Our top pick is the Honda EU2200i Super Quiet Inverter Generator for its compact size, fuel efficiency, and moderate noise level. If you want a more affordable portable generator that’s priced under $500, the Wen 56235i Super-Quiet Portable Inverter Generator is lightweight with a quiet motor and built-in carbon monoxide sensors.
How to Shop for Portable Generators Like a Pro
Portable generators fall into three general types: standard, inverter, and standby. Standard portable generators—also known as conventional generators—are the most common. They typically use a gas or diesel-powered engine to power an alternator and generate electricity.
An inverter generator is typically smaller and lighter than portable generators. These models don’t require gasoline and are electric, with a rechargeable battery inside. However, inverter generators may have lower power output than other types of generators. This makes them ideal for powering sensitive electronics like laptops, smartphones, and TVs.
Standby generators connect directly to your electrical system and automatically start when the power goes out. They can run for thousands of hours and are common outside large homes, businesses, and hotels. “A standby generator is a permanently installed generator that instantly turns on during a power outage,” says Daniel Majano, a program manager at the Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI). “These generators are rated to power a house.”
If you want an eco-friendly alternative, opt for a solar generator, which harnesses the sun’s energy and converts it into electrical power.
The wattage on portable generators varies depending on the size and model—the selections on our list go from 1,000 to 6,500 watts. Consider what you need to power and how much wattage is required to fuel it. Smaller generators like the Champion Power Equipment 2000-Watt Inverter Generator (which has 2,000 watts) are ideal for RVs, camping, or fueling a few appliances, but don’t have enough power to be an emergency backup generator. If you want a generator for your entire household, opt for a high-wattage, heavy-duty model like the Ryobi RY906500VNM 6500 Watt Generator With CO Detect.
Portable generators typically run on fuels like diesel, gasoline, and propane. However, some portable generators don’t need fuel—they rely on rechargeable batteries or the sun instead. Factor in how long the fuel will last when buying a portable generator. If you want a fuel-efficient generator, opt for an inverter, because they can adjust their engine power based on power requirements.
Size & Weight
The size and weight of your portable generator largely depends on its type, fuel source, and dimensions. Small portable generators with a power output of 1,000 to 2,000 watts usually weigh between 30 and 60 pounds, making them perfect for powering small appliances and electronics.
Mid-sized portable generators can weigh between 100 to 200 pounds and have a power output of 3,000-5,000 watts. Though heavy, many of these models come with wheels and sturdy handles so you can lift and move them if needed.
If you’re concerned about the noise produced by your portable generator, be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications before making a final decision. Portable generators typically have a noise level ranging from 50 decibels, which is comparable to the sound of a running refrigerator, to 60 decibels, which is about as loud as a normal conversation between two people. The WEN Portable Inverter Generator and Jackery Solar Generator 1000 PRO are some of the quietest portable generators on our list and won’t disturb your household or campsite while running.
To ensure safety while using a portable generator, follow these tips from Majano:
- Never operate a generator inside your home or in a fully or partially enclosed area, including garages.
- A generator should only be used for temporary power.
- Always use a transfer switch and never plug a generator directly into household wiring without a transfer switch.
- Make sure to always have GFCI protection.
- Make sure to have proper carbon monoxide alarms.
- Keep generators at least 20 feet from doors, windows, and vents to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home.
Questions You Might Ask
How big of a generator do you need to run a house?
To power an entire house, including large appliances, you will need anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 watts of electricity. If you want a generator that turns on instantly during a power outage, Majano recommends standby generators, which are rated to power a household.
How many hours a day can you run a portable generator?
“We recommend checking with the manufacturer to see how long a generator can run,” says Majano. Most portable generators can run anywhere from six hours to 18 hours, depending on their power source, size, and type. We also recommend allowing your generator to cool off at regular intervals.
What is the lifespan of a portable generator?
The lifespan of your portable generator largely depends on its type, maintenance, and amount of use. Some models, like gas-powered portable generators, may last for only a few years, while battery-powered generators can last for over 10 years. “We recommend inspecting your generator before and after every use and have a qualified electrician inspect your generator if you notice anything wrong,” says Majano.
Take Our Word for It
This article was written by Nor’adila Hepburn, a contributing writer for Real Simple. To compile this list, she spent hours researching portable generators, comparing their wattage, noise level, fuel type, size, weight, and price. She also received expert insight and shopping tips from Daniel Majano, a program manager at the Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI).