The Best Home Generator for Power Outages

The best home generator will keep you prepared for the next power outage when storms, fires, ice, and other issues cut the electricity to your home.

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The Best Home Generator Options

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When calamity strikes in the form of heavy storms, wildfires, or any other cause for a power outage, your home can remain without electricity for an unknown period of time. If the power is off for too long, you may be faced with your home becoming either too hot or too cold, depending on the time of year. Add to that trying to feel your way around a dark house, frozen pipes, and spoiled food in the refrigerator and freezer.

A home generator can keep the temperature of your home regulated and salvage the food in your refrigerator and freezer by serving as a source of backup power, providing electricity to all of these essential appliances during an outage. Unfortunately, many people don’t start preparing for these occurrences until right before disaster strikes and are forced to settle for any low quality or underpowered generator they can find.

To avoid this fate, it’s best to proactively explore your options to ensure you find the right generator for your home’s emergency backup needs. Read on to learn about the different types of generators and important factors to consider as you shop, and discover some of the best home generators to keep your home and its contents protected during a power outage.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Champion Power Equipment 100519 6250-Watt Open Frame
  2. BEST BUDGET: WEN GN6000 6000-Watt RV-Ready Portable Generator
  3. BEST FOR SMALL HOMES: Westinghouse WGen12000 Ultra Duty Portable Generator
  4. BEST FOR LARGE HOMES: Generac 22000-Watt (LP)/19500-Watt (NG) Air-Cooled
  5. BEST POWER STATION: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000, 1002Wh
  6. BEST PORTABLE: DuroMax XP8500E Gas Powered Portable Generator
The Best Home Generator Options

Photo: amazon.com

Types of Home Generators

The first step to finding the best home generator is learning about the four different types of generators. Each type has its own set of pros and cons, and one is likely to suit your home’s specific needs better than the others.

Home Standby Generators

Home standby generators are large, permanently installed generators that connect to a home’s electrical panel for backup power during an electrical outage. They are equipped with an automatic transfer switch (explained in later sections) that automatically switches on the generator’s power supply when it detects a loss of utility power. They’re most commonly powered by natural gas or propane, but some diesel models are available.

Home standby generators have the largest power ratings and are usually, though not always, powerful enough to satisfy the electrical demands of an entire home. The downside is that they’re the most expensive to purchase and install, and they require installation by certified professionals. An electrician is needed to connect the generator to the home’s electrical panel, and a plumber may be required to connect the propane or natural gas line for the generator’s fuel source.

Portable Generators

As the name suggests, portable generators are small and able to be moved to different locations. They can have a wide range of power output ratings. Smaller units may only be capable of powering a limited number of electrical items and appliances, while larger units may be powerful enough to completely replace a home’s utility power supply. To do so, portable generators come equipped with a 30-amp outlet with which to connect a transfer switch. As a general rule, the smaller units are the most portable but the least powerful, and the larger units are the most powerful but the least portable.

Portable generators typically use gasoline as a fuel source, but some are powered by diesel or propane. Multi-fuel generators (dual- and tri-fuel) are powered by multiple fuel sources, including gasoline or diesel, propane, and/or natural gas. Aside from being more travel-friendly than standby generators, portable generators are usually more affordable. Keep in mind that, although portable, this type of generator should never be used indoors since the engine can emit a toxic level of carbon monoxide (CO) and lead to sickness and death.

Inverter Generators

Inverter generators are technically a type of portable generator, but they offer a different set of pros and cons. As opposed to conventional generator engines that constantly operate at the same output rate, inverter generators adapt to the power demand placed on them by throttling up and down. This makes them more fuel efficient and also reduces their CO emissions. It also makes them much quieter than regular generators, usually only producing around 60 decibels of noise: the same volume level of a typical conversation.

Inverter generators also boast greater fuel efficiency, allowing them to have smaller fuel tanks and more portability than other generators. All of these advantages make them a popular choice among campers and RVers who value silent operation and portability. The disadvantages? Inverter generators are typically more expensive than regular portable generators and generally produce less power.

Portable Power Stations

Portable power stations are essentially battery banks that store electrical power. Instead of using gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas, power stations are charged in a standard electrical outlet and/or via solar panels. Solar-powered power stations are often called solar generators and offer a practically unlimited and renewable power source—just as long as the sun is shining.

Portable power stations are usually compact and lightweight to make them incredibly portable. They are also virtually silent when in operation. In addition, they can also be safely used indoors since they don’t produce any harmful emissions. The primary disadvantages are that they’re usually more expensive than conventional portable generators and have significantly lower power ratings that aren’t capable of providing power to an entire home. That being said, they can be used to power a handful of essential appliances during an outage.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Home Generator

With each type of generator, there are several other factors and features that can affect its overall functionality. Keep the following considerations in mind when searching for the best home generator to keep you powered up in the event of an outage.

Fuel/Energy Type

  • Gasoline: A widely available fuel source, gasoline is a common source of fuel for portable generators. The primary disadvantages are that gasoline is more expensive and less efficient than other fuel sources, and gasoline engines typically emit the highest levels of CO. Also, storing gasoline for long periods of time requires a fuel stabilizer and can present a significant fire hazard if stored incorrectly.
  • Diesel: Although generators fueled by diesel aren’t as common as those fueled by gasoline, diesel is more affordable, more efficient, and can be stored for longer periods of time without a stabilizer. Diesel storage also doesn’t pose as significant of a fire hazard as gasoline.
  • Propane: Propane is an affordable and clean-burning source of fuel. It’s a common fuel source for standby generators and may either be tied into a home’s primary propane gas tank or have a designated tank strictly for the generator. It’s not commonly a primary fuel source for portable generators, but some dual- and tri-fuel generators will accommodate propane for a backup fuel source. The main disadvantages are that propane isn’t as energy efficient as other fuel sources, and a generator fueled by propane will usually have a lower run-time and produce less power. Propane also presents a fire hazard if stored incorrectly.
  • Natural Gas: As a fuel source, natural gas is used exclusively with standby generators. For use with a generator, it is tied into a home’s natural gas line to offer a practically limitless source of fuel without worrying about running out of propane, gas, or diesel. The disadvantages are that natural gas is less energy efficient than propane and considerably less energy efficient than diesel and gasoline.
  • Solar Energy: As a source of power for portable battery banks, solar energy is silent, clean, and affordable. In fact, it’s also free. The disadvantages are that the power capacity is determined by the number and size of the panels and the size of the battery it charges. A solar panel’s ability to charge a battery is also dictated by the amount of available sun, so it isn’t as reliable a fuel source as other options.

Size

A generator’s size equates to the amount of power in watts it can generate, which can range from 800 to greater than 50,000. Generators are sized in both “starting watts” and “running watts,” but the running watts rating reveals how many continuous watts the generator can supply to keep electricity running to the connected items. Starting watts refers to the number of watts the generator can produce for a few seconds to satisfy the extra demand from starting motor-driven items like refrigerators.

The running watts rating dictates the number of electrical appliances you can run simultaneously and for how long. Because a generator’s starting watts are usually 1,000 to 2,000 watts greater than its running watts, it’s important to distinguish between the two figures when determining your home’s power requirements.

Power Requirements

To determine the generator size you need, determine the total number of watts your most essential electrical items consume. All electrical appliances are required to have a label that displays their wattage rating; you simply need to add together the wattage figure listed on each item you want to power during an electrical outage.

Generally speaking, a refrigerator consumes between 700 and 1,200 watts, an air-conditioning unit consumes around 1,000 watts, a portable heater consumes about 1,500 watts, and lights can be anywhere between 60 and 600 watts. Most households will typically require around 5,000 watts to power its most essential components.

Transfer Switch

A transfer switch connects a generator to a home’s main electrical panel and allows you to switch, or “transfer,” between grid power and generator power. There are both manual and automatic transfer switches. Manual transfer switches require you to physically switch over the power at your electrical panel when the power goes out, while an automatic transfer switch automatically switches over power from the grid to generator power when it detects a loss of power.

Standby generators are all equipped with automatic transfer switches, and any generator with a 5,000+ watt power output requires the installation of either a manual or automatic transfer switch. Although not always required, transfer switches are recommended for portable generators of every power rating, as they prevent the possible risk of electrocution or fried appliances when manually connecting to the main electrical panel. It also prevents the need to run multiple extensions to various appliances in your home.

Convenience

Generators can be equipped with various features that make their operation as convenient as possible. These include:

  • Electric Start: Instead of using a pull-cord to manually start a generator, many modern generators offer an effortless electric start. This mechanism can be in the form of a push-button, a switch, and even an electric start operated by remote control. Automatic transfer switches also fall into this category.
  • Multiple Outlets: Not only are multiple outlets convenient, but they also help distribute the generator’s electrical load when powering multiple appliances. Having a generator with at least four household electrical outlets is recommended for efficiently spreading the electrical load. Generators may also have household and/or RV 30-amp outlets, a 50-amp outlet, and USB outlets.
  • Low-Oil Shutoff: A generator with a low-oil shutoff will automatically turn off when the oil falls below a certain level. This feature can save a generator from irreparable engine damage caused by low oil levels.
  • Fuel Gauge: A fuel gauge allows you to closely monitor the fuel level in the generator. This feature is typically only necessary for gasoline- and diesel-powered generators with internal fuel tanks.

However, solar-powered battery banks usually have battery life indicators, and propane tanks often have integrated fuel gauges.

Safety

Along with the various features that contribute to convenience, there are also a few important safety features that many generators incorporate into their design. These include:

  • Automatic CO Shutoff: To reduce the risk of CO poisoning when operating a portable generator, many are equipped with an internal CO sensor that will automatically shut off the generator when CO levels reach a certain level. This feature can be labeled as “CO Sense,” “CO Shield,” “CO Protect,” and similar designations.
  • Low-CO Engine: Along with an automatic CO shutoff, some generator engines are specifically designed to emit considerably less CO. Despite being safer than conventional engines, low-CO engines still shouldn’t be operated indoors.

Our Top Picks

Even armed with the knowledge of the factors and features to consider when shopping for a generator, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the available options on the market. Check out our top picks to discover some of the best home generators in a variety of categories to stay up and running during a power outage.

Best Overall

The Best Home Generator Options: Champion Power Equipment 100519 6250-Watt Open Frame
Photo: amazon.com

Champion’s inverter generator is as quiet as it is powerful. This 5,000-watt gasoline-powered home generator only produces a 69-decibel noise level, which is about the same as a vacuum cleaner and up to half as quiet as generators with similar power ratings. Since it’s an inverter generator, it naturally runs more efficiently, but Champion incorporated an additional “Economy Mode” that regulates voltage output based on demand. In fact, this generator can run for up to 12.5 hours on a small 4.2-gallon fuel tank. It features four standard household electrical outlets, one 30-amp household outlet, and one USB adapter as well as a digital gauge to monitor energy usage and engine run-time.

Best Budget

The Best Home Generator Options: WEN GN6000 6000-Watt RV-Ready Portable Generator
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Wen’s portable home generator offers an impressive amount of power and features for an incredibly affordable price. This gas-powered generator produces 5,000 watts of power and can run for up to seven and a half hours on a full 3.4-gallon tank. It includes two standard electrical outlets, one 30-amp RV outlet, and a household 30-amp outlet. Although it’s not as powerful as some other options, it makes up for it with increased portability. Its compact dimensions of 23 by 17 by 17 inches combined with wheels and a folding handle to make transport as easy as possible.

This generator also provides a digital display that monitors voltage output and engine run-time and helps to track scheduled maintenance items. The disadvantages are that it might be underpowered for running multiple appliances and for powering larger homes, and it doesn’t include a fuel gauge.

Best for Small Homes

The Best Home Generator Options: Westinghouse WGen12000 Ultra Duty Portable Generator
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For satisfying the power demands of smaller homes, Westinghouse’s 12,000-watt portable generator boasts one of the largest power output ratings among portable generators. Its gasoline-powered engine can run for up to 16 hours on a full 10.5-gallon tank, and the fuel gauge conveniently monitors the fuel level. It features an electronic start that can be operated with the push button on the generator or from a remote start key fob.

For power supply options, the generator features four standard household outlets, one 30-amp outlet ready for a transfer switch, and two USB ports for powering portable electronics. It also provides a digital display to monitor power output and engine run-time and track scheduled maintenance items. The disadvantage? It’s expensive, but the peace of mind it can offer to smaller homes during power outages may be worth the higher price tag.

Best for Large Homes

The Best Home Generator Options: Generac 22000-Watt (LP) 19500-Watt (NG) Air-Cooled
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Generac’s standby generator is a must for larger homes. It can run off natural gas to generate 22,000 running watts or propane for 19,500 running watts. In either case, it connects to a home’s existing gas line, instead of relying on a separate fuel source. When natural gas is used, it offers a practically unlimited run-time during a power outage (as long as the home is still receiving natural gas from the utility company). To keep it protected from adverse weather conditions, this generator has an aluminum enclosure with a “RhinoCoat” finish to make it highly durable and weather resistant.

The generator also includes a weekly self-test feature to ensure it’s fully ready and operational when the power goes out. When the power does go out, the generator has a built-in automatic transfer switch for automatically supplying power back to your home. Via Wi-Fi connectivity, the manufacturer’s free mobile link permits monitoring of the generator from anywhere.

Best Power Station

The Best Home Generator Options: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000, 1002Wh
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Jackery’s portable power station offers an excellent solution for acquiring portable and, potentially, free power. This power station has a 1,000-watt output capacity and can be fully charged with a standard household electrical outlet, portable generator, or car charger in just eight hours. Jackery also offers an option that includes two 100-watt solar panels that fold in half and have carrying handles for easy transport. Its 1,000 watts of output capacity isn’t powerful enough to power an entire home, but this power station offers three standard AC outlets, one DC car port outlet, and four USB outlets for powering a wide range of electrical devices. Since it doesn’t burn any fuel, it can be used indoors without fear of harmful emissions.

Although the Jackery’s battery life will vary depending on how it’s being used, it can provide 100 full phone charges, power a 300-watt blender for 13 hours, and even power a pressure cooker. It also features a digital display for monitoring the battery life. The main disadvantages are that it’s much less powerful than conventional generators and much more expensive than generators with comparable power output.

Best Portable

The Best Home Generator Options: DuroMax XP8500E Gas Powered Portable Generator
Photo: amazon.com

DuroMax’s portable generator boasts 7,000 running watts of power and houses a 7.9-gallon gasoline fuel tank for extended operation time. It features impressively compact dimensions for its power output, at only 32 by 23 by 22 inches and 200 pounds. These characteristics combine with a collapsible handle and never-flat tires to produce a generator with portability in mind. It also boasts an electric start for effortless start up.

With the purchase of this generator, DuroMax also includes every potential tool required for routine maintenance, including a spark plug wrench, a tool set, and an oil funnel. Unfortunately, there’s no digital display that tracks run-time or scheduled maintenance items, so it will be necessary to manually track these parameters.

Tips for Using a Home Generator

Operating a generator isn’t complicated, but there are a few tips you should keep in mind to ensure effective and safe operation and avoid any harm to yourself or your generator. First of all, it’s important to use extension cords that are sufficiently powerful. If you aren’t using a transfer switch, running undersized cords from your generator to your appliances can present a fire risk and also damage both the generator and connected appliances. As a general rule, use at least 12-gauge electrical cords for larger appliances (like refrigerators) and at least 14-gauge cords for everything else. Cord length is also a concern since the voltage drop from cords that are too long can damage or destroy the appliances they’re supplying. Although you should keep a portable generator outside and away from your home, remember not to exceed a 100-foot extension cord length.

When running a home generator, it’s best to keep it on a level surface. If a generator is placed on a slope or hill, the internal lubrication system could malfunction and lead to premature engine wear and damage. Finally, ensure the generator has cooled down before you refill it, since spilling gasoline on a hot engine can cause a fire.

Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Prevent theft by securing your generator with a lock and chain if you store it outside.
  • Don’t run your generator with stale fuel to avoid start-up issues.
  • Keep extra oil and filters on hand to ensure you can maintain the recommended maintenance schedule through extended power outages.

FAQs About Your New Home Generator

Since generators can be both life-saving and expensive, it’s natural to have some questions before you’re confident in your decision. To this end, consider the answers to these frequently asked questions.

Q. What are the three types of generators?

The three types of generators are home standby generators, portable generators, and portable power stations. Some people consider inverter generators to be the fourth type, but they’re technically a subtype of portable generator.

Q. What size generator do I need for my house?

To determine the necessary power rating for your generator, add up the wattage of all the appliances you want to run during an electrical outage. As a general rule, a generator should have at least a 5,000-watt capacity to power a home’s essential appliances.

Q. What is the quietest whole house generator?

The Champion Power Equipment 100519 6250-Watt Open Frame only produces 69 decibels of noise (the noise level of an average vacuum cleaner) while still generating 5,000 watts of power.

Q. Do generators have to be maintained?

Just like your car, a generator’s engine requires periodic maintenance. This includes routine oil changes (after 20 hours of use for a brand-new generator and every 100 hours of use afterward), cleaning the air filter after 100 hours of operation, and ensuring that you run it for 20 or 30 minutes at least once every three months.