Selecting the right type of power backup equipment can make a critical difference if there's a power outage in your area to your family’s safety and comfort as well as how conveniently you can meet your mobile or home electrical power needs.
To that end, if you’re considering a generator purchase, you may end up researching fuel types, wattage needs, and the question of inverter generators vs conventional generators; but what exactly is an inverter generator, and how does it differ from a conventional generator? In this guide, we’ll explore them in depth.
How Do Conventional Generators Work?
Conventional generators are the most commonly used of the two and have been around for a longer amount of time.
If you’ve seen a movie where someone trudges out into the tundra after a power outage and starts up a big, screaming engine to turn the lights back on—that’s typically a conventional generator.
They’re fairly simple machines that run on the following fuel sources:
- Natural gas
Conventional generators are also durable and can last a long time with basic maintenance. Essentially, they act as reliable standbys for temporary or backup power.
To convert fuel (or mechanical energy) to electrical energy, the engine runs an electric alternator at a constant speed. This engine speed controls the cycles per second (or Hertz) of the power output. To generate the electricity needed, the engine needs to maintain a constant 3600rpm (revolutions per minute) to produce a constant 60 Hz.
Before the introduction of inverter generators, there were attempts to minimize the loud noise of conventional generators—that’s where the silenced generator came in. Silenced generators are conventional generators that have been enclosed in acoustic cabinets. While that helped dampen the noise, these are still much louder than inverter generators.
What Is an Inverter Generator?
An inverter generator has the same fuel input as a traditional generator, but it relies on a more complex mechanical process. That being said, an inverter generator provides:
- A more stable and efficient energy source
- A smaller environmental footprint
- A longer run time and less fuel use
- Quieter, smaller machinery
Now, let’s look at a couple of key differences between inverter generators vs conventional generators.
#1 How Inverter Generators Produce Energy
An inverter generator is a more complex machine than its conventional counterpart. Rather than converting raw fuel to electric current, it uses a multistep process:
Step 1: Fuel to not-very-stable AC – The first step is to convert fuel (gasoline, propane, diesel, or natural gas) to alternating current (AC) power. The AC generated in the first step can be irregular, leading to power surges and unreliable performance from delicate electronics.
Unlike a standard generator that goes full-speed to convert fuel to AC at a constant rate, the inverter engine is computer-controlled to turn the alternator and generate a voltage based on output needs. So, if you don’t have the lights and appliances running, an inverter will throttle down until it’s needed.
- Step 2: AC to DC – Nope, it’s not a rock band. Instead, an inverter takes the AC power and uses a part called a rectifier to convert it to direct current (DC) power, usually 120 to 200 volts DC.
- Step 3: DC to stable AC – The energy is now processed by the power inverter to convert it from DC power back to AC power but at a more stable waveform.
While it may seem illogical to go from AC to DC and then back to AC, this process creates a power source that is just as stable and pure as what you get from the electric company that usually powers the outlets in your house.
With so many appliances and components in your home reliant on microprocessors, an inverter can protect pricey components from unreliable function due to minute surges in power.
#2 Inverter Generators Sizes and Output
If you opt for an inverter generator, there are fewer size options to choose from than if you were to buy a conventional generator. The largest inverter generators currently max out at about nine kilowatts, while conventional standby generators can exceed 50 kilowatts.
Consumer Reports classifies inverter generators into three sizes:
- Large – The big inverters generate five to nine kilowatts of power and weigh around 250 pounds. This is your target if you’re shopping for household power backup. A benefit of this class is the integration of transfer switches: a safety device that can connect your inverter directly to an electrical panel.
- Midsized – If you’re hauling a generator with a recreational vehicle, this class is what you’re looking for. At around 80 pounds, they can be moved away from an RV for safety and used as a power source of 5 to 4.5 kilowatts to plug appliances and electronic devices into.
- Recreational – Powering up to two kilowatts and weighing up to 60 pounds, you can grab one of these portable inverter generators to run a blender or other small appliances at a camping or tailgating event.
Although inverter generators are designed to emit less carbon dioxide, keep in mind that at any size, these generators still emit carbon monoxide (CO) and should not be used in enclosed spaces. Many inverter generators offer an automatic CO shutoff as an additional safety measure.
What Are the Advantages of an Inverter Generator?
Prepare to be impressed—this is a long list! Inverter generators are a next generation jump in generator technology. They solve several pain points found with their conventional counterparts, including:
- Fuel efficiency – Rather than running continuously to produce a consistent power output like a conventional generator, inverter engines throttle up and down based on demand. If the lights are out and no one is running higher-wattage appliances, an inverter will use less fuel during that time and throttle back up to higher fuel draw when more power is demanded. This means there’s less fuel use and more efficient power generation. Inverters can reduce fuel consumption by about 30% over conventional generators.
- Less fuel storage and foraging – As a continuation of the bullet above, with less fuel use, you’ll need less space and hassle trying to store fuels that may be dangerous or have short shelf lives. You’ll also have fewer trips out in dangerous weather to refill your fuel reserves.
- Run time – An inverter can be run for longer periods on the same size fuel tank, primarily because it’s not running at continuous full speed. On average, you’ll need to go out to refuel a conventional generator about twice as often as an inverter.
- Noise – Inverter generators run much more quietly than conventional generators, some of which are loud enough to trigger noise complaints or be banned in neighborhoods based on noise pollution. This is due to multiple factors:
- Engine speed based on power draw rather than constant full speed (full noise)
- Mufflers, materials, casings, and other technologies designed and engineered to reduce sound
- More stable energy – With the conversion process of fuel to unstable AC, to DC, and ultimately to stable AC, an inverter generator is less prone to damaging or lowering the function of electronics with microprocessors due to uneven power.
- Emissions – They produce lower emissions and thus are more environmentally friendly. When looking for the greenest options, find inverters with EPA approval.
- Compact size – Inverter generators are smaller and lighter than conventional generators, despite having more internal components and functions. This means mobility is increased, and storage space is decreased.
- Parallel compatibility – If you need more power than you can obtain from a single generator, most inverter generators are designed to work in tandem with another inverter generator. Together, the pair can do the work of a larger generator. This parallel device operation pairing is unique to inverter generators.
- Easier maintenance – Inverter generators generate less fuel residue over the same amount of time and don’t require the replacement of carburetor, fuel lines, oil, or gaskets as frequently as conventional generators.
If you are looking for this kind of model, check out the inverter generator models to choose from.
What Are the Cons of an Inverter Generator?
So with all those advantages, why would you not choose an inverter generator? Most buyers who opt for conventional generators look at the price point, but there are a few other influencing factors. Disadvantages of inverters include:
- Price – You’ll pay a significantly higher up-front price for an inverter than a conventional generator. While you’ll save on fuel costs over time, it won’t add up quickly enough to sway most buyers on a budget. On average, you can expect to pay a hefty two to eight times more for an inverter generator.
- Repair ease, cost, and availability – The additional steps an inverter takes to produce more efficient and more stable energy equates to more working parts, including microprocessor-controlled rectifiers and inverters. Maintenance can go a long way to keep these technologies in good shape, but if your inverter generator goes out, it may take more expense and expertise to get it up and running again.
- Maximum power output – Inverter generator development has focused on portable and small to mid-size units. However, if you need a stationary unit with a large fuel tank to provide higher wattage and fully power a property, a conventional model is for you. Conventional generators have power ratings from 500 watts to 50+ kilowatts, while inverters top out at about 9 kilowatts.
Find a Reliable, High-Quality Conventional or Inverter Generator at DuroMax
While a conventional generator can provide you with a large fuel tank and higher wattage, an inverter may suit those looking for a portable, fuel-efficient, and quiet alternative.
Whether you decide on an inverter generator or a traditional model, DuroMax provides you with generators you can rely on. We focus on versatility, quality, and excellent customer service so you can take control of your home and mobile power needs.
Browse inverter generators or take a look at our full line of gasoline, dual-fuel, and tri-fuel DuroMax generators to find a model that fits your needs and your budget. With DuroMax Power Equipment, you can stay prepared for whatever comes your way.