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The 5 Best Portable Generators (2021 Review)

The This Old House Reviews team evaluated the best portable generators on the market to help you make a smart purchase. The products included in this article are available at various home improvement stores, local home centers, and online retailers like Amazon.

DuroStar DS4000S Portable Generator Courtesy DuroStar

A power generator is an important item for emergency preparedness and those living in areas with frequent power outages. It’s also nice to have when camping or to run equipment for home improvement projects. However, purchasing a portable generator comes with a big price tag and it can be difficult to know which ones are really worth the investment.

The reviews team at This Old House evaluated a range of portable generators to help you find the best portable generator for your needs.

Best Overall: Westinghouse WGEN7500 Portable Generator

Westinghouse Generator

Specs

  • Peak Watts: 9,500
  • Weight: 192 pounds
  • Fuel Tank Size: 6.6 gallons
  • Run Time Per Tank: Up to 16 hours

Pros

  • Powerful 9,500-watt capacity
  • Large 6.6-gallon fuel capacity compared to other products reviewed
  • Convenient remote start allows you to operate from inside your home
  • 3-year warranty and lifetime support

Cons

  • Heavy, at almost 200 pounds
  • Some customers complained that it was hard to contact customer service

Best Value: DuroStar DS4000S Portable Generator

DuroStar Generator

Specs

  • Peak Watts: 4,000
  • Weight: 94 pounds
  • Fuel Tank Size: 4 gallon
  • Run Time Per Tank: Up to 8 hours

Pros

  • Best price for the power
  • Lightweight, at only 94 pounds
  • Camping and RV-ready: approved for use in all 50 states

Cons

  • Wheels aren’t included; optional wheel kit can be purchased
  • Shortest run time per tank than other products reviewed

#3: Generac 7680 GP6500 Portable Generator

Generac Generator

Specs

  • Peak Watts: 8,125
  • Weight: 177 pounds
  • Fuel Tank Size: 6.9 gallons
  • Run Time Per Tank: Up to 10.5 hours

Pros

  • Powerful, at 8,125 peak watts
  • Easy to use and assemble
  • Large capacity fuel tank

Cons

  • Heavy, at 177 pounds
  • Customers reported damaged products due to poor packaging and freight shipping

#4: Champion Power Equipment RV Ready Portable Generator

Champion Generator

Specs

  • Peak Watts: 4,375
  • Weight: 219 pounds
  • Fuel Tank Size: 6.1 gallons
  • Run Time Per Tank: Up to 12 hours

Pros

  • Remote start, and built-in Cold Start Technology for easy starts in cold weather
  • Low cost relative to other products reviewed
  • 3-year warranty and free lifetime support

Cons

  • On the noisier side of portable generators reviewed
  • Some customers complained that the machine was broken upon arrival

#5: Yamaha EF2000iSv2 Portable Inverter

Yamaha Generator

Specs

  • Peak Watts: 2,000
  • Weight: 44 pounds
  • Fuel Tank Size: 1.1 gallons
  • Run Time Per Tank: Up to 10.5 hours

Pros

  • Small size makes for easy portability
  • Long run-time of up to 10.5 hours

Cons

  • On the noisier side of portable generators reviewed
  • 1,600 running watts will power projects, but not an entire house

Buyer’s Guide

Before purchasing a portable generator it’s important to consider how its specifications and design impact its user experience and performance. Consider the following three factors before buying a portable generator.

Wattage

The wattage of a portable generator varies by model and refers to how much power it offers. A portable generator’s running watts, or the watts available to keep appliances and devices running, can range from 200 to 7,500. High-wattage models like the Westinghouse WGEN7500 Portable Generator offer around 7,500 watts and can power a few of your home’s essential appliances. Smaller generators offer around 200 watts, which is just enough to power small devices, such as phones and laptops.

Fuel

Most generators are either gas- or battery-powered. Gas-powered generators like the Generac 7680 GP6500 Portable Generator are high-powered models that can run major appliances in your home. However, because of their power, gas-powered portable generators are typically more expensive and louder than battery-powered models.

Battery-powered generators are low-power models that hold enough energy to charge small devices. Despite their low power, battery-powered generators produce minimal noise and are typically more affordable than gas-powered models.

Noise

The noise level of a portable generator is influenced by a number of factors, including its running wattage and power source. To help consumers better understand the noise level of a generator, some models list their running decibels (dBA). For example, the Westinghouse WGEN7500 Portable Generator runs at 72 dBA, which is similar to the sound of a running vacuum cleaner. Smaller models can run around 57 dBA, which is comparable to the sound of background music.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a portable generator work?

Portable generators are backup electrical sources for your home in the event that the power goes out. They can also be used to power tools or appliances within your home. Unlike standby generators, portable generators can be moved and manually started. They offer less power than their standby counterparts but are typically cheaper.

Usually, portable generators consist of these components:

  • Starter
  • Internal combustion engines
  • Alternator
  • Fuel tank
  • Power outlets

But how does it all work?

Simply put, the engine uses the fuel supplied by the tank, typically gasoline, diesel, or propane, to turn the alternator and produce energy as electricity, which is harnessed through the power outlets. As long as the components of your portable generator are functional and fuel is supplied, you’ll have access to electricity.

How much is a portable generator?

Most portable generators range from $300 to more than $1,000. Three of the five generators we considered are around $800. It’s difficult to find a cheap generator without compromising quality or reliability. Although it’s certainly an investment, a portable generator still costs less than a permanent one, which starts at $4,000.

How many watts does a generator need to power a house?

The total number of watts needed to power your home will vary with the amount of appliances and fixtures you have. To get a sense of the wattage needed to power your home, you’ll need to know the starting watts, or wattage needed to start a motor-driven item, for each appliance and fixture you wish to power.

For example, if you’re looking to power appliances with a combined starting wattage of 4,000, you’ll need a portable generator with a maximum output of at least 4,000 watts.

To help estimate your home’s wattage needs, we recommend using the U.S. Department of Energy’s appliance energy calculator.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews team at reviews@thisoldhousereviews.com.