The 10 Best Home Generators
This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in October of 2015. Designed to provide you with reliable power on a job site, at a campground, or during a blackout, these home generators will ensure that you won't get stuck in the dark. We've included portable, inexpensive models that are ideal for keeping essential equipment in operation and some units that are powerful enough to run your whole house. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best home generator on Amazon.
A Brief History Of The Electric Generator
While friction-based generators based on designs from the 17th and 18th centuries are still used in educational settings, they can't actually power anything.
Most generators today use the power of electromagnetism to generate a current.
Most generators today use the power of electromagnetism to generate a current. However, the relationship between magnets and electricity was not discovered until 1831, by British scientist Michael Faraday. Nearly two centuries earlier, the first primitive generator was developed by German inventor Otto von Guericke.
Von Guericke's initial means of generating electricity relied on the use of friction. In fact, electrostatic generators were originally called "friction machines." For the most part, these could only produce sparks of electricity, rather than a steady current. Early models worked much like the Van de Graaff generators seen in science museums and classrooms around the world. Typically, a mechanically moving belt rubs against a conductor attached to a hollow metal globe, which stores the charge generated from the friction that ensues. A conducting body that comes in close contact with the sphere can generate a spark as electrons move to neutralize the charge generated in the sphere. Often, a metal wand is used for demonstration purposes. Another popular demonstration technique is to link a group of people to the machine and watch as the static electricity causes their hair to stand on end.
While friction-based generators based on designs from the 17th and 18th centuries are still used in educational settings, they can't actually power anything. Faraday's discovery of electromagnetism made the consistent generation of a current possible. He built a machine called a disk generator which capitalized on the electric potential of magnets. It used a rotating copper disc placed between the poles of a horseshoe-style magnet, and could produce a somewhat steady, if weak, direct current voltage.
There were a variety of issues with Faraday's initial design that made it inefficient, but rapid development of the design resulted in improvements that made way for contemporary solutions. These advancements included the use of additional magnets as well as using coiled copper wires to collect the charge, which produced a much higher voltage.
The resulting generators used coils of wire rotating within a magnetic field, which produce an alternating current similar to the ones we use in our homes. In general, this type of generator is called a dynamo. These were developed throughout the 1830s and first entered industrial use in 1844.
Today's alternating current generators were built on the concepts used in the dynamo, which was increasingly streamlined over the latter half of the 19th century.
Key Features Of Modern Day Generators
Today's home generators have many convenient advantages over their predecessors. For one thing, they're highly portable. Many are built on wheels and can easily fit in the average car's trunk, making them ideal for camping. Most also feature standard electrical outlets, so you can attach your appliances and devices directly. Many even have built-in batteries that charge while the generator is running and reserve power you can use once it's switched off.
A variety of fuel types can power home generators, depending on your preference. Propane is popular, as tanks are easy to purchase and exchange at many national hardware and grocery store chains. Standard gasoline and diesel are also options, though they require you fill the tank yourself. Still, gas is available just about everywhere, so you can travel with your empty generator and buy fuel locally once you've reached your destination. Natural gas-powered generators are also available.
Home generators are increasingly fuel efficient, and many let you know how just much power they have left on a given tank. This allows you to better prepare for refuels and avoid leaving yourself without power in an emergency.
A Personal Story About the Value of Electricity
When I first graduated college, I spent a month working on a farm in the south of France. The family I lived with built their house themselves with the intention of being fully "off the grid." The property was gorgeous. The house sat on stilts midway up a large hill below a small farm-town road, with fields and livestock at the bottom. The house had no electricity; a wood burning stove provided both heat and a means of cooking, and the only light sources were candles.
When I say that the house had no electricity, what I really mean is that it wasn't wired.
When I made the arrangements, I assumed the people I was going to stay with were locals to the area, and that it was a family farm some number of decades old. Upon arrival, I learned that this was not the case. My hosts were a British couple who had moved to France a few years earlier to escape the crowds and stresses of city life. Their crops and animals produced most of the food they consumed, but they didn't profit off of them. Instead, they were dog breeders. They were also metalheads, with countless facial piercings and tattoos all over their bodies, as well as posters of Slayer, Megadeth, and various metal bands I'd never heard of covering the walls of their home.
When I say that the house had no electricity, what I really mean is that it wasn't wired. In truth, they had a gasoline-powered generator outside, lovingly referred to as Jenny, which provided them with various means of 21st century entertainment via a long extension cord. For a few hours each day, a stereo blared the sounds of Marilyn Manson and the Oslo-based symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir. A Bart Simpson-shaped television glowed with scenes from old concerts and horror films on DVD. They even had a Nintendo Wii with a few games. They also had a wireless hotspot and an old laptop, which were the means they'd used to communicate with me before my arrival. They'd charge both devices while the generator was running for later use.
They could only afford to power the generator for short periods of time, so it wasn't useful for utilitarian purposes. Living there taught me that electricity is a luxury that's not actually very hard to live without. In fact, about 16 percent of the world's population lives without it entirely. For those who do have it, we should relish in the joys it can bring, and never take it for granted.
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