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Generator Terms and Definitions

Generator TermsGenerator Definitions
Alternating Current (AC)Refers to the form in which electricity is delivered to your home. AC is voltage that increases to a maximum positive ( ) and falls back to zero and then continues to a maximum negative (-) and back to zero. This cycle is repeated 60 times for 60 hertz AC power.
Amps (A)Amps are the amount of electricity or current flowing through a wire, similar to the flow of water through a pipe.
Direct Current (DC)An electric current flowing in one direction only, such as from a battery to an appliance.
Inverter-GeneratorsThese gasoline powered generators are typically smaller and run quieter than the open frame generators and they often vary the engine speed to the required load, saving gas and wear and tear on the generator. These generators are great for camping where noise may be a concern and for powering sensitive electronic equipment.
GeneratorA general name for a device for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. The electrical energy may be direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC). An AC generator may be called an alternator.
Horespower (HP)A common measurement of engine power. One horsepower is basically the power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot off the ground in exactly one second.
Low Oil ShutdownA connection feature designed to shut off the engine if it runs low on oil, preventing serious damage or failure.
Maximum wattageThe power that the generator can produce for short periods of time.
Noise Generators aren't necessarily quiet. Some offer extra features to reduce the noise created during operation. Look for large mufflers if noise is a concern.
OHVOverhead valve. An engine design with the valves placed above the piston in the head, instead of to the side of the piston in the engine block.
Propane-Powered GeneratorsSimilar to portable and standby generators, these cleaner burning generators run on propane - making them ideal solutions in emergency situations where gasoline is scarce. Additional propane tanks can be saved and used as backup tanks, keeping the power on.
Rated Power/Running WattsThe net electric output a generator can provide continuously when functioning as designed.
Starting Watts/Peak watts/Surge watts.The power required to start an electrical device, often three times the running watts
Transfer SwitchA device which will switch a load from the main utility power source to a standby power source.
Volts (V)The volt is the basic unit for electric potential. The higher the voltage, the greater the amount of electrical energy that can be transferred through a circuit.
WattUnit of electric power. In direct current, watts = volts x amperes. In alternating current, watt = effective amps x power factor x a constant dependent on the number of phases (1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt).
Wheeled FramesAs the name suggests, portable generators can be transported to different locations. The smallest portable generators are comparatively light--perhaps 50 pounds--and can be carried. Larger models can weigh as much as several hundred pounds, making a wheeled frame essential for moving it out of the garage or shed to power up when you lose power.