The best 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.
To avoid problems of this kind, it’s good 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 generators for home use available.
- BEST OVERALL: Champion Power Equipment 100891 9375/7500-Watt Dual
- BEST BUDGET: DuroMax XP8500E Gas Powered Portable Generator
- BEST FOR SMALL HOMES: Westinghouse WGen12000 Ultra Duty Portable Generator
- BEST FOR LARGE HOMES: Briggs & Stratton 20,000-Watt Standby Generator
- BEST QUIET: Champion Power Equipment 100519 6250-Watt Open Frame
- BEST POWER STATION: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000, 1002Wh
Types of Home Generators
Selecting the best home generator for power outages involves weighing the four different types available. 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.
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, the best portable home 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 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This home generator from Champion is as versatile as it is powerful. It can be fueled by gasoline to generate 7,500 watts of power or propane to generate 6,750 watts of power. It can provide continuous power for up to 10 hours on a full 7.7-gallon gasoline tank. With a 20-gallon propane tank, it can run for up to five and a half hours.
This Champion generator features an electric start to prevent struggling with a pull-cord, four 120V electrical outlets to satisfy your power demands and distribution of wattage, and two 30-amp outlets for larger appliances. It boasts a digital gauge that monitors the generator’s power output and engine run-time, in addition to tracking scheduled maintenance intervals.
It also provides an automatic low-oil shutoff to prevent premature engine damage. Finally, this generator includes two solid, never-flat tires and a folding handle for maximum portability. The disadvantages are that it’s fairly expensive and doesn’t offer a fuel gauge.
- Type: Home standby generator
- Power Source: Gas or propane-powered
- Wattage: 6,750-7,500 watts
- Runs for up to 10 hours
- Easy electric start
- Built-in digital gauge
- Automatic low-oil shut off
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.
- Type: Portable generator
- Power Source: Gas-powered
- Wattage: 7,000 watts
- Comes with multiple tools
- Easy electric start
- Wheels and collapsible handles
- Compact design
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 provide up to 16 hours of continuous power 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.
- Type: Portable generator
- Power Source: Gas-powered
- Wattage: 12,000 watts
- Runs for 16 hours
- Fuel gauge included
- Easy electric start; transfer switch included
- Comes with many outlets
- High fuel consumption (10.5-gallon tank)
This standby generator for home use is a must when the situation demands more power. It can run off natural gas or propane to generate 22,000 running watts. It can also be controlled and monitored through the “Standby Generator Management” smartphone app.
To keep this whole house generator protected from adverse weather conditions, this generator has an automotive-grade galvanneal steel construction to make it highly corrosion 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. Via Wi-Fi connectivity, the manufacturer’s InfoHub Wifi Wireless Monitoring permits monitoring of the generator from anywhere. However, a subscription to this feature is sold separately.
- Type: Home standby generator
- Power Source:Natural gas or propane-powered
- Wattage: 22,000 watts
- Very high power output
- Comes with app for monitoring
- Corrosion and weather resistant
- Weekly self-test feature
- May require professional help to install
- Subscription for monitoring sold separately
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 home backup 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 provide up to 12.5 hours of continuous power 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.
- Type: Home standby generator
- Power Source: Gas-powered
- Wattage: 5,000 watts
- Runs for 12.5 hours
- Quiet operation
- Comes with multiple outlets
- Weather-resistant storage cover sold separately
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 and air conditioners. 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.
- Type: Portable generator
- Power Source: Solar and electric
- Wattage: 1,000 watts
- Includes 2 foldable 100-watt solar panels
- Built-in carrying handles
- Comes with multiple outlets
- Digital display
- Not made for heavy-duty power output
If you are interested in a home standby generator, this Briggs & Stratton standby generator model is an effective, gas and propane-powered option with a fuel-efficient 7-gallon tank. With a high-power output of 6,750-7,500 watts, this pick has an easy electric start and runs for up to 10 hours. A built-in digital gauge also allows you to monitor your fuel consumption while the automatic low-oil shut off alerts you when you need refilling.
Alternatively, for those looking for a more budget-friendly unit, the DuraMax portable generator is a worthy alternative. Producing 7,000 running watts of power, this unit offers extended operating times thanks to its 7.9-gallon gasoline fuel tank. This compact generator comes with multiple accessories, wheels, and collapsible handles for the ultimate portability.
How We Chose the Best Home Generators
The right home generator can protect you from losing food in the fridge, regulate heat in your home, or power devices in the event of an extended power outage. Each of the above home generators was selected with power output, runtime, fuel/energy type, and special features in mind.
These generators each have a high power output of 1,000-22,000 watts with electrical charging, gas or propane, or even solar power. Many of these picks also have multiple outputs for phones, appliances, and even RVs. Runtimes of these selected generators are also very generous with some options being operational for up to 16 hours.
These home generators include unique features on top of their obvious practical use, with some picks including wheels, folding handles, weather-resistant constructions, easy electric starts, and even wifi connectivity for alterations and monitoring.
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.
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: Do I need a permit for a home generator?
Most municipalities and towns require that you have a permit before a home generator is installed. However, not all locations have this requirement. Check your local guidelines to ensure that you have a permit if required for your city.
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 home generators need oil?
Home generators require oil to operate properly without wearing out the moving parts. You should change the oil in a home generator about once every two years or after 200 hours of use.
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.
Q: Where should a whole house generator be located?
The exact placement in the yard depends on your personal preference, but most manufacturers recommend that the whole house generator is installed at least five feet from doors, windows, vents, and any flammable material. There may also be local regulations about the placement of a whole house generator, so make sure to check local guidelines to ensure that your whole house generator meets local building codes and installation guidelines.
Q: Can you plug a generator into a house outlet?
No. A generator should not be plugged into a house outlet because it is both dangerous and illegal in many locations. This is called backfeeding and it can severely damage the home’s electrical system or even cause a fire. Additionally, any technicians that are working on electrical lines on the same grid are at increased risk of electrocution.
Q: How do you hook up a generator to your house?
You can connect a generator to your home appliances using a series of individual extension cords or if you want direct power for entire circuits in the home, have a professional electrician install a transfer switch.
Q: How long does it take to install a whole house generator?
On average, it will take an experienced technician about one full day to complete the installation of your whole house generator.
Q: How long do whole house generators last?
The exact lifespan depends on the specific product, but in general the overall lifespan of a whole house generator is about 1,500 to 3,000 hours.