Buying a cheap home generator doesn’t have to require making compromises. In fact, there are surprisingly powerful models available for a modest investment.
But what is meant by “cheap home generators”? While they won’t provide backup power for the whole house in the event of a power outage, many of these generators will run essential appliances such as a freezer, a microwave, or an air conditioner. Others are ideal for running power tools, supplying garden lighting, connecting to RVs, or providing electricity for laptops when camping.
Just ahead, we explore how to get the highest power output for the money and why smaller models might sometimes be the right alternative. Then, we provide a list of the best cheap home generators currently available.
How We Chose the Best Cheap Home Generators
Performance will always be a key factor with any kind of generator, and finding the most power possible for the money certainly played an important part in our decision-making process. Other major aspects were reliability (because a generator has to be something you can depend on) and versatility. Some low-cost generators offer just a couple of standard 120-volt (V) outlets. Others can be connected directly to RVs, or they can provide electricity to multiple devices—or even the main household breaker board. In addition, 12V DC sockets (like those found in most vehicles) and USB ports for charging electronic devices are other possibilities.
However, not everyone is looking for substantial power from a cheap home generator; some want a lightweight device for easy portability. Noise is another consideration. Inverter generators are invariably quieter than their traditional gas counterparts. They are also cheaper to run and more environmentally friendly. They do tend to be more expensive, but we did find a few affordable models. We think the resulting collated selection has something for everyone.
While picking a single-best cheap home generator wasn’t easy, the Wen tops this list because it is among the most powerful portable generators available for the money, and it offers great versatility. The Wen brand is renowned for durability and reliability at affordable prices, hence the reason it appears several times on this list.
This model produces 4,750 starting watts and 3,800 running watts, which is sufficient for a wide variety of household appliances, including power-hungry items like AC. Output can be toggled to either 120V or 240V as required. Along with a 12V DC socket, two standard 120V sockets equipped with GFCIs (ground-fault circuit interrupters) are included. Additionally, it comes with a 120V/240V NEMA 30A twist lock that can connect to RV power systems or directly to home breaker boxes when fitted with a transfer switch.
For convenience, the Wen DF475T has electric starting, and it switches easily from gasoline to propane with an included 47-inch LPG hose and regulator. The 4-gallon gas tank allows up to 11 hours of power at half load. While it weighs 105 pounds, a fold-down handle and rubber-covered wheels help with maneuverability.
- Wattage: 4,750/3,800 on gasoline; 4,350/3,500 on propane
- Fuel: Gasoline or propane
- Connectors: Two 120V GFCI outlets (5-20R), one 120V/240V NEMA 30A twist lock (L14-30R), and one 12V DC car-accessory-style plug
- Outstanding performance for the money from a brand renowned for reliable and durable machinery
- Has standard 120V and 12V DC sockets, or can connect to RV or home power systems
- Dual-fuel capability means easy switching from gasoline to propane, and the hose and regulator are included
- Problems are rare, although a few customers have reported difficulty with starting
Get the Wen home generator at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
More Cheap Generators Worth Your Money
Each of the following meets the criteria set out above, suits a range of different needs, and offers excellent value for the money.
- Wen GN400i 4,000-Watt Inverter Generator, available at Amazon, Walmart, or Target.
- DuroMax XP4000S 4,000-Watt Gas Portable Generator, available at Amazon or Walmart.
- A-iPower AP5000V 5,000-Watt Gas Portable Generator, available at The Home Depot (model AP5000P) or Walmart.
- Champion Power Equipment 100522 3,500-Watt Generator, available at Amazon, Acme Tools, or Walmart (without wheel kit).
- Westinghouse iGen2200c Inverter Generator, available at Amazon, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot.
- DuroMax XP5500EH 5,500-Watt Dual Fuel Generator, available at Amazon, Walmart, or Acme Tools.
- GenMax GM3200i 3,200-Watt Gas Inverter Generator, available at Amazon.
- Wen 56380i Super Quiet 3,800-Watt Inverter Generator, available at Amazon, Walmart, or Target.
What to Consider When Choosing a Cheap Home Generator
When it comes to finding the best generators there is plenty of choice, even when the budget is modest. In order to get the most from your investment, it’s a good idea to spend time thinking about specifications and comparing different models. The following section looks at key issues that will impact your decision.
Generators can broadly be divided into four types: whole-house generators, portable gas generators, inverter generators, and solar generators. Portable power stations are sometimes included, but they don’t actually generate electricity themselves. Instead, an internal battery stores power until needed. They can either be charged at home or by using portable solar panels.
Some of these have not been included in this top picks list.
- Whole-house generators can cost a couple thousand dollars and require professional installation, which adds to the cost.
- While there are some cheap solar generators around, they offer modest power and provide little for home users. They are best for camping or RVing.
- Portable power stations can offer reasonable performance, but most are comparatively expensive.
So the two that fall within the scope of this article are portable gas generators (some of which will also run on propane) and inverter generators. Gas generators undoubtedly provide the best bang for the buck in terms of power output. And while inverter generators can’t compete for outright performance, they are quieter, lighter, cheaper to run, and more environmentally friendly.
Generators are rated by the watts of power they produce. The higher the wattage, the more electricity provided. This translates either as a capability to supply larger, more power-hungry devices, or to power multiple devices at the same time.
Every piece of electrical equipment has a wattage rating on it somewhere. An electric clock might typically use as little as 1 watt, a light bulb 15 watts, a power drill 250 watts, and AC 1,000 watts or more.
In theory, by adding the wattage of all these devices together you arrive at the watts required from your generator. However, you don’t necessarily need to use all the appliances at the same time. So if you have a coffee maker and a toaster, for example, both of which require around 800 watts, you don’t need 1,600 watts if you make your coffee first, then your toast.
Also bear in mind that generators have two wattage ratings: starting and running. The former is higher because most electrical devices surge when turned on, then settle back to a lower demand in normal use. The first figure is particularly important for high-performance power tools, which tend to surge more dramatically. By contrast, electronics such as laptops produce a negligible surge.
All of the cheap home generators on this list are powered by gasoline. Some, usually called dual-fuel generators, can also use propane. People often have propane tanks around the home for barbecues or outdoor heaters, so this can be a convenient option; additionally, some may be accustomed to storing propane tanks in their garage or shed and would prefer not to store gasoline. It’s important to note that performance is not the same with both fuel sources, so that’s something that ought to be checked when researching options.
Those looking for the most environmentally friendly way to generate electricity may want to consider solar generators. These run from panels rather than using fossil fuels (the same is also true of some portable power packs). Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, these devices either lacked sufficient output for general home use or they were too expensive to include in this article. The solar panels themselves almost invariably cost extra, and it’s vital to check their output to make sure they can supply sufficient power for the chosen generator.
The information above should clarify the performance aspects of these home generators. For those looking to buy a cheap home generator, having the facts can help narrow down the options. A few common questions are answered below.
Q. What kind of generator is cheapest to run?
Inverter generators are the cheapest type to run; they also produce lower emissions and are quieter than traditional gas generators. However, it’s important to check that the output is sufficient for your needs. Some gas generators meet strict CARB (California Air Resources Board) emission standards and typically produce more power for the money.
Q. What time of year is it cheapest to buy a generator?
The cheapest time to buy a generator is usually when demand is the lowest, so this is normally outside any storm seasons when power outages are less common. It’s also worth checking prices during the various sale seasons, and of course Black Friday. You might also find cheap generator deals when new models are introduced because if the previous version is still in stock, it is likely to be marked down in price.
Q. How much is the cheapest generator?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say which generator is the cheapest, because prices change all the time. Manufacturers and retailers often run sales, so figures posted today could be different tomorrow. At the time of this writing, the cheapest home generator that fulfilled our criteria was the Wen GN400i, though several others are available at a similar price.
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