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Conventional vs Inverter Generators: What’s the Difference?

7 Scenarios to Help You Choose between Them

conventional generators vs inverter generators
Image credit: Quiet Hut, Flickr

Sales of portable generators are expected to steadily rise over the next several years.  Whether we are insisting on watching TV while camping or worried about the next weather-induced power outage, we will all be shopping for generators.  And with more and more of us tethered to our cell phones, we’re just as likely to be worried about charging our gadgets as we are about the food rotting in the freezer.

There is one big choice to make when selecting a portable generator: conventional or inverter?  And, as we say so often about the tools in our life, it comes down to this: what are you going to use it for?  They each provide power, of course, but beyond that, there are significant differences.  Neither is better by definition, but one is likely better for you.  What do you want your generator to do?

1 – I want to power my house in a power outage

If you expect to keep your house up and running with your generator, you’ll want a conventional model.  Your house is passively consuming a few thousand watts all the time, not counting when you do a load of laundry or run the dishwasher.  Inverter generators simply can’t make that much power, but you can easily find a traditional one to keep everything or most everything up and running.

2 – I want to watch the game on TV while tailgating

Sometimes you want to be in two places at once – you want to keep the party going, but you want to see the game action on your TV.  If this is you, you’ll want an inverter generator.  They can’t handle an entire house, but they can certainly handle a TV.

Inverter generators are also more convenient – they are generally lighter and smaller than their conventional counterparts, making them truly and easily portable.  Throw the TV and the inverter generator into the trunk and you’ll still have room for a cooler.

3 – I can’t stand how loud generators are

If the din created by a standard generator drives you crazy, you’ll want an inverter generator.  They are much quieter than their traditional counterparts.  And unlike a regular generator, which runs at maximum volume whenever it’s on, an inverter-style generator makes less noise when you use less electricity, meaning that sometimes they’re downright quiet.

4 – I only need to charge my cell phone

Charging sensitive electronics is where the inverter generator is practically a requirement.  The inverter generator provides a much smoother stream of electricity to your sensitive devices, greatly reducing the odds of destroying them.  Charging gadgets with a traditional generator increases the likelihood that they will be fried by the choppier supply of power they provide.

And it’s not just your cell phone that’s at risk.  In this day and age, delicate microprocessors are in a wide range of everyday objects – computers, of course, but they might also be in any of your kitchen appliances or even some power tools.  The inverter generator is the safer bet.

inverter generator
Image credit: Quiet Hut, Flickr

5 – I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg

If you’re watching the bottom line, the conventional generator is probably the way to go.  You can get a small traditional generator for noticeably less than the least expensive inverter generator.  The inverter generator has some fancy electronics on the inside.  The conventional is a much simpler machine to pay for up front and to fix, if necessary, down the line.

6 – I don’t want to kill the planet

All generators use some kind of fossil fuel, so in that sense, none of them are improving the health of the planet.  But the inverter generator is much more fuel-efficient.  Aside from the fact that they can’t generate as much electricity, giving any one of them a smaller environmental footprint, they only generate as much electricity as is demanded of them.  A conventional generator just runs, all the time, whether you’re using the hair dryer or the hot water or the well pump.  The inverter generator only kicks in when the devices are running or charging.  If you don’t turn on the TV, the inverter generator doesn’t work to keep it on.

7 – I don’t want to refuel the generator every 5 minutes

If you’re hoping to just turn the generator on and then leave it for most of the day, or if you don’t want to have to worry about it running out of fuel every few hours, you want a conventional model.  These hold greater quantities of fuel than the inverter generators, and even though the conventional is less fuel-efficient, they still last longer on the one (usually larger) tank of gas.

conventional generator
Image credit: Marion Doss, Flickr


You could distill these scenarios down into one final question: do you want the generator to power your house, or do you want it to power your fun?  The conventional generator is the one better suited to keeping you alive and comfortable in your house in an emergency, with the ability to power the heat or air conditioner, the refrigerator, the oven, the well pump, and the hot water heater.  But if you’re looking for something to add another layer of entertainment to your recreational activities, especially without making you deaf in the process, you’ll want to look hard at the inverter generator.

For a more exhaustive discussion of generators, try this page of the Yamaha website:

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