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Last Updated on October 17, 2021
Generators are great little machines that offer a lot of benefits to those who own them. Permanently installed generators can protect your home or business from a sudden loss of power during an outage. On the other hand, portable generators can help you power various appliances on the go— which can make camping trips a lot more comfortable!
However, all generators are not created equal. And you need to make sure you’re not trying to force your generator to provide more power than it’s capable of creating. To avoid this, always make sure that the watts needed by the appliances you want to power don’t exceed the watt capacity of your generator.
What Can I Run On A 900-watt Generator?
This may seem like a silly question, but the answer will probably surprise you. Common intuition would tell you that, naturally, you can use a 900-watt generator to power any appliance that needs 900 watts to run. This is actually not always the case, and, in fact, is not a good rule of thumb to follow.
As it turns out, there can be a significant difference in the amount of power needed to start an appliance than it needs to actually run it. Most watt values given for appliances will tell you how much it takes to run the appliance, but don’t always take into account how much it takes to fire them up.
You’re probably familiar with Newton’s first law of motion, but here’s a refresher. Newton’s first law states that an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.
The same thing applies to certain appliances. Take, for example, a refrigerator. Refrigerators were designed to stay cold, and use a lot of fancy insulation and air-tight seals to make sure that the temperature stays cold. They still require power to control the temperature, but once they’re cold they won’t require too much power to stay cold.
Now think about a brand new refrigerator that’s never been plugged in. It’s sitting there, at room temperature (or maybe slightly warmer). When you plug it in and fire it up, not only does it take a lot of time to cool down completely, it also takes a lot of power to get to the ideal cool temperature.
The same is true for A/C units. If you turn on an A/C unit in a hot room, it will take a lot of power to cool the room down to the temperature you set the unit to. Once the room is cold, it won’t take as much energy to keep it cold.
So, to recap, even if your appliance says it only needs 900-watts to work, it may need more to get going. This is especially true if the appliance in question is a reactive one like an A/C unit, refrigerator, water tool, or, sometimes, power tools.
So What Can You Run?
A 900-watt generator will still run a lot of things. Here are a few things that can successfully be powered using a generator of this size:
- Laptops — 250 to 500 watts, while starting and while running
- Desktop Computers — 600 to 800 watts, while starting and while running
- Blender — 850 watts to start, 400 watts to run
- Light Bulb — wattage indicated on the bulb
- Portable Fan — 120 watts to start, 40 watts to run
- Dishwasher — 500 to 600 watts while starting and while running
- Coffee Maker (4-Cup) — 600 watts to start and to run
- Slow Cooker — 170 to 300 watts, while starting and while running
- Small Flat Screen TV (20in – 46in) — 120 to 150 watts, while starting and while running
Typically, you should never try to power appliances over 700 watts with your 900-watt generator, just to be safe. Unless you know exactly how your appliance functions and how much energy it needs at the start and during its function cycle, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Don’t Run Too Many Appliances at Once
Another important note is that you shouldn’t try to run multiple appliances at once unless they are very small. Because of the power fluctuations during the start (that we discussed above) running two simultaneous mid-sized appliances may prove to be too much for your 900-watt generator.
To figure out if you can run two appliances simultaneously, add their wattage together. Unless the number is less than 900 watts by a considerable margin (100 watts), don’t try to run them together. Your generator has a limited capacity. In order to protect your generator and your appliances, you need to be very careful and diligent about monitoring the energy use.
What Can Happen If I Try To Power Something Too Big?
If you happen to try to use your generator to power something beyond its capacity, there are a few things that can and likely will happen. In situations like this, the generator will become overloaded because you’ve forced it to supply way more power than it can generate. In this situation, your generator will do one of two things:
- If you’re lucky, your generator will have an internal mechanism to protect against this sort of occurrence, and will automatically turn itself off to prevent catastrophe.
- If you’re not so lucky, your generator will overheat and, in the process of doing so, fry itself and the appliances you’re trying to power.
Obviously, the first option is preferable, but you can’t always count on it. Even when your generator claims to have such a mechanism in place, these things can still fail, which can lead to the loss of your appliances and your generator.
To save yourself the cost of having to buy a new generator and new appliances, you should always read your Energy Guides very carefully and make sure you’re never overloading your generator with more than it can handle.