Whether you are keen for the outdoors and camping or have experienced your fair share of power outs, you will have certainly appreciated the value that comes with having the best portable generator that can be used to provide an efficient power source.
If you are concerned over your carbon footprint, check out our top 10 list of solar generators. Whether you are looking for a standby generator perfect for emergencies, or a fuel-efficient portable house generator to take on a camping trip, we have you covered with our comprehensive comparisons of the market’s best.
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How We Rating Our Products
While there is no extravagant science behind how we review our products, we do follow a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow format when researching and preparing reviews of top-rated portable generator reviews.
When researching what the best portable generator to buy is, we compile a list of the top 5 products, as well as including three of our top picks, so some options suit everyone. These three picks include:
- Top Pick – this product is most often the popular choice and our favorite. An excellent balance in quality, without the hefty price that comes with premium quality.
- Premium Choice – this pick will always be the best-of-the-best, with premium quality and top of the range features. If you are looking for the best product or the highest quality, our premium choice pick is your go-to.
- Excellent Value – for those who are price conscious, but still expect value. These products are the best value if you are on a tight budget, or don’t need a top of the range option.
Please understand that none of the products that we rate on our site has paid for their rating. Every product that we feature has earned its place on merit, and for that reason, we pick and choose the products that we feel are the best while following the key rating criteria for how we choose.
If you have developed a product that you feel deserves a place on our list, please contact us.
How We Choose Products For Our Reviews
There are many steps to the process; however, firstly our team works through a preliminary review of the market to short-list a dozen of the would-be best quality portable generators.
From our short-list, we then research the various features, comparing consumer and industry feedback, performance, overall durability and build quality, standard safety features, and what impact the size and affordability have on the suitability of the generator.
So, it doesn’t matter whether you need a backup power supply for those emergencies, a unit with an uninterrupted run time for the job site, or a portable unit to take camping.
We are confident that with the time and effort we put into research, you will find one of the reviewed portable generators to be the best fit for you.
Expert Industry Advice
For an overall understanding of the best quality generator, we touch base with industry experts to collate information from their use in the field and under stressed situations.
This process helps us to better understand what the requirements are for the best possible portable generator.
We know that how the experts use products doesn’t always relate to how an average-joe might use the same product.
This is why we also look into all forms of feedback that we receive and research for the best generator.
As well as diving into our extended community of consumers, we take a look at popular vendors to see how consumers are finding the product.
This type of research goes a long way to identifying shortcomings as to after-purchase support and service.
This might seem like a no brainer, but when it comes to the performance of different types of generators – there can be a lot of variation between how great one model is, and how poor another is.
When you are looking to buy a generator, it is essential to consider why you need to buy a generator, and what do you use a generator for.
When we review a model of a portable generator and point out that it is disappointing in one area of its performance whereas other generators are excellent at that specific aspect – it has a significant effect on the overall rating.
Which is why we follow our comprehensive review process, and why you need to consider why you are buying a generator.
Durability And Build Quality
Investing in a portable generator is a decision that needs to be appropriately considered before making a purchase.
A portable generator is more often than not, an essential component of any emergency response plan, as well as an excellent foundation for great camping memories with your family or friends.
For these reasons, portable generators are placed under significant stress and manage large loads – which is why it is crucial to pick the best unit for your power needs while also having the highest of build qualities.
No one wants a disaster with their portable generator when knee-deep in a disaster already – or camping out in the secluded parts of the world.
With modern portable generators being equipped with new safety technology, it is essential to include a comparison of the added safety features as standard.
Some of the standard safety features we see in the best portable generators include carbon monoxide poisoning sensors and shut-off features. Features also include lower carbon monoxide engines, fuel gauge, low-oil shut-off, a removable console for direct input, electric and automatic start.
People buy generators for many reasons, but without an understanding or plan as to which type of generator is needed for their priorities – a mistake in generator choice often leads to an ineffective unit for your needs.
We don’t want anyone relying on a generator that is not best suited for their use or priorities, with dangerous accidents being commonplace with the incorrect use of a generator.
Our team considers the applications for each portable generator and the size of the unit for the watts requirement for those general uses. For example, we would not recommend a recreational portable inverter generator for someone that is intending on using the unit to power their campsite.
From the first instance, checking the price of a generator is a suitable indicator of what to expect in terms of quality and performance. However, the pricing of portable generators does not provide a complete understanding of the value.
Using price as a starting point, we compare similar models of portable generators to map out the market and provide the scope of features related to price-point.
In doing so, our team has a simple way to pinpoint the actual value of each portable generator that we research.
The highest price does not always mean the best-quality just as the lowest price does not mean affordability and best-value.
It doesn’t take the sharpest tool in the shed to know that some brands have a better reputation and are well-known in the market. But just because the brand name is recognizable, doesn’t mean that the product will always match the quality that you’ve come to expect.
We have compared brands of portable generators from all over the world, including popular manufacturers Champion, Westinghouse, Honda, Wen, Prymax, DuraStar, Briggs & Stratton, Yamaha, and many more.
Customer Support and Warranties
As important as the quality and performance of a generator is, the ongoing support and service provided to customers are a crucial aspect to consider when determining the overall value for each unit and brand.
We speak with customer service reps and review the help or frequently asked questions sections for each unit, as well as looking into the installation and unit manuals to create an overall understanding of the after-purchase support.
Our ratings also consider the extent of warranty coverage for portable generators, including any specific requirements that may apply for warranty purposes such as, unit registration, deductibles or exclusions, length of the standard warranty, and what avenues exist for extended warranty.
Portable Generator Buyers Guide
What Is The Best Generator To Buy?
When deciding on which is the best generator to buy you are faced with two choices, that being the stationary units and the portable units.
The stationary home generators cost a lot more than a portable generator and ideally need to be installed by an electrician. As the unit will become a fixture of your house, you will need to check with your council/municipal for permits, noise regulations, and the suitable installation location.
These units can cost upwards of $10,000, and their power output ranges from between 5,000 and 22,000 watts.
Stationary home units are a more advanced system overall, which is why they are much more costly. But the price does represent with the tech features, as many of these units can perform self-diagnostics for maintenance and switch on and off during power outages.
Portable generators are a more practical option, as well as being considerably more affordable, and run on gas or propane. While the compact nature of these generators means that they can be used anywhere or taken with you, there are specific parameters that you will need to stick to when safely operating a portable generator.
These are common sense though, like placing the unit 15 feet from your home, windows, doors, or within enclosed spaces. A stabilizer will also be required to store your gasoline fuel source safely. Some portable generators have an electric start feature, and it varies as to whether a battery is included or not.
Portable units can cost anywhere up to $1,500 with a power output of between 3,000 and 9000 watts, making the portable generator an affordable choice for most people.
Home standby generators are celebrated for the complete coverage they provide for your home. Portable generators are an excellent choice for several scenarios you might find yourself in, like backing up your home power supply, for emergencies, for flexibility on a job site, or solely for added enjoyment for your camping and boating trips.
We recommend the Champion 3400W portable inverter generator as the best generator to buy, because of its power output and efficiency features – all while maintaining its place as a mid-tier generator. This unit comes with 3100 running watts and a run time of up to 7.5 hours on a tank of gas (14.5 hours on propane) as well as the economy mode for quiet operation – 50 dBA from 23 feet which are the same as a normal conversation, better fuel consumption and longer engine life.
The unit also includes a 120v 30A outlet and two 120v 20A volt outlets, and the electric start (including a battery) plus cold start technology makes it simple to start (even in cold weather). Overall, great value at an affordable price point.
Are Portable Home Generators The Only Type For Home Use?
As we have shared earlier in this generator guide, there are a few types of generators available for purchase – all of which can be used for home use. The best choice of model depends on how you will be using your generator.
There are four types to choose from for home use; these are:
Home standby generators are a permanent fixture, so if you wanted to get multiple uses, then this wouldn’t be the best type. These types of generators are run on propane or liquified natural gas and are used as an automatic backup during a power outage.
Inverter generators are the more sophisticated option, which attracts higher costs than that of a comparable portable generator (power output wise). While the prices are higher, the engines are advanced, in that they are quieter and can increase and decrease the throttle to meet varying power demands. Which also means a more efficient generator and fewer carbon emissions.
Portable power stations do not run on propane or gasoline like a conventional generator, and it is better to think of these as large batteries which are used to store electricity. These power stations are perfect (albeit the only option) for people that live in apartments with no outdoors. They can be charged by an electrical outlet, while some models have solar panels.
Portable generators tend to cost less than the home standby generators and are the most popular pick for many people. Given the mobile nature of these units, they tend to be quite durable; however, most will require protection from water or rain. Models vary significantly, as do the expected power outputs. Still, for the ultimate solution to power outages and flexible use out camping, there is no comparison to how great a portable generator can be.
Prices can vary significantly depending on brand and model, but expect to pay between $400 and $1,200 for a portable generator; between $3,000 and $8,000 for a home standby generator; a portable power station will set you back between $650 and $3,000; and an inverter generator will cost anywhere from $500 through to over $4,000.
What Is The Best Generator To Power The Whole House?
When it comes to powering your entire house, it does depend on the size and the extent of your power needs – and when it comes to the understanding of your power needs it is best to conduct an audit of the amount of energy that you use within your home.
A home standby generator is the best generator choice for powering your whole house, but there are some key things that you need to remember when choosing a unit, including your power needs.
We recommend that you consider purchasing the Briggs & Stratton 40346 home standby generator if you are looking for a reliable home standby generator.
This unit has a dual 200/400 split amp transfer switch and a power output of 20kW, which is more than enough to power a larger and electronically-minded family home.
What makes this unit so great is that it has a managed system, the Symphony II Power Management system, which prioritizes and organizes your higher-demand electrical appliances (electric stove or air conditioner) with the low-demand devices. This system provides a complete whole-house power solution with a much smaller and affordable generator – without any hiccups.
As this generator will be running within a home environment, sound levels are an essential component. This Briggs & Stratton generator uses a car-style exhaust with sound-dampening technology, meaning it is very neighbor-friendly.
With its specialized airflow system, this generator runs 50% quieter than standard industry generators, and the design means that it can be placed as close to 18 inches to your home – which meets compliance for standard 37 within the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
To give you an understanding of the average amounts of power that common appliances use, we have included the table below as an example.
|Home security system||100W|
|10K BTU Air conditioner||1000W|
|Furnace (gas or propane)||800W|
|8-inch electric burner||2000W|
Note that commonly understood that a standard family home needs at least an 8kW generator to power everything smoothly for a couple of days.
How Much Does It Cost To Run A House On A Generator?
It is difficult to estimate the costs to run a house on a generator as there are several variables which can impact the estimate. It is possible to get an understanding of the overall running costs for similar scenarios.
Generators are typically powered by a fuel source like propane, gasoline, diesel or natural gas. The majority of portable generators on the market today are powered by gasoline. While fuel prices will be different, we can use approximate prices to determine how much you will spend to run a house on a generator.
For a standard 4,000W generator using gasoline as its fuel source, and running on a 50% load (2,000W) you can expect to chew through approximately half a gallon over 2 hours.
With the average cost of gas being $2.58 per gallon, we can estimate the running costs for 24 hours to be between $16 and $21, on the basis that you would use a minimum of 6 gallons of fuel during that period.
This is dependent upon the load and fuel-efficiency of your generator. However, the estimates are reasonable when you consider the costs of having to replace food and the comfort & convenience that comes with having power always available.
What Is An Inverter Generator?
An inverter generator is similar to your conventional generator but that they have better technology with advanced electronics and higher quality magnets. What an inverter generator does is convert the AC into DC voltage, and then ‘inverted’ to clean AC voltage.
The reason why inverter generators are beneficial is that the method of inverting the current allows the generator to produce a consistent current flowing through to your electrical appliances.
These generators are usually more compact and weigh less than the standard units. Their ability to operate at varying speeds allows the generator to be considerably more fuel-efficient because the generator lowers its output if the load is subsequently lower.
When using an inverter generator, you won’t need to worry about the annoying sounds of someone mowing the lawn regularly, because these generators are quieter than the conventional generators. With an inverter generator running you can still have a conversation.
Some of the portable inverter generators that we recommend are the:
- Champion 3400W Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator
- Honda EU2200i 2200W Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator
- WEN 56225i Super Quiet 2250W Portable Inverter Generator
How Many Watts Does A Generator Need?
Understanding the watts requirement for your generator is a question which depends on your personal needs and what you intend on using your generator for. Is it for home use in an emergency? Or is it for taking out camping just to power the essentials?
Firstly, think about how you will use your generator, if you will be using it in emergencies at home, then consider asking yourself these three questions:
- Does your home use water from a well or are you on town water?
- If you have heating, do you use electric, gas or oil forced air, or use a heat pump?
- For your hot water heating, does your heater use gas or oil as a power source, or do you use electric or infrared heat?
Understanding these questions will shape how you look at your power needs. These three are the essentials and whether you have them or not will have a significant impact on the amount of power for your generator needs.
Average homes can be powered for the necessities with between 3,000W and 6,500W; however, if you are running on town water, it is possible to get away with between 3,000W and 5,000W generators. If you have a well pump or a large furnace, expect your power output needs to be much higher with a generator around 5,000W to 7,000W being enough to do the trick.
Who Makes The Best Portable Generator?
There are many well-known generator brands on the market; however, our expert opinion on who makes some of the best portable generators would be Champion. Although their history developing generators is relatively young (established in 2003), the team at Champion produces reliable portable generators, at almost half the cost of other industry leaders.
While the brand does not brag with fancy marketing campaigns, much of their success has been down to an approach which lets their generators do the speaking – offering equal levels of performance at a much more affordable price-point.
Their generators do not have the same levels of unit life expectancy that the premium brands in the market offer, but this is not to say that a new Champion generator purchase will fail anytime soon.
The portable Champion generator that we recommend as the best-value buy is the Champion 3400W dual fuel portable inverter generator. This unit is powerful, yet fuel-efficient energy-source complete with clean energy that is important for powering expensive electronics – this generator has a total harmonic distortion (THD) of less than 3%.
This unit is easily portable for use in an RV or out camping, weighing in at just 95 pounds. This generator runs at a standard of 3100W, and the quiet operation (without running the economy mode!) is a big positive, offering great value for the price and performance.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Are Portable Generators Worth The Investment?
When compared to a standby home generator which is also fixed to your property (usually on a concrete slab) – portable generators are a lower-priced alternative which provides excellent overall value.
Although there is an up-front cost, it is vital to think of buying a portable generator as an investment and not one of those annoying bills that you ‘have’ to pay.
If you live in an area which is prone to periods of power outages or faces emergencies as a result of weather or other similar events – the choice of whether to buy a generator is easy to make.
Having a plan in place for these emergencies can provide you or your family the convenience and comfort of having access to electricity during outages, as well as saving food from spoiling.
For the outdoorsy types, a portable generator is the perfect investment to take your camping experience to the next level and removes any risk of being without an emergency contact.
What Is A Transfer Switch and Do I Need One?
A transfer switch is a link that connects either a portable generator or a home standby generator to the circuit panel of your home via a single cable. A transfer switch is needed as a safety precaution because without one, and you could risk damaging your electrical appliances as well as the generator itself, and also endanger power utility workers.
It is possible to purchase and install a transfer switch yourself, however, given the importance of this device and the danger at risk – we strongly recommend that you seek a licensed and knowledgeable electrician to install your transfer switch.
Having this done professionally will cost between $500 to $900, including labor.
Using a transfer switch involves a different process depending on whether you have a stationary generator or a portable unit. For stationary home generators, they will activate automatically when there is a power outage.
Portable models will require manual flicking of several switches when there is an outage, although it sounds technical it is not, and the electrician can explain the process for you.
In a general sense, most transfer switches were designed to operate with a 220-volt input, so a generator of about 5,000 watts or higher will be needed. Just like activating, the stationary home model will automatically switch off when the power returns, whereas a portable generator will require manual flipping of the switches back off.
For anyone looking to save money, consider installing an interlock device instead of a switch. This device costs about $200 less than the transfer switch and takes less time to install.
The interlock device covers your electrical panel’s main cutoff switch – which means once the power returns, you won’t be able to start your generator and cause extensive damage accidentally.
Do Portable Generators Need To Be Grounded?
In a general sense, all units need to be grounded, but whether or not you are required to provide further grounding for your generator is something you will need to work out.
To do this, your first step is to check the manual to see whether your generator has to be grounded. If you do not have your manual, you can work this out quickly by checking if your generator is a separately derived system.
You can find out whether your generator is a separately derived system by checking the transfer switch. If the switch can’t be transferred to a neutral ground conductor, then it will not need a connection to a grounding rod.
If your portable generator is bonded to the frame, it will not have to be grounded as the frame acts as part of the electrical circuit and takes care of the ground.
Are Portable Generators Safe For Electronics?
Not all generators are safe for sensitive electronics such as computers, televisions, or game consoles etc.
The reason some portable generators are not considered entirely safe is that if the power experiences periods of uneven current, the surges and fluctuation of the voltage can overload sensitive electrical circuits.
This is a common problem if your portable generator runs out of its fuel source and begins to stutter.
We recommend purchasing a portable inverter generator, as these inverter generator models are safe for electronics, because of the technology that manages the current and voltage output.
Are portable generators quiet?
Unfortunately, not all units are the same. However, as technology continues to advance and changes are made to the engines and exhaust systems – generators, in general, are becoming much quieter.
The conventional generators are typically noisy, so if noise levels are important to you, make sure to purchase a portable inverter generator as the inverter units are very quiet – allowing you to have a conversation while it operates in the background.
Can portable generators get wet?
No, they can not get wet, and there are important safety procedures to follow in the event your generator does get wet. Water and electricity never mix.
There is a severe risk of electrocution if your portable generator gets exposed to water, whether from rain or snow. If your unit has a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter and it has shut-off, please take extra precautions to observe the area and generator before acting.
Why does my portable generator run but no power?
There can be many reasons why your generator engine is running, but no voltage or power is being produced.
While it is difficult for us to pinpoint the problem, some generic steps you can go through to troubleshoot your portable generator are:
- Check all fuses and circuit breakers
- Check the overall condition of the unit and ensure that there is no excessive build-up of dirt or dust on the engine and electrical components
- Flash your generator with an electric drill to re-magnetize any parts that may have lost magnetism
If you are not familiar with any of the common troubleshooting tips for your portable generator, we strongly recommend you read over your manual or search the manufacturer’s website and reputable forums for detailed information.
Portable Generators Summary
Portable generators are an essential investment to consider making and there are several critical things to remember when picking a particular unit. Whether you are looking for a backup power source for those times when you experience power outages, or maybe you need a portable generator so that you can take your television with you camping.
Take time to think about your power needs and whether your portable generator will backup your necessities, or ultimately provide comfort and convenience. Our comprehensive portable generator reviews cover the ins and outs of investing in a generator, plus all of the little things that people sometimes forget to think of.