Why portable generators are so expensive

Why portable generators are so expensive

By Chris Dougherty
Certified RV technician

I am often asked why RV or quiet portable generators are so expensive and “Why should I spend the money?” There’s the old saying that you get what you pay for, and here’s what you should expect from a portable RV generator:

1. Quiet. RV generators and portable high-end inverter generators have technology which allows them to be substantially quieter than their contractor counterparts, those that you see advertised cheap at Home Depot and Harbor Freight.

Start a contractor generator in a park or campground and two things happen: the wildlife runs like the wind and your fellow campers will come after you with a harpoon! The National Park Service prohibits any noise-producing device or activity that meets or exceeds 60 dBA (decibels) at 50 feet from the source. Contractor generators are as high as 71 decibels, according to a study by the San Dimas Technology and Development Center. While many of the contractor generators may not be “illegal” to use, their excess noise is a disturbance to your fellow campers and the environment.

Generator cases and the exhaust systems allows for the quietness of these units. The engines are well insulated for sound, but are designed so they can breathe and stay cool at the same time. Here is a National Park Service compliant generator.

2. Spark-arresting technology. “A spark arrester is a device that traps or pulverizes exhaust carbon particles to a size below 0.023 inch in diameter; as they are expelled from an exhaust system. Trap style spark arrestors must have a method for cleaning of accumulated carbon particles. When operating or using any internal or external combustion engine, a spark-arresting device must be properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either the U.S. Forest Service Standard 5100-1a (as amended), or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice J335(b) and J350(a) 36 CFR 261.52(j).” —USDA.gov.

In other words, when selecting a generator you must be assured that it has a spark arrester.

3. Selection of fuel type. Built-in RV generators are available in gasoline-, diesel- or propane-powered models. This is extremely helpful for fitting a generator to any type of size RV. They are also available in sizes ranging from about 2500 watts up to 12 kilowatts or more!

With portable units, the inverter-type units are usually the quietest. There are many manufacturers out there these days, so be sure to shop around and review them carefully. Make sure they’ll handle the load you need them to handle and that you actually can carry them along — as some generators are large and heavy. In addition to the generator itself, you need to have fuel, cords and a way to secure the generator to the RV so it doesn’t run off.

Lastly, when choosing a generator make sure that service and parts are readily available. Some of the cheap generators are just that — cheap. When they fail, getting them fixed can be almost impossible!