Whether you’re planning ahead for a power outage or you’re headed for a camping trip and need a power back up, there’s a high chance you’ve looked at a bunch of generators on the internet and you’re also probably flooded with questions, it’s natural. But this article serves to help you make a better choice by clearly explaining the difference between conventional and inverter generators.
What is a Conventional Generator?
A conventional generator burns fuel, usually diesel, gasoline or propane, to rotate a motor which is attached with an alternator which, in turn, produces electricity for use. It uses a mechanical alternator that produces pure AC current.
On average, conventional generators are bulkier, consume more fuel and are louder, but they also produce more electricity to support higher load requirements. Usually, the generators you see on a construction site, or the ones that power an entire home and all its appliances are conventional generators. These are better used in places where you do not have to move the generator too often because most conventional generators weigh above 100 pounds. They have to be towed on their wheels and cannot be carried around like inverter generators.
What is an Inverter Generator?
An inverter generator also burns fuels like a conventional generator, but it produces DC power which is converted to AC through a digital alternator. This is the key difference in the two types of generators which primarily makes them unique in their use.
Most inverter generators are comparatively quieter, weigh less and consume less fuel but they also support much smaller loads. Inverter generators can be used to power light appliances that are more sensitive to damage by electricity fluctuations. You can carry it around in your hand as these generators usually weigh approximately 50 pounds and almost never above 100 pounds. These are best when you want to power an RV or do things like watching TV or charging your phone during a power outage. It is common to carry an inverter generator with you when you’re going camping.
Usually, you encounter these two types of generators when you head out to buy one and while both produce electricity, there are some very prominent differences in the two. Depending on your use of the generator, you will be choosing one, but what exactly are these differences and how do they determine their use conditions?
I have explained a number of differentiating factors below to help you make an educated decision about which generator to buy to suit your needs.
Key Differences Between a Conventional and Inverter Generator
The technology used in both generators is what separates the two and thereby impacts factors such as design, noise, power and portability. Getting the right generator means that you properly understand what separates the two types of generators and then you choose one that fits your requirements. Scroll down below to read the differentiating factors that will help you understand what works for you better.
A conventional generator is meant to be a high-power energy backup whereas an inverter generator does not produce that kind of high energy. While some conventional generators produce up to 15,000 watts, most inverter generators max out at 4000 watts.
If you are planning to power your entire house and run devices such as laundry machines, refrigerators and air conditioners, you are definitely looking for a conventional generator. On the contrary, if you are planning to simply watch TV or take the generator out with you on a camping trip, your first choice is an inverter generator since it produces enough to meet your load requirements.
If your concern is fuel efficiency, inverter generators are the way to go. This is primarily because inverter generators use newer and more fuel-efficient technology.
The RPM of an inverter generator is commensurate with the load placed on the generator. If you only need to power a light bulb, an inverter generator will produce just about enough to do the job. A conventional generator on the contrary does not regulate the RPM according to your usage, most conventional generators run at a constant 3600 RPM at all times and this makes them less fuel-efficient.
Moreover, since conventional generators use more fuel, they also come with larger fuel tanks which means you don’t have to worry about the tank drying up too quickly, inverter generators on the other hand need more constant fueling.
Quality of Electricity
Inverter generators give you what is known as ‘clean’ energy since they use an electronically regulated alternator, they produce a constant AC current without distortions and wave imbalance. Conventional generators on the other hand usually run at a constant 3600 RPM but this is by no means stable. This means that there is high amount of distortion in the sine wave of the current produced and therefore, this cannot be referred to as clean energy. Inverter generators have more control over the energy output and are able to maintain variable RPM while adjusting voltage according to the load imposed, without distorting the AC output.
One of the many upsides of clean energy are that you can use it to power devices that are sensitive to electricity quality. Your mobile phone and laptop battery for instance may not last very long if you constantly charge them with conventional generators. Inverter generators on the other hand are safe to use with sensitive devices.
Inverter generators are lightweight and easy to carry around since they do not use a mechanical alternator. They are therefore your first choice if you want to fit one in your car’s trunk or take with you for a camping trip.
Conventional generators are usually much heavier because of the mechanical components involved. You would go for a mechanical generator if your primary choice is to park it somewhere for consistent use. This makes conventional generators ideal for home use when you are expecting a power outage.
While both types of generators usually come equipped with wheels, you can carry an inverter generator in your hand whereas conventional generators have to be towed on their wheels. This drastically defines the use cases of both generators.
Owing to the higher number of moving parts and the unstable RPM, conventional generators are noisier compared to inverter generators. On average, you can expect a noise difference of at least 10 decibels in the two types of generators.
When purchasing, you can often see a label that tells you the noise your generator will make depending on the load (half, quarter and full), this can help you understand if the noise levels work for you or not. But in general, if you intend to use it in a low noise environment, an inverter generator is the way to go.
On the other hand, conventional generators can work in open environments where noise is not an issue or in well-ventilated basements which can contain the noise. If you want to eliminate the noise of an ordinary generator, please read the article How to make a generator quiet.
Because of the newer and more efficient technology, an inverter generator is usually pricier as compared to a conventional generator. If you are looking for something that won’t cost you a fortune and has a higher load capacity, a conventional generator may be your first choice. But, if you are more concerned about the fuel efficiency, current quality and noise levels, your choice would be an inverter generator.
Another reason why conventional generators are cheaper is that they use traditional technology that has been out there for longer and hence manufacturers are able to offer a lower price.
Coupling and Parallel Connection
Inverter generators can be coupled using a parallel connection to double the power output. This is more practical for lightweight portable generators that may be used in different places and subjected to different load requirements. Conventional generators on the other hand do not allow a parallel connection but since they produce a high wattage on average, they may completely eliminate the need for increasing power output.
While a conventional generator produces an average current of 10,000 watts, two inverter generators of 4000 watts can be connected in parallel to produce 8000 watts.
While both generators burn fuel and release CO2 in the atmosphere, inverter generators tip towards the more environment friendly side by only burning the fuel that is required. Conventional generators maintain a constantly high RPM which requires them to burn fuel at a higher rate irrespective of their use.
If your region has laws that limit carbon emissions per home, it will be easier for you to find an inverter generator that falls in the legal threshold of greenhouse emission. On the other hand, many manufacturers have used technology to reduce carbon emissions in conventional generators, so you still have plenty of options to meet your load requirements while keeping in view your environmental responsibility.
Which Generator Should You Choose?
With all the similarities and differences of the two types of generators listed above, you should be better able to narrow down your options. If you are looking for something heavy-duty that can run for longer periods of time and support higher load requirements, you are looking for a conventional generator that will not require fueling every now and then. On the other hand, if you need something that you can move around and use in places with smaller load requirements, you are looking for an inverter generator.
If you need something that is cheaper to buy, then a conventional generator may be your go-to option but if you’re looking for something that is cheaper to use in terms of fuel and maintenance, then an inverter generator is for you.
Moreover, if your load includes sensitive devices such as mobile phones, laptops and other chargeable devices, I highly recommend that you go for an inverter generator to avoid damaging these devices. On the other hand, most construction sites, campsites and even homes can be conveniently powered with a conventional generator where load is high.
Suggestions for Conventional Generator and Inverter Generator
A good conventional generator for home use is the DuroMax portable generator that can produce between 12,000 and 15,000 watts to power heavy home appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners. It also comes equipped with wheels, so you move it around and park it next to your energy distribution panel. A huge plus is the variable RPM which reduces your fuel consumption when the load is low.
On the other hand, a first-choice inverter generator is the Champion Dual Fuel Generator which is extremely light weight and tops at a reasonable wattage of 3400 watts. You can run it on gasoline or propane and this flexibility makes perfect for carrying in the trunk of your car or powering an RV. The electric start feature saves you the hassle of pulling the recoil cord to get it running.
At the end of the day, you need something that solves your problems and not just something that has too many pros that don’t concern you. Start by evaluating your requirements and why exactly you need a generator, this should help you better understand which type works for you. You may even need to estimate the load of your house if you plan to have a generator power your house in times of bad weather or power outages. Your electricity bill should tell you your average wattage consumption, but you need to know how many watts are being used at a given point in time. A good way to estimate this is by using a meter plug that will come in handy at a later time as well to track your wattage while using the generator.
Doing this right will help you seamlessly go about your activities without thinking twice about whether your generator will give up on you if you do this.