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How To Choose The Right Generator

Many of us have home generators to run appliances in case of an electrical outage, but the power requirements on a construction site often demand a different class of generator. On the jobsite, generators are used to power everything from drills to lights to power nailers to jack hammers. And, it’s important to get the right size generator with the right amount of wattage to power your equipment efficiently.

Some considerations when selecting a generator include:
  • Power Capability – the tools you need to power are a factor in finding the right generator
  • Size – the generator must be powerful enough to run your equipment but not so big that you end up wasting fuel
  • Portability – easily transporting a generator around a construction site makes a difference
  • Maintenance – like any motor, your generator needs attention and care

Power Hungry

All generators are not powered equally. Whether renting a generator for the job at hand or purchasing one for the long haul, you first need to know what you expect to be powering. The types of tools you’ll be powering up will determine what size generator and how much wattage you need. The rule of thumb is to add up the power requirements for all the tools that need powering, then add 10 to 20%.

Portable generators can power between 3,000 to over 10,000 watts, depending upon their size. And your portable generator requires an adequate amount of starting watts and running watts.

Starting Watts

Starting watts are a jolt of maximum power from the generator to get the power tools started. They are the extra watts needed for about two to three seconds to start motor-driven tools. For example, a circular saw needs about 2,400 watts at start up. Once powered up, they only require about 1,200 watts to operate.

Running Watts

Running watts refers to the tool’s power requirements to maintain normal operation. Not all tools require starting watts to get going, but they all operate on running watts.

To determine the amount of wattage a specific tool requires, multiply the amps and volts of that equipment: amps x volts = watts. Calculating overall wattage needed to run worksite tools will help determine the size of generator needed.

Size Matters

Generator sizes typically range from medium, large, extra-large, and industrial; sometimes the range is referred to as residential or commercial. Medium generators are rated at 3,000 to 5,000 watts and are more along the lines of personal home use or sometimes serve as backups on a jobsite. Industrial generators tend to be stationary, so not useful for temporary jobsites, and they usually power businesses or serve as emergency generators.

Contractors running power tools at work are most likely going to fall into the range of needing a large or extra-large generator. Large generators output between 6,000 to 9,000 watts. This can allow multiple tools to operate at once. Extra-large generators kick out 10,000 watts and up. For home use this kind of power can run an air conditioner or refrigerator. For jobsites, this is going to cover most of your power tools. If your power needs fluctuate, the extra-large generator might serve you best as it can power all size jobs.

However, if you don’t regularly use that amount of power, an extra-large generator may be overkill. Operating a generator that is too big for the job can waste fuel, which in turn wastes money.

Power On The Go

Another important factor in decision making is determining where your generator needs to go in order to get to work. Think about where you’ll be transporting and using your tools because that’s where your generator needs to go as well. Determine whether you will move it around the worksite or stay in one general area for a longer period of time.

If you need a powerful generator with a heavy-duty engine, chances are it will be heavy. Look for a generator with wheels for easier transporting and stabilizing feet to hold it steady when pumping out the watts. Test out different handles to see what fits best; they can be metal or may be padded.

Proper Maintenance 

Performing regular inspections and maintenance will extend your generator’s life and usefulness. Every generator is different, so be sure to check your owner’s manual, but a good rule of thumb is to change the oil approximately every 100 hours of use. If the generator is running continuously for long periods of time or if there is a lot of dust and debris on the site, it may be necessary to change it out sooner. The oil filter should also be checked during the oil change to see if it needs replacing.

The air filter should also get a regular look especially if working in excessively dusty jobsites. Air filters keep small particles out of the engine, but over time these filters get clogged and need cleaning. There is some controversy over whether to use compressed air to clean your air filter; if the air flow is too powerful, it can damage the filter, rendering it ineffective. Water and a mild detergent can also be used to clean the filter – just make sure it’s completely dry before reinstalling it. If neither work to clear out the dust, it’s time for a replacement.

The spark plugs, the rotor and stator, battery and the alternator should be inspected annually. It’s a good idea to keep the generator as clean as possible and wipe off any errant oil or fuel. In between jobs, consider draining the old fuel or adding a fuel stabilizer until the next time you need to switch on the generator and power up your tools.

Be sure to have the generator switched off and cooled down before conducting any maintenance or cleaning. And it goes without saying that generators should only be used outside. Generators produce carbon monoxide, so operating them indoors can be deadly.

It’s Generator Time

Once you have considered power, size, portability, and maintenance and are ready to purchase your generator, be sure to shop around for the best quality and be sure to get a warranty. Generators make using power tools in all sorts of construction zones possible. Taking some time up front to find the right generator for your job needs will get your tools powered up right and keep them humming all day. A reliable, effective generator is another important tool in your tool box.

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