing a portable generator should be pretty easy shouldn’t it?

Determine what you need emergency power for – and choose a generator powerful enough to do the job, right?

Uh…no actually.

Many of today’s home HVAC systems and appliances have sensitive electronic controls that are vulnerable to the fluctuations and "dirty" power supplied by a typical portable generator. Some electronics may function for a while but suffer incremental damage over time – and some may simply refuse to work at all.

The good news is there are options that can provide "electronics friendly" power to your home in an emergency.

Our emergency power plan

  • Replace the 40 year-old 100amp fuse panel with a new breaker panel and sub panel with a  manual transfer switch for a generator
  • Provide generator-fed circuits for: well pump, oil fired boiler / domestic hot water, fridge, MW/Coffeemaker, computer/internet, and selected lighting.
  • Purchase a 5000w generator (enough power to alternate between the various loads as required)
  • store fuel for at least 72 hrs of run time

Fuse Panel

Sounds straight forward enough until you start looking at the quality of the power generated by your typical portable generator. Most of us are aware we need to take steps to protect home electronics like computers and home entertainment equipment when it comes to emergency generators.

In our case, the initial thought was to put all the computer-related equipment like laptops, router, etc. on a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) which we figured would protect it from possible fluctuations in the generator power.

And then…

Digital heating controlI discovered that many UPS units won’t work properly with standard generator power.

A little more online research led me to realize that the electronic controls for our new boiler system are not likely to operate or could be damaged as well. That got me thinking about the electronic controls in our 2 month-old fridge, Microwave, coffee maker….many of the things we want to power with the generator could be at risk.

So what do we do.

Safer options are available

There are a couple of technologies that provide cleaner, more reliable generator power for various household electronic systems and appliances – Inverters and Automatic Voltage Regulators

Inverters

Inverter generators convert from AC power to DC then back to an AC output, using electronic processors to clean up the power and control generator speed. Inverters allow the generator to operate at lower speeds under reduced loads. This makes them run quieter and reduces fuel consumption. But all that doesn’t come cheap.

Many companies have small (1000 – 2000w) inverter generators designed for camping or running limited loads. If you’ve lots of cash on hand both Honda and Yamaha have  inverter models in the 3000 – 6500w range more suitable for home backup use.

Automatic Voltage Regulators (AVR)

Automatic Voltage Regulators smooth out the load and RPM fluctuations to generate more consistent power than a standard generator alternator, without inverting to DC. Several manufacturers offer premium series portable generators in the 4000 – 8000w range that feature AVR power claimed to be comparable with power from your local utility.

Microwave and Coffee makerGenerac’s XP Series touts "True Power™ Technology and Honeywell has models that feature an "Electronics Friendly SurePower™ Alternator". If you want to protect your electronic controls and equipment without breaking the bank, these AVR generators are worth a serious look.

The bottom line

This is not a purchase where you should go with the lowest price option.

While an inexpensive generator may be fine for sump or well pumps, power tools and lighting,  today’s HVAC systems, appliances and home electronics need special consideration when it comes to emergency backup power.

So here’s what we did: Clean Emergency Generator Power
 

Related posts on Stonehaven Life:

Are Longer Power Outages the New Normal?
Keeping Warm During a Power Outage
Extreme Weather – 5 Home Protection Tips

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Willie

I have two questions please
First of all, Is a surge protector the same as an AVR?

I need to have this question answered if possible please:
Which of the following 2 systems will provide me with the “cleanest” power?
1. A normal portable Generator with a surge protector(or AVR)
2. A modified sine wave inverter

Thank you so much
Willie

Rick

Willie,

First off, surge protectors only protect against surges – they’re not meant to regulate voltage.

As to whether an AVR or modified Sine wave converter produces the ‘cleanest’ power… I can only say most of my research indicates that inverters likely offer the cleanest power but that AVR’s can do the job to protect your electronics.

We used our Generac AVR-equipped portable generator to power our house for 9 days straight last summer after hurricane Arthur. All of our appliances, digital furnace controls and computer equipment are working just fine 11 months later.

Hope this helps with your decision.

Rick

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