Starting Watts vs Running Watts in 2021: The Great Debate

A casual look at any generator you see in the market today will reveal that each one has a specific number attached. Most people assume that the number refers to the wattage each generator provides. But is that really the case?

A deeper inspection will reveal an even more startling discovery; that is, generator specs contain two values – starting watts vs running watts.

What do they mean? Are they any different? Should they influence the type of generator that you buy?

This article looks at various fundamentals of physics before delving into the differences between starting watts and running watts. Additionally, it offers you tips that help you base your choice of portable generator on correct wattage.

Work, Power, and Wattage

How much do you enjoy learning physics or talking about it? If there is no love lost there, then you may want to skip this section. Nevertheless, this section is crucial to give you a better understanding and appreciation of the starting watts vs running watts debate. For that to happen, though, it is essential that you go into a bit of a refresher course on work, power, and the procedure for quantifying them to get a good measure of effort.

Our understanding of work as activities that require effort is not questionable at all. What is questionable is the ability to quantify effort. It is impossible to do anything – such as performing chemical reactions, heating water, or moving objects – without putting in the required effort. The same scale is necessary for evaluating all that.

Starting Watts vs Running Watts: Calculating Work

For us though, all we need to grasp is that work revolves around moving an object from point A to point B. Based on this, it is safe to conclude that quantification of work involves multiplying the force needed for moving an object by the distance through which we have moved it.

Therefore, you can calculate it as:

W = F. d

W = Work Done (measured in Joules), F = Force (measured in Newtons), and d = Distance (measured in meters)

By using this formula, we discover that: One, more effort is required to move a much heavier object. Two, the results remain the same whether the work is done by a human or objects such as water or mediums such as electricity and steam. Three, the exact kind of object involved is not an issue either.

Nevertheless, this formula has a serious shortcoming. Mostly, it does not consider the time you take to move the object. In some cases, you might be moving a light object. Other times, you might have to move a heavier object that forces you to take a few short breaks. Because of this, it is hard to define effort more accurately without accounting for time needed to do the work.

A simpler approach would be to divide work by time. In other words, the faster we work the more effort we put in. Measuring effort this way is what we call power. Here, we measure the effort in watts, which is universally termed wattage.

Power Formula: Starting Watts vs Running Watts

P = W/t

P = Power (measured in Watts), W = Work Done (measured in Joules), t = Time Taken (measured in seconds)

It is worth noting that humans perform work differently to electricity. Consequently, we have to factor in a few reformulations where appropriate. In this regard, we would calculate electric power by multiplying voltage (volts) by current (amps). At first glance, this formula seems different from the one above. However, all that we have to remember is human watts take the same time as electrical watts to move the same object across the same distance.

Consequently, the most basic formula for electrical power is:

P = I . V

P = Power (measured in Watts), I = Current (measured in Amps), V = Voltage (measured in Volts)

Through this, we get the inter-conversion and the most fundamental understanding of the amount of power electricity provides. We can take this a level higher by adding energy into the mix. As we do that, we get to explain phenomena such as using similar toolset to heat or provide light.

How is Starting Watts Different from Running Watts?

Now that we have covered that, let’s consider the differences between starting watts vs running watts. Here, we will be as brief as possible, especially be looking at electrical appliances fitted with an engine.

Starting watts is the wattage you need to operate a device. In other words, it is the amount of time taken to do work that creates momentum needed to run a device. Generators can do this temporarily.

On the other hand, running watts refer to the wattages required to ensure that the device continues running. In other words, here we are talking about the time taken to do work that creates momentum that never drops. Generators do this continuously.

A clearer explanation is this: You need less effort to keep an object moving than to get it moving in the first place. Generators are equipped to surpass their optimal running wattage briefly without triggering the circuit breaker.

Tips for Choosing Correct Wattage

Manufacturers of generators are in business. Their goal is to sell as many generators as possible. For this reason, they want us to see the starting watts first, as it is the higher of the two values. However, you must read the specs in detail to find the exact wattage the generator is capable of providing continuously.

Nevertheless, that does not make starting watts useless. After all, you would be unable to start all your devices without sufficient power. The two values do not complicate our lives, as they are easy to count or calculate. To do this, you would simply have to bear the following tips in mind:

  1. Adding up all the running watts your devices need to power up
  2. Adding the largest extra starting watts of your appliances
  3. Plug these details into a reliable product database that supports filtering both values

Other than that, you would also have to remember these useful pointers:

  • Reduce starting watts requirements by starting your appliances systematically from the highest to the lowest to reduce power requirements
  • Consider two appliances simultaneously when powering a home or workplace, especially where more than one person rely on a single circuit
  • Watch out for devices with “surges”

Our Final Thoughts on Starting Watts vs Running Watts

You now understand that power (wattage) is an effective measurement of the effort needed to both start and run a device. Again, it takes more effort to start from scratch rather than keep something running. Therefore, bear this in mind as you plan to buy a generator.

Do not limit yourself to the number appearing on the generator near the model name. Instead, check the details or specs to learn about the running watts. What you must remember, though, is that both numbers are crucial when buying a generator.

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