Portable vs Standby: The Key Differences

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Depending on your location, project, or situation, you may require a power source to maintain your electrical operations. Here we will weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a portable vs standby generator. There are many units available from different manufacturers, styles, and several variables to consider. Whether for emergency or recreational use, standby or portable, each can satisfy your needs differently. 

Both types have differences in terms of output, wattage, fuel type, cost, and more. Some generators run on diesel, propane, gasoline, natural gas, or a combination of fuel types. Read on to learn more about these units’ features and benefits.

Portable vs Standby


Portable generators are more flexible in terms of location. They have a mobile design and power a range of applications. These easily movable units are good for camping trips, DIY projects, emergencies, or anywhere else that require a power source. Easily transportable and requiring no installation. They work by simply pushing a push-button or pulling a cord when needed. They typically run on propane, gasoline, diesel, and sometimes both. Even though portable models are often employed for multiple smaller uses. Larger models can be robust enough to power large construction operations or food trucks. 

Standby vs Portable


Standby generators are also known as stationary generators. They are good for backing up a full house or electrical business systems. These units require a fixed installation by a qualified technician. They operate automatically, coming to life when they detect a break or a drop in the power supply. Often they run from a non-electrical power source such as propane or natural gas to eliminate the need to refuel. They can power most large appliances and homes. Some later models now have the added functionality of internet connectivity. This allows you to operate the unit remotely through a smartphone app. Some industrial models can output huge wattages and support electrical power to entire office buildings or hospitals. 

Difference Between Portable vs Standby Generators

Depending on why you need a generator, there may be advantages to buying a specific type over the other. Whether standby or portable, generators are designed to perform the same function; supplying power. However, for different applications

The Location

Both generator types are only used outdoors, where there is plenty of airflow. Otherwise, you may run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, each type can better accommodate various operations, and instances as each system has its benefits and notable differences.

Location-wise, portable units are moveable. They are suitable for DIY projects, construction jobs, food trucks, emergency backup use, and recreational activities. Such as generators for RV camping.

On the other hand, standby units are stationary. This makes them better suited for home backup power, agriculture, hospitals, factories, business, and industrial use.

The Installation

Due to design, a portable generator does not require installation in a permanent place. Simply, move it outdoor to the desired location and hit start. They usually have handles and wheels to maintain portability. Suitable for many one-offs or temporary situations when you require power on the go. However, they require manual refueling.

On the other hand, a standby generator is primarily designed to provide full electrical back up. Therefore, it is a static unit. It will demand a full installation by a professional electrician. Connecting the unit to an energy source will also require additional technical help. But once the power goes out, you don’t need to do anything manually. The generator is already connected to your home with a transfer switch near the electrical panel and also connected to a consistent fuel source. 

Portable vs Standby Generators: Noise

Running noise for movable generators is substantially louder than their standby counterparts. However, new technologies are developed to create quiet running generators that operate at a lower noise level. When at a 20-foot distance, some units achieve a decibel level that is no louder than a normal human speaking voice. This is especially true for inverter generators.

That said, standby models are a fixed installation. They don’t vibrate as much as they have fewer moving parts. Thus, they output less noise. Standby generators typically have a low noise level. They usually do not interfere with or overpower normal household functions or daily living. 

Portable vs Standby Generators: The Fuel

Fuel options for a portable generator can offer multiple variations of propane, gasoline, or diesel. Some units provide a combination of fuel sources for convenience. Many outdoor enthusiasts prefer dual fuel generators that operate on both propane and gasoline.

As standby generators involve powering entire buildings in the event of a power failure or outage. They tend to rely on fueling though natural gas or liquid propane. This eliminates the need to refill the unit and continue running and supplying power for extended periods.

Portable vs Standby Generators: The Wattage

Because it is a free-standing generator, a portable unit has some limitations in the amount of power it can produce. On the upper end of the scale, a maximum of 15,000 watts is the limit. With many units being much less, even as low as 1,000 or 2,000 watts.

However, supplying power to an entire house. Refrigerators, boilers, air-conditioning, and electrical appliances, requires a decent amount of energy. A typical size is 10,000 watt generator for a standard home back up. While larger, more industrial-size units can reach 30,000 watts or more.

The Cost

Designed to be movable and transportable, the cost of a generator is relatively reasonable and cheaper when compared to a standby generator. A mobile generator is between $500 and $3000. The price will fluctuate depending on the required wattage, output, and other required features. But generally, they will cost less than a standby one.

The standby unit is much larger and more powerful in terms of output. This higher capacity is reflected in the cost. They can be around $5000 and $10000 for a full system. Along with the cost of the installation and fuel connection. This adds charges to the bottom line. However, it will be more expensive than a portable system. But, a standby system is the best for full power backup needs where continuous running is a factor. Moreover, a standby unit can last you for much more years. In addition, having one tends to increase your property’s value. This is especially true in regions where power loss is common. So, you can expect a return on your investment.

Wrap Up

When it comes to deciding between a standby vs. portable generator. It is essential to assess the amount of power needed, location, and available finance. While a full home backup may be desirable. A portable one may work just as well if only a few appliances need power during an outage. Conversely, if a large building needs power support, a mobile generator will not have the appropriate wattage to handle it. Carefully assessing individual needs and output requirements will help determine which is more suitable, portable or standby.

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