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Can You Use a Generator in a Condo or Apartment?

Power outages do not discriminate!

Living in a condo or an apartment does not mean you can’t have backup power.

So, what kind of generator can I use indoors?

Conventional and Inverter Generators are not allowed in condos and apartments. Yet, you can use a Battery Generator such as a Solar Generator or a Portable Power Station as they produce no toxic emissions or noise and can be safely kept and operated indoors. 

In some rare cases, with your landlord’s permission (or the condominium/homeowners association board), you might be able to run an inverter generator on a balcony.

Why Can’t I use an inverter generator without permission?

Both conventional and inverter generators use gasoline/propane, which produces a deadly gas called carbon monoxide, making them illegal to be operated indoors. They also produce a fair amount of noise that would be unbearable to you or your neighbors. 

Inverter generators might be acceptable upon written permission in some rare situations. As they produce fewer emissions and noise but are still required to be placed in an outdoor area and about 20ft away from any open windows. 

Please keep in mind that this is a rather dangerous thing to do even if you obtain the necessary written permission from your landlord or the express consent of the board if you live in a condo. 

Additionally, it might just be illegal to do that where you live. So stay informed on local laws. 

When it comes to conventional and inverter generators, remember that:

  • They produce carbon monoxide which is an odorless and colorless gas that can kill you in a matter of minutes. 
  • It is never advisable to put a generator that uses gasoline or propane anywhere close to you, your windows, or your source of fresh air.
  • Storing gasoline and other flammable products in apartments and condos is not permitted by law in most places.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s see how we can power your apartment/condo legally and safely. I.e., Using a solar Portable Power Station.

What is a Portable Power Station?

A Portable Power Station with solar is an indoor generator. It is a very large power bank that charges itself with small solar panels placed at your windows. It features regular wall outlets, USB, cigarette lighter socket, and even DC outlets so that you can plug a few home appliances in case of a power outage.

Much like you charge your cellphone with a power bank, you can charge your electronic devices (laptops, cell phones, etc.) and run a few home necessities on a large power bank.

Can I connect a Portable Power Station to my home’s circuit?

Companies like Tesla Energy have jumped on the clean energy bandwagon and started producing the Tesla Powerwall, a whole-house power bank. A single charge of this Powerwall can last you a few days if used wisely when the power goes out. Alternatively, your Powerwall can recharge itself using solar panels that would require you to have a roof.

Having a large power bank hooked up to your apartment’s electric wiring can double as a way to help you with Energy Arbitrage. In simple words, significantly lower your electric bill. Here is how it works: if electricity is cheap at night and expensive during the day, you can charge your batteries at night and then use that charge during the day! However, keep in mind that the price gap must be big enough to make any actual savings.

But, Powerwalls are relatively expensive. 

So let’s focus on how regular smaller Indoor Generators known as Solar Generators and Portable Power Stations can be used for apartment and condo dwellers.

EcoFlow’s Delta line of Solar Generators and Portable Power Stations is what you really need to be considering. These powerful generators can power your household needs while still being portable.

Coming soon: My all-time guide to battery generators and how to choose one.

What appliances in my apartment can I power with an indoor generator? 

All generators produce electricity, so you can imagine that you can run many things with a huge power bank of electricity. This is true within reason. A power bank is much like your bank account. It contains watt-hours or kilowatt-hours (units of electric charge), which you can spend as you wish on your home appliances and electronic devices.

Generally speaking, a portable power station will be mainly used to power your refrigerator, a few low consumption light bulbs, and recharge your cell phones and laptops.

Anything more than that would not be a very wise way to spend those kilowatt-hours.

Speaking of refrigerators

If you live in an apartment and only have access to a portable power station. In that case, you are much better off not trying to power your full-sized refrigerator as it will deplete your batteries and not last an entire day.

You will need to seriously consider if you need to keep your fridge running. 

If you live in an area not too prone to power outages, then you might just want to wait it out.

As per the FDA, your refrigerator can keep its contents cold for 4 hours if unopened, and a half-full freezer will keep itself for 24 hours if its doors remain closed. So keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.

Consider buying dry and canned foods in an extended power outage and not draining your battery’s power on your fridge. You are better off eating and sharing whatever food you have in your refrigerator as it is way cheaper than buying a $3,000 power station that will only end up powering it for a day!

A $1,000 or less Portable Power Station will run and charge a few necessities at your home without the big spending. 

If you must be running a refrigerator for your medication or other needs. I highly recommend having a separate mini fridge/insulin fridge with very low electric consumption and would happily run on your portable power station without draining it too much. 

I recommend the Black & Decker or the Midea as two strong options. Both are very well built and are the best bang for your buck.

What if I just need to store insuline?

Choosing a thermoelectric cooler for insulin is very tricky. Thermoelectric coolers are usually not very well built and rarely reach the indicated temperatures.

If you travel with insulin shots, you probably have one of those thermoelectric coolers. You can use it and charge from your portable power station. However, you probably are better off and safer buying a mini-fridge as you probably have large quantities of insulin stored in your full-size fridge that can go bad and won’t fit in your portable insulin cooler. 

How long will my Indoor Solar Battery Generator / Portable Power Station last?

As an example, let’s see what you can (on average) power with a 3000wh Portable Power Station:

3000wh means that you can continuously spend 3000 watts for an entire hour before your battery dies out. Now, no one is going to simultaneously use that much and much less for a whole continuous hour! 

But just for the sake of clarifying things,

you can light a 5-watt lamp for 600 hours,

3000watt-hours divided by 5-watts is equal to  600 hours of light. 

In other words, the 3000watt-hours available to me in the Portable Power Station are divided by a 5-watt lamp’s consumption (5-watt means that the lamp will consume 5 watt-hours if left on for an entire hour) will give us those 600 hours of light from our little lamp.

You can also heat 45 meals in a microwave

Or 

light a CFL lamp for 180 hours

Or 

use a space heater for 3 hours

Or 

run your desktop for 18 hours

Or 

full-size fridge for 10 hours

Or 

run your air conditioning for about 3 hours.

This is all rather impressive until you realize that you might need to do all those things. Obviously, you won’t be heating 45 meals in a microwave during a blackout or running an energy-hungry air conditioner. But this is just to give an idea of what you can do.

So if wisely used, you can go through a single or even a couple of days of a power outage with a single charge while your window solar panels work hard at replacing what you have been spending. 

Back to our bank account analogy, please note that you cannot withdraw all your money from your bank account. Batteries don’t like to be fully discharged. Emptying a battery will severely undermine its lifespan and render it useless in as little as a few months. Batteries like to be topped up as soon as 50% of their energy is discharged and never go lower than 80% discharge. 

Of course, different battery chemistries will give us different acceptable rates-of-discharge, but we are generally speaking here. This is just to let you know that a 1000 watt-hour power bank would rather just give you 800 watt-hours in order not to penalize you. 

Finally, and believe me, I don’t want to complicate things, but there is one last caveat to power banks and portable power stations. They can’t give you all their energy as fast as you want. So not only do they not like to be fully discharged, but they also don’t like to do it fast. So you will typically see a ‘Max Output’ indicated telling you how much energy you can have simultaneously. 

How much does a battery generator cost?

Battery generators, aka portable power stations and solar generators, start at $200 for a small Jackery unit up to $3,600 for an EcoFlow unit that can handle your household needs.