Remote start: Is it a convenient or excessive generator feature?
Many people might see a remote start feature as an excessive option that simply adds to the price of a generator. Others might see it as convenient, or even necessary. In the end, it depends on how you’ll be using your generator and under what type of conditions.
For example, if you’ll be using your generator with an RV, having a remote start can be extremely convenient. With the ability to turn on your generator without having to go outside, you can get all of the appliances in your RV up and running without even having to get out of bed – which also means you can turn the lights on before needing to move around your vehicle.
Another case where a remote starter can be important is during weather bad enough to knock out the power grid. If your generator is already set up in this situation, having a remote starter will save you from going out into the wind, rain, or snow to start up the generator. That may not seem like a big deal, but it can save you from a slip and fall or at the very least make getting through the power outage somewhat easier.
Generator type: Inverter vs conventional
Both conventional and inverter generators output AC (alternating current) electricity, but they do it in different ways. Whereas conventional generators simply produce AC electricity and send it to the outlets, inverter generators convert the initial AC current to DC (direct current) and then back to AC electricity.
This has the effect of cleaning the electrical current and smoothing it out so there is less harmonic distortion. That’s a big deal because the electricity coming from inverter generators is safe to use with any appliances, tools, or devices that are controlled by microchips. For example, you can charge your computer or smartphone using an inverter generator without worrying about surges, but you wouldn’t want to plug these devices into a conventional generator because they could be fried.
Inverter generators like the Pulsar and Champion Power Equipment 200987 also offer a number of other benefits over conventional generators. The most noticeable is that inverter generators are incredibly quiet compared to traditionally noisy conventional generators. Inverter generators can produce less than 50 dB at 25% load, compared to well over 60 dB for conventional generators.
In addition, inverter generators are typically much more compact compared to conventional generators that produce the same amount of power. They also often weigh less, and have fully enclosed engines so that you can’t burn yourself. All of these characteristics make inverter generators much easier to store.
The main downside to inverter generators is that they tend to be significantly more expensive than conventional generators with similar power outputs. Worse, inverter generators can be much costlier to repair than conventional generators because of the complexity of the microprocessors coupled with the engine.
The other problem with inverter generators is that they are typically limited to a maximum of around 4,000 watts of surge power. It is relatively difficult to find inverter generators above this power rating, as they are simply too expensive for most manufacturers to produce for a wide market. However, you can increase your power with inverter generators by connecting two units of the same model in parallel.
What are your power needs?
The other big consideration when choosing a remote start generator is how much power you need for all of the appliances you plan to run with it. This determination is largely related to how you plan to use your generator – the energy requirements of a small RV, the essential appliances in your home, and the best whole house generator are very different. Thus, there are massive generators like the 9,500-watt Westinghouse model and small generators like the 3,100-watt Champion generator.
The simplest way to figure out how much power you need is to add up the wattage requirements of everything you want to power with your generator. Alternatively, you can estimate how much wattage you will need depending using a variety of online tools that approximate the energy requirements of different standard appliances.
Importantly, generators have two different wattage outputs. The surge power is the amount of power the generator can sustain for several seconds in order to allow motor-driven appliances, like refrigerators, freezers, and even some power tools, to start up. The running power is the amount of power that you’ll be able to draw from the generator over its entire runtime.
Fuel tank, run time, and engine efficiency
Another important thing to consider is how long you’ll be able to run your generator without refueling. The runtime depends largely on the size of the fuel tank in your generator and the efficiency of the engine. Note that engine efficiency is reduced as the power draw from your generator approaches the rated power output, so runtimes are usually measured at 25% or 50% load.
Runtimes can vary widely between generators. For example, the large conventional Westinghouse, Ford, and Champion generators are all designed to run for 11 hours or more at 50% load, while the small Champion 77537i only runs for a maximum of eight hours at 25% load.
Outlets are another important consideration since they affect how you’ll be able to use the power available in your generator. Almost all generators come with at least two 120-volt outlets, but if you have heavy-duty tools or appliances you may want a 120-volt/240-volt twist-lock outlet as well. Having a 12-volt DC battery outlet is important for keeping the onboard battery on your generator charged so that your remote start works properly. Finally, if you plan to use your generator with an RV, you will likely want a 30-amp RV-ready outlet like on the Champion 77537i.
The two most important safety features, found on all of the generators we reviewed, are overload protection and low-oil shutoff. Overload protection ensures means that if you exceed the generator’s power capacity, the generator will automatically shut down in order to prevent a power surge or damage to the engine. Low-oil shutoff automatically detects whenever the engine oil is dangerously low and powers down the generator before the lack of oil can damage the engine.
Another minor, but important, safety feature of the Pulsar, which is also considered to be the best among Pulsar generators, and Champion inverter generators is that the engines are enclosed. That prevents you from burning yourself on exposed hot engine parts, which is possible with conventional generators.
Tips and tricks
The most important thing that you can do to maintain your generator is to replace the oil every 50–100 hours, and possibly even more frequently if you use the generator in dusty conditions or at its maximum power output.
Also remember that you need to allow the generator to cool down fully before refueling when using a portable generator.
Adding a remote start to your generator can increase the price slightly compared to its immediate competitors, but the price of remote start generators broadly can vary depending on the size, type, and manufacturer of each generator. Of the generators we reviewed, prices range from less than $450 for the moderately sized conventional Champion generator to nearly $2,000 for the large Ford generator.