Best Generator: Our 2017 Consumer Guide
Last Updated August 2017
Going off the grid doesn’t always have to mean a blackout and if you want to ensure that you’ll always have a power supply, then take a look at our Best Generator 2016 guide below. Getting a portable generator is a good idea. A portable generator is of course a device that allows you to generate electricity – normally from a gas supply – so that you can run electrical appliances.
There are lots of reasons to invest in a portable generator but two particularly common ones. One is to allow you to work outdoors and from a DIY perspective that’s why many people reading this guide will be looking at them. Seeing as the most powerful work tools such as Pneumatic Nailers and Miter Saws often require a cable, you’ll need some kind of power outlet that you can take outside in order to use them. A portable generator can provide just that.
Another reason is security and safety. If you have lots of systems in your home running on your mains supply, that gives you one critical point of failure. All it would take is a power outage and you’d be left without heating, perhaps without warm water, maybe without air conditioning… and probably plunged into pitch darkness. This is also a big consideration for offices – where a power cut can mean a huge loss in productivity.
There are countless other scenarios where a backup generator can be useful too. For example, if you have some kind of business that requires power away from the mains – such as a fairground ride!
Whatever the case, it’s important that you know what you’re getting to ensure that your device will be fit for purpose and that you won’t have wasted your money. Unfortunately, these aren’t cheap machines!
So with that in mind, read on and we’ll take a look at how to go about choosing the best generator 2016.
This section will go into a little detail about how to pick your portable generator. We’ll then list some of the best options available on the market right now and finally, we’ll go over what the different specs and details all mean.
Essentially though, when buying a portable generator there are a few things to look at. Most important of these is the wattage. The higher the wattage, the more that you’re going to be able to do. And as a good guide, bear in mind that a microwave might need about 1,000 watts, while your central heating will need about 5,000 watts. You’ll also need enough power outlets to do everything you want to.
Think too about how you’ll be using your generator. Is this just a backup in case of a power cut? Or is it going to be something you take onto building sites to power your power tools? The two options require different approaches – and the latter will need a solid construction.
Budget of course is also another important concern, as is the build quality and reliability. In this next section, we’ve detailed some very affordable generators that all have great reviews, all offer excellent value for money and all should stand the test of time!
Be sure to read the details though and identify the features that you will be most likely to need. There’s no wrong answers here – just a matter of finding the right generator for your specific requirements!
Our Best Generator in 2017
With all that said, here are some of our top picks for generators!
This is a gasoline powered portable generator that is capable of offering 7,500 running watts and 9,000 starting watts. This is enough to run a lot of appliances and that’s impressive when you consider the convenient form factor, quiet operation (due to Pulse-Flo muffler), simple controls and LCD ‘hour meter’. It has a full enclosure to protect from debris too, which makes it well suited to using on work sites. It also has both an electric and manual start. Wheels make this even more portable too and it has a good number of outlets. It’s not as affordable as some of the cheaper options on this list but it’s still very affordable for what you’re getting.
This is a far cheaper generator and that means you can expect considerably lower specs. At 3,500 running watts, this is really more suited to powering a few powertools rather than taking over electricity duties for your home. Unfortunately, a lack of wheels makes it a little less convenient for this purpose and there’s no carry handle either. But for the price, you really can’t say fairer – and it also offers an impressive 12 hours of run time on a full tank of gas and has a Volt GuardTM system to protect appliances from power surges.
This is a very affordable power generator and if you just want something to have on standby or to be able to use certain tools – then it will do. It’s only 1,500 running watts but it can run at half load for 7.5 hours on a full tank and has a few outlets. Not terribly convenient due to a lack of wheels and not singing and dancing with features. But what you’re getting here is a solid and reliable device for a very compelling price.
This is a slightly more expensive portable inverter generator model. It’s able to offer 2,000 surge watts and 1,600 rates watts. It has two 20 amp 120V outlets.
So it’s not the most powerful portable generator and it’s not the cheapest. So what is it? Essentially, this unit is very quiet, very portable (less than 47lbs) and sports a convenient handle. It can also be connected to another inverter generator to provide a bigger 4,000 watts. It’s also highly fuel efficient as it only runs as fast as is needed for the current energy load.
This is a popular option for camping and other such uses and in that respect, it’s a great option.
Yamaha EF2000iS, 1600 Running Watts/2000 Starting Watts, Gas Powered Portable Inverter, CARB Compliant
Fairly similar in price, design and power to the Honda, this is another smaller device that’s great for offering reliable, quiet and steady power in a portable form factor. Once again, you get the smooth and reliable energy that comes from an inverter and it’s generally super convenient – even lighter at just 44.1lbs. The handle is also neat and it has the appearance of an old fashioned boom box! If 1,600 is enough power for you, then this is a great little unit to have to hand.
Champion Power Equipment 75537i 3100 Watt RV Ready Portable Inverter Generator with Wireless Remote Start
As the listing suggests, this unit has a remote start using a wireless remote, which could be handy in a number of different circumstances. It has 3,100 starting wats and 2,800 running watts so it’s a little more powerful than some of the extremely portable options on this list. It also has a good number of different outlets including household 12V DC power outlets with clean power. At 95lbs it’s not as light as the last two entries though and nor is it so cheap.
A solid mid-range option from DuroStar now. This is a relatively large power generator that has an oil warning light, heavy duty steel frame for worksite use, 8 hour run time and 3,300 running watts. It isn’t quite as powerful as our top choice Westinghouse but it’s nevertheless a good all-rounder and is very affordable for the amount of wattage you’re getting. Certainly a contender for many people.
This stackable generator is ideal for situations where you need a lot of power and are willing to buy and stack multiple units. It’s also a very quiet device and has an automatically idling engine during lighter loads for more energy efficiency. It’s only 1,700 running watts but if you were to stack a few up (these are inverters after-all), then you could make up for that. They’re affordable enough for a bigger bulk buy and they have a good clean energy for a wide range of private and commercial uses too – so all in all a good option.
DuroMax XP4400E 4,400 Watt 7.0 HP OHV 4-Cycle Gas Powered Portable Generator With Wheel Kit And Electric Start
This DuroMax is a fairly powerful unit able to deliver 3,500 rated watts. It has a 4 gallon tank to offer an 8 hour runtime and an electric key startup (battery included). It also has automatic low oil shut off. All in all, this is a very good range of features and the wheels are also appealing for a range of applications. It’s affordable too, despite everything that you’re getting.
This is another great generator that can provide up to 5,500 running watts – so the second most powerful we’ve seen in this list. It has a large capacity steel fuel tank, a good industrial build and wheels for convenience. Other features include low-oil shutdown and an hour meter to let you know when you need a top-up.
Knowing Your Options
Use this section as a resource in order to know precisely what the different terminology and specs listed in the above reviews means. If you don’t want to get too technical, then skip over it – but we do recommend that you have a good idea just what you’re buying!
When choosing a power generator, you will typically be picking based on the power. This will be denoted by the wattage and the higher this figure, the more power you’ll get from your new purchase. This tells you, for example, how many lights or appliances you could potentially run at once. At the same time, it can also tell you a little bit about how well the device will run.
For example, if you’re using your generator to power a Circular saw, then you will need it to output a certain amount of power to ensure that you can actually get the amount of force from the tool that you need to cut through things easily.
Conversely, if yours is a backup generator that is intended to power your home in case of a power cut, then you’ll need to be sure that it’s able to deliver enough power to run everything you need. A refrigerator for example will require a wattage of about 725, while your central heating will probably want about 5,000. So it depends partly on what you can live with and what you can live without!
To go about picking in this case, a good idea is to list what matters to you and then to work out a rough wattage from there.
You may also notice that there’s a distinction made between ‘starting watts’ and ‘running watts’. The starting watts tells you how much power you have to motor-driven appliances up and running with a two-three second burst. The running watts (also called rated watts) is the maximum continuous wattage to keep things running for longer.
Inverter Generators convert power from AT to DC and use capacitors to smooth it, allowing for quiet operation, parallel capability and a smaller, lighter size. The aim is to provide the same kind of power that you would get from the plugs around your home, so if you want to be able to plug in normal appliances with no worry of power surges etc., this is a good choice.
Stationary vs Portable Generators
In this post, we have focussed primarily on portable generators. These are generators that are light enough that they can be lifted into the back of a van and usually they will have a handle that you can use to move them around easily. They’re simpler to use (just plug and play!) and they tend to be more affordable too.
On the other hand, a stationary generator is a permanent installation that will need to be installed on-site by a professional electrician. They will need to know the local permits as well and laws. The benefit is that these machines will have the ability to kick-in automatically as soon as the mains supply goes out. This means there should be hardly even a perceptible interruption to your service and you can carry on as normal. They also often run self-diagnostics and will let them know when they’re running out.
These tend to also offer the kind of wattage you need to run your entire home if you should ever need to – from 5,000 watts to 20,000 watts. The latter, as we’ve seen, would be capable of powering your central heating along with most of your lighting, your fridge, your television and more!
Conversely, a portable generator will tend to deliver anything from 3,000 to 10,000 watts and won’t kick in automatically. Normally they’ll need to be at least 15 meters away from your house if you’re using them privately and away from doors and windows. They can’t be used in the rain either.
While stationary generators will tend to set you back around $5,000 to $10,000, a portable generator is closer to $400-$1,000 in most cases.
Most portable generators will run on gasoline. This can be a little risky to store as it is volatile, however it is also convenient and affordable (stationary generators conversely can run on propane or natural gas). Some portable generators will have an electric start, which means they’ll also require a battery. Electric start is desirable though, as otherwise you’re going to be tugging on a pull-string to get them going!
It’s important to consider the fuel capacity as well, as of course your backup generator is only going to be useful until the gas runs out! Some models will also offer ‘alternative fuel capacity’. That means that they can run on gasoline and then switch to a propane or natural gas line, which may be useful. Look for a device with a fuel gauge too, as this will help you to avoid being left without any power when the juice runs dry!
It’s not much good having a portable generator if you can’t plug it in anywhere! Look for one with multiple outlets – four should be your minimum.
There are a lot of different features you might look for in your generator. For example, you may want to get a generator with wheels and a handle to keep it practical. More importantly, you might want to look for features like low-oil shutoff that can actually be useful.
Note: For a stationary generator you will also need a transfer switch. This is what allows you to link your generator to your circuit panel and it’s important to prevent you from accidentally frying your appliances and putting everyone in danger!