Buyer’s Guide: Portable Generators
Don't be left in the dark the next time a storm cuts the cord to your home's electricity. With our tips for buying and the best portable generators on the market, you can find the whole-home backup to fit your needs
The storm hits. Power lines topple. And your home loses electricity for an hour, a day, or even a week. These inconvenient—and in some cases, downright dangerous—grid failures seem to be more and more prevalent with each passing year. Brief, infrequent outages are a nuisance and if nothing else, remind us of our complete dependence on electricity. But soon enough, the ordeal is over. However, if your area has been experiencing blackouts more frequently, or for more protracted periods, it’s well worth asking this question: If a major storm came rolling into your town tomorrow, would you be ready for the potential consequences?
An electrical outage doesn’t have to mean the suspension of your life until grid power is restored. You can take matters into your own hands, without spending a small fortune, using a portable generator. Deciding you want to buy one is only the first step. Next comes the process of determining which are the best generators to consider for your household. Read on for details on the main considerations to bear in mind as you navigate the assortment of options available today:
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 ooder to start. Know that lights typically require 60 to 200 watts to start; a refrigerator needs about 600 watts; and a portable 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. Many smaller inverter-style generators are designed to run off a car or a deep-cycle battery, while most models suitable for residential use operate on gas.
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. For instance, wheel kits sold separately range from $40 to $150. And if you want to wire the generator’s output to your electrical panel, you’ll need a $500 to $900 transfer switch. Before you buy a generator, make certain you understand what, if any, components are going t0 be missing.
If you’ve begun shopping for a generator, you’ve likely noticed there’s no shortage of options. To save you time and effort, we studied the rankings put out by leading consumer testing sites. And we waded through tons of feedback from people who’ve actually shopped for and used portable generators. We discovered a couple of things: While it’s not easy to identify which are the best generators, these are clear favorites:
Generac GP7500 Electric Start Portable Generator
Shoppers at The Home Depot give 4.7 out of 5 stars to this 7,500-watt generator from industry leader Generac. The reviews praise the generator’s ease of use as well as its ample 8-gallon fuel tank, which enables the unit to run continuously for up to 12 hours. The battery for its electric start is included in the price; it features a low-tone muffler for quiet operation; and its fold-down locking handle and heavy-duty wheels make transportation and storage easy. Price: $999
Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator
From Westinghouse, a generator boasting 7,500 running watts and 9,000 starting watts garnered 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. With its 6.6-gallon fuel tank, it produces up to 11 hours of runtime, and it purrs along quietly, thanks to its specially designed muffler. Reviewers liked its color-coded control panel, but they loved that everything needed comes in the box. When the time comes to actually use the thing, you don’t need to scramble for any extra components. Price: $999
Yamaha EF2000iS Portable Inverter Generator
Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of inverter generators” (by TopGeneratorReviews.com), this 2,000-watt Yamaha received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It runs—quietly—for up to 10.5 hours. And thanks to its sleek, briefcase-size design, the lightweight generator is eminently portable. Special features include the Smart Throttle Load, which contributes to overall fuel efficiency, and a handy oil-watch warning system that lets you know when to change the oil. Price: $1099