Portable Generator vs Standby Generator

Portable Generator vs Standby Generator: Which is Right For You?

Power generators can provide much-needed help when outdoor temperatures threaten your neighborhood’s power grid or blackouts try to keep your home in the dark. A power generator can be an indispensable tool in helping to maintain your comfort until power is restored. That means no more going without A/C or heating when you need it, or having to throw out all the food in your refrigerator.

Still, when it comes to choosing the right generator for your needs, the process isn’t always straightforward. In particular, knowing whether to choose a portable generator vs standby generator can be challenging.

Luckily, at DuroMax we’re here to help you find the right generator for you and your needs.

Power Generators 101

Before you can choose a generator that’s right for you, it can be helpful to learn more about the best time of the year to buy a generator  and why.

The purpose of a generator is to provide a temporary power source. That may include providing emergency power to your home in case of an outage. However, some generators can also be useful in places where a portable power source is needed, such as at a construction site or sporting event.

So, how can a generator provide electricity, even when the power’s out? Generators run primarily off a fuel source, such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, or even solar energy. Through electromagnetic induction, they convert the energy from fuel into electric energy. Once connected to a building’s electrical system, generators can supply electricity to your lights, appliances, and even heating and cooling systems.

Portable vs Standby Generators: The Basics

Those are the basics on generators—but when it comes to portable vs standby generators, there are some other key differences you should know. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • A portable generator is exactly what it sounds like—a generator that isn’t permanently installed. You can move it to any location and put it in storage when it’s not in use.
  • Meanwhile, a standby generator is a permanent installation outside a home or building. You generally can’t move it once it’s installed.

Still, the differences between these two generator types go much deeper—and they can have a big impact on how well they fit your needs.

The Pros and Cons of Portable and Standby Generators

Generators are not a one-size-fits-all product. Depending on your unique situation, one might be better to address your needs and goals. Thus, once you understand the different types of generators , knowing which will work best for you becomes much easier.

Ahead, we’ll compare some of the key factors that might affect your power generator budget, how easily you can use them, and how much power they actually provide.


One of the most substantial differences between portable and standby generators is how much they will cost you up-front. If you’re working with a budget, this may be a significant factor in your decision of which to purchase.

Let’s take a brief look the average cost of a generator: 

  • Portable generators are overall the more affordable option, costing on average $400–$1500. Once you purchase and transport your generator to the area you’ll use it, you can generally start using it without extra installation costs.
  • Standby generators typically cost quite a bit more, often ranging from $2000–$5000 or even higher. Since they require permanent installation, you may also have to pay some additional (and often hefty) installation fees when you first purchase a standby model.

If keeping your costs to a minimum appeals to you, it’s clear that a portable generator takes the lead here. However, both generator types come with several other variables to consider.

For a deeper dive on the cost of a generator, visit our blog. 


Another significant difference between portable and standby generators is how they’re installed—and how much work you’ll need to do to have them up and running. Unless you’re an electrician by trade, it’s important to know what steps you’ll need to take and when you might need a professional’s help.

Essentially, the differences in installation boil down to the following:

  • Portable generators can be set up and used by anyone, but how much installation they require depends on how you plan to use them.
  • Standby generators on the other hand are typically always installed by a professional.

Need more information? Let’s do a deeper dive.

Portable Generator Installation

As mentioned above, installation isn’t too tricky when it comes to portable generators but it truly depends on the extent of their use. To provide power for individual appliances and devices that have their own power cords, you can run extension cords or generator cords from the generator to the home or building.

If you want to connect your portable generator to entire rooms and circuits, however, you may also need to install a transfer switch or interlock kit. A transfer switch allows you to safely switch an entire home’s main power source to that of your generator.

While this can add to the cost of your portable generator, a transfer switch installation typically runs about $500-$1000. Even on top of the cost of your generator, your overall price could still be well below the cost of a standby generator.

Standby Generator Installation

In comparison, standby generators nearly always require setup by a professional. In some cases, you may also need to pour a small pad of concrete to provide a base before installation. Your installation professional will then connect the standby unit to your home’s electrical system via a transfer switch. They’ll also need to connect it to your power supply, such as a natural gas line. The installation cost for a standby generator can typically run from $3,000 to $7,500 depending on the size standby generator installed.

Fuel Usage

Most standby generators are permanently connected to their fuel source, whereas portable generators have to be refueled manually once they run out. For a portable generator, that also means you’ll need to keep some fuel stored in the case of an emergency outage.

But how much fuel do these two generators actually use? Let’s compare them side by side: 

  • Portable generators run on 12–20 gallons of gasoline per day of usage.
  • Standby generators typically require 13–48 gallons of propane or natural gas for each day of usage.

It’s true that a portable generator’s lower fuel usage might be due in part to its lower power output. However, in the case of an extended power outage, keeping your fuel and power needs at reasonable levels can help you save money. There are also dual fuel generators that allow you to use both propane and gasoline, an option that could make this choice much more efficient overall.

Ease of Use

Hoping to have a hands-free option, or prefer to run your generator manually? This will also impact your choice. The easiest power supply to use is a power station. While a power station is easy to use, it does have its drawbacks depending on your specific needs. Learn more about the differences between a power station and generator  and the pros and cons of each.

Portable and standby generators vary quite a bit in how they operate.

  • Portable generators typically require more hands-on operation with some exceptions
  • Standby generators are typically fully automatic.

Portable Generator Ease of Use

To use a portable generator in the case of an outage or as a temporary power source anywhere, you’ll generally need to:

  • Take it out of storage
  • Refuel it
  • Check the oil
  • Turn it on
  • Connect it to your home

Once you’ve learned these steps, however, most portable generators aren’t too complicated to use—and the ability to take your portable generator practically anywhere remains a huge advantage.

Not to mention many of the newer portable generators on the market today offer remote start or automatic start options that give portable generators even more flexibility for ease of use.

Standby Generator Ease of Use

Standby generators are a little more autonomous. They typically monitor the power supply to a home or building. When power is lost, the generator turns itself on, often within seconds of an outage.

These hands-free features mean that standby generators can be useful for those with critical equipment, such as medical devices that require constant electricity. However, a standby generator’s lack of mobility may pose a problem when you move to a new home or simply want to use the generator in another location.

Power Output

The amount of power your generator provides will affect how broad your power support will be, so this is an important element to consider when making your choice.

  • A portable generator provides anywhere from 3,000 to 8,500 watts of power. However, some recent models can offer up to 15,000 watts.
  • A standby generator has an output starting around 8,000 watts. That means a smaller standby generator might give you the same power as a portable generator. However, some larger generators offer up to 20,000 watts.

Let’s put those numbers into perspective.

Portable Generator Power Output

A medium-sized portable generator can simultaneously power:

  • A smartphone charger
  • A laptop
  • A refrigerator
  • Several lights
  • A small air conditioner
  • A sump pump
  • A gas or propane furnace
  • One larger appliance (dishwasher, stovetop)

Keep in mind that a portable generator is meant to provide temporary power in case of an outage. If you’re only without power for a few hours or even a few days, the above list might be more than enough to get you through.

Standby Generators’ Power Output

On the other hand, the increased output of standby generators means they can potentially power your entire home—or at least allow you to add on a few more of those larger appliances.

If you experience frequent power outages or know you’ll need the additional output, a home backup generator might fit the bill. However, remember that you’ll need to pay up front for those extra benefits—and lose any possibility of portability.

Power Up with DuroMax

As you weigh the pros and cons, choose the generator that feels right for you. The only question remaining is, where can you find the perfect one?

At DuroMax, we’re dedicated to powering everyone, anywhere. That’s why we’ve designed our dual fuel generators to keep you going whenever and wherever you need them. DuroMax Dual Fuel technology lets you run your generator on gasoline or propane, lending even more fuel and cost-efficiency to your power supply. With a push-button start and fully lit instrument panels, using a portable generator has never been so easy.

Stay powered up when you need it the most. Find a generator with DuroMax today.