Buying a portable generator is confusing. What kind of generator do you need for a tailgate party or a power outage? Is it worth getting a portable generator that can run on propane? What are the sockets for, and what is a “pure sine wave” inverter? This guide will help you pick which features you need and make sure you have enough capacity to power what you want. We even picked and reviewed some of our favorite portable generators, so you can save time comparison shopping.
- 1Generac 76711 GP1200i Portable Inverter Generator -1200 Watt
- 2Westinghouse iGen2200 Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator - 2200 Watt
- 3Honda 662220 EU2200i Portable Inverter Generator - 2200 Watt
- 4WEN 56380i Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator - 3800-Watt
- 5Champion Power Equipment 76533 Dual Fuel Portable Generator - 4750 Watt
- 6Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator - 7500 Watt
- 7Champion 100296 Dual Fuel Portable Generator - 7500 Watt
- 8DuroMax XP8500EH Dual Fuel Portable Generator - 8500 Watt
- 9WEN DF1100T 120V/240V Dual Fuel Portable Generator - 11000 Watt
- 10DuroMax XP13000E Gas Powered Portable Generator - 13000 Watt
- 11Jackery Solar Generator 1000 - 2000 Watt
Great Portable Generators for Every Use
Confused by the wide range of portable generators on the market? After looking at units from a wide range of generator brands and pouring over both professional and owner generator reviews and ratings, we’ve paired down current offerings to 10 great options for gas and dual fuel portable generators for every use. Trying to decide between internal combustion and solar? We also included one battery-powered alternative you should consider. If you want more information of what to look for in a portable generator for check out our buying guide below.
1. Generac 76711 GP1200i 1200 Watt Portable Inverter Generator
The smallest generators on the market are usually noisy two-strokes that have just one power socket. However, the Generac 76711 takes a different approach. It uses a fully-enclosed chassis, like those commonly found on 2,000 watt generators, and it has an inverter.
While this portable generator is small, its 54cc engine is a four stroke. That means you don’t need to worry about mixing oil and gas, and it has no problem meeting CARB pollution regulations. Fuel efficiency is good, too. The gas tank only holds 0.8 gallons, but it should be enough to keep the 76711 running for 5.5 hours at 50% load. Like larger generators, this unit has an eco throttle, automatically adjusting engine speed to match current load, reducing noise and fuel consumption. Generac doesn’t publish noise measurements, but the 76711 should be very quiet.
The 120 volt outlets use 5-15R sockets, the same type you find in most homes. They can’t handle as much current as the 5-20R sockets usually found on portable generators, but that isn’t a problem with just 1,200 watts on tap. There are also two USB ports on this machine. One is a fast charging 2.1 amp socket, while the other can only handle 1 amp. Since this generator has an inverter, it’s safe to use either DC or AC outlets with your electronic devices. Rubber covers protect the sockets from moisture when not in use. The 76711 isn’t parallel capable, so you can’t pair it with a second portable generator for additional power.
The Generac 76711 measures 18.5 x 10.2 x 15.7 inches, and weighs just 33 lbs.
This generator is covered by a one year warranty on both parts and labor, while parts are covered for two years. Commercial users are covered for one year or 1,000 hours of operation, whichever comes first.
2. Westinghouse iGen2200 Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator
The 2,000 watt class generator is one of the largest, most competitive segments on the market. Westinghouse’s entry has all the features you expect, including a fully enclosed chassis for low noise. Where it shines is in the details. Like their other portable generators, the iGen2200 has a few features that may make it a better fit for your needs.
Most power from the iGen2200 is accessed via two 5-20R 120 volt sockets. This is one of the few models in this class to include USB ports. One is a fast charging 2.1 amp socket, while the other is limited to 1 amp. Since this generator has an inverter, it’s safe to use any socket to power or charge your electronic devices. Rubber covers protect the sockets from moisture when not in use. Along with low oil and overload lights, there’s a light that lets you know when the engine has warmed up and is ready to provide power.
The iGEN2200 portable generator can be connected to another generator with Westinghouse’s WHPC cable. This cable has a built-in TT-30R outlet for connecting to RVs and travel trailers for shore power. This parallel connection lets you pair any combination of WH2200iXLT, iGen1200, iGen2200 or iGen2500 portable generators.
This generator makes 52 dB of noise at 25% load. Expect noise levels to be in the high 50s at 50% load, which is the measurement used by most generator manufacturers. While quiet, it can’t compare to the best insulated portable generators in this class. Likewise, Westinghouse says 1.2 gallon gas tank will keep the iGen2200 running for 12 hours at 25% load. Expect a run time closer to 8-10 hours at 50% load, which is still good for this segment.
The iGen2200 portable generator measures 19.8 x 11.4 x 17.9 inches and weighs 46 lbs.
This generator comes with a 3 year warranty for residential owners, while commercial owners are covered for one year.
3. Honda 662220 EU2200i 2200 Watt Portable Inverter Generator
Honda didn’t just create the portable enclosed generator segment: their models remain the most desired in their class, thanks to their reputation for reliability. The EU2200i is a recent update, which adds more power and features. However, it also has some quirks.
This portable generator has a pair of 5-20R 120 volt outlets. There’s also a T-shaped 12 volt terminal on the front panel. To use this connector to charge batteries, you need a proprietary cable that isn’t packaged with the EU2200i. This generator has an inverter, so it’s safe to use it with your electronic devices.
This Honda supports parallel connections, but in a strange way. If you want to use two of these portable generators to provide quiet shore power for your RV, you have to pair the standard EU2200i with the EU2200i Companion. This generator replaces one of the 5-20R sockets with an L5-30R socket that only works when the parallel connection is in use.
This portable generator is powered by a Honda GX Series engine. These engines are a staple of commercial power equipment, thanks to their unfailing reliability. If you depend on your generator, and use it constantly, this alone is enough reason to choose the EU2200i over cheaper competitors. The 0.95 gallon fuel tank will only keep the engine running for 3.2 hours at 50% load, or 8.1 hours at 25% load. However, it makes just 57 dB of noise under 50% load, and 48 dB under 25% load. This makes it the quietest generator you can buy in this class.
If you’re concerned about safety, there’s another reason to buy the EU2200i: Co-Minder. This carbon monoxide detection system shuts off the engine automatically if CO levels get dangerously high.
This portable inverter generator measures 16 x 20 x 11 inches and weighs 46.5 lbs.
Honda offers a 3 year warranty for residential and commercial owners on this generator.
4. WEN 56380i Super Quiet 3800-Watt Portable Inverter Generator
The WEN 56380i portable generator is a great choice, if you want to power your RV without disturbing your neighbors. Its fully enclosed design keeps noise to a minimum, and its array of sockets are great for powering outdoor appliances and electronics.
The 56380i has a TT-30R outlet for RV shore power, and a pair of 5-20R outlets for powering household appliances directly from the generator. There’s also a 12 volt DC outlet and a single USB Type A port for recharging electronics. This generator has an inverter, so it’s safe for all appliances. WEN’s parallel kit has built-in TT-30 and L5-30 outlets, giving you more options for shore power, if you link together two of these portable generators.
The front panel has a digital display that shows the generator’s output in voltage and watts, as well as total run time. This display also has bar gauges showing fuel level and electrical load. The 56380i has an electric starter, while turning the engine off shuts off the fuel supply, instead of cutting the ignition. This lets the engine burn off any fuel remaining in the carburetor, which helps avoid problems with stale fuel gumming up the carburetor jets.
This fully enclosed portable generator makes 57 dB of noise at 25% load, so it’s about as loud as a pair of 2,000 watt generators, while providing the same amount of power. The 2.2 gallon fuel tank will keep the engine running for 8.5 hours at 50% load.
This generator measures 23.2 x 18 x 20.1 inches, and weighs 110.8 lbs. Wheels and a folding handle come pre-installed.
The 56380i comes with a warranty that covers two years or 500 operating hours of residential use, and 90 days of commercial use.
5. Champion Power Equipment 76533 4750/3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Electric Start Generator
The Champion 76533 portable generator is a good option, if you want an inexpensive generator with the power to keep your RV’s air conditioner and refrigerator running. Since it can use both gasoline and propane, this generator is a great choice for occasional use. Propane doesn’t degrade like gas, so you don’t need to worry about stale fuel and clogged carburetor jets, if you stick to LPG.
The 76533 has TT-30R and L5-30R sockets, making it easy to connect to most RVs for shore power. It also has a pair of 5-20R outlets for powering household appliances. This generator does not support parallel connections.
The 76533 has an electric starter with a recoil start backup. However, the recoil starter only works with propane. A digital gauge on the front panel shows output volts and frequency, as well as total operating hours. Champion suggests using this generator to power TVs, computers and other electronics. However, this is a bad idea, since it doesn’t have an inverter to regulate electricity.
Fill up the 3.4 gallon gas tank, and this generator will run for 10.5 hours at 50% load. Connect it to a 20 lb. propane tank, and you can expect a run time of 9 hours at 50% load. This generator makes 68 dB of noise at half load, measured from 23 feet away.
The 76533 portable generator measures 26.3 x 24.8 x 22.9 inches, and weighs 122 lbs. This generator comes with wheels and a folding handle, making it easy to move around. Champion offers a 3 year warranty on this generator for residential users, and a 270 day warranty for commercial users. This generator also comes with lifetime technical support.
6. Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator
The Westinghouse WGen7500 portable generator doesn’t just have the power for work, RV and home backup power. It also has features that make it more convenient to use than other portable generators in this size class.
The L14-30R socket provides either 120 or 240 volt power, so you can use this generator to power the largest RV air conditioners. Four 5-20R sockets let you access electricity directly for appliances. These sockets have GFCI circuit breakers, which cut power if there’s a short. This makes the WGen7500 a safer way to access power outdoors in moist environments. There are also rubber covers on these outlets, which protect them from exposure to water and dirt when not in use. This generator doesn’t have an inverter, so you should avoid using it to power electronic devices. A digital display shows the current voltage and frequency, as well as the total run time. It also has a low oil shutoff, but there’s no warning light for this function on the display.
The WGen7500 makes it convenient to set up home backup power. It’s smart switch ready, so it can turn on automatically when the power goes out. It also has a remote start function, which can be activated using the included key fob. This generator also supports Westinghouse’s ST switch, which lets you connect appliances directly for backup power. It plugs into an unused outlet, monitoring power. When the grid goes down, it switches on the generator, powering anything connected to the ST’s switch box.
The 7500’s 6.6 gallon fuel tank can keep the engine running for 11 hours at 50% load. At half power, this generator makes 72 dB of noise.
The WGen7500 measures 27.2 x 26.1 x 26 inches, and weighs 192 lbs. Wheels and a folding handle are included.
Westinghouse guarantees this portable generator for three years of residential use, or one year of commercial use.
7. Champion 100165 7500-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator
This portable generator is a great solution if you’re looking for a combination of RV shore power and outdoor power. By combining high capacity sockets and GFCI household outlets, you can keep your rig powered and use appliances while you relax outdoors. That added protection also makes it a good choice if you need power for your work site equipment.
Running on gasoline, this portable generator has a maximum output of 9,375 watts of peak power and 7,500 watts of sustained power. Switch to propane, and output drops to 8,400 watts of peak power and 6,750 watts of sustained power. An electric starter comes standard, but the battery isn’t directly charged by the engine. Instead, flipping a switch connects it to the generator for fast recharging. This portable generator is not CARB certified.
With a full gas tank, the #100165 has a runtime of 8 hours at 50% load. When connected to a 20 lb. propane tank, it can run up to 5.5 hours at 50% load. It makes 74 dB of noise at at 20 feet.
If you need to power a TV or computer, look elsewhere. While this portable generator has a voltage regulator, it does not have a pure sine wave inverter. Champion’s “Intelligauge” digital display lets you see the current output voltage, current frequency and hours of operation.
This generator weighs just over 200 lbs. It comes with a folding handle and flat-free wheels, making it easy to move short distances.
Champion guarantees this portable generator for three years of residential use and 270 days (about 9 months) of commercial use.
8. DuroMax XP8500EH Dual Fuel Portable Generator
The DuroMax XP8500EH portable generator has a good mix of features for worksite, RV and home backup power. This dual fuel generator gives you a choice of using gasoline for maximum power, or propane to reduce operating costs and avoid problems with stale fuel.
The L14-30R socket can provide either 120 or 240 volt power. This lets you use the XP8500EH to power large RV air conditioners. It also has four household 120 volt outlets with GFCI protection. The circuit breakers connected to these sockets trip if there’s a short, making it safer to power appliances in moist outdoor environments. There are also two USB Type A ports and a 12 volt DC automotive socket. However, since the XP8500 doesn’t have an inverter, you shouldn’t use these or any other sockets for powering or charging electronics.
The 7.9 gallon gas tank can keep the engine running for 11 ½ hours at 50% load. Run this generator off of a 40 lb. propane tank, and you can expect it to run for 8 hours at 50% load. Under these conditions, the XP8500EH makes 72 dB of noise. A digital display lets you monitor voltage and frequency, as well as the total run time on the generator. This makes it easy to diagnose problems and keep track of maintenance.
The DuroMax XP8500EH portable generator measures 32 x 22 x 22 inches and weighs a hefty 220 lbs. A wheel and handle kit is included, so you can roll this generator to wherever you need it.
Residential use of this generator is covered by 3 year warranty. Commercial use is covered by a one year warranty.
9. WEN DF1100T 11,000-Watt 120V/240V Dual Fuel Portable Generator with Wheel Kit and Electric Start
The DF1100T is on the opposite spectrum from the 56105. This is one of the most powerful portable generators on the market, and its protected outlets and dual fuel design make it a practical solution for high demand uses including construction site power, home backup or RV power.
This dual fuel generator produces up to 11,000 watts of surge power and 8,300 watts of running power on gasoline. A 6.6 gallon fuel tank keeps the engine running at 50% load for up to 8.5 hours. Switch to propane, and power drops to 9,500 watts of peak power and 7,500 watts of running power. Runtime varies depending on the size of tank you use. A 47 inch hose is included, so you should have no trouble hooking up either a 20 or 40 lb. tank. This portable generator is CARB approved, and it comes with an electric starter.
The inverter doesn’t have a pure sine wave output, so you should avoid using electronics with this portable generator. That said, it offers a range of options for connection to appliances, homes and RVs:
A ground connector is included for compliance with OSHA regulations.
The “Multi-Meter” digital display shows current voltage, current frequency in Hz, total operating time, and operating time since the engine was started. This makes it easy to keep track of maintenance, find output problems, and estimate how long the generator will run before being refueled.
WEN includes a “wheel kit” with the DF1100T. This just means you’ll have to bolt on the handle and wheels yourself after you pull the generator out of the box.
WEN guarantees this portable generator for two years of residential use, or 90 days of commercial use.
10. DuroMax XP13000E Gas Powered Portable Generator
Can’t get enough power? The DuroMax XP13000E makes 13,000 watts of peak power, so it can handle the most demanding uses, including shore power for large RVs, remote workshops and home backup power. Unlike most portable generators in this class, it uses a hybrid design, combining and open frame with insulating panels to cut down on noise.
Thanks to its 14-50R, L14-30R and TT-30R sockets, and the option of 120 or 240 volt power, this generator will work with any RV shore power system. This selection of outlets, along with the two GFCI-protected household sockets, make it a great choice for powering outdoor equipment. It also has more than enough power for home backup. However, since it doesn’t have an inverter, this portable generator may damage electronics. The 12 volt DC outlet should only be used for charging batteries. The XP13000E has an electric start with a pull start backup.
The front panel has a digital display that shows the current voltage and frequency of the electricity coming from the outlets. It also lets you keep track of the generator’s run time, so you can stay on top of maintenance. The panel also has lights indicating low oil and battery charging. When you buy this generator you get everything you need for maintenance, including a tool kit with an oil funnel and a spark plug wrench.
The XP13000E’s 8.3 gallon fuel tank can keep this generator running for up to 8 ½ hours at 50% load. It makes 74 dB of noise under 50% load, which is quiet for a generator this size.
The XP13000E portable generator measures 30 x 29 x 26 inches, and weighs 227 lbs. Wheels and a pair of long folding handles are included, so this generator can be rolled around.
Residential use of this generator is covered by 3 year warranty. Commercial use is covered by a one year warranty.
11. Jackery Solar Generator 1000
Do you need electricity away from the grid, but don’t want the hassle of an internal combustion engine? The Jackery Solar Generator comes with a power station and solar panels, giving you a complete emissions-free solution for power generation. Since it doesn’t burn fuel, it can be used anywhere, including areas with fire bans. It’s also safer and easier to set up than gas and propane generators.
The Jackery 1000 comes with three household outlets, a 12 volt DC socket, and four USB sockets. The 1000 uses a pure sine wave inverter, so the power is identical to what you get from a household outlet. Without this feature, this station wouldn’t be able to power electric motors. Since you don’t need to worry about carbon monoxide, you can skip the extension cords and plug appliances directly into this device. In fact, you can even use it indoors.
The solar power connection can handle enough power to fully charge the battery in as little as 5 hours. However, using the two 100 watt SolarSaga panels included with this package, you can expect an 80% charge in 8.5 hours. This generator also supports direct charging. From a household outlet, it can reach 80% capacity in 11.5 hours. While this station can be used while charging, Jackery says this will reduce battery life. A digital display shows the current state of charge, as well as input and output watts.
The power station measures 13.1 x 9.2 x 11.1 inches and weighs 22 lbs. Each SolarSaga panel measures 22.9 x 19.7 x 2.4 inches when folded, and weighs 10 lbs.
Both the power station and solar panels are covered by a two year warranty.
Generator Buying Guide
If you’re new to portable generators, their features can be confusing. Is peak power important? What are the sockets for? Do you need a separate ground? Here’s a breakdown of these features and what they’ll mean to you.
Generators have two ratings: peak power and continuous power.
Continuous power is the amount of power the generator can make the entire time it’s while running. You should choose a portable generator that has a continuous rating that is higher than the total power draw of all the devices you plan on powering. Choosing a model with extra capacity also lets the engine run at lower speeds, making it quieter.
Peak power is the maximum power the generator can produce in a short period of time. This lets it handle spikes from reactive loads. These loads come from electric motors and some types of electronics that require more power to turn on than they use while running. Power tools usually need an extra 70% of their sustained power to start, while compressors in refrigerators and freezers may need as much as three times their sustained power to start. Generators are almost always named after their peak power output.
When calculating the peak power you need, a good rule of thumb is to add together the sustained power needed by all of your appliances, plus the reactive load for your highest demand device. It’s unlikely that you’ll have two reactive loads simultaneously, overloading the generator.
Electric vs. Recoil Start
A recoil starter is a ratcheting mechanism connected to the engine’s crankshaft. As you pull the starter cord, the mechanism spins the engine, then releases. This is the same type of starter used on lawn mowers. Improvements including automatic chokes and decompression cams make these easier to start than older motors. Unless you’re using the generator in extreme cold, most engines will fire up with one or two pulls.
Large generators have an electric starter powered by a small 12 volt battery, just like the engines used in riding lawn mowers. This makes starting easy, but it isn't foolproof. It can take several hours for the engine to recharge the starter battery after use, and the battery will lose charge while in storage. For this reason, these batteries should be kept on a trickle charger when not in use. All electric starter generators come with a backup recoil starter, so you can still get the engine running when the battery is bad.
Generators are powered by the same engines used in walk-behind and riding mowers, and that means they can be loud. To manage noise, manufactures add larger mufflers, and some models cover the engine in a plastic enclosure.
The decibel scale is logarithmic: every 10 dB represents a doubling in loudness. Here are some examples of common sounds and their dB rating:
60-65 dB : A normal conversation
70 dB : Dishwasher
75 dB : Flushing toilet
80 dB : Alarm clock
85 dB : Inside a car at highway speeds
90 dB : Lawn mower
95 dB : Belt sander
Noise levels vary widely depending on design. You can expect the quietest enclosed generators to 60 dB of noise at 20 feet, while the largest open frame generators can reach 95 dB. Repeated exposure to sounds over 85 dB can cause hearing damage.
When comparing portable generators, be sure to look at how noise is measured: noise ratings using readings from 10 or 20 feet away will be much lower than measurements at the generator. It makes sense to measure noise this way since you’ll be using the generator at a distance, connecting appliances and wiring systems to the sockets with extension cables.
When you shop for portable generators, you’ll see outlets labeled using their National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) names. Here’s what each of these outlets looks like, and how they are used.
An L14 or 14-50R outlet has 4 wire connections arranged in a circle: one ground, one neutral and two hot. This outlet is common for RV shore power. The two hot wires can be used together for 240 volt power, or separately as two 120 volt sources. 240 volt output from portable generators is single phase. That means the current alternates at the same rate and time, which can cause problems with 240 volt appliances that need two separate power phases. These outlets have a 50 amp limit.
A TT-30R plug has three prongs: two flat prongs set at an angle, and one D-shaped prong. This outlet has a 30 amp limit. Like the L14, it’s mostly used for RV power. However, it only supports 120 volt current.
An L5 outlet is a “locking” three prong socket used to deliver large amounts of 120 volt power. Each L5 prong is curved, and one prong is L-shaped. This socket is mostly used to connect to home wiring. This type of outlet has a 30 amp limit.
5-15 and 5-20 outlets are the same three prong outlets used in your home. Paired 120 volt household sockets are usually wired together as “duplex” outlets. That means two outlets share the same circuit and amperage limit. 5-15 outlets have a 15 amp limit, while 5-20 outlets have a 20 amp limit. A small portable generator may have 15 or 20 amp-rated outlets, but the actual limit will be lower due to the unit’s limited available power.
GFCI protection prevents shorts due to ground faults, typically caused by an appliance or cable making contact with wire. This is a useful feature for outlets powering outdoor appliances. You will only see GFCI circuits used with household outlets. This is the same type of outlet found in modern bathrooms.
There are two non-NEMA outlets included with gas generators for DC power:
12 volt cigarette lighter outlets can power small devices using an adapter, but they’re mainly included as a way to charge 12 volt batteries.
Some new generators also have 5 volt USB-A ports. These can be used to recharge smartphones, tablets, drones and other small electronics.
All generators use their metal frames as a ground. In some cases, such as workplace use and grid backup, you may need to add a second ground. Large generators include a point for this connection.
The California Air Resource Board (CARB) has their own emissions regulations that surpass the EPA regulations required nationwide. CARB’s regulations are applied immediately in California, but many other states phase in these regulations shortly afterward. States that have adopted CARB emissions regulations include almost every state in the Northeast, every state on the West Coast, and the states of New Mexico, Maryland and Florida. The Canadian province of Quebec also follows CARB emissions regulations. If you live in one of these states, or you’ll be visiting one of them, your portable generator needs to be CARB compliant to be used legally. While you may only get into a little trouble if you use a non-compliant portable generator for your own needs, operating a polluting commercial generator can incur heavy fines. National parks and federal lands are under federal jurisdiction, so CARB regulations do not apply, even if you’re in a CARB-compliant state.
Most generators include a spark arrester. This device stops flammable debris from exiting the exhaust. Most wilderness areas and parks require spark arresters on internal combustion engines year-round. An arrester may be required temporarily in areas when fire risk is high.
In North America, household appliances are designed to run on 120 volt alternating current. This current switches polarity at a rate of 60 times per second (60 Hz). If you connected an oscilloscope to an outlet in your home, you would see a smooth line going up and down on the screen.
Portable generators produce direct current (DC) power, then use an inverter to convert this electricity into AC power. The power output from the generator fluctuates as the engine goes up and down in speed. If you hooked up an oscilloscope to one of the generator’s outlets, you’d see a fuzzy line. This “dirty” power is fine for basic electric appliances like coffee makers and power tools. However, these power fluctuations will burn out electronics. To remedy this, some portable generators come with a “pure sine wave” inverter. These inverters have added circuitry that smooths out current, creating electricity that is nearly identical to household power. This makes it safe for powering computers, TVs and other sensitive devices.
The larger the fuel tank and the more efficient the portable generator runs, the longer you can power appliances off of a single tank. Manufacturers provide runtime estimates based on using only part of a generator’s capacity. Westinghouse quotes runtime based on a 25% load, but the industry standard uses a 50% load as the basis for runtime estimates.
Some portable generators have an “Eco mode” or an automatic throttle that varies engine speed depending on load. This reduces noise and fuel consumption while saving wear and tear on the engine.
Dual fuel generators have a built-in gas tank, but they can also run off of an external propane tank that connects to the engine using a hose. Most generators are set up to use a 20 lb. tank, but it’s possible to use a 40 lb. tank with a longer hose, extending runtime. The engine has to shut down before the fuel source can be switched.
Generators come in a wide range of sizes from 40 lb. units that can power one or two devices to 350 lb. behemoths that can power an entire house. Smaller units have a built-in handle, making them easy to carry short distances. Large portable generators have built-in wheels and handles. This makes it easy to roll them around on flat surfaces, but it can be difficult to load them into a truck bed, even with a ramp. These portable generators can be lifted by the frame, but it requires at least two people.
High Altitude Use
Air density decreases by around 3% for every 1,000 feet of elevation. Unlike the EFI system that fuels your car, the carburetors on a generator motor can’t adjust the fuel mixture to compensate for this decrease in air. As a result, the engine will run rich at higher altitudes, decreasing power and fouling plugs. At extreme altitudes, it may refuse to start.
If you plan on using your portable generator in high altitude areas like the Rocky Mountains, you’ll need to install a high altitude kit. This is a set of small carburetor jets that bring the fuel mixture in line with the available air. Manufacturers generally recommend installing one of these kits for use at altitudes above 7,000 feet. Unless you’re familiar with working on small engines, you will need to have this kit installed by a professional mechanic.
Using a porable generator with one of these kits at low altitudes causes a different set of problems. The air/fuel mix becomes too lean, decreasing power and increasing combustion temperatures. This can damage the engine. Manufacturers usually recommend switching back to standard carburetor jets at around 5,000 feet of elevation.
Keep in mind that even with the right fuel mixture, power will still decrease. For example, Denver, the “Mile High City,” has an elevation a little over 5,000 feet. As a result, the air is 15% less dense than it is at sea level, so you can expect your generator’s maximum output to be 15% lower.
How Do I Find a Portable Generator that Fits My Needs?
What’s the best portable generator for your needs? There’s more to choosing a generator than output: the features you need will vary depending on how and where you need power. Here’s what you should look for when buying a portable generator for the most common use cases: camping, tailgating, RV backup power, home power and remote power tool use.
Camping and Tailgating
Whether you plan on using your portable generator for outdoor activities or outside of a stadium, your main priorities are going to be portability and noise.
Enclosed portable generators surround the engine in a plastic case, taming noise while maintaining to keep the engine cool. These are the quietest generators on the market, making them a great choice for use in nature areas and crowded parking lots. Power output for these generators is usually limited, but some models have the option of linking together with a second generator, doubling available power without resorting to a noisy open frame generator.
When you use your portable generator, you’ll want to keep it a few feet from awnings, tents, and other enclosures to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Be sure to get some heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords to get power from your generator to your appliances.
Want to have a TV or radio on while you cook? Get a portable generator with a pure sine wave inverter to provide clean electricity that is safe for electronics. The amount of power you will need depends on the appliances you want to use. A 32-inch LCD TV only draws about 50 watts, but if you want to use a coffee maker, you’ll need anywhere from 600 watts for a four cup model to 1,500 watts to start a Keurig. As for cooking, a slow cooker draws up to 350 watts, while a hot plate can draw 1,500 watts.
A good RV generator has a couple household outlets for outside power along with high current outlets that can connect directly to your RV’s shore power system. Here’s the maximum load you can expect from each type of connection:
Of course, actual output will vary depending on the maximum power your portable generator can produce.
RV clothing dryers usually use 240 volt power. If you don’t need to power a dryer, a 120 volt source should be able to power your other appliances.
The biggest current draw on an RV is the air conditioner. A 5,000 BTU air conditioner needs 1,100-1,300 watts to start and 300-450 watts to run. This is a typical unit size for a Class B RV. A 15,000 BTU air conditioner needs 3,200 to 3,500 watts to start and 1,200 to 1,700 watts to run. This is a typical size for Class A motor homes. Other appliances will need a fraction of this power.
Most RVs built today come with an Electrical Management System (EMS) that automatically shuts off some power circuits to manage electricity demands. These systems work well with most power connections except L14 receptacles used in 120 volt mode. In this mode, each hot line provides 120 volt current. The EMS may only check current from one of these lines, making it think there is only half the actual power available.
For your safety, you need to plan on getting more than just a generator if you want home backup power. Between 2004 and 2013, 526 people died due to carbon monoxide poisoning related to generator use. These deaths are caused by owners running their generator somewhere inside or near their house, whether it was running in the garage, the basement, an unused room, or next to an open window or awning.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can collect in contained areas, even if the engine is just running near a building. This gas bonds to red blood cells, preventing them from carrying oxygen through the blood stream. Early signs of poisoning include headaches and dizziness, but it can quickly escalate to asphyxiation and death.
To prevent this, you need to get extension cords that will let you power appliances while keeping the generator outside. For your safety, the exhaust needs to be at least 20 feet from your home. Locking plugs offer a convenient way to get power from your generator to a central location in your house. Extension cables are available that have an L5 or L14 plug on one end and several 120 volt household sockets on the other end.
If you want to use your portable generator to send power through your home wiring system, you are legally required to use a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician. This switch cuts the connection between your home and the power grid when the generator is in use. Without it, your generator might send power through electric lines, potentially electrocuting a line worker. To meed OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.404, the generator must be grounded separately from the frame. Larger generators have a ground connection that can connect the unit’s electrical system to a ground rod.
While portable generators are great for emergency power, they aren’t going to be powerful enough to run central heat or air conditioning. Even if you have a natural gas-powered heater, the current draw from the fan is too high for all but the largest generators. If you want to power more than just appliances and fans, get a generator with a pure sine wave inverter. Microwaves, hair dryers and toasters are the largest home energy consumers, drawing 1,500 to 2,000 watts, while a TV will only need 100-200 watts.
Small portable generators are a great alternative to vehicle-powered inverters. Generators consume less fuel, and you don’t have to worry about draining your truck’s battery. Larger generators can power a wide range of tools at a construction site before grid electricity is available, and it can deliver power to sheds in remote areas.
If you’re shopping for a portable generator that will be primarily used for electric power tools, the most important specification is peak load. Electric motors are a reactive load: starting them requires a lot more power than keeping them running. To calculate how much power you will need, check the information plate on each tool, or the specifications in the owner’s manuals. This should state both peak and sustained power requirements. If you’re only using power tools, you don’t need to worry about the added expense of a pure sine wave inverter.
All power coming from the generator will be single phase. That means 240 volt power is not suitable for welding equipment.
GFCI outlets are a great feature to have for any workplace generator. These prevent shorts when the tool or cable comes in contact with water, which is far more likely while working outdoors than it is with other generator applications. Depending on where you work, you may need to use an external ground to meet OSHA standards.
The amount of power you need will vary widely depending on your choice of tools. Most electric hand drills draw between 300 and 500 watts, while a circular saw can draw 1,500 to 1,800 watts. Sump pumps have the highest reactive load. A ½ hp pump will run on 750 watts, but will need as much as 3,000 watts to start.
The Types of Generators
Gas generators are powered by a small engine like you’ll find in lawn care equipment. This engine spins a DC generator or alternator to make electricity. An inverter converts this electricity into alternating current that can be used by household appliances. Larger generators have heavy-duty sockets that can handle enough power to run an RV or a house.
The term “solar power generator” is a misnomer: there is no stand-alone solar generation system. Instead, solar panels connect to a power station, which combines a battery with power sockets. These usually include an inverter for AC power. Solar power stations can also charge from household and car power outlets.
Unlike gas generators, these stations have no emissions and make no noise, so they can be used anywhere, even inside the home. Output can be the same or less than small gas generators at a similar weight. However, while a gas generator can be kept running by adding more fuel, it takes hours to recharge a power station’s battery.
For a list of solar powered generators/power station visit: https://constantpower.org/best-portable-generator-reviews/solar/
Propane and Dual Fuel Generators
The same propane you use for your BBQ grill can power an internal combustion engine. While large, purpose-built propane generators are common for commercial use, most consumer and small commercial units go the dual fuel route. These engines have a carburetor with both fuel jets and gas nozzles, letting the engine run on either gasoline or LPG. Portable generators have lines and adapters designed for use with standard 20 lb. propane tanks. 40 lb. tanks can be used with longer hoses.
Propane is less energy dense than gasoline. As a result, dual fuel generators make about 10% less power when running on propane than they do when using gas.
This is simply a type of generator with an inverter for AC power. Some small solar power stations are focused mostly on recharging small electronics and powering low voltage lighting, so they may forego the inverter to minimize weight. Otherwise, you can expect an inverter to be part of any power generation system.