What is the Difference Between Inverter Generators and Conventional Portable Generators

What is the difference between inverter generators and conventional portable generators? There are similarities between inverter generators and conventional portable generators.

Both are portable and use fuel-powered engines to generate power for your needs. However, their differences are far too much than their similarities. They differ in their designs, technical specifications, and mode of power generation.

Even though there are so many differences between the two types of generators, inverter generators are considered the best portable generators in the market today. Inverter units lead in the market of portable generators because they are convenient to carry than conventional portable generators. One may also learn how to ground a portable generator.

It is, however, essential to note that both are portable. Depending on their use, both units have their pros and cons. To decide which among the two is fit for your needs, read on to learn their differences.

Video showing the differences between the generators

What is an inverter generator?

This is a type of generator that can safely power vulnerable electronic appliances. Unlike conventional generators, inverter generators generate clean and stable electricity with a total harmonic distortion of less than 5%.

They are also more fuel-efficient and operate quietly than the conventional portable generators, thanks to the advanced technology used to make them.

The clean energy is achieved by its mechanical processes, which involve the production of AC current, converted to DC power, and then transforms to a steady AC current again.

The final AC power delivered by an inverter generator is called pure sine wave power, which is similar to what is delivered by your electricity supplier at home.

Most inverter generators can either be fueled by propane or gasoline. However, other inverter generators draw power from solar panels or car batteries.

In this case, such inverter generators convert DC power from the solar or battery into a stable AC current through their electronic circuitry.

What is counted as a conventional portable generator?

It is a fossil fuel-driven engine generator with an alternator that produces an electrical output. Conventional portable generator run on;

  • Gasoline
  • Propane
  • Diesel

It is common to find hybrid conventional portable generators. Hybrid units have a dual fuel feature that allows them to run on propane and gasoline or either of them. The beauty of hybrid generators is that they offer you the convenience to choose your ideal fuel source depending on which one is available.

A conventional portable generator’s engine speed runs at 3600 rpm and can produce up to 120/240 volts and a high frequency of about 60Hz.

Even though the engine can run up to that speed, it cannot maintain the speed, which leads to power fluctuations. This leads to changes in the output voltage and frequency too.

It explains why conventional portable generators do not produce clean electricity as inverter generators. These fluctuations are termed harmonic distortion.

The fluctuations in voltage output are also why conventional portable generators are noisy than their inverter counterparts. Conventional portable generators come with bigger fuel tanks that correspond to the generator’s physical size.

The big the fuel tank, the more power output the generator is likely to deliver, and the more running hours the generator will offer.

On power output, conventional portable generators can deliver more than 10,000 watts; such units are large and heavy.

Even so, most of them have inbuilt features, which makes them qualified to be portable generators.

What is the difference between inverter generators and conventional portable generators?

  1. The difference in current they produce

The main practical difference between an inverter generator and a conventional portable generator is the type of power they generate.

While conventional generators only produce AC power, inverter generators generate power in three phases, high-frequency AC current converted to DC and later inverted to stable AC power.

Stable AC power is the clean sine wave power from an inverter generator; it makes inverter generators exceptional. This power output has minimal harmonic distortion, which is safe for your sensitive electronics.

On the other hand, a conventional portable generator engine produces AC current, which is straightly linked to the load.

While this power output is suitable for use, it is not a pure sine wave; when you power your sensitive electronics with it, they can easily get damaged. Modern sensitive electronics, including laptops, phones, and TVs, have some forms of microprocessors that are vulnerable when there are voltage fluctuations.

Amount of power output and fuel efficiency

Generally, conventional portable generators can generate more power output compared to inverter generators.

The difference is because of their engine sizes, mechanical differences in power production, and fuel tank size.

With their big fuel tank capacity, these units have relatively long-running hours than the inverter units. Even though conventional portable generators produce more power output, they are not fuel-efficient.

Inverter generators on the other hand produces less power output in comparison to conventional units, but they are more energy-efficient.

The advanced technology in inverter generators allows them to alter the engine speed depending on the load, which reduces fuel consumption.

A conventional portable generator cannot auto-adjust its engine speed, and it struggles to maintain 3600 rpm, notwithstanding the load. This fuel efficiency capability allows inverter generators to be fitted with smaller fuel tanks. The efficiency rate of inverter generators is believed to be about 20% more than the conventional units.

The power output of inverter generators on average can be 1200 watts to 4000 watts, and a conventional portable generator can generate more than 10000 watts. It is a big difference in power output.

Depending on what you want to power, this is a key factor to put into consideration when shopping for a generator.


Typically, inverter generators are convenient to carry in contrast to conventional units. This can be related to the different power outputs in these two types of generators.

For the conventional portable generators to deliver more power output, they need to have a large engine and large fuel tank, which also necessitates a large casing.

This explains why they are bulkier and heavier when compared to inverter units.

To improve their movability, manufacturers include inflatable wheel kits and handles to ease in pushing or pulling them. Even with such improvements on their portability, it can be challenging moving most of them because their weight is in excess of 100 pounds.

Inverter generators are lightweight and small in physical size. The small size is because they have a small engine size coupled with a small fuel tank because of their low power output when compared to the conventional counterparts.

You can single-handedly carry an inverter generator. Most inverter generator brands weigh not more than 100 pounds. It is common to find them weighing about 40-60 pounds.

Inverter generators’ portability nature makes them the perfect choice for camping and powering other outdoor activities such as tailgating, among other recreational activities.

Conventional portable generators are also ideal for outdoor power activities but require high power output, such as a construction site.

Noise production

Inverter generators operate in low noise production because of several factors, which include:

  • Their small and quiet engines
  • Built-in special mufflers
  • Built with sound-dampening technology
  • The engine speed’s auto regulation feature also reduces noise production when the engine runs at a low speed.

Inverter generators’ noise level is too low, especially when they are at 25% load. Their noise rating is from 48 to 58 decibels which are as low as the communication of people. They are the best choices for noise-sensitive environments such as national parks, camping sites, and strict neighborhoods.

In comparison, conventional portable generators are notorious for noise production. It becomes worse when it is a cheap and sub-standard conventional generator. The noise production of conventional mobile units is attributed to their mechanical structure and operation.

The fact that conventional units work hard to maintain 3600 rpm engine speed makes them noisy and worsens when the load is heavy. The noise level produced by conventional portable generators is 64 decibels, and above, this noise level is similar to that of a running chainsaw. The bigger the conventional portable generator, the noisier it is.

You can determine the noise produced by a generator by looking at its product description. It is common to find manufacturers listing the generator’s noise level either at quarter load or half load.

Efforts can be made to reduce the noise level produced by conventional portable generators, but you cannot make them operate quietly.


Inverter generators produce lesser exhaust emissions than conventional units. The high fuel efficiency in inverter generators is a contributing factor to their lower exhaust emissions.

It is, therefore, easier to find inverter generators that are both CARB and EPA compliant, which means they are environmentally friendly.

Even though conventional portable generator models are CARB and EPA certified, several of them are not CARB compliant. This means their emissions do not meet the required standards in some states.

Different states have varying rules and regulations on the tolerable greenhouse gas emissions from generators. The laws can even be stricter when you want to use the generator in the nature reserves or natural parks.

Parallel connections capability

Inverter generator manufacturers compensate for the low power output of their units by installing parallel connectivity features.

It means you can connect two different inverter generators to double their power output. In most cases, you will be advised to connect two similar models when you need more power. This is another unique feature of inverter generators.

On the other hand, conventional portable generators do not support parallel connectivity. They already deliver high power output; hence, there is no need to connect two of them.

However, there are generator experts who can advise you on how to parallel connect two conventional generators. Take note that this could risk your generator and your electrical appliances. And this answers the question, can you parallel non-inverter generators?


Inverter generators are costlier than conventional portable generators. Inverter generators run on advanced technology, which guarantees users a silent operation, high fuel efficiency, and a clean sine wave. Inverter generators are also expensive to maintain should you need to undertake any repairs.

Conventional portable generators are inexpensive to buy and maintain as well. Their affordability can be explained by the fact that their mechanical operation is simple. They have been around for a long time; even though conventional units are affordable, their price increases as you demand more power output.

So which one should you buy?

To settle for the best option between an inverter generator and a conventional portable generator, you have to understand their differences, factor in your needs, and weigh on the pros and cons of the two types.

When looking at the advantages, inverter generators are fuel-efficient, more quiet, lightweight, and safe for powering vulnerable electronics.

On the downward side, they are expensive and have low power output. On the other side, conventional portable generators have large power outputs, and they are affordable to acquire.

On their disadvantages, they are noisy, bulky and heavy, and not fuel efficient.

How much power do you need, and where do you need it? This way, you will be able to make the best choice between an inverter generator and a conventional portable generator.

How do you maintain a portable generator?

If you are thinking of a power backup plan for your home or for powering your electricity needs wherever you go, a portable generator is what you need.

However, buying one is never enough; regular maintenance services are essential. It will help your generator run at its full capacity.

Below are maintenance tips you can perform on your portable generator;

  • Ensure the generator is clean whenever it’s not in use: When your inverter generator is lying idle, it easily attracts dirt which includes debris, dust, and mold. The accumulation of any form of dirt on your generator can lead to its malfunctioning, especially when the dirt seeps into the vital components. Regular cleaning of your stored generator or having it covered is a sure way of protecting it.
  • Ensure your portable generator fuel tank is empty when it’s not in use: After running your portable generator to meet your power needs, you should empty the fuel into a safe storage container. Storing your portable generator with fuel in it can lead to gum depositions on the chambers and metallic surfaces of your portable generator, which can hinder its performance.
  • Check on your generator’s wattage capacity: You should be sure that your portable generator has the wattage capacity to power your electricity needs. To determine your generator wattage ratings, check on its labeling. The wattage will be listed as starting and running. The starting wattage is the maximum watts a generator can produce, while the running wattage is the watts it can maintain when powering different electrical devices.
  • Ensure you have adequate fuel backup and filters: For your portable backup generator to serve your needs, you should have enough fuel on standby. You will never know when a power outage will come in. It would be best if you also stored oil filters should you need to replace them during emergencies.

Boost the performance of your generator by ensuring that you are practicing the maintenance steps above.

Safety measures to observe when running a portable generator

  • It would be best if you never run a generator indoors, including your garage; this is because generators produce carbon monoxide fumes when running. Similarly, do not run it near your doors, vents, or open windows.
  • When refueling your portable generator, ensure it is off, and it has cooled down. This ensures there are fire instances from a running or hot engine when it comes into contact with flammable gasoline.
  • Do not power your house by plugging a running generator into any of your wall outlets. Doing such may increase electrocution risk. If you have to power your entire home using your generator, get a qualified electrician to install a reliable transfer switch. Alternatively, you can power your selected electrical equipment directly through reliable power cords.
  • Do not operate the generator when it is wet; otherwise, electrocution could be imminent.

Safely use your generator to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution instances, and fire outbreaks resulting from the reckless use of portable generators.

Final Thought

Both inverter generators and conventional portable generators use fuel to generate power, and they are portable. However, these two types of portable generators differ in the quality of energy they produce, noise levels, amount of power they produce, and pricing.

Inverter generators are expensive to acquire, but they are fuel-efficient, portable, produce clean sine waves, operate quietly, and produce a low power output.

In contrast, conventional portable generators are cheap to buy and produce more power output but are noisy, not fuel-efficient, and bulky, hence difficult to move.

Check on your power needs and where you want to use the generator, weigh on the differences of portable generators and make the best choice.

For your portable generator to serve you efficiently, you should practice proper care and maintenance. Ensure that you have emptied your portable generator fuel tank before storing it.  Remember to be safe when using your preferred choice of portable generators.

About Steve Stuart

Steve Stuart is an electrical engineer who developed interest on generators during his school years. After school, he became a generator enthusiast. This is after encountering power supply problems at the area of residence where he lived. Power would be on and off and so food would go bad and the room heater would go off especially during winter. After trying the different generator brands for several years, Steve now provides information on the available brands and products in the market today. Based on his experience, he gives the do’s and the don’ts when it comes to generator use.

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