Renting vs Buying a Generator: Which is Better for Your Needs?

Quick Answer:

If you only experience occasional, short-term power outages, renting is likely the better option. The lower upfront cost and convenience of renting make sense when you use a generator infrequently.

However, if you routinely have extended power losses or live in an area prone to frequent storms and outages, a portable generator is probably the way to go. The long-term cost savings and always having backup power available when you own a generator are big advantages if you require power more often.

Factor Renting Buying
Upfront Cost Low (just rental fee) High (full generator cost)
Long-term Costs Recurring rental fees add up Cheaper long run despite high initial cost
Availability Variable based on demand Always accessible when owned
Power Output Typically smaller portable models Can buy larger whole-house standby
Ease of Use Delivery/pickup handled by rental co. Owner responsible for transport/setup
Maintenance Handled by rental company Owner must perform maintenance
Condition Used rentals, wear & tear Can buy new unit in optimal condition
Installation Typically temporary only Can install permanently if buying


  1. The Prologue
  2. The Benefits of Renting a Generator
  3. The Downsides of Renting a Generator
  4. When to Rent a Generator?
  5. The Benefits of Buying a Generator
  6. The Downsides of Buying a Generator
  7. When to Buy a Generator?
  8. Key Tips on Renting a Generator
  9. Key Tips for Buying a Generator
  10. The Epilogue

The Prologue

Portable generators provide backup power when you experience a power outage. They allow you to run essential appliances and equipment to make a power outage more bearable. When your power goes out, you have two options for getting a generator - rent or buy. This article will examine the pros and cons of each so you can decide if renting or buying a portable generator is better for your needs.

The Benefits of Renting a Generator

Renting a generator can make a lot of sense in certain situations. Here are some of the biggest advantages of renting versus buying:

  • Lower Upfront Cost: Renting a generator involves no major upfront investment. Most rental companies charge a daily or weekly rate that covers the generator itself, delivery/pickup, and maintenance. This can be significantly cheaper than buying a generator outright.
  • No Storage or Maintenance: When you rent a generator, you don't have to worry about proper storage or regular maintenance. The rental company handles all of that for you. This saves you time and hassle.
  • Flexibility: Rental generators provide flexibility since you can adjust the size to match your temporary power needs. You can rent a large generator for a planned outage or event and a smaller one for an unexpected emergency. You only rent it for as long as you need it.
  • Professional Delivery/Setup: Reputable rental companies deliver the generator to your home, set it up properly, and show you how to operate it safely. This avoids the hassle and risk of transporting and installing a heavy generator yourself.
  • Wide Availability: In many areas, it is relatively easy to find and rent a generator on short notice before or after a power outage. Rental inventory tends to be larger than retailer generator inventory.
  • No Hassle Returns: You simply notify the rental company when you are done with the generator, and they come to retrieve it. There's no need to try to sell a used generator later on.


Renting vs Buying a Generator


The Downsides of Renting a Generator

  • Renting a generator isn't perfect, though. Here are some of the potential disadvantages:
  • Recurring Costs: While renting avoids a major upfront cost, it requires ongoing rental fees whenever you need to use a generator. These costs can add up over time if you rent a generator frequently.
  • Availability Limitations: While rental companies try to have adequate availability, popular generator models still do sell out during peak outage times. You may not always get your ideal rental generator or timeframe.
  • The hassle of Short-Term Rentals: Having to arrange deliveries and returns of rented generators can be inconvenient, especially for short-term outages. The rental process takes more planning and coordination.
  • Condition Varies: Rental generators may have some wear and tear or need repairs. While reputable companies service their fleet, rented generators still won't be in "like-new" condition.
  • Power Limitations: Most rental generators are portable models that provide enough power to run key appliances – not an entire home. Running large loads like central A/C is often not possible with a rented portable generator.
  • Can't Install Transfer Switch: Permanently installed transfer switches allow you to connect a generator to your home's wiring to back up hardwired systems. But rentals don't allow installing a transfer switch.

When to Rent a Generator?

Here are some situations where renting a generator often makes more sense than buying:

  • You only experience occasional, short power outages once or twice a year. The upfront cost of buying a generator you'll hardly use is hard to justify compared to renting only when needed.
  • You live in an apartment, condo, or townhome with limited outdoor space for permanently storing a generator. Renting sidesteps this issue.
  • You're on a tight budget without extra funds to purchase an expensive backup generator and installation. Periodic rental fees are more affordable.
  • Portable power needs for DIY projects, events, or recreational activities only happen a few times a year. Renting for those short durations is cheaper.
  • You're elderly and worried about maintaining and operating a generator you buy. Letting a rental company handle everything is much easier.
  • Your home's electrical system isn't equipped with a transfer switch for integrating permanent backup power. Renting a portable generator is your only option.
  • You're moving soon, so a permanently installed home generator won't enhance property value for you long-term. Short rentals meet needs temporarily.
  • Frequent moves for military families or temporary job relocations make owning one generator not practical. Rentals work better.
  • You live in a region prone to natural disasters and rely on community shelters during extended outages. Personal backup power is less crucial.
  • Grid power reliability has improved considerably in your area over the years, making outages rare. Generator rentals suffice for the odd major storm.

The Benefits of Buying a Generator

Owning your own generator also has some key benefits:

  • Emergency Backup Anytime: Your generator is always on hand and ready to provide backup power whenever you need it. No need to reserve a rental unit in advance.
  • Power Outage Independence: Homeowners with generators don't need to scramble for the availability of power or wait in long lines at a retailer and rental outlets during mass outages.
  • Cost Savings Long-Term: Although the upfront cost is higher, owning a generator saves money in the long run compared to recurring rental fees. The savings add up if you use it frequently.
  • Permanent Installation: A permanently installed home standby generator can integrate with your home's electrical system to back up hardwired appliances and systems.
  • Sufficient Power for Entire Home: Standby whole-house generator models can provide enough power to maintain full home functionality. This allows you to run large loads like central A/C.
  • New Condition: Buying new means you get a generator in like-new condition that should provide years of reliable service with proper maintenance.
  • Familiarity and Convenience: Owning your generator allows you to become completely familiar with its operation. It is always conveniently on hand without coordinating deliveries.
  • Resale Value: Standby home generators generally retain a decent resale value after a few years if you decide you no longer need them.

The Downsides of Buying a Generator

Purchasing your own generator has some drawbacks too:

  • High Upfront Cost: Backup generators for home use range from $500 for a small portable to $5000+ for a whole house standby. This major one-time cost can deter buyers.
  • Not Cost-Effective for Infrequent Use: For homeowners who only need backup power once in a while, buying an expensive generator may not be cost-effective compared to occasional rentals.
  • Ongoing Maintenance Required: While rentals handle all maintenance, owners must perform regular generator maintenance like testing, fuel stabilization, battery charging, etc.
  • Storage Space Required: Purchased generators take up substantial outdoor space for storage and may require a protective enclosure or shed. Rentals avoid this storage issue.
  • The hassle of Installation: Professionally installing a permanent standby generator takes considerable expertise and labor. Improper installation can cause serious issues.
  • May Require Permits/Inspections: Permanently installed units usually require permits and inspections. This can complicate the process and add costs.
  • Lifespan Eventually Ends: Although generators can last 10-20 years with proper maintenance, they have a finite lifespan. Eventual replacement costs come with ownership.


Renting vs Buying a Generator


When to Buy a Generator?

Here are some examples of when buying a generator often makes the most sense over renting:

  • You live in an area prone to frequent and extended power outages, like a coastal region susceptible to hurricanes causing multi-day blackouts. The recurring cost of rentals wouldn't be justified long-term compared to owning.
  • You or a family member relies on electrically-powered medical equipment like oxygen concentrators. Not having backup power could be life-threatening. Having immediate access to your own generator provides peace of mind.
  • You operate a small business from home that would suffer revenue losses during outages if you didn't have backup power for keeping computers and equipment running. The financial impact could offset the cost of purchasing.
  • You regularly host large events on your property that require heavy-duty power. Renting a large power station for each event could get very expensive over time versus owning one permanently.
  • You live off-grid and rely on a generator as your primary power source. Purchasing a whole-house generator and a routine maintenance plan is a must for reliable everyday energy.
  • You have difficulty mobility-wise and cannot manage the logistics of securing short-term rentals for each outage you experience. Keeping your own generator simplifies preparedness.
  • Frequent short outages in your area a couple of times a month mean you would spend a lot of time coordinating rental deliveries/returns. Ownership avoids the hassle.
  • You have a large heated swimming pool that requires continual running of the pump to avoid costly damage. Keeping a generator on hand to run the pump during outages is advised.
  • Your household includes an elderly member or young children who particularly need consistent heat/AC. Your own generator lets you keep climate control running during multi-day cold snaps or heat waves when rentals may be unavailable.

Key Tips on Renting a Generator

If you decide to rent makes the most sense for your temporary power needs, keep these tips in mind:

  • Reserve at least 1 week in advance before an expected outage to ensure availability. Give yourself as much lead time as possible.
  • Ask the rental company to help size an appropriate generator for your expected loads. Factor in surge wattages needed for starting motors like A/C compressors to avoid overload tripping.
  • Request a rental unit with an electric start if available. Pull cord recoil starting can be challenging and even impossible for some users based on the required pull force.
  • Verify that the unit has built-in GFCI-protected outlets for safety, which is especially important if using the generator outdoors in damp conditions.
  • Ensure the rental rate includes an initial fuel tank fill-up and the option to purchase additional fuel directly from the rental company when refueling.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a tutorial from the rental staff on safe operation, load balancing, refueling, resetting overloads, voltage adjustment, etc. Learn all the ins and outs.
  • If running the generator indoors, confirm adequate ventilation setup per the manufacturer's instructions and ensure a working carbon monoxide detector is present.
  • Ask whether the company offers free delivery and setup. Having them place the unit and connect your appliances helps avoid mistakes.
  • Inquire about discount bundled rental packages, including extension cords and power strips for easily connecting multiple devices.
  • Ask whether monitored theft tracking is included if you plan to use the generator away from home, such as for a job site.

Key Tips for Buying a Generator

If purchasing your own generator for home use, keep these tips in mind:

  • Hire a certified electrician if installing a permanent home standby unit – do not try to DIY this unless you have professional electrical expertise.
  • When choosing a transfer switch, select an amperage capacity able to handle the total expected electrical load plus motor startup surge wattages.
  • Only buy from an authorized dealer or licensed electrician so that full manufacturer warranties and service networks apply. Authorized units also comply with EPA emission regulations.
  • Compare quotes from multiple authorized electricians on installation costs if going the home standby route. Professional install prices can vary widely.
  • Carefully research your local area's permitting and inspection requirements for permanent backup generator installations to avoid hassles or violations later.
  • Test run your new generator at least monthly and follow the maintenance schedule religiously to keep it in good working order. Don't skip regular maintenance.
  • Officially register your generator purchase on the manufacturer's website with its full model and serial number. This ensures any future product safety recalls get flagged for your unit.
  • Keep extra replacement parts like oil filters, starter batteries, and maintenance kits on hand for faster repairs without needing to wait for shipping.
  • Invest in a full-service generator maintenance plan from an authorized dealer for periodic tune-ups, load testing, part replacements, and cleaning.

The Epilogue

Carefully consider your family's needs, budget, and commitment to maintenance.

For occasional or short-term backup power needs, renting is likely the most affordable and convenient option.

But frequent outages coupled with adequate storage and maintenance abilities may make buying your own generator worthwhile in the long run.

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