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.
So, what portable generator is the best? Gasoline
models are the most popular short-term backup power devices. Many of them are relatively cheap, although after hurricane Sandy prices on most models have spiked and many were out of stock. A well-known consumer magazine in its recent review rated "Best Buy" the following four models: Troy-Bilt® XP7000 30477, Briggs & Stratton 30470, Generac® GP5500 5939 and RS7000E
, and Predator 68530
. These units are reasonably priced and have mostly positive users reviews. Note that Troy-Bilt® XP7000 30477 which is sold at Lowe's, is actually made by Briggs & Stratton. This 7000 watt part looks similar to their 30470-0, which is currently replaced by a newer 30663.
seems to be about 30% cheaper than the others, but you have to pay extra if you want a wheel kit. It is using a Chinese-made engine, but nowadays many gensets are built in China anyway. Something CR did not mention was Harbor Freight also carries #68525, which costs about the same as 68530, but is CARB compliant and can be sold in CA.
In its past review, the consumer magazine also recommended Ridgid 34348 (RD906812)
, which is over-priced.
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, buying online have a number of potential advantages, such as broader selection, lower prices, and in some cases, no sales tax and even free delivery. 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 propane-powered Sportsman GEN4000LP
that sells for less than many brands on the U.S. market (see the comparison chart above). When powered from a single BBQ tank, GEN4000LP will provide about the same run time as comparable small gensets per tankful. For higher power there is a broad selection of other propane-fueled
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 multi-fuel device that can be hooked up to a natural gas line or a large propane tank. The tri-fuel Northstar 8000 TFG
used to be quite popular and had good users reviews. A few years ago Northern Tool + Equipment who made this device, has discontinued it. Right now there is a number of other multi-fuel generators
, such as a relatively inexpensive Powerland 8.5/7.0 kW model PD3G8500E
. Alternatively, many gasoline-powered models can be converted to multi-fuel ones with a third party conversion kit that enables them to run on 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.
For more information see this review
to portable power and my picks
of best portable generators.
The characteristics in the chart are based on manufacturer's or seller's specifications available at the time we compiled this review. The prices are given for the same period of time (shipping is not included, but may be free in many cases). Of course, prices and specs are subject to change without notice. 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 have only 120VAC). Other higher current twist-lock outlets if offered may be listed in the "Features" column.
N/a means data "not available" (i.e. we could not find this information).
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.