A generator is a remarkably versatile device. It can give you emergency electricity at home in the event of a blackout, run power tools on the job site, and deliver affordable energy for necessities (and little luxuries) when you’re camping or RVing.
But generators can be large—and loud. Inverter generators, which use a computer-controlled inverter to provide usable power, have solved some of these problems. They’re more compact, with small, efficient motors and more advanced mufflers. They’re also more intelligent. While a traditional generator runs at the same speed (and therefore loudness) all the time, an inverter generator can self-regulate, slowing itself down when demands are lower. The power delivery is more consistent, so there’s no danger of surges damaging sensitive electronics like laptops. They tend to be more fuel efficient, too.
Inverter models have become extremely popular, but unfortunately, some don’t live up to the hype. If you’re not familiar with the technical aspects, it can be difficult to pick the best quiet generator from the wide variety of available products. The following recommendations will help clarify their capabilities, so you can be confident in making the right choice.
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Even the best quiet generators are primarily for portable power. Those in the 1,000- to 1,600- watt range are great for camping and job site use, but not for home backup. For that you need a minimum 2,000 watts (which will run an oven or large refrigerator) although you’ll want 3,000 watts plus to run several items concurrently. Every electrical device has a label with the watts rating on it.
The widely accepted standard for quiet generators is that they not exceed 60 decibels, or roughly the same volume as two people having a normal conversation, at 25 percent output. User-friendliness is another key factor, as is the manufacturer’s reputation for reliability and durability—essential when you’re relying on a device for consistent power delivery.
Generators have two ratings: one for startup watts (most electrical devices produce an initial surge) and one for running watts. The latter is usually significantly lower—a drop of as much as 25 percent in real-world performance—but the efficiency of the Honda unit is underlined by a mere 10 percent difference. That makes the EU3000iS with its 2800 running wattage equally useful at home or on the go.
It runs at between 49 and 58 decibels, which is quiet enough for campsite use. You’ll get anywhere from seven hours to as much as 20 hours on one tank of gas. Starting is easy, and the motor has both overload protection and low oil alert. There’s no dedicated USB port, but you can always run the required charger off one of the 120V household sockets.
If you’re looking for quiet power on the go but don’t care to spend a fortune, consider this portable inverter generator from A-iPower. For a low-cost quiet generator, it’s certainly not under-specified. With two 120V outlets and a 5V USB port, this generator produces clean, safe, quiet power for computers, tablets, and other personal electronics. A low-idle mode reduces fuel consumption, and there are the usual overload and low oil alerts.
With a start-up rating of 2000 watts, the A-ipower’s true running figure is 1600 watts. That’s perhaps less than you’d want for home backup, but it’s more than acceptable for powering personal devices on a camping trip. At 50 pounds it’s not particularly heavy, and at 58 decibels it won’t drown out your campfire conversations.
Many inverter generators are great for mobile power but struggle with home backup or RV use, where traditional models dominate. With a running output of 3700 watts, the Briggs & Stratton P4500 offers a cleaner, quieter alternative. At 61 decibels it’s a bit louder than some other inverter generators, but it still meets most camping and residential restrictions.
As you might expect, there are numerous outlets, including four 120V/20A, a dedicated 30A RV supply, and two USB ports. Smart technology means the motor adjusts to demands, and a carbon monoxide detector shuts the generator off if concentrations get dangerously high in an enclosed area.
Electric start makes the Briggs & Stratton easy to live with, and there’s an LCD readout for important functions.
The Westinghouse 1000 watt iGen1200 is a fine example of a low-cost portable inverter generator for those with modest demands. In addition to its minimal weight, a 52 decibel sound level makes this portable generator among the quietest in its class.
You wouldn’t expect electronic ignition on a budget generator like this, but the 54 cubic centimeter motor is a breeze to start anyway. The 0.8-gallon tank gives enough fuel to run for up to nine hours, and its low emissions make it CARB (California Air Resources Board) compliant—the most stringent standard in the U.S.
Despite its compact size, the Westinghouse is not short of outlets, with two 120V/20A household sockets and two USBs that provide a clean, consistent power supply to your electronic gadgets. Low oil and overload warnings are also provided.
Although today’s modern quiet generators are much less intimidating than older equipment, their operation isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. For users who choose this portable inverter generator from Generac, that’s not the case.
Push-button starting means generating power couldn’t be easier, and a multifunction LCD screen shares information on the generator’s fuel level, watts output, and—particularly useful—the run time remaining before refueling. This generator includes two standard household main outlets, an RV connection, and two USB ports.
At 109 pounds it’s no lightweight, but at 3000 watts running power, it’s a small price to pay for the performance and versatility it offers. Generac doesn’t publish decibel levels for its portable generators, but it does promise to run 40 percent more quietly than its Honda competitors.
The introduction of clean air legislation started in California in the late 1960s, and CARB standards have now been adopted in 16 states. Basically, if a manufacturer’s machinery doesn’t comply—and many high-performance generators do not—they cannot be sold in those regions.
The competitively priced WEN is CARB and EPA compliant while providing an impressive 1800 watts of running output. It’s a very quiet generator at only 53 decibels, and it weighs just 48.5 pounds. There are also two 120V household outlets, one 12V DC outlet, one USB, and the usual overload and oil pressure warning lights.
With its 3100 running watts, low-volume 59 decibel motor, and easy electric starting, the Champion inverter generator is already an impressive piece of equipment. Dual fuel capability adds a whole new level of convenience. Don’t like to carry spare gas cans around? Use a standard 20-pound propane tank instead. Switching is simple—just toggle from one fuel symbol to the other.
Designated as RV-ready—meaning it has sufficient power for your RV’s air conditioner—there’s also a pair of 120V household sockets and a 12V DC outlet that can charge your vehicle battery. It will also run dual USBs via the adapter provided. There are the usual low oil and overload warnings and an economy mode to maximize fuel efficiency. The Champion will run for up to 7.5 hours on gas or 14.5 hours from a 20-pound propane tank.
While a generator with the flexibility to cope with changing power demands isn’t uncommon, few match the P2200’s durability and quiet, reliable performance.
The standout feature with the P2200 is that by using a cable (sold separately) you can attach another compatible model, thus doubling the power available. You double the outlets, too. This allows you to start with a single, relatively affordable unit and add extra if your needs increase—and possibly for less money than if you bought a 3400W model at the outset.
The P2200 offers 1700 running watts and is rated at 59 decibels. It’s not the lightest at 55 pounds, but the clever H-handle allows two people to carry it. Two 120V household sockets and a 12V DC outlet that doubles as two USB ports offer plenty of versatility.