How long can you run a generator continuously and how long do generators last?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve taken electricity for granted. And why shouldn’t you? Where ever you go, it’s there. True… unless you live in a far rural area, or somewhere with bad power infrastructure and have experienced a power outage. If this is your case, then you need a strategy to ensure continuous power supply. But how? Well, what if I said an electric generator? Although I must say, the type of generator you’ll want will depend significantly on the usage you need. Let us explore a few options so that you can decide which one is best for you.

Fuel consumption of portable generators

portable generators

First things first. A generator doesn’t create electricity out of anywhere. Instead, they convert mechanical or chemical energy into electricity that we can use. 

That being said, most generators use some fuel to make this happen. In other words, they are internal combustion engines, just like your car (because I don’t own a Tesla). The fuel can be gasoline or propane gas. That means that the generators are limited by their capacity to hold their fuel.

While you might only need your generator for a few hours in most cases, prolonged power outages present a unique situation where you might need to run your generator for as long as it can go.

Which brings the following question, how long can we run a generator continuously for before we run into trouble?

How long can a generator run continuously?

As I mentioned before, it depends on the type of generator and the type of fuel you’re using. Don’t worry, and we’ll look at several different cases for your convenience.

Gasoline Powered Generators

Gasoline powered portable generator

The amount of time you can run a gasoline generator will depend on the tank size. The reason is that you should never refuel a gasoline generator while it’s running. Even though it seems tempting to pour more fuel into the tank, this is an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Like all internal combustion engines, it can overheat and pour gasoline into the tank. Needless to say, this is not the brightest idea that you can come up with because the fumes from the fuel you’re adding could create a spark and cause the generator or the gasoline tank that you’re holding to burst into flames. Suddenly, but no unexpectedly, right?

Depending on your generator and how much power you are drawing, that may be anywhere from just a few hours, to 12 or even more. But there are few portable gasoline generators with a fuel tank large enough to last for days 

Portable Propane Powered Generators

If you have a propane-powered generator, that means that you are in control of the fuel tank. This offers some additional options for keeping the continuously fueled. 

The simplest way to extend the runtime with a propane generator is to hook up two propane tanks to a single gas line via a stopcock valve – or changeover regulator. That way, you can turn on the flow from one propane tank and leave the other closed. When it becomes time to switch propane tanks, twist the stopcock valve.

In this case, you can replace the used propane tank with a fresh one to never run out of fuel. So, assume that you had an endless supply of propane tanks, you’ll be able to keep it running for a long time.

Are there generators that can run non-stop (for 24 hours)?

A generator that can run forever? You’ll need an eternal supply of fuel. The sad part is that most portable powered generators require maintenance every 100 hours or so.

The only thing limiting you from generating endless energy is the oil in our generator’s engine. This typically runs low after 150 to 200 hours of use, and most modern generators protect the engine by shutting off when the oil runs low.

Keep in mind the heat that will be generated when running the generator far beyond its runtime. Generators may build up only a limited amount of excess heat over a 12-24-hour period. Still, once you go beyond a day of continuous use, you could risk building up engine heat that could permanently damage your generator.

It would help if you also took into consideration the weather in which you’re running your generator. If warm, you’ll need to consider using a fan to try to cool the engine down as much as possible. It would help if you also kept in mind that running the generator at higher wattages will generate more heat.

So, if you manage this right, we can run it continuously for as long as 150-200 hours on propane.

Standby Generators

Standby Generator

If you need to run the generator continuously for more than 24 hours, then portable generators won’t cut it. You’ll need a standby generator.

Standby generators have much larger and more efficient motors that are specifically designed to handle long-term use. They’re also designed to operate on natural gas lines or to connect to massive 500- or 1,000-gallon propane tanks (this is big boy stuff).

But, the total run-by time comes down to the manufacturer, and most manufacturers will recommend that you limit your generator to 500 hours of use at the most, and then give it time to cool and a checkup. That’s roughly about three weeks of continuous use.

While you could potentially run your generator for a more extended period, you’ll do it at the risk of damaging it and possibly any appliances connected to it. And you do not want that to happen, do you?


How long do generators last?

So, how long does a generator last? This is a good question, and the answer depends on the brand, how much you use it, and the type of maintenance you provide it with. Usually, the warranty given upon the purchase will provide you with 2-3 years of use. 

However, a portable gas generator used for residential emergency power lasts about 2,000 to 3,000 hours. On the other hand, diesel generators can last up to 20,000 to 30,000 hours, because they run at a lower RPM, meaning that they have less wear and tear. Standby generators can last a bit also, from 10,000 to 30,000 hours.

So, there you have it. Your needs and situations will determine the type of generator you should use. Generators are great for emergencies like power outages or want to go camping or have an outdoor party. There are many different brands and sizes, and the general cost of having one will depend on these factors. Even the lifetime of the generator (if properly used), will depend on the manufacturer. Generators are designed to provide backup power and handle so much use before they start to break down, so be responsible for how you use them.

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