are intended to provide temporary power when utility is not available. These devices are usually connected to the loads via extension cords, although a connection via an optional transfer switch is more convenient. They are often used in homes, on construction sites, farms, motor homes, recreation vehicles, and in camping trips. Most models are fueled from the on-board tank and therefore can't run for a long time without refueling. More expensive multi-fuel devices can be hooked up to a natural gas or propane line for longer operation. For more details, see our portable generator guide
. To save you hours of research and help you choose the best device for the job, I put up the rating chart below. It compares the characteristics and typical prices on some of the top rated brands. The chart is followed by my selection considerations.
models are the most popular short-term backup power devices. Many of them are relatively cheap, although after a hurricane or a major storm, discount online retailers like Amazon are often run out of stock, while third part sellers set exorbitant prices.
So, what portable generator is the best? A well-known consumer magazine in its recent review gave highest rating to Kohler PRO7.5E. In my view it is overpriced- you don't have to pay $1,500 for a 6.3kW device. Maybe that's why it did not get "best buy" rating. The latest "Best Buys" are the following three models: Troy-Bilt® XP7000 30477A
and Generac® GP5500 5939 and RS7000E
. These units are reasonably priced and have mostly positive users reviews. Among other models recommended by the consumer magazine are Briggs & Stratton 30549 and 03664, Westinghouse WH7500E, DeWalt DXGNR7000 and Honda EM6500SXK2. Note that Troy-Bilt® generators, which are sold at Lowe's, are actually made by Briggs & Stratton. Their XP7000 looks similar to B&S 30663. Previously top rated Predator 68530
is no longer among recommneded models even though it seems to be about 30% cheaper than the others (you have to pay some extra if you want a wheel kit).
It is using a Chinese-made engine, but nowadays many gensets are built in China anyway. Predator generators main issues are poor handling of surge load, high noise, and lack of hour meter.
The CR rating covered only gasoline-fueled portables and mainly those brands that are sold at hardware stores. Of course, if you need an emergency power immediately, a local store is your only option. Otherwise, when you buy online you can get broader selection, lower prices, and in some cases, no sales tax and free delivery. This store
for example offers two day shipping on many items as well as free store pickup. As for the fuel, the main drawback of all gasoline-fueled products is getting gas after a major disaster may be a problem. You will need to refill the fuel tank several times a day if you run it non-stop at rated load. Unfortunately, gasoline can't be stored for a long time and during a blackout gas may be unavailable. Therefore, such a generator may be a good solution only for short-term rolling blackouts or for camping trips. However, if you keep a genset for emergency backup, you should store a large amount of stabilized gasoline (say, 100-200 gallons for a week supply) and replace it at least every other year.
That's why I would go for LPG
(casually called propane). It can be stored practically indefinitely. Besides natural gas it is the only type of fuel that may be obtainable during power outages- you don't need electricity to refill the canister. If you need to energize just a few appliances or tools, I would consider dual fuel gas/propane-powered DuroMax XP4850EH
that sells below $600, which is less than many single-fuel brands on the U.S. market. When powered from a single BBQ tank, XP4850EH will provide run time greater than comparable gensets per tankful. For higher power there is a broad selection of other dual-fueled devices.
Note that practically all small gensets use 3600-RPM air cooled engines with relatively short product lives: about 500-1500 hours of use. When used occasionally in an emergency, they might remain operational for about 5 to 7 years. But if you are looking for a power source for frequent use (for example on job sites), you may want to consider a diesel
engine. Diesel generators of course cost more, but they have 2-3 times longer life than gas models. Diesel, likewise may not be available during a wide spread blackout, but it is safer to store.
If you prefer the convenience of portability and continuous power at extra cost, you might consider a tri-fuel device that can be hooked up to a natural gas line or a large propane tank. There is a number of such devices, but they are quite expensive. Alternatively, many gasoline-powered models can be converted to multi-fuel ones with a third party conversion kit that enables them to run on both LPG and diesel. This option may be less expensive than buying a tri-fuel model, but you will still have to deal with a light-duty gas engine and you will forfeit the warranty.
For more information also see this review
to portable power and my picks
of best small portable generators.
The characteristics in the chart are based on manufacturer's or seller's specifications available at the time we compiled this review. For permanent "whole house" backup power devices and transfer switches see our discount generators
Most listed models provide standard duplex outlets 120VAC 60 Hz (15 or 20 A) and a twist-lock 120/240VAC 30A outlet (except for 4000 watt models, which usually have only 120VAC). Other higher current outlets if offered may be listed in the "Features" column.
All data here are provided As Is
- no responsibility for any errors. The devices compared above represent only a fraction of all available models. For official datasheets you may contact the respective manufacturers.
All trademarks, trade names and service marks and are property of their respective owners.