Often called a camping generator, tailgating generator, mini generator, or suitcase generator, most of these names are usually referring to a Portable Inverter Generator. With the advances in today’s modern technology, manufacturers and developers are rapidly reducing the cost of these gas powered generators to make them available to the masses. While the term “suitcase generator” is more common in the United Kingdom, these very small but powerful generators are very popular in the United States as well.
These small electric generators are typically about the size of a standard piece of luggage and usually have some type of carrying handle, thus the name “suitcase generator”. Their compact size makes them great for camping trips, tailgating, and emergency situations. They are relatively quiet and most of them are powered by a four-stroke, single-cylinder, air-cooled engine/motor. They are fairly light weight with a few models in the 30 pounds (14 kg) range. A weight of around 50 lbs (23 kg) is a little more common and there are a few models weighing as much as 70 lbs (32 kg). The size you need really depends on the intended use of your generator. As stated above, many of the latest models are designed with an inverter which provides a more stable power output.
If your state has adopted the California Air Resource Board standard, you will want to make sure any generator you purchase is CARB compliant. Even if the generator you acquire is CARB compliant it does produce emissions and is designed for outside use only. However an extension cord can quickly provide power to your essential electrical items in case of a blackout.
Do not run any type of generator inside the house or in an enclosed area as they all produce Carbon Monoxide (CO2), an invisible and odorless gas that can kill you. Just think of the exhaust it puts off the same as you would your vehicle’s exhaust fumes. Also don’t forget that a generator is obviously designed to produce electricity and exposure to water can produce an electrical fire or electrocution of any persons in the immediate area. Now that can present a quandary. They’re great for blackouts (which typically happen during a storm) but you can’t run them in the house or put them out in the rain. An open carport will usually suffice but it is always best to consult a professional before an emergency arises.
Currently the average run-time on a tank of gas is about five hours but since it runs on the same fuel as your lawn mower, this is usually not a major issue. There are not many diesel generators that come in the suitcase style. The diesel versions may never be provided in mass production as most end-users running diesel prefer heavy duty equipment.
While there are wheeled generators, a suitcase generator is much handier in situations where it is needed as it is literally designed to be carried in one hand. It is already a very common item for various military divisions and emergency responders such as firemen and EMTs.
There are a few battery-powered versions of these that are significantly lighter, cheaper and can be operated inside the home since there is no engine. But they are not as powerful and you’re simply running off stored energy. Once the battery is drained, you’re out of luck.
If you need a little bit more power for everyday use, the next step up would be a wheeled generator. Even though it usually takes two people to lift this type of generator, they are typically cheaper to purchase. One person can normally put one of these in the back of a truck with the use of a sturdy board(s) as a ramp and once on the ground they are definitely designed to be moved around by a single individual. If you have ever been to a construction site, you have most likely seen this type of generator. Wheeled generators are mass manufactured in both diesel and gasoline/petrol powered versions. While these generators are obviously not as portable as a mini generator, they have been around for decades and are one of the most common types of portable generators in use.
Limits of a Small Electric Generator
Small generators can produce enough power to run a few small appliances but in most cases it is best to power anything larger one piece of equipment at a time. In the case of a residential power outage, it is very common to power an electric heater and a radio (for the news/weather). These types of domestic devices are typically small enough to run simultaneously without any problems. If you prefer to have the ability to run larger appliances or several medium size electrical devices for extended periods, you may want to consider a whole house generator. These large generators are normally only needed in places where blackouts happen frequently.