Generac GP5500
Generac GP5500

Best home portable generator

With 5,500 watts -- and 6,875 watts of peak power -- the Generac GP5500 is capable of starting and running almost anything when the power goes out, including sump pumps, multiple appliances and consumer electronics. The user-friendly design includes conveniences like a fuel gauge, dipstick and easy-fill oil opening, and reviews say it reliably starts with one or two pulls.
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Yamaha EF2000iS
Yamaha EF2000iS

Best inverter portable generator

The Yamaha EF2000iS can't power an entire house full of appliances, but owners say it's perfect for tailgating, camping or running a couple of small appliances in an emergency. Its 500-hour emission compliance lifetime is outstanding, and you can connect two together for extra power. The Yamaha is quiet, fuel-efficient and easy to carry, with surge-free wattage that's safe for electronics.
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Champion 42436
Champion 42436

Best cheap portable generator

The Champion 42436 can power basic amenities -- with 1,200 continuous watts and 1,500 peak watts -- at a fraction of the price of larger portable generators. With convenient features like a fuel gauge, low-oil shutdown and CARB-compliant emissions, the 42436 is an excellent value. Champion's two-year limited warranty is longer than many models in this price range.
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Generac LP3250
Generac LP3250

Best propane portable generator

Owners say the Generac LP3250 portable generator can run most essentials in a small house, with up to 3,750 watts in peak power. It's relatively quiet, lightweight and easy to maneuver, and refueling is as simple as swapping propane tanks. Similar to gasoline-powered generators, Generac protects the generator with circuit breakers, covered outlets and low-oil level shutdown.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Running a sump pump or just turning on a lamp -- there's a generator for that!

Portable generators provide electricity when you're off the grid, or when the grid goes offline. As you consider your wattage needs, it's helpful to know that portable generators more or less fall into three size groups:

750 to 3,500 watts. These generators are small enough to carry onto a boat or to a campsite. At the top end, they can keep a few appliances running simultaneously during a power outage, including a refrigerator, several lights, and a computer or TV. For electronics, the safest bet is an inverter generator, which maintains consistent power and prevents electrical surges that can damage computers and televisions.

4,000 to 8,000 watts. Generators of this size provide enough power for extended emergency use for a 1,200- to 3,000-square-foot house. The exact size needed will depend on how many appliances you think are essential to run simultaneously.

10,000 to 17,500 watts. These generators are large enough to provide backup power to larger homes.

Manufacturers list two wattage levels for each portable generator: Running or continuous wattage, sometimes called rated wattage, is how much power the generator continually produces. Peak wattage, also called maximum or starting wattage, is a measure of how much peak electricity your generator can provide to get large appliances and other power-hungry devices started while still running everything else that's plugged in. In this report, we cite the continuous wattage unless otherwise specified.

Not all portable generators produce surge-free power. A few portable generators have voltage regulators or inverters that make their energy "clean" enough to power delicate, expensive electronics like your computer or flat-screen TV. In other words, the generator offers a consistent, surge-free supply of electricity. Generators that lack regulators or inverters may produce occasional power surges that could damage electronics.

If you live in California, you'll need a generator that complies with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations. You don't have to purchase CARB-compliant generators if you live in other states, but they do produce lower emissions.

Portable generators don't switch on automatically. You must wheel or carry them out of storage, make sure they're fueled, and start them manually. All portable models have a recoil or pull-cord starter, just like on most lawn mowers. Some also have a push-button electronic starter that's powered by a small, internal battery. An electric ignition won't work if the battery goes dead, but you always have the pull cord as backup.

The portable generators we evaluate range from a 44-pound model that's small enough to carry by hand to wheeled models that weigh nearly 400 pounds. While a portable generator's mechanical components come fully assembled, you must attach the wheels and handles yourself. For the largest generators this may require a floor jack, although some owners use levers or recruit strong friends to help them move the parts into position.

Portable generators typically come with one to three years of warranty coverage, but many owners warn that a warranty won't do you any good if the manufacturer never responds to your concerns. Complaints about poor customer and warranty service are particularly common with Generac models.

In addition, many owners of all brands dislike having to take their generator to a designated service center for warranty service. If you purchase a large generator, transporting it to and from the service center can pose a major logistical challenge.

Portable generators have their own jargon. Portable generators typically have two or more electrical outlets, and the better ones will have different types. You'll see these figures on many portable generator spec sheets. Most electronics and kitchen appliances plug into standard 120-volt outlets, the kind you'd see in any house. These are rated either 5-20R or 5-15R. Larger appliances, such as clothes dryers and big window air conditioner units, require a 240-volt outlet. These are sometimes called twist-lock outlets.

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, available on some high-end generators, offer an extra layer of protection against electrocution by continuously monitoring power flow through the outlet. In the event of a ground fault -- basically, you getting electrocuted -- they're designed to cut power to that outlet in a fraction of a second.

A few of the generators we evaluate can produce DC current in addition to their AC output. The most common household use for DC current is charging automobile or RV batteries.

ConsumerSearch editors evaluated dozens of expert and owner reviews for every type of generator sold. From there, we narrowed it down to the models with the top reviews for features, performance and ease of use. Price was a consideration as well, and we found a couple of top generators that you can get at a great price. One of these will be sure to keep your power on as long as you need it.

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