Power grid failures can be a real nuisance and in some cases, dangerous. If your area has been experiencing blackouts more frequently, or for more protracted periods of time, it may be well worth it for you to explore your options.
An electrical outage doesn’t have to mean the suspension of your life until power is restored. You can take matters into your own hands by using a portable generator. Deciding you want to buy one is only the first step. Next comes the process of determining which would be the best portable generator for your needs.
Read on for details on the main considerations to bear in mind as you navigate the available options and to discover why we’ve identified the below models as our top picks in the category.
- BEST OVERALL: Champion 3800-Watt Portable Generator
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator
- BEST FOR ELECTRONICS: WEN 56380i 3800-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
Choose a portable generator that suits your needs and circumstances. Making the right choice depends on understanding the product category and the crucial distinctions among the different types of portable generators that are generally available.
- Wattage. Generators vary by the number of watts they are capable of producing. To narrow the field, first determine how many watts you are going to need. Only you can answer that; the answer depends on which appliances you want to feel comfortable running during a blackout. Make a list of those must-have appliances, and write down the number of watts that each one needs in order to start. Know that lights typically require 60 to 200 watts to start, a refrigerator needs about 600 watts, and a space heater may need as many 1,500 watts. For many homeowners, a generator in the 5,000- to 7,000-watt range proves sufficient.
- Fuel Type. That list of must-have appliances also bears on whether the best generators for you to consider are ones that run on batteries, gas, propane, or diesel.
- Inverter Generators. This category of generators produces electricity in three phases: creating first a high-frequency AC (alternating current), which is then inverted to a DC (direct current) and then inverted once again to your standard AC. Not only does this generator create more electricity, but this process also produces a very stable electrical flow, which is necessary for protecting delicate electronic systems such as computers and office equipment.
- Exhaust. Any portable generator that runs on gas, diesel, or propane produces exhaust. For that reason, such machines must be used outdoors, with protection from the weather, at least 15 feet from the house. If you live in California, focus on generators compliant with the standards set by the California Air Resources Board.
- Noise. Portable gas-powered generators can be pretty loud. But some are built with noise-absorbing glass wool, special mufflers, and/or vibration-absorbing feet. If you anticipate noise being an issue, the best generators for you to consider are ones specially designed to do their work effectively, but quietly.
- Accessories. Many things you’d assume are included with a generator must actually be purchased separately, and those incidental costs can add up. Wheel kits are often sold separately, as are the transfer switches that enable you to wire the generator’s output to your electrical panel. Before you buy a generator, make certain you understand what, if any, components are going to be missing.
Our Top Picks
If you’re looking for a generator that runs on either gasoline or propane, this Champion Power Equipment portable generator fits the bill. It offers a 120-volt, 30-amp RV outlet for powering a camper or motorhome; a 120V, 30A locking outlet for tying the generator into your home’s electrical panel; and two standard 120V, 20A outlets for standard household use. It runs up to 14 hours on a single tank of gas or 10.5 hours on propane, and all of your operations will be safe thanks to its Volt Guard, a built-in surge protector. We love the push-button start (no cranking necessary), as well as the unit’s ability to power multiple appliances during an outage.
- Runs on gasoline or propane
- Can power a camper or motorhome
- Can connect to electrical panel
- Surge protector
- Weighs 119 pounds
- As loud as a vacuum
This 7500-watt generator from Westinghouse provides dependable backup power with its 420cc 4-stroke engine. Though gasoline-powered, a push-button start and a remote key-start fob that can be used up to 109 yards away make it extremely convenient to power up. Once you have it going, it will run up to 11 hours on 6.6 gallons of gasoline and provide outlets aplenty—a 120/140V, 30A locking outlet and five 120V, 20A household outlets. The generator boasts its own muffler to help damper engine noise, and it even comes with a remote control.
- 7,500 running watts
- Runs for 11 hours
- Remote can be used 109 yards away
- Muffler helps damper noise
When you’re looking for a backup energy supply that’s stable enough for sensitive electronics, invest in a high-quality inverter generator like this WEN model. You’ll have ample power to run devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, and just as important, you’ll have reassurance that the current won’t do any damage. With two 120V, 20A household outlets, a 120/240V 30A RV outlet, and a 120V, 30A locking outlet, the WEN generator can run up to 8.5 hours on a full tank of gasoline—and it’s only about as loud as the average conversation.
- Smaller than other options
- Includes two three-prong 120-volt receptacles
- Weighs under 100 pound
- EPA III and CARB compliant
- Does not work with propane
- Does not connect to electrical panel
There are many situation-specific factors that can affect which generator may fulfill the needs of a user, the Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator is one of the best portable generators for most typical home uses. For providing temporary power to just a few electronic devices, the WEN 56380i 3800-Watt Portable Inverter Generator is a capable option.
How We Chose the Best Portable Generators
These recommendations for the best portable generator include options for different sized electrical loads in a typical home. While the needs of each user may vary from emergency use to recreational excursions, each product was evaluated based on the product’s capabilities and intended use. We narrowed the field of products based on the available wattage, fuel types, exhaust, level of noise, and accessories like wheels and transfer switches that enable wiring the generator to the electrical panel.
Our favorite generators that made the list include those that are known for being quieter than typical generators and include extra functions that make it easier for use at home and while traveling. There are products that make the list that include the ability to hard-wire into a home’s electrical panel, power an RV or camper, provide reliable and safe power to sensitive electronics, and all of them weigh less than 200 pounds with one option weighing less than 100 pounds.
Q: Can I use a portable generator to power the entire house?
Most portable generators will not provide enough power for a typical house. Portable generators are designed to power important items or circuits (if connected to the electrical panel) in a home. For more reliable backup power, consider a standby generator.
Q: Is 22kW enough to power the entire house?
While a 22-kW generator may be enough to power most essentials and some smaller homes, it is usually not enough to power the entirety of most homes.
Q: Are portable generators loud?
Portable generators are known for being loud, but there are options with sound-dampening features that reduce the noise.
Q: Can I leave my portable generator running over the night?
It isn’t recommended to run a portable generator unattended, and this includes overnight. Most appliances will be fine if left unpowered. However, food in the refrigerator can go bad after 4 hours, and food in the freezer can become unsafe after 24 hours.
If you need to run a portable generator overnight, make sure it has been well-maintained and is sitting on stable ground away from the house to eliminate any chance of tipping over or carbon monoxide poisoning.