To directly address the question, "how does a generator work?," we've outlined the fundamentals to adequately understand the process.

Moreover, we'll discuss the basic functionality of both portable, and, whole house generators; there's even a hint as-to the viable steps to build your own generator (for those qualified to do so.) Initially, let's

cover the standard components inherent to all combustion-engine generators.

We'll start by listing the mandatory parts necessary to successfully generate non-conventional electricity...

(a) Engine/Motor

(b) Alternator

(c) Power Supply (Fuel)

Now, let's look a bit closer at the individual (essential) components of combustion engine generators.

CAVEAT: Obviously, there are many more parts than we've listed if you aspire to build your own generator; however, as a (brief) overview, these are the basics.


Engine/Motor—perhaps, the most important piece-of-the-puzzle in the construction of a portable, or, gas-powered whole house generator.

Not only is the engine necessary to produce the requisite mechanical energy to initiate the process, but is the central 'processing/conversion station' for the applicable fuel source.

Speaking of which, a portable generator is most commonly powered by gas.

(For a more thorough review of portable gas generators, visit our Champion Portable Generators page.)

Contrarily, a whole house generator is frequently run-by either natural gas or propane supplies—as for propane, large tanks are generally stored with, or near, the equipment.

As for natural gas, the generator would be connected to the home's/building's gas supply.

(This would be the identical source on which a natural gas furnace, HVAC, and/or stove runs.)

Therefore, a generator's engine is powered by either gasoline, propane, or natural gas.

The motor, just like in a car, is fitted with pistons which rapidly 'pump'—creating high-energy (mechanical) energy—essential in the production of electricity.

To learn more about the various nuances and to see how different manufacturers apply these 'basics,' visit our portable generator reviews page.


Alternator—this is the specialized device which converts the mechanical energy generated by the engine into electrical energy from which we may draw power (via the generator, of course.)

So, if you are 'keeping tabs' on what is required to build your own generator, then you will need, at least, an engine, alternator, and fuel supply.

Additionally, not all alternators are created equally: some are better quality than others, while all must be precisely designed for utilization with the corresponding type/capacity of engine with which it will be matched.


As aforementioned, obviously, an engine requires external means by which it can be successfully powered.

Unmistakably, the dominant fuel for transportation, equipment operation, and the majority of power tools is, non-other than, gasoline.

Gas is a hydrocarbon—derived from petroleum (crude oil)—and is highly combustible.

(Which is exactly what makes gas so effective in the empowerment of some of the most [otherwise] hard-to-move objects on earth.)

Gas is separated by weight, octane levels which allows us to utilize each different 'class' for variant application(s).

During a hazardous, chemical heating process, petroleum will be categorized according to which areas from which the 'vapors' are siphoned from the massive 'distillation' towers.

Lighter gases, such as propane (used in a whole house generator) rise higher than, 'say,' Jet Fuel.

OK, that's it for our Petroleum Engineering discussion(s) for the day...


If one desires to even attempt to build your own generator—whether it be a portable or whole house unit—you'll need three (3) necessary components:

(i) Engine/Motor—starts the process with mechanical energy, which, without, electricity cannot be produced.

(ii) Alternator—converts the mechanical energy of the engine into electrical 'current' with which we may power electric devices.

(iii) Fuel—is as pertinent to an engine as an engine is to an alternator; without it, a motor is (all-but) useless.

IMPORTANT: This article was written to address the elementary question of, "how does a generator work?".

It is not intended to provide precise/in-depth analyses of the step-by-step design, manufacturing, or technicalities to 'build your own generator.'

Finally, as this is a dangerous, complex process that should be left to adequately trained, regulated, supervised engineers, our recommendation to those who are in need of a whole house generator is as follows...

Trust the experience, and expertise of a reputable brand like Kohler Generators—the modest investment on the front-end can save you immeasurable difficulty down-the-road!

Now that you know the general technicalities to answer, "how does a generator work?", you can imagine how thorough, meticulous, and painstaking the process is to build Your own generator...











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