In recent years, the increase in severe weather events here in the Tampa Bay area has strained the local electric grid in countless ways. Between a sharp increase in air conditioner usage and a big uptick in storm-related damage, you never know when your home here might face a blackout. That new reality makes adding a backup generator a smart move for area homeowners. However, it’s not easy to sort through your principal options when looking for one. There are a variety of models that each use different fuel types or combinations of fuel types to choose from. Here’s how to choose the right fuel type for your home backup generator.
Common Backup Generator Fuel Types
Today, there are four major fuel choices when it comes to residential backup generators. They are gasoline, diesel, liquid propane, and natural gas. In most cases, you’ll find backup generators designed for operation using a single one of those fuels. However, some generators can use two or three types of fuel to give owners flexibility in the event of an emergency.
Most of the time, the duel-fuel generators you encounter for sale will allow you to use some combination of gasoline, diesel, or propane. The idea is that gasoline or diesel fuel might be more available in an emergency than propane. That way, you wouldn’t have to worry about losing power in the event of something like a hurricane.
Tri-fuel generators, by contrast, typically allow the use of gasoline, propane, and natural gas. They’re great for permanent installations in homes with a preexisting natural gas supply. The option to run them using gasoline or propane is an emergency fallback should your home’s natural gas supply get interrupted.
The Pros and Cons of Gasoline and Diesel
Generators that run on gasoline or diesel fuel are among the most common generator types on the market today. You’ll find generators of this type ranging from small portable models meant for light-duty applications like camping up to extremely large models that serve as backup generators for large, power-hungry facilities like hospitals.
Of the two, gasoline-powered generators dominate the market for two simple reasons. One is that there are decades worth of small internal combustion engine designs for manufacturers to use in their products. And the second is that the infrastructure for dispensing gasoline is robust, making fuel easy to come by for users.
The trouble is that the pros of gasoline generators basically end there. There are also plenty of cons associated with gasoline-powered generators. One is that gasoline is a volatile fuel that’s not easy to store. That means you could have a hard time keeping your generator running for an extended period in an emergency. Plus, gasoline prices fluctuate constantly. So, your generator will likely cost quite a bit to run under normal circumstances and become even more expensive during a widespread emergency.
Diesel-powered generators also suffer from similar drawbacks. While it is a bit easier to store than gasoline, it’s more expensive even under normal conditions. Plus, diesel is often even harder to find during an emergency since not every gas station carries it in the first place.
The Pros and Cons of Liquid Propane
If you’re familiar with the operation of gas-powered outdoor barbeques, you’re probably already well-acquainted with liquid propane. You probably also know how easy it is to work with compared to fuels like gasoline and diesel. That’s a big reason why you’ll find so many generators that can run on liquid propane.
As a generator fuel, it works quite well. It’s readily available, and there are plenty of places you can purchase it in the Tampa Bay area. If you have a liquid propane backup generator, you can keep a few 20 lb. cylinders on hand for backup power in an emergency. Or, you can opt for a larger semi-permanent cylinder to power your generator if you have the space for it.
In operation, liquid propane-powered generators are far quieter than gasoline or diesel-powered ones. Plus, propane is clean-burning, which means your generator won’t spoil the air quality around your home while it’s running. Those are both excellent characteristics for a backup generator you might need to depend on for extended periods.
The big drawbacks associated with liquid propane-powered generators are operating costs and power output limitations. Although liquid propane is cheaper by volume than gasoline, it’s also far less energy dense. More specifically, a gallon of propane produces approximately 73% of the electricity output of a gallon of gasoline. That means you’ll go through propane faster while using your generator. Depending on the fluctuating prices of both fuels, it’s an energy differential that can often make a propane generator more expensive to run than a gasoline generator.
Liquid propane generators also tend to cost more upfront than gasoline-powered models. Although the cleaner-burning nature of propane means less wear and tear, reducing your potential maintenance costs over the years you own your generator.
The Pros and Cons of Natural Gas
In principle, generators that run on liquid propane and ones that run on natural gas are all but identical. In fact, many, if not most, of the generators you’ll find that can run on natural gas can also operate on propane if you prefer it. However, the two fuels themselves aren’t identical.
Natural gas is even less energy dense than liquid propane. That means you’ll consume even more natural gas while running your backup generator than you would propane. The good news is that natural gas is much cheaper than propane, so you’ll still save money.
Natural gas also burns clean, although a bit less so than propane. That means a natural gas-powered generator is a good fit as a residential backup system. The greatest benefit of a natural gas-powered generator, though, is that you can connect it right to your home’s natural gas supply.
During most emergencies that could knock out grid power, you’ll find that your home’s natural gas supply continues uninterrupted. That makes a natural gas-powered generator an excellent choice for backup power. In fact, the only major downside associated with generators that use natural gas is that they’re often significantly more expensive than gasoline-powered models. However, they offer a kind of peace of mind you wouldn’t get with the latter in the event of an emergency.
Making the Right Choice
At the end of the day, your choice regarding what type of fuel you should use for your generator comes down to two main factors. The first is how you plan to use your generator. If you want a generator that can power your entire home in the event of a grid failure, you’ll likely want a propane or natural gas-powered generator.
The second factor is your upfront budget. You’ll find that gasoline-powered generators, even ones large enough to power your whole home, cost far less upfront than models that use propane or natural gas. So, if you can’t afford to spend much upfront, that will place some major constraints on your choices. And as for dual and tri-fuel models, the same logic applies. If you’re willing to spend more upfront for that added flexibility, those are the models to consider.
No matter what kind of generator you’re thinking of buying for your Tampa Bay home, though, Comfort All-Stars can help. Our expert electricians can walk you through your generator options and install whichever type you choose. We also offer an array of other electrical services as well as comprehensive HVAC services including installation, repair, and maintenance, too. So, for residential backup generators and more for your Tampa Bay home, contact Comfort All-Stars today!