How to Choose the Right Fuel for Your Generator


A Double Trailer Tanker Truck for Large Fuel Deliveries to Oil Companies and Fuel Depots

When it comes to selecting a new generator, the choices can feel overwhelming. One of the most crucial decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right fuel. Not only does it impact the efficiency and performance of your generator, but it also affects accessibility and availability. In this article, we’ll explore the various fuel options available, their unique characteristics, and how they can influence your generator’s effectiveness.

Gasoline: Widely Available but Limited Shelf Life

5-Gallon Gasoline Cans

Gasoline is often the go-to choice for generator users due to its widespread availability. It is relatively affordable and easily obtained in small quantities from local gas stations. However, one drawback of gasoline is its limited shelf life, typically around one year or less. Moreover, local regulations often restrict the storage of gasoline to 25 gallons or less due to its volatility. In emergency situations, gasoline supplies can quickly run out, leaving you without power. Additionally, most manufacturers do not produce gasoline-powered standby generators as they are considered impractical and costly to operate. Gasoline-powered generators are predominantly found in the portable and RV markets.

Diesel: Reliable and Energy-Efficient

Cummins-Onan Diesel Generators in Motorhomes

Diesel fuel offers stability and reliability compared to gasoline. It contains more energy than other commonly used fuels, making it a preferred choice for many generator users. Diesel engines are easier to maintain since they lack spark plugs. They are known for their durability and longevity, provided proper maintenance is upheld. The most cost-effective method of fueling a residential diesel standby generator or commercial generator is through delivery by a local oil company. They will pump the fuel directly into your external or internal fuel tank. However, it’s essential to note that the cost of delivery may offset potential savings in road taxes. Diesel fuel is often the best alternative in remote areas where natural gas is unavailable, and propane delivery is impractical.

Natural Gas: Cost-Effective and Reliable

Cummins Quiet Connect Natural Gas or Propane Home Standby Generator

Natural gas stands as one of the most cost-effective and readily available fuel options for standby generators. Although it carries less energy compared to other fuels, its supply is virtually unlimited. Local utilities deliver natural gas through pipelines to most cities and towns, ensuring a reliable fuel source. The popularity of natural gas stems from its usage in air-cooled home backup generators. Dual-fuel generators that operate on natural gas may have a slightly lower capacity rating compared to propane. Nevertheless, natural gas remains a preferred choice for many due to its convenience and widespread availability in urban areas.

Propane (LP): Clean-Burning and Versatile

Propane Delivery Truck at a Home to Fill the Tank

Propane, also known as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LP), is a clean-burning fuel with an indefinite shelf life. Users store propane in tanks of varying capacities, ranging from 20 pounds to thousands of gallons. Propane is highly versatile and can be used in a wide range of applications, including RVs, food trucks, and emergency vehicles. For home backup generators, a simple installation change allows easy conversion from natural gas to propane. Propane offers more energy than natural gas but less than diesel or gasoline. It is considered safer than gasoline, although it is highly volatile in the event of a leak. Storage and delivery of propane are convenient, making it a popular choice among homeowners.

Choosing the Right Fuel for Your Needs

A Filling Station with Several Grades of Gasoline and Diesel, and 20 Lb Propane Tanks

When it comes to residential applications, natural gas is often the most logical choice, closely followed by propane. Natural gas offers a reliable and cost-effective solution, especially in urban areas with access to pipelines. Propane users should plan carefully for power outages and ensure their tanks are at least half full. It’s crucial to confirm with your propane supplier if they can deliver during power outages. Diesel fuel, although less common for home backup generators, is highly suitable for industrial, institutional, and commercial applications. It’s important to consider the supply of diesel fuel, as some installations require daily refueling. Gasoline has become primarily limited to the RV and portable generator market due to its storage limitations and volatility.


Selecting the right fuel for your generator is a critical decision that affects its performance, accessibility, and availability. Consider factors such as fuel shelf life, energy efficiency, reliability, and local regulations when making your choice. Whether you opt for gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or propane, ensure it aligns with your specific needs and provides the necessary power during outages or emergencies. With the right fuel, your generator will continue to provide the electricity you require, even in the most challenging situations.

Updated June 24, 2020

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