The moment you start looking into buying a portable generator is the moment you realize how many options there are. Talk about overwhelming. The research takes hours and often leaves you feeling more uncertain about making a decision before you began researching. This article aims to cut through the surplus of options and help you discover what is actually important to you when making a portable generator purchase.
We have our top choices listed below, but before we get to those, it is essential to help you learn what your priorities are in a generator so you can match that to the right option. Here are our tips for getting to the bottom of what you really need.
Know Your Personal Priorities Before Choosing a Model
Generators are sold depending on the amount of power they deliver which is measured in watts. You will need to determine how many watts of energy you will need from your portable generator. You’ll need to take into account all the appliances, lights and other power needs to help you identify the generator that will produce enough wattage. To cover the most basic of needs, most people start at about 5000 watts.
Our suggestion is to look at the space you are trying to provide power to and determined the watt requirement of the area. Every home is different and requires different energy needs. Understanding your power priorities will cut down the number of generators you have to look at in your research. This will save you an enormous amount of time. Here is a basic example to help you get started.
|A refrigerator which runs about 600 watts|
|Sump pumps register roughly 750 to 1,500 watts|
|Portable heaters can go as high as 1,500 watts|
|A Window air conditioning unit will set you at about 1,000 watts|
|Normal household lights will have a span of 60 to 600 watts|
|One Computer can demand 60 to 300 watts|
Understanding Wattage and Estimating Runtime of Portable Generators
The first power measurement you are dealing with is watts. This means what the generator needs to be able to do at startup. The second measurement you want to determine is your continuous running time. This measurement is what the generator needs to provide overtime under normal load.
Hopefully, you have already determined how many watts of energy you need from the tip mentioned above. Your next step is to determine how long you need the generator to provide you with electricity. Manufacturers will alert you to their estimated running times, but what you need to figure out is how that impacts you.
Are you okay with needing to fuel the generator up every hour or two, or do you want something that offers four, eight or 15-hours of running time before having to worry about that? This figure will come down to how you are using the generator and in what application.
For example, is the generator for emergencies and used only in those situations? Will you need the generator for a job site with multiple power pulls? Maybe you need something that you can take aboard a boat will you are out for an entire day on the water.
Portable Generator Options (fuel type)
Our final tip, which really just comes down to your preference, is to choose what type of portable generator you want. Your decision on this may simply come down to access and convenience, as well as how the generator will be used. Here are the basic options.
|A Gasoline Generator|
|A Diesel Generator|
|A Hybrid Fuel Generator|
|A Propane Generator|
|A Solar Generator|
Reviews of Top Portable Generators
We have chosen five of our favorite portable generators that cover various user needs. Whether you want a traditional model, an inverter-type option or an off-grid eco generator, we have you covered. Let’s go ahead and get into it.
- Portable inverter style generator that can be used at home, for camping, at a job site, or for other recreation activities.
- Quiet model designed to provide plenty of supplemental power that Honda says is no louder than a normal conversation.
- The model can be paralleled with an optional cable by adding a second unit which will add additional power up to 4400 watts.
- The unit has a Honda signature Eco-Throttle System making run time anywhere from four to nine and a half hours.
- Honda states the generator provides stable, clean power that produces reliable run times that result in longevity and dependability.
This is Honda’s updated version of the EU2000i model which was one of the companies most popular generator options. In fact, the EU2200i 2200-Watt provides 10% more power than the previous model at the same price-point. You’ll find a GXR120 engine inside that is designed for easier maintenance. User-friendly features include automatic fuel shut off, easier oil changes, and color-coded startup points. The unit has an updated ventilation system that results in better cooling of components that tend to get hot.
Pros and Cons – What Users Report About This Generator
Verified purchasers of this Honda unit mention the diverse ways they have used this Honda generator and some tips about what made their user experience even better.
One buyer says he bought this unit for his fifth wheel which has a 15,000 BTU roof air conditioning system. He ran that along with all the lights in the camper and had no surges or overload issues. Another buyer talks about everything he connected to the Honda unit including two freezers, two refrigerators, and various USB devices for over a three-day power outage in his area. The buyer said he had no power issues and got about 8-hours of run time from a full tank of gas each time he filled it. Most users report that this unit offers a simple and dependable power source for both fun applications and emergency situations.
Some users reported that despite reading reviews about how quiet this unit is, that it’s still too noisy for their preference. They mention that taking it to a place where other people may be at, say a campground, may prove challenging and irritate them with the noise factor. Despite Honda claims, some users report that changing the oil on this model is incredibly difficult. This was especially annoying since generators need frequent oil changes. Checking the oil levels was also challenging since getting to the dip stick requires removing the cover.
Users report that you will save yourself from any carburetor gumming if you use non-ethanol gas even though this unit has a drainage system in place. Regular gas is harder on small engines and requires more maintenance, so using non-ethanol gas will aid in additional maintenance.
The 30amp “companion plug” will require an adaptor if you use it with a standard shore power cable to an RV or boat. The generator doesn’t come with this adaptor.
Finally, a number of buyers suggested using a funnel to fill this unit with fuel as it gulps very slowly creating a mess otherwise.
We know that so many of you are looking for the best unit to take on your next adventure. For some that will be via land in your RV, for others, by yacht on the intercoastal waterways. A smaller unit like this, that is ultra-portable, will be your best bet. With inverter power, this generator will have you making new friends quickly who need to charge their phones.
*Nearly 200 purchasers on Amazon rated this unit with an average 5-star rating.
Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator with Electric Start
- Dual fuel unit that runs on gasoline or propane from a 4-stroke engine.
- Starting watts are 4750 with 3800 running watt power. On a full tank of gas, Champion says it will run for 9-hours or 10.5 hours on a full tank of propane.
- The unit has an electronic push-button start that is powered by a 224cc Champion engine. Gasoline starting and running amps are 120V. Propane starting running amps are also 120V.
- The unit offers two 120V household outlets, along with a 30A RV locking option. All outlets are protected by a Volt Guard to protect appliances.
- The generator features a three-year warranty and lifetime technical support.
In addition to the key features above, this unit is known for its cold weather startup. For those of you who live in the frozen tundra, this might be a genuinely advantageous point. The Champion portable generator has a steel frame, fold-down handle, and tires the company says will to never go flat. If you need to switch from one fuel to another, the unit features a quick-safe switch which has been patented by the company. The Champion holds 3.5 gallons of fuel and requires 0.6 quarts of oil.
Pros and Cons – What Users Report About This Generator
Verified purchasers discuss how they used this generator and how it performed under various conditions from hurricanes, to frequent power outages or recreational uses.
Buyers who were impacted by hurricanes over the past year were grateful for the Champion 3800-Watt dual fuel generator. Many reported that it was up and running in about 15-20 minutes and came with recommended oil. The electronic start made startup fast and easy with some connecting a number of appliances and devices to it at once. One user said they had two refrigerators, two freezers, a fan, two TV’s with DVRs, a heat lamp, two lamps, a coffee maker and iron connected with watts to spare. Another buyer reported that he took this unit camping in an RV for him and his family. At one point in the trip, the unit ran over 10-hours serving a family of five. This included showers, cooking, an AC unit, and electronic devices.
Users report that this unit is louder than any other unit they have previously owned. Some returned it based on this evaluation. Buyers who struggled with their purchase said they had a hard time dealing with Champion customer service. The company was either slow to return inquiries or failed to connect with buyers at all. One purchaser who loved the unit reported that it might not be a good option for those who are elderly or disabled in some way. Since it is over 100 pounds and maintenance require laying on the ground, this might not work for this group of people. Also, setting it up might prove to be a challenge for this group since it needs to be moved and lifted to do things like installing the wheels.
Buyers suggest getting an external battery charger if you only use this unit for emergencies or rare uses. The unit won’t hold a charge and can leave you stranded without power. It can take three-to-five hours to charge the batteries on a generator like this.
Since this generator is an “unbounded neutral” grounding unit, you may want to further protect your appliances by using a 12 AWG wire, from the neutral to the ground, for safety.
If you live in harsh environments like the hurricane zone or in areas with challenging snowstorms like the eastern seaboard, having a generator like this is almost a way of life. This will power your home for hours without having to tend to it every couple of hours.
*Of nearly 370 reviews on Amazon, this generator gets a 4.5-star average rating
DuroStar DS4000S, 3300 Portable Generator
- OHV DuroStar 7.0 engine that is air cooled with automatic low oil shutoff.
- The unit has a 4000-watt startup with 3300-watt continuous use rate.
- The generator holds 4 gallons of gas and is estimated to run eight hours.
- Outlet configuration includes Two 120V 20 amp outlets, one 120V 30 amp outlet.
- The DuroStar is contained in a steel frame with a circuit breaker, power panel, and oil warning light.
- Environmental Protection Agency approved and CARB compliant for CA users.
Additional features of the DuroStar DS4000S reveal this unit is a workhorse generator used for applications like camping and RVing but equally great for emergencies or construction job site work. The unit has a muffler system to keep the noise at bay. It measures 20x27x22 and weighs about 90 pounds. You will need to purchase a wheel kit if you plan to move it around which is an optional feature and sold separately. This is a manual pull start generator.
Pros and Cons – What Users Report About This Generator
It is always helpful to know what ‘real live buyers’ have to say about products they’ve bought; we have found a number of “verified purchasers” who shared their experience with the DuroStar portable generator.
One user reported to us this generator with the following lineup: 2 Sump Pumps 1 Fridge/freezer and Microwave 1 Fridge/freezer and HVAC for heat 1 fridge/freezer and Verizon FiOS system Many additional devices like cellphones, hair dryers, and radio. Another user reports that after four years, he has used the unit a substantial amount of times 30-to-40 times, and has never had a problem running his entire home off of the generator. Those who have used this generator in hurricane situations say that the full 5-gallon tank lasted them 15-17 hours of running time making it ideal for hurricanes that park over your city.
Biggest complaints about this unit come from the longevity column. Many buyers have various accounts of when their unit failed, anywhere from 30-100 hours. Anyone with issues with this product found the manufacturer challenging to contact and get information from. A number of users report oil-related problems from issues with hoses not fitting correctly to oil leaks that are hard to locate.
The DuroStar doesn’t come with oil, so be sure to purchase oil in conjunction with your purchase. It is also suggested that you follow the oil change schedule to the T to ensure the longevity of the unit.
This portable generator, at 90-pounds, doesn’t come with a wheel kit. This kit can be purchased separately for about $30-$40 on Amazon.
A few users report that you will need a transmission fluid funnel to work on the transmission components and fill the reservoir. You will otherwise make a massive mess.
Some user report that changing the oil is not very convenient and would have rated it a full 5-stars if it weren’t such a pain. This didn’t impact the overall performance ratings however of the generator.
The DuroStar seems to get the best reviews from those who use it for emergency, weather-related situations. To combat any immediate issues, our suggestion is to open the box on delivery to check for any damage before letting the delivery service leave.
*Of the over 670 reviews on Amazon, this generator receives an average 4.3 stars.
Westinghouse WPro12000 Ultra Duty Industrial Portable Generator
- Remote start key fob generator with an electric recoil start. Performs with 12,000 running watts for up to 16 hours on 10.5 gallons of fuel.
- Power configuration receptacles with standard outlets, one 120V, one transfer switch 120V, one RV 120V or 240V outlets, two 5V USB ports.
- 713 cc OHV V-twin Westinghouse engine with an automatic low oil shutoff valve with a digital hour meter.
- Comes with a 12V battery charger, oil, tool kit, and oil funnel.
- Compliant with OSHA, EPA and CARB standards and backed by a 3-year warranty.
Additional features of the Westinghouse WPro12000 reveal this unit is designed for contractors in mind. It has less than a 5% harmonic distortion rate ideal for sensitive electronics or tools. The outlets offer a “pure sine” clean energy wave, and users appreciate the electric hands-free start that allows a user to start the generator almost 110 feet away. Meters for automatic voltage, oil and overload protection aid in the longevity of this unit which is built on a steel frame with 10-inch wheels to provide better mobility. The unit weighs 352 pounds.
Pros and Cons – What Users Report About This Generator
Verified purchases of this portable generator have shared their personal experiences with this unit. Some had a more personal need for regular power outages while others appreciate its performance on the job site.
One user bought the Westinghouse unit to combat power outages and was actually excited about the first outage given the reputation of the generator. To his delight, he placed a good bit of load on the generator, and it never surpassed the 50% rate. He powered a furnace, two refrigerators, TV and DVD player, lighting throughout the house and microwave. Even after two years, paying close attention to his maintenance schedule, he is still just as happy with the unit. Another buyer purchased this unit to use on construction jobs sites and said it has worked great from the moment they got it out of the crate. The first time it was run it did so for over 3 hours. Even after a hiccup with a solenoid, the company replaced the part quickly and it has run perfectly since. Another buyer said that he uses a few different generators to power his 2400 home. To produce this, he uses a transfer switch that he installed in his garage to make operation easier.
The most prominent issue people have with this generator is less with a failing product and more with terrible customer service. Many said the generator was great until it failed and after that, it was tough to get help for their issues. Buyers have reported that the unit isn’t made as well as they had hoped, and elements of it seem to break down only after a year or so of use. Some buyers said they had a hard time reaching customer service for parts related inquiries.
Turn on circuit breakers one at a time, so surges don’t cause a line frequency placing your appliances and devices at risk.
Since this generator has a massive engine, pay close attention to the gas gauges and do not let it run out of gas. One user found out that it violently seizes which will likely damage the unit.
Disconnect electrical load before turning off the generator so it can cool easier under power.
Close the fuel valve and use a fuel stabilizer during periods of storage. This will improve performance and keep the carburetor clean.
Change the oil after using it the first and second time, which is more frequently than factory recommendation, to ensure particles don’t build up. A new machine will undoubtedly need a good breaking in period.
Start the generator at least once a month with some type of load to ensure it is properly functioning and will work when you need it most.
Those of you who work in the construction industry will appreciate the workhorse options, considering how many people the generator will serve and how much equipment you’ll need to power to get the job done. Others of you who have a larger home and more significant power needs may find this unit holds up to your watt usage.
*Of the more than 775 reviews on Amazon, this generator gets an average rating of 4.2 stars.
- Specially designed for off-grid applications and emergencies.
- 20W Renogy combines with Monocrystalline solar panels than expand to 100 watts with additional PV’s.
- Compact, lightweight and made to be on the move.
- Can be charged via solar, AC power, or car power with a 16 Ah Li-ion battery.
- It offers minimal inverter efficiency of 80% with a max continuous output of 150W.
Additional key features of the Phoenix generator include multi-mode 3W LED light
with MPPT charging technology. The unit is known to produce clean power with a pure sine wave inverter. The unit measures 16.24 x 11.95 x 3.94 inches, about the size of a suitcase, and weighs about 13 pounds. It has 4 USB ports, two 12V ports, a 12V cigarette socket, and a standard 3-prong 110V AC outlet. The unit takes about 15 hours to charge.
Pros and Cons – What Users Report About This Generator
With our final top pick being a solar-based unit we thought it would be incredibly helpful to seek reviews from those who actually bought and used it under various circumstances.
A Florida resident bought this unit in preparation for an incoming hurricane having reasonably low expectations. She was surprised to learn how well it worked and left her less stressed to locate fuel for a standard generator post-hurricane. Others users report that, for the price, this unit is hard to beat. With quality construction, lightweight design and replaceable battery, it makes owning a portable generator a reality. One buyer mentioned that the unit separates AC and DC power, so you don’t waste the entire charge cycle one one power need. The fact that the unit has a cooling fan and is water resistant makes it ideal for recreational demands.
This unit has had several reports of overheating which shut down the generator unit it fully cools. The manufacturer says this can happen especially in heat over 104-degrees for sustained periods of time. Some users report issues with the USB plugs not working properly. The inputs either phase in and out or just don’t work at all. Some buyers felt it took too long to charge their devices.
Some users suggest springing for the 100-watt monocrystalline solar panel add-on to help the longevity and performance of the Phoenix. This will also speed up charge times and helps with the challenges that are inevitable on cloudy days.
You do not need a charge controller for this unit, which isn’t always clear in the marketing materials you find online. The Renogy Phoenix already includes this in your purchase.
Charge it at least every 1-to-2 months to ensure the systems works at full capacity when you need it. Some might find this annoying but is just good protocol.
The solar-based option is going to suit those who spend a lot of time off-grid such as backpackers or island hoppers. This unit might prove to be a little heavy to carry into the desolation wilderness, but those who may be using ATVs or Kayaks to get to their destination will find this generator is a win.
*Of the almost 110 reviews, this generator got 4.9 stars on average on Amazon
In Conclusion of The Best Generators
We hope this in-depth look at our top portable generator picks has given you some food for thought when it comes to making a purchase. No matter what your budget, a portable generator is an investment. We know finding online company driven reviews are pretty easy to come by and maybe harder to trust. We hope by digging through reviews, and sharing unique user experiences, you get a better sense as to whether or not a unit will suit your needs.