- Best Portable Generator
- Best Inverter Generator
- Best Whole House Generator
- Best Solar Generator
- Best Wind Generator
Best Power Generator
Although contractors use generators to provide jobsite power at times, their main purpose is to provide emergency power in the case of a power outage. When the lights go out, people rely on firing a generator up to keep them going until the power comes back on. Used in this manner, they’re highly useful tools that everyone needs.
Generators vary greatly in size, configuration, type, and power output thus making picking the right generator a challenge. Most individual make a selection based on price without taking into consideration how much electrical power they really need to produce; this often leads to selecting a generator which isn't big enough to meet their needs.
Choosing the right generator means having a good idea of what your needs are and how the various generators on the market can meet said needs. To better understand, check out our power generator buyer's guide below.
Best Portable Generator:
When the power goes out, the one thing you need more than anything else is a generator. With it, you can provide at least some electrical power to your family, keeping some essential electrical devices up and running.
Generators come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small units that can be easily carried in one hand, to trailer mounted ones. All of these are portable, although the means of moving them around may vary. Many have wheels mounted to the frame, in order to move them around more easily when needed.
Determining the size of generator you need depends a lot on what you are planning on using it for. A small generator that can be carried in only one hand can only produce 1,000 watts of power. Thats not enough to run a refrigerator, although it is enough to run some lights and small electronics. Larger generators will provide enough power to run refrigerators, several lights throughout the home come of your home electronics.
Air conditioning units are the hardest things to provide power for. If you want to run a descent size room air conditioner and your refrigerator, youll need a generator that is producing at least 6500 watts. If you want to run lights and other electronics as well, youd better bump that up to at least 7,500 watts.
Basically all portable generators run off of gasoline, although there are a few diesel ones around. Depending upon the size of the generator and the amount of load connected to it, it could consume anywhere from one to four gallons per hour. That means youll need a lot of gasoline storage to use your generator throughout a small crisis. Since gasoline doesn't store well, thats a serious problem.
Most generator specifications include an idea of how long the generator will run on a tank of gas. Be careful reading this though, it is usually based upon a 50 percent load. That means that a 5,000 watt generator would only have 2,500 watts of power being drawn from it.
Most of the larger portable generators also provide electric start, much like a car engine starts. This saves wear and tear on the arms, but adds some weight to the generator package. In some cases, that electric start is necessary, because the engine has enough of a vacuum that it cant be turned over by hand. The smaller ones are all pull start.
Another important thing to look at on the generator is how many electrical connectors it has. Some of the smaller ones may only have two, while the larger ones can have as many as six. The more electrical outlets, the more separate electrical runs that you can make to power equipment in your home. Some also have 220 volt outlets, which allow them to be used to power clothes dryers and electric stoves.
There are so many portable generators on the market, that its almost impossible to select five and say that they are the best. Nevertheless, for the purpose of this list, I have selected five medium to large sized portable generators from the biggest names in generators. These would be big enough to supply sufficient power for your essential needs in a power outage situation. They would also be excellent for camping, tailgate parties and construction sites.
This generator tops our list with 7,500 watts of continuous power and 9,000 watts of surge power. It can be both electrically and manually started. A 6.6 gallon fuel tank will power the generator for up to 11 hours. Read Full Review
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Briggs & Stratton makes some of the best small engines around. This generator by them produces 6,000 continuous watts and up to 7,500 watts of surge power. Read Full Review
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Generac produces more whole house generators than anyone else. This portable by them provides 5,500 watts of continuous power and 6,875 surge watts. Read Full Review
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This generator by Champion Power Equipment is CARB compliant, so it can be used in California, as well as the other states. It produces 5,500 continuous watts and up to 6,800 surge watts of power. Read Full Review
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DuroMax Elite MX4500E 4,500 Watt 7 HP OHV 4-Cycle Gas Powered Portable Generator With Wheel Kit & Electric Start
Other than the Westinghouse generator at the top of the list, this is the only other one that has electric start. It also has 12 volt output posts on the control panel, for direct charging of batteries. Read Full Review
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Best Inverter Generator:
Inverter generators are the new kid on the block, as far as generators are concerned. They combine existing technologies with better electronic controls to provide a number of advantages to the homeowner. Among those advantages are:
- Lower fuel consumption The engine does not have to run at a consistent speed like most generators do, but adjusts its speed to match the load. This saves considerably on fuel. I've heard that typical fuel consumption is about half of a standard gasoline generator.
- Lighter weight The greater efficiency of these generators makes them about 1/3 smaller and lighter than a standard generator for the same fuel consumption.
- Higher quality electrical output Since the sine wave of the electrical output is not associated in any way to the speed of the engine, it provides a cleaner, more consistent output.
- Lower noise Between having a smaller engine and lower engine speed, these generators are much quieter than standard gasoline generators.
The reason why these generators are able to provide all these benefits is the manner in which they produce the electricity. A standard gasoline generator has a gas engine connected directly to an alternator which produces the power. To maintain the correct line frequency, the engine must maintain a constant speed, usually 3600 RPM.
By comparison, an inverter generator produces AC current, which is then converted to DC current. This DC current is then run through an inverter to boost its voltage and convert it back to AC current. Since the AC sine wave which is used is produced by the inverter and not by the alternator, it is consistent, even if the engine speed isn't.
The one drawback to inverter generators is that they are more expensive. If you compare generators with the same power output, the inverter generator can be as much as 50 percent more expensive. This is due to the more complicated design, and the fact that it is new technology.
Just like gasoline generators, the major factor in selecting an inverter generator is the size of the generator, as measured in watts of output. This needs to be enough to meet the needs for which you are buying the generator. If you are expecting to use it for emergency power in the case of a power outage, then you will need to figure out the power requirements of the various things you will be connecting to it. A typical refrigerator/freezer unit, for example, consumes about 800 watts of power.
Because of the electronic controls on these generators, you find a few features that aren't common on other generators. These can include remote controls, displays showing the generators status, how much power is being produced and how much additional power is available.
With 6300 peak watts of power output, this inverter generator from Yahama fits any bill. It has remote starting capability and a power meter on the control panel to let you know how much more power the generator can supply. Read Full Review
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Lifan's inverter generator has an electric starter, which can be remotely started. It will run 7 hours at 50 percent load off its 5.56 gallon fuel tank. Read Full Review
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This inverter generator will run up to eight hours at 25 percent load on its 1.59 gallon tank. That's a real fuel saver, when you compare it to standard generators that produce 3100 watts of power. Read Full Review
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The control panel on this inverter generator is the first thing that you see, offering more complete control than any other generator out there. It also has an hour meter, for better maintenance and a low oil light to protect the engine. Read Full Review
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This compact inverter generator from Ryobi is designed to allow ti to be hooked in parallel with others of the same model, giving you incredible versatility. It's also incredibly quiet; so quiet, that you could carry on a conversation right next to it. Read Full Review
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Best Whole House Generator:
A whole house generator is a permanent installation, tied into the homes electrical system via an automatic switch. In the case of a power outage, the generator turns on automatically, providing power for the home. At the same time, the automatic switch disconnects from the electrical power grid, so that the power produced is used in that home. The automatic switch normally comes with the generator.
Whole house generators can be purchased that will produce up to 60 kw of power. They are powered by natural gas, propane or diesel. When powered by natural gas, they tie into the homes natural gas supply, the same that is used for cooking and heating. When powered by diesel or propane, a separate tank is required.
Before buying a whole house generator, it is necessary to determine the power output needed from the generator. There are two ways of going about this. The first one is to buy a generator which will provide power for limited systems, such as cooking, the refrigerator and lighting. The second way is to buy a generator which provides power for all of the homes system. In this way, the family can go on living like normal in the midst of a power outage.
To determine the size generator needed to provide power for the whole house, check your monthly electric bill for a high-usage month. Unless you have electric heating, this will be one of the summer months, when the air conditioning is being run the most.
The bill will show how many kilowatt hours of power you are being billed for on that bill. A kilowatt is one thousand watts of power for an hours time. To convert that into a generator size, divide the number of kilowatts by the number of days in the billing month. Then divide that by 24. This will tell you the average number of watts of power that you consumed for that month. Your whole house generator should be sized to match the average power consumption for your home.
For the sake of this list, I have selected 20kw (kilowatt, or 1,000 watts) generators from all of these manufacturers. They all produce a full line of generators, with different output capacities. A 20kw generator will provide enough power for the average sized home.
The other major decision that has to be made before purchasing is the fuel that the generator will burn. Of the three fuel options, natural gas is by far the cheapest. However, even though it is the cheapest, running a whole house generator to produce electricity will cost considerably more than paying the electric company.
When looking at a whole house generator, the most important feature is reliability. All of these companies are reliable companies, who have a reputation for producing quality products.
Generac is the largest manufacturer of home standby generators, with the most extensive line. This is a dual-fuel generator, allowing switching between fuels tool-free. Read Full Review
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General Electric has been producing generators for over 100 years. Their home standby generators are the only ones that come with a wireless in-house monitor, so that you don't have to go outside to check the generator. Read Full Review
Kohler boasts that their generators will provide power within 10 seconds of power loss. This one has a built-in base, eliminating the need for pouring a concrete pad. Read Full Review
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Briggs & Stratton 040394 20000-Watt Home Standby Generator System with 100 Amp Automatic Transfer Switch
Briggs & Stratton has a reputation for building the finest small engines on the market. They use one of their commercial grade engines in this generator, for long life and reliability. Read Full Review
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Best Solar Generator:
Solar energy is the never ending, free energy source... that is, its free once you finish paying for the cost of the equipment. Nevertheless, if you need an emergency power source or a source of electrical power in a remote location where there aren't any power lines, solar energy can provide you with just what you need. As long as the system is set up and the sun is shining, you will have a constant supply of electrical power.
To be considered a solar generator, the system must contain more than just a solar panel. The solar panel provides the electrical power, but the system also needs a battery for storing the power and an inverter for converting the stored power to 120 volts AC. With those three components, you can power a wide variety of electrical devices, from running a refrigerator to recharging your cell phone.
Speaking of cell phones, most solar generators have USB power outlets for 5 volt DC power, as well as their 120 volt AC power outlets. They might also have 12 volt DC power outlets for supplying power to automotive accessories.
The key to looking at these systems is in understanding their specifications. Just seeing a specification for a 1500 watt solar generator isn't enough if you dont know which part of the system produces those 1500 watts. So, here are the key specifications to look at:
- Wattage These systems are normally rated by wattage. This refers to the maximum wattage of the inverter. In other words, the maximum wattage the system can put out to equipment plugged into it.
- Peak surge power This is the maximum amount of power that the inverter can provide for a few seconds. It is always higher than the wattage of the unit, and is needed for short-duration, high energy use situations, such as starting a motor.
- Solar panel wattage The solar panels are what are producing the power, so their rating is important. This specification will be stated in watts. Typically the wattage of the solar panels is much lower than the wattage of the inverter. Thats because the inverter is pulling its power from the battery, not the solar panels. So, a 1500 watt unit may only have 60 watts of power production from the solar panels.
- Recharge time This is the number of hours of daylight it takes the solar panels to fully recharge the batteries.
- Reserve power This is the rating of the systems battery, showing how much power it can store. It should be rated in reserve power, which will be stated in amp-hours (AH). One amp hour is one amp of power supplied for one hour.
Although the system will provide the rated wattage stated in the specifications, the real question is, how long will it provide that wattage? If the battery only has 50 AH of reserve power, and the solar cells are producing 60 watts of power to recharge the battery, youre going to be pulling power from the system much faster than you can charge it.
To figure out how long the unit will provide that power, you need to do a little math. Multiply the reserve power in AH by 12 to find the total reserve power in watts. Divide this by the power load, in watts (W), placed on the generator. If you do not know the power load, you can use the wattage rating of the solar generator. This will tell you the total number of hours that the generator will provide power, before recharging.
(AH x 12) W = Operating hours
Example: (50 AH x 12) 1500W = 0.4 hours, or 24 minutes
Please note that the example was based upon the full power rating of the inverter, 1500 watts. If you were running a lower load, such as 250 watts, the generator would be able to provide power for a correspondingly longer time, in this case, six times as long.
Most of these systems are portable, with some having wheels to move them around. They also have the capability of decreasing the recharge time by connecting additional solar panels to the system. As solar panels do not produce high amounts of electrical power, the more solar panels, the better.
None of these units are going to provide enough power to run your home off of in an emergency. On the other hand, they are ideal for providing enough power to take care of light emergency uses, or to take along when camping. The units will recharge throughout the day, providing power when needed for running computers, lights, and even small refrigerators.
This is the largest solar generator on the market, without having to buy a full-blows solar power system. It provides up to 1800 watts of continuous power, from a 200 AH battery. Read Full Review
This kit is a fully portable one, with the generator mounted on a cart. The 100 AH battery produces up to 1250 watts of continuous power through the inverter. Read Full Review
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This solar generator is designed to be extremely portable, making it great as a "take it with you" unit. It will produce 1500 watts of continuous power and has a 80 watt recharge capability. Read Full Review
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The solar panels on this unit are cart mounted for ease in pointing them towards the sun. Those provide 90 watts of recharge power, to recharge the 1440 watt continuous power unit. Read Full Review
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This compact unit from Wagan folds up into a briefcase sized unit. It may not have the power of the larger units, but if you need a low-power generator that's truly portable, this one's for you. Read Full Review
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Best Wind Generator:
Wind generators are windmills, designed to produce electrical power. They are the more hidden side of “going green” or going “off the grid” for your electrical generation needs. While not as popular as solar panels, they are actually quite a bit more efficient and more cost effective.
There are two basic styles of wind generators: vertical axis and horizontal axis. The horizontal axis is what you are probably used to seeing, a propeller, similar to an airplane propeller, which is up on top of a pole. This type of wind generator is much less costly, but can be noisy, which is part of the reason for their lack of popularity. The vertical axis wind generators vary considerably in style, with the common design element being that the blades revolve around a vertical axis. They are considerably more expensive than the horizontal axis models, but very quiet.
If large enough, a single wind generator can actually produce enough power to provide all the power needs of an average home. It will do this for a much lower investment than what would be needed for solar power to provide the same amount of energy. However, it is necessary to have wind available to power the wind generator. Some parts of the country are excellent for this, while others aren’t.
The average American household consumes 940 kilowatthours (kWh) per month of electricity. A killowatthour is the standard way of billing for electrical power and is defined as 1,000 watts of power for an hour. That electrical consumption works out to an average electrical consumption of 1306 watts of power at any given moment.
While it may look like some of these units are producing more electrical power than that, you have to keep in mind that those ratings are based on the voltage that the wind generator is operating at. Typically, a wind generator is connected to a 12-volt battery bank, charging the bank. The power from the batteries is then run through an inverter and connected to the home.
Even though these generators are charging a 12-volt battery, they are often rated at a much higher voltage. That is so that the generator will still produce enough voltage, even when there isn’t enough wind to turn it at maximum velocity. As the wind generator is moving slower, the voltage drops.
Since the home is using 120 volts AC, and the batteries are 12 volts DC, the process of increasing the voltage causes a corresponding decrease in the wattage. In other words, to convert 1,000 watts of 12 volt electrical power to 12 volts AC requires multiplying the voltage 10 times, therefore it will divide the wattage by the same 10 times. So, you will end up with 100 watts of power at 120 volts AC.
That may make it seem like the wind generator isn’t providing much power, but you have to keep in mind that any power you save pays off big in your electrical bill. These systems do pay for themselves in the power that you save. Besides that, they also provide emergency power for your home, in the case of a power outage. The key is to put in enough wind generating capability, or wind and solar generating capability to reduce your energy bills significantly.
Each of the companies that are mentioned here produce a variety of models of wind generators. I have picked the best of what they have, considering the restrictions of using it for powering a home. Obviously, a 50,000 watt unit, designed for providing power to the electrical grid, isn’t something you can just put in your backyard.
Typically, wind generators come without the mast and guy wires, as every installation is different. You need to be able to mount it somewhere where the wind is unobstructed for the best performance.
This wind generator comes as a complete kit, with the charger/controller, dump load and inverter. It produces 3,000 watts of peak power for a very reasonable price. Read Full Review
Bergey has one of the best reputations for wind generators around. This unit produces 2,000 peak watts of pwer in as littel as 6.7 MPH of wind. Read Full Review
This wind generator stands out on our list as the only vertical axis wind generator we've included. While it is extremely quiet, it is also considerably more expensive than the horizontal axis ones. Read Full Review
For those who are handy with their hands and want to save a buck, this kit from CMS Magnetics provides a great bargain. But when I say "kit" in this case, I really mean it, as you'll be winding your own alternator, following their directions. Read Full Review
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This wind generator is unique in that it has five blades, rather than the customary three. It produces 1000 watts at a wind speed of only 6.7 MPH. Read Full Review
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Power Generator Buyer's Guide
By definition, all generators produce electrical power; however, the amount of electrical power they produce and the fuel consumed to produce that power vary considerably. The vast majority of home generators still use fossil fuels but recent years have seen a rise in the use of renewable energy sources, especially solar power and wind power.
For most people, the limiting factor on a generator purchase is cost since installing enough solar panels to power your whole house is extremely expensive. However, it's important to figure in the return on that investment. Operating those solar panels costs almost nothing and the electrical power they generate is free. That makes it possible for the panels to eventually pay for themselves.
Since generators are used for multiple purposes, ultimately that purpose has to be what drives your purchase. Some generators work best in certain circumstances, while others are better suited for a totally different set of circumstances.
Individuals who are building a cabin in the mountains or those spending a weekend camping might find themselves needing short-term power. In such cases, it makes more sense to use a portable generator that burns fossil fuels, as it takes time and effort to erect a solar or wind powered generator. In these cases, inverter generators are more fuel efficient, more than making up for their higher cost.
Short-Term Emergency Power
A short-term emergency might be caused by a hurricane or storm blowing down power lines which leaves communities without power. Whole house generators have been designed with this scenario in mind as they kick on automatically with little to no disruption to normal activities.
For those who can't afford a whole house generator, portable generators will accomplish the same thing, albeit at a lower power level. Rather than being able to run the whole house, a portable generator provides power for only the most critical of systems. How much can be used depends on the power output of the generator.
Long-Term Emergency Power
While a whole house generator will provide the necessary power to make it through a storm, a long-term situation would require constant supplies of fuel which may not be possible in a long-term emergency situation. On top of that, the constant use of fuel in a whole house or portable generator would get expensive quickly.
For long-term emergency power, wind and solar generators are better. These systems are totally self-contained and require no fuel beyond what nature provides. As such, these generator systems provide electrical power through a major disaster, even one which shuts down the power grid permanently.
Off Grid Living
Living off the grid is becoming more and more popular. People choose this lifestyle either for financial reasons to save on their monthly electric bill or for the simple reasons of wanting to live independently. In these instances, wind and solar generators are the logical choice.
Typically, people making the transition to off grid living do so gradually, adding more solar panels or more wind turbines as their budget permits. Each addition allows them to produce more of their own electricity, reducing their dependence on the grid and their monthly energy costs. From there, money saved on energy bills can then be invested into further increasing their systems capabilities.
A combination of solar and wind power is the best as it helps ensure consistent power at all times, regardless of what the weather situation is. Of course, a battery backup system helps to ensure constant power, even when neither system is capable of generating power.
Selecting the Type of Generator
We can divide generators into five different categories, each of which is designed to be ideal for certain circumstances.
Portable generators provide a reasonable amount of power for either an emergency or use in a remote location. A typical portable generator will produce from 4.5 to 6.5 kilowatt-hour (KwH) which is enough to power a room air conditioner. They work well for construction sites and camping. However, typical portable generator will consume about 1/2 gallon of fuel per hour making them somewhat fuel inefficient.
Inverter generators are a modified version of the portable generator. They produce power at 12 volts DC, rather than 120 volts AC and then use an inverter to boost the power to the higher voltage. This makes them much more energy efficient than portable generators are. A typical inverter generator will run on about two gallons of fuel per 24 hours of use. The limiting factors on these particular units are usually their size and cost.
Whole House Generators
Whole house generators are the portable generator's big brother. They’re designed to be permanently installed and connected to the home's electrical system, just before the breaker panel. An automatic switch starts the generator and disconnects the house from the grid in the event of a power outage. The same switch will shut down the generator and reconnect the house when power is restored.
These generators are available in a variety of sizes, with some topping 55 KwH. This allows you to select one that will provide all the power your home needs. The only problem with these units is they consume a lot of fuel, thus making them very expensive to operate.
Solar generators consist of a bank of solar panels, connected together and run through a voltage inverter. This can either be connected to a battery backup system or run directly into the home's electrical system. The solar panels convert sunlight to electrical power, typically with an 18 to 20 volt output, hence the need for the voltage inverter.
Since solar generators need sunlight to operate, they don't produce any power at night. Overcast days reduce their power output which is why they have a higher voltage output than is needed to charge the batteries; when their output is lowered, they’re still able to provide enough power.
Wind generators convert the kinetic power of the wind into electrical power. Like solar generators, they produce a higher voltage than is necessary to charge a 12 volt battery. That way, they can provide some power in lower wind situations. Typically, a wind generator needs 10 miles per hour of wind to work efficiently.
Because of the wind requirement, wind generators can't be used everywhere. Some areas don't have enough wind to make them cost effective. But in areas where there is sufficient wind, a wind generator is a very efficient means of producing power.
One problem with wind generators is that they can be noisy. For this reason, some municipalities do not allow them. Vertical axis wind generators, which are much rarer, produce much less noise.
Determining Generator Size
There are two ways of looking at what sized generator you would need for your home. One is to calculate your total power consumption and find a generator that will supply that amount of power. This means buying a whole house generator and having it permanently installed in your home. Since most people can't afford a whole home option, they buy some sort of portable generator.
When buying a portable generator, you still have to know how much power you need before making a purchase. That means defining what your critical systems are and how much power they’ll consume. For most people, the critical systems include their refrigerator, communications, and some basic lighting; in hotter climates, a one room air conditioner should be included. Other additions might include a computer and any medical equipment that a family member needs.
Most of equipment is rated in amps of power draw, rather than watts of power consumption. Although generators are rated in watts, the conversion from one to the other is actually rather simple.
- To convert watts to amps, divide the watts by the voltage (120)
- To convert amps to watts, multiply the amps by the voltage (120)
With that, you can calculate the amount of electrical power you need your generator to produce in order to meet your needs in an emergency situation