Power outages are more than just an inconvenience; especially for vulnerable populations, they can be downright dangerous. You may be perfectly comfortable not using electronics for hours on end, but sometimes a generator is necessary to prevent food from going bad for days, to run medical devices, or to heat or cool the house during extreme temperatures. A power outage may leave you literally caught in the dark, but you can still be prepared by buying a portable generator now.
How to Choose and Use a Generator
While standby generators will power your whole home and automatically start once the power goes out, they’re expensive and require professional installation that’s probably unnecessary for the occasional power outage. The average homeowner will generally only require a portable generator, which can still power your major home appliances. Ranging from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars, these generators come with a wide variety of wattage levels. Consult our guide on how much wattage appliances use on average to determine the size generator you should get. Though the most powerful may weigh more than 200 pounds, others are under 50 for easier portability for you to take while camping or in your RV as well.
Don’t just buy a generator now and wait until the power goes out to learn how to use it safely. Most importantly, know that generators must always be used outdoors—the farther away from your home, the better—due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust. Our guide has four more safety tips you should learn before running your generator as well.
How We Selected These Generators
To select these 8 generators, we thoroughly evaluated each product and relied on previous Popular Mechanics coverage and testing of home and portable generators. We surveyed the market and took into account both user reviews and professional reviews from trusted publications such as Wirecutter, The Spruce, and Safety.com. We evaluated these generators based on ease of operation, power, value, and reliability to select the top performers.
Duromax XP12000EH 9500-Watt Portable Generator
9,500 watts | 18HP 457cc OHV Engine | 8.3 gallon tank | 74 dB | 260 lb.
With a maximum of 12,000 watts, this Duromax is one of the most powerful portable generators. Its dual-fuel capability allows it to run on propane or gas. A 20-pound propane tank at 50 percent max output will provide 20 hours of power, and gasoline at 50 percent will run for 10 hours. While it has a user-friendly electric start, recoil start is also optional. This generator’s heavy-duty metal frame will protect it when outside in stormy weather, and the power panel includes individual breakers for safety. Though it’s a heavy appliance, the solid-fill wheels will help you transport it around the house when necessary. All Duromax generators are also approved by both the EPA and CARB and have a three-year warranty.
Champion Dual-Fuel 3800-Watt Portable Generator
3800 watts | 224cc Champion 4-Stroke Engine | 3.4 gallon tank | 68 dB | 119 lb.
For $500, this generator is loaded with plenty of power and features to get you through a storm. It’ll run on propane for up to 10.5 hours or gas for up to 9 with a full tank. In addition to its easy push-button start, its cold-start technology improves its ability to start in cold weather, which is especially useful when the power goes out due to a snowstorm. Features such as its cast-iron sleeve for durability, built-in surge protection, oil sensors, folding handle for storage, and variety of outlets also make it a great buy.
Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator
7,500 watts | 420cc 4-Stroke OHV Engine | 6.6 gallon tank | 73 dB | 192 lb.
Though the Westinghouse doesn’t have propane fuel options, its gas power provides a good balance between the Duromax and Champion generators with 16 hours of run time at 25 percent load. The remote key fob will start it from up to 109 yards away, so you don’t have to go out into the storm to turn it on. It’s also constructed with a steel frame for added protection to the six-gallon tank. If you do want the added security of propane options, Westinghouse offers the 7500 model with dual fuel as well.
Wen 56200i 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
1600 watts | 79.7cc 4-stroke OHV engine | 51 dB | 48 lb.
No louder than a normal conversation, this Wen inverter generator is the quietest option on this list. With minimal harmonic distortion, it’s safe enough to use to power up laptops, phones, and other electronics, but with 1600 running watts, it also has enough power to last for six hours at 50 percent capacity during a power outage. If you need more power, a parallel connection kit sold separately allows you to connect multiple generators for more wattage. For when you don’t need as much juice, it also has an “Eco-Mode” that automatically adjusts its fuel use as you plug or unplug appliances in order to save gas. Because it weighs just under 50 pounds, it’s a portable generator that you can actually easily transport when camping as well.
Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station
1,428 watts | Lithium battery | 44 lb.
Though it won’t power your whole home, the Yeti 1400 backup battery can keep your phones, computers, and other electronics charged for days. At under 50 pounds, it’s a great option to take with you on backcountry trips, but it also has enough power to run appliances during a power outage, such as a refrigerator for a full day or 32-inch TV for 14 hours. While gas-operated generators require you to stock up on gas, the Yeti has a much longer shelf life since it can hold its charge for up to 10-12 months. With Goal Zero’s app, you can also check its battery level and even turn ports on and off. For those looking for an easy, exhaust-free alternative to gas power, the Yeti is a safe bet.
More Options to Consider
Honda EU2200i Portable Inverter Generator
2200 watts | 121cc GXR120 engine | .95 gallon tank | 57 dB | 47 lb.
Honda’s EU2200i portable generator strikes a great balance between power, noise, and weight. Its 2200 running watts can power it for up to four to nine hours on a single tank. Like the Wen, it’s light and easy to carry, though it provides more power—and produces a bit more noise as a result. It doesn’t have electric start, which we would expect for its price, but its recoil start is smoother than some alternatives.
Duromax XP4850EH 3580-Watt Portable Generator
3850 watts | 7HP 212cc OHV engine | 4 gallon tank | 69 dB | 127 lb.
This Duromax compares to the Champion generator in terms of its wattage, weight, noise level, and dual-fuel options—but costs just under $500. With propane at half load, it can run up to 9 hours, while gas will run up to 11, which is slightly longer than comparable models. While it’s also constructed out of metal, it lacks some user-friendly features that the Champion possesses like cold-weather start.
DuroStar DS4000S 3300-Watt Portable Generator
3,300 watts | 7HP 208cc OHV engine | 4 gallons | 69 dB | 105 lb.
Though its similar to the 3580-watt Duromax in terms of size and noise, the less expensive, gas-only DuroStar can run only up to 8 hours with its four-gallon tank. Though we think the propane-capability is worth the extra price for its longer shelf life, if you only need a mid-grade, gas-powered generator, this DuroStar is the most affordable and reliable.
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