We reviewed 79 generators and ranked the top 20 by power (watts). Over 8 brands are included in our detailed portable generator reviews. Below are the top-ranked high powered, low/medium powered portable generators inverter genrators, and dual fuel generators.
Portable Generator Buyer’s Guide
What is a Portable Generator?
Most businesses such as restaurants, gas stations, department stores and banks are already equipped with stationary type generators in case of a power outage. Hospitals are as well to protect patients who are on machines. A portable generator is much more convenient and is geared for intermittent use like during hurricanes, ice storms, and other causes of power outages.
Even if you don’t use your generator for most of the year, when you are faced with a power outage and it is there for you to keep you from being without AC, heat, good, cooked food to eat and lights, you will be so thankful you invested in one for your home and needs. This portable generator buing guide coupled with the categorized generator reviews will assist you in deciding what generator is best for your need.
Portable generators have many different features that are suited to a wide array of uses. The features you need depend on what you will be using your generator for. One of the first steps in finding the right portable generator for your needs is to know what those needs are. Do you just want a backup power source for your home during power outages? Do you camp a lot and want to have the capability to power up different items on your trips? Once you know what you will be using the portable generator for, you’ll be able to sort through the numerous models available to choose the right one.
This buyer’s guide will be very beneficial in teaching you what you need to know about portable generators to make your search much easier. When you don’t know much about them, things like wattage and some of the other features may not make much sense to you. We will explain all of these things to you so you will have a good understanding of the different features and what different portable generators can provide for you.
Determine your Power Requirements
If you are looking for a portable generator to power your home during power outages, you will need to know what your power requirements are. This isn’t particularly difficult to figure out but it will involve you knowing what the power needs are for the various appliances and electronics in your home. Decide what items you will want to power in the event out a power outage. If you lose power in the summertime, being able to power your AC unit could be extremely important. The same applies to your furnace in the winter time.
What about kitchen appliances? Your refrigerator and stove or at the very least, your fridge and microwave are important items to keep running when you have no power. What about televisions or computers? Decide what items you want to be able to power with the generator and add all the amounts together and multiply times two.
Most owners’ manuals will have the power requirements of that item or you can look online to get the figures you need. Once you have this amount you will know what size and type of portable generator you need to look for. It may seem like a lot of work, but this important step can save you money and disappointment if you mistakenly buy one that is not big enough to power what you want to.
Another option you have is getting a plug in tester that can give you the wattage reading for any item you have including microwaves, hair dryers, stoves, etc. These are handy devices that you can purchase easily and are a great benefit to knowing the wattage requirements of your electrical items in your home. This reading will give you’re the continuous running wattage but not the surge wattage that is needed to start the device. These are almost always going to be different readings, the surge wattage being much more in many cases.
Types of Portable Generators
One of the major considerations when buying a portable generator is the fuel source. There are several different kinds of generators with different fuel sources. Each one has its pros and cons. The fuel source is largely responsible for how safe a generator is. It is important to acknowledge that running a generator can be dangerous and it’s crucial to know what the risks are and how to run your generator the safest way possible. We have outlined the specifics of each type of portable generator below.
Diesel – Portable diesel generators are the best at getting more energy per gallon of fuel. It doesn’t matter what size you’re looking for if the engine is diesel you can rest assured that it will be extracting more energy from the fuel. Something to consider about diesel portable generators is that carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases can be a real concern. Care must be taken in running them and they should NEVER be run indoors or even in an open garage.
Diesel portable generators are also popular choices because there is no spark plug to worry about, no carburetors to fix or replace and it burns less than half the fuel that gasoline generators use. They also tend to outlast gasoline portable generators by a staggering 10-to-1.
Gas – Portable generators that are gas powered are usually smaller than other types and they tend to be less efficient as well. The benefit to the is that they are easier to fuel than other types, in a disaster which makes them a popular choice for those who are strictly looking for a portable generator for power outages.
Unfortunately, because of the smaller wattages of gas-powered portable generators, they are usually insufficient for keeping the household or business running in the event of a power outage. They can do a few things, but if you’re looking for something to keep the whole house running, you will need a portable generator with much more overall wattage and power. Carbon monoxide is a hazard of gas-powered portable generators as well. So, ensure that you are running them exactly as they are supposed to be run and don’t take unnecessary chances.
Propane – This is the cleanest burning of the portable generator types. Propane has less risk of poisonous gases being an issue but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be careful when operating them. Portable propane generators are available in all sizes and powers so finding one that will fit your needs and budget is almost guaranteed.
Electric – An electric portable generator may sound odd, but understand that they don’t use electricity to produce electricity. ‘electric’ refers to the starter mechanism which makes it much easier to use than a manual start. The starter runs off a battery that needs to be charged. Electric portable generators still use fuel, almost always gas, to generate electricity in the same way that manual start generators do.
Solar – Solar portable generators are the quietest of all generators and pretty much run silently. In addition, they don’t require fuel to run which means you don’t have to worry about storing fuel somewhere. Solar generators take about 20-22 hours to get a full charge and can also be charged from a regular home outlet in about 16 hours.
A solar generator has enough power to keep a full-sized refrigerator running for a few days on one charge, but in terms of having the power to run households, it is not a good option. Solar portable generators are typically more expensive than the other types as well.
Portable Generator Features
Portable generators can come with a multitude of features that can be very helpful. Knowing what these features are and how they work can help you decide which ones you want to look for when you start shopping for your portable generator. Every good portable generator should have the following features:
- More Power than you Need – Portable generators are high ticket items so you want the one you buy to last as long as possible. They will last longer if they are not operating at peak power continuously so it is always preferable to find those with extra power. Buying one that has a bit more power than you need enables you to run the portable generator at 75-80% of its power rather than full out.
- Plenty of Outlets – If you are buying a portable generator for household powering look for one that has a minimum of 4 electrical outlets. You also want to find one with lock-on outlets with a GFCI which will help protect you in any kind of wet conditions.
- Less Pollution – Low emissions are always preferable so, look for a portable generator that meets CARB requirements. This has also been called 50-state compliant. These models are less polluting than those that do not meet these requirements.
- Electric throttle or an Economy Setting – When you have to run a generator you want to save as much fuel as you can. The economy mode or electric throttle will reduce fuel use whenever you don’t need the generator’s maximum power to run things. This also means fewer emissions as well.
- Safety is Essential – There are a few safety features that are basic but very important to extending the life of your generator and keeping it running at its best. These basic safety features include:
- Low oil shut off – This protects the generator’s engine from seizing due to running out of oil. Forgetting to put oil in the engine is a common oversight. The low oil shut off protects the engine and if it also has an indicator light, it lets you know that the generator shut off due to being low on oil and not for another reason.
- Outlet covers- Since your generator is operating outside and can be subjected to elements, the outlet covers are very helpful in protecting plugged in items from the elements.
- GFCI outlets – These are crucial to have in wet conditions because they protect you from electrocution.
- Fuel gauge – This is always a beneficial feature so you don’t have to guess how much fuel you have in your portable generator and prevents you from having to make emergency trips to the gas station because it ran out of gas unexpectedly.
- Hour meter – An hour meter will help you determine when it is time to get oil changes on your portable generator. These are important to help keep the generator running in tip-top condition.
- Full lubrication/Spin on oil filter – Even though portable generators that have this feature will cost more than those that don’t have it, the benefit is that your generator will last up to three times longer than if you don’t have this feature and it will require less maintenance to boot.
- Manual fuel shutoff switch – Since your portable generator will typically spend most of its time in storage until you need it, having a fuel shut off switch is very helpful for several reasons. This switch prevents any fuel leaks and also keeps the fuel from getting trapped in the system and spoiling which will cause it to breakdown. The way it works is to turn on the switch and let the engine operate until the gas is gone and it stalls. This leaves virtually no fuel in the fuel lines and in the carburetor. There are a few models available that shut the fuel off when the engine is shut off which doesn’t drain the fuel from the system at all.
- Electric Start with a backup – Most portable generators on the market offer an electric start with a back up. Sometimes you will find that electric starts need help. Sometimes this will be when the battery needs charged. The backup is a pull cord that you can use to start it if the electric start isn’t working.
- Easy to Move – It’s not safe to assume that just because a generator is called potable that it will be easy to move. Not all of the portable generators have wheels but this is something you want to ensure it has. No one wants to lug around something that can easily weigh 200+ pounds. Not all portable generators come with wheels as a feature, but the ones that don’t may have it as an option that you can add on for an additional cost. Most models are equipped with two wheels and a handle on the opposite end. The models that have 4 wheels are not necessarily better. They may steer easily in a straight line but picking them up to move them or steering them in anything but a straight line becomes much more difficult.
- Transfer Switch – Stationary generators have a transfer switch already but this is something that you can get installed with a portable model if it doesn’t have one. This transfer switch connects your portable generator to your home’s circuit box. It eliminates the need for extension cords and the switch protects the generator itself as well s your appliances that are hooked up to it when the power comes back on. It is also crucial for protecting utility workers working on the power lines.
- Alternative Fuel Capability – Portable generators usually run on gasoline but there are models that run on diesel and propane as well. Some gasoline portable generators can be fitted with a converter kit that allows them to use an alternative source of fuel than what they originally have.
- How noisy is it? – Portable generators can be very noisy so if you’re using it for powering your home or at a campsite or both, you will need to look at silent run models. Many campground and state parks have noise regulations that a noisy portable generator would violate.
- Surge Capacity – Some portable generators offer what is called a surge capacity. This enables them to produce extremely high power output for a short time which is beneficial for items that have demanding motor driven loads. It is also known as max wattage. The regular operating mode is referred to as continuous wattage. This is what determines how long you can power the items you want to be powered.
- Fuel Tank Size – Look for a portable generator with a large capacity so you do not have to fill it up constantly. It should also have good fuel economy as well so you get the most usage for your fuel amount. It’s the same as finding a car that has good gas mileage.
- Spark Arrestor – This is typically a screen that catches sparks and hot pieces of carbon. It is most often used in portable generators that are used for camping. Sparks in a dry climate outdoors could cause a terrible fire. It is an important safety feature.
- Remote start – for the ultimate in convenience some portable generators offer a remote controlled start, meaning you don’t have to touch it at all. Other than convenience, it is not better or worse than an electric start or even manual start.
What can they Handle?
Depending on the size portable generator you get, it will be able to handle a variety of electrical items. We’ve listed three different size portable generators and what they can handle at their current wattages. Remember that when you are shopping for your portable generator, you will need to have not only the wattage amount you need to start your electrical items but run them safely as well.
- Small Portable Generator – 3000 to 4000 watts – This size portable generator will be able to handle your basic electrical items such as your refrigerator, microwave, sump pump, several lights and the TV. All of those items together should normally be around 3300 watts.
- Medium Sized Portable Generator – 5000 to 8500 watts – In addition to the items above, when you have a medium sized portable generator you can ADD a portable heater, a computer (one), a heating system, a second pump and more lights. This should bring the total wattage to about 6350 so you have a bit of wiggle room to add another computer or TV if you need to. This is where knowing the wattage requirements for your electrical items come into play.
- Large Portable Generator – 10,000 or more watts – In addition to all of the things above, you can add ONE of the following: a small water heater, central AC unit, or your stove. These run in the 3000 to 5000 wattage requirement range so depending on what you’ve got going already, you will know what you can safely add. Remember to get a portable generator that is a bit larger than what you need so you don’t have to run it at full capacity.
Portable Generator Safety
Because portable generators can be dangerous due to the fuel used, it is important to know as much as you can about how to safely use, install and even store them. We have outlined this in detail below for your convenience.
Read Your Owner’s Manual – This is a step that is surprisingly overlooked often. Many people simply put the owner’s manual aside in case something goes wrong later and they don’t read it to learn about their portable generator. The owner’s manual will have some valuable information in it including:
- Set up instructions
- Trouble shooting tips
- Warnings and precautions
- Parts numbers
- Operating instructions
It is definitely important to read it before doing anything with your portable generator. You will have a much better understanding of how your generator works and how best to use it safely.
Below are some tips and safety points that can help keep your generator not only running well but running safely for all involved as well.
The Importance of Good Ventilation
Carbon Monoxide is a deadly and poisonous gas that can’t be detected, in most cases until it is too late. Portable generator exhaust contains this deadly gas and because of that, care must be taken in ensuring proper ventilation. Follow the tips below to help improve ventilation and reduce carbon monoxide risks.
- NEVER run a generator inside or in your garage, carport or any enclosed or partially enclosed area.
- Set up your portable generator outside far away from windows, doors, vent and crawl spaces. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation.
- Do not think that running fans or having doors open compensate or double as good ventilation…again…NEVER run your generator indoors or in the garage or carport.
- For added protection, install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home and garage. Many s smoke alarms are dual purpose and have carbon monoxide detectors as well.
Fueling up the Generator and Preventing Burns
Since most portable generators are fueled by gasoline, you need to use caution when handling, storing and using it. Gasoline is flammable and explosive to boot, so a misstep in this area could be catastrophic. It is never bad to be super careful.
- Allow for fuel expansion when you are filing your portable generator tank and be careful not to overfill it. This can cause overflow onto the hot engine that can cause a fire or explosion.
- Never add gasoline while the generator is on or hot. It needs to be completely cool before you add more fuel.
- Make sure that all of the fuel is out of the tank before storing your portable generator. Gasoline fumes can reach an open flame, a pilot light or a spark when you’re doing other things.
- Never smoke near a generator or near stored fuel.
- Your portable generator can get very hot during use. The parts can be hot enough to give you a bad burn. Make sure it is cooled off completely before handling it and keep children away from it when it is running and/or cooling off.
Avoiding Electrocution and Electrical Shocks
Connecting your portable generator to your household wiring can be extremely dangerous, even deadly to you and others. Backfeed can be deadly to electrical utility workers and you should hire a licenced contractor to instal a transfer box or wire your home backup generator to your home. According tot the CDC, “electrocutions are the fifth leading cause of all reported occupational deaths.” It can back feed onto the power lines and even injure or kill other neighbors or utility workers working on the lines. This is why a transfer switch is so important if you want to wire it to your home’s circuit board.
- Don’t connect your portable generator to a household outlet.
- Start your portable generator first before plugging your electrical items into it.
- Before turning off your generator, unplug all electrical items from it first.
- Don’t overload your generator. Be sure to get the right size for all that you want to use it for or a little larger. It’s better to have more power than you need than less.
- Only use your portable generator when you have to and for only the things you need to have.
- Use the proper extension cords when plugging in your items. An individual appliance should have heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords that are appropriate for the appliance’s load. Overloaded cords can cause fires or damage your portable generator.
- Never use extension cords that are worn or that have exposed wires.
- Avoid operating the portable generator in wet conditions such as when it is raining or snowing.
- Make sure that your portable generator is properly grounded at all times. If it isn’t it can cause electrocution. Make sure that you are adhering to all federal, state and local regulations that are related to grounding to ensure all safety standards have been met.
Where to Put it and how to Operate it Safely
Where you put your portable generator and operating it safely are very important. Generators are not safe for children to be around in any way. Make sure that no children or pets have access to it and keep them away from it at all times.
- There should be at least 5 feet of clearance on ALL sides of the generator when it is running.
- Generators can be used in many different kinds of weather and temperatures but protect it from the elements when it isn’t in use so it doesn’t rust or short out.
- We will state this again…NEVER use a portable generator inside or in the garage.
- Make sure the space you set up the generator is level and it needs to be protected from excessive moisture, dirt, dust and corrosive vapors.
- Make sure that you inspect your generator before using and after using (once it is completely cool) to make sure it is running properly and in good repair. If anything is not as it should be, take care of it right away so it is in good working order when and if you need it.
- Whenever you have to move the portable generator, be sure to disconnect the spark plug wire first and place the wire where it can’t connect with the spark plug. This prevents accidental starting when you are setting it up, moving it or adjusting or repairing something on it.
- Perform routine maintenance on your portable generator according to the owner’s manual for your model. This keeps it in great working order so it’s ready when you need it and also helps it last longer. If your model comes with a warranty, this keeps the warranty intact as long as you adhere to the stipulations of routine maintenance and don’t do anything it states not to.
Being Prepared for Emergencies
Severe weather can happen anywhere and depending on what time of year it is, you may be faced with blizzards, torrential rains, ice storms and more. Whatever the weather is that causes your power outage, it is always beneficial to you to do some pre-planning so you are not caught unprepared, especially if you have children or elderly in your home. Below are some emergency preparedness tips that can help make a power outage much less problematic. This list is just a guideline. Be sure to adapt yours to meet your family’s needs. Find a place in your garage that you can store all of these items safely and periodically check things, like the first aid kit, to make sure it is all stocked. It may sound a bit ‘doomsday prepper” but most of us at one time or another have endured power outages and having these things on hand can make a terrible thing much more bearable and less frightening.
- Minimum of 3 days worth of bottled water – The rule of thumb is one gallon per person, per day. If you have the storage space in your garage or home, have a few more gallons in there for flushing toilets, sink baths and washing hands so you’re not using the drinking water for those functions.
- First Aid Kit – It is always important to have a well stocked first aid kit in your home anyway, but having an extra one in your emergency kit is a good idea. Here are some things you should make sure you have in your kit.
- Band aids
- Antibiotic cream
- Wound wash
- Medical tape
- Children’s ibuprofen or Tylenol is you have kids
- Several flashlights
- Plenty of extra batteries for the flashlights
- Extra portable generator fuel, stored properly and safely
- Extension cords (that fit your electrical appliance requirements and are outdoor rated)
- Non electrical can opener
- Plastic utensils
- Weather radio/portable radio
- Diapers if you have an infant
- Emergency formula and bottles if you have an infant
- Baby wipes
- Emergency cash
- Canned food/non perishable food
- Plastic dishes or paper plates, cups and bowls
- Things for the kids to do such as coloring books, crayons, puzzles, puzzle books, games, reading books
- Emergency telephone numbers:
- Gas company
- Power company
- Water company
- Doctor’s offices (for you and children)
A well stocked emergency kit is great for peace of mind that in the event you ARE without power, you are well taken care of. A portable generator can ensure even more peace of mind because you won’t be sitting in a dark home without any AC or heat (depending on the time of year) with all of your food going bad. They are not designed to run the entire house, but they can keep the fridge, lights and microwave on and maybe even a TV to keep the children occupied and from worrying.
Those who have invested in them are thankful to have them and find that they are well worth the money spent. Now that you have the information you need to choose the right portable generator for YOUR needs, you can search with confidence and get the right one that will take care of what you want to take care of. Whether it’s for emergencies only or regular camping trips, there are some great units available that provide the power you want.
Compare: The 10 Top Rated Portable Generators
|Picture||Name||Continuous Watts||Run Time||Weight||Rating|
|Generac 5735 GP17500E||17500||10 hrs @ 50%||373 lbs||5|
|Champion 100165||7500||8 hrs @ 50%||202.4 lbs||4.9|
|Westinghouse WH7500DF||7500||13 hrs @ 50%||194 lbs||4.8|
|Briggs & Stratton Q6500||6500||14 hrs @25%||138 lbs||4.6|
|Champion Power Equipment 46596||3500||12 hrs @ 50%||97 lbs||4.5|
|Westinghouse WGen6000||6000||12 hrs @ 50%||174 lbs||4.5|
|Yamaha EF2000iSv2||1600||10.5 hrs @ 25%||44.1 lbs||4.5|
|Champion 73536i||1700||9.5 hrs @ 50%||56.6 lbs||4.5|
|Champion 75531i Inverter||2800||8 hrs @ 25%||48.5 lbs||4.3|
|DuroStar DS4000S||3300||8 hrs @ 50%||92.4 lbs||4.5|