When the power goes out, a generator can keep your house warm in winter or cool in summer; it can keep your food cold, your kitchen cooking, and your computers and phones charging. Assuming you have one.
People tend to buy generators around major storms, when they’re prone to making a desperate decision—without a plan for what to do when they get it home. Working by flashlight, in a rush to get the power up and running, they might skip over critical safety steps during setup. And people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning related to generators.
We don’t want you—or anyone relying on a generator—to be one of those people.
Power Up When the Power Is Down With the Best Generator
We test, evaluate, and compare the latest home generators to help you shop smart. Become a Member
Know Your Power Priorities
Generators are sold by power output, as measured in watts. The amount of power they deliver determines how many lights and appliances you can run at once; the quality and consistency of that power determines how well they’ll run. Figure on about 5,000 watts to cover the basics in a typical home.
Start by making a list of what you don’t want to go without while the power’s down, then add up their watts to get you in the right ballpark. Here are some rough numbers for common essentials:
Refrigerator: 600 watts
Sump pump: 750 to 1,500 watts
Portable heater: 1,500 watts
Window air conditioner: 1,000 watts
Lights: 60 to 600 watts
Computers: 60 to 300 watts
For a more complete list, check out our report on how to pick the right size generator for your house.
One tip that will make prioritizing easier is to determine which outlets and appliances are controlled by each circuit breaker in your panel, and label them accordingly. The easiest way: a small electric device called a digital circuit breaker finder, which you can buy for less than $50. Check Our Generator Ratings
Pick a Type
You can go one of four ways. Home standby generators are installed permanently, can run on natural gas or propane, and kick on automatically during an outage. Portable and inverter generators can both be moved around, though they come in different sizes. Some are better for transporting to a tailgate, while others are better kept on your property as a backup power source. And portable power stations are large batteries that store electricity for when you need it, the only option for someone who lives in an apartment, say, and has no way to safely run a generator outdoors.
Home Standby Generators
• These units cost the most money and should be installed by a pro (so factor in labor costs). An experienced electrician can help with town or municipal permits, noise restrictions, and proper location.
• These start automatically when the power goes out, and typically supply more power than these other options.
• They run a self-diagnosis and let you know when maintenance is needed. Some even do this via email or text, to you or your dealer.
• You have your choice of fuel— propane, which is less risky to store than gasoline, or natural gas, which provides an unlimited supply of power.
• They range from roughly 5,000 to 20,000 watts.
$3,000 to $6,000Home Standby Generator Ratings
• These units tend to cost less than home standby generators.
• They typically run on gasoline that you may need to store in large quantities. Stabilizer must be added to your fuel for prolonged storage.
• You can use portable generators anywhere on or off your property—but never in an enclosed space. These models can quickly produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide. Always run a portable generator at least 20 feet away from your home, including equipment such as a central AC condenser or window AC, and direct the exhaust away from your home or any other structure, including the neighbors’ home.
• If it’s raining, shield your generator with a canopy designed for your particular model.
• Several of these models offer electric starting. The battery required, however, may not be included.
• They provide from 3,000 to 8,500 watts.
$400 to $1,000
Portable Generator Ratings
• Because their engines are more complex, these models generally cost more than portable generators of a comparable output.
• Inverter generators are much quieter than their conventional counterparts because they throttle up and down to match demand rather than run at full power all the time. They also have more sophisticated exhaust systems which also help tamp down noise.
• They run more efficiently and produce fewer emissions, but you should still follow all the same safety precautions you would with a portable generator.
$500 to $4,000Inverter Generator Ratings
Portable Power Stations
• These devices don’t use gas or propane—they’re powered by a battery that you can charge by plugging into an electrical outlet or, sometimes, an included solar panel (you might also see them called “solar generators”).
• Portable power stations are relatively new to the market, and they typically cost more than portable gas generators.
• For those concerned about noise, note that these devices are extremely quiet.
• They don’t produce fuel emissions/carbon monoxide, so you can use them indoors.
• Don’t expect to power as many appliances or run them for an extended period of time, since they don’t output as much power as portable generators and you can’t keep them running without recharging them, either with electricity or solar power.
• There are no issues with starting because there’s nothing to start—think of these power stations as a large battery pack for your cell phone.
$750 to $3,000Portable Power Stations Ratings
New Safety Technology for Portable Generators
To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, some new generators feature a built-in sensor that triggers an automatic shutoff if CO builds up to dangerous levels in an enclosed space, and some also have engines that emit less CO in the first place. Recent test data from CR shows that these safety features will likely save lives.
Consumer Reports only recommends portable generators that pass our new CO Safety Technology test.
Even if your generator has these potentially life-saving features, we still advise consumers follow our longstanding safety guidelines: Always operate a generator a minimum of 20 feet from your home, with the exhaust directed away from any windows, doors, air conditioners or other structures.
How CR Tests Generators
To test generators for performance, our expert engineers load up each model with a variety of essentials you might want to power during an outage, like a space heater, refrigerator, or window air conditioner. We make sure the generator can handle the load it promises and also determine what happens when a sudden spike in voltage hits, like what would happen if the compressor in your refrigerator kicked on when the generator was already close to capacity. The best models take that in stride, while others bog down or even stall. We also look at how easy it is to move and use a generator, as well as how efficiently it uses gasoline and how long it runs on a single tank.
Consumer Reports runs each generator through a variety of scenarios designed to capture the ways in which a consumer might inadvertantly misuse a generator in their own home. We conduct these tests in a custom-built vessel on the grounds of our Yonkers, N.Y. test facility. The vessel is wired with calibrated carbon monoxide sensors, and we record CO levels throughout the container when a generator is on, noting how quickly each generator turns off when the levels become potentially dangerous. For more details, read How Consumer Reports Tests Generators for Safety.
Features to Consider
Don’t let rain, snow, or wind keep you in the dark. Consider these options to make sure you get the best generator for your needs.
Automatic CO Shutoff
This critical new safety feature automatically shuts down a generator’s engine if a built-in CO sensor detects levels of the deadly gas building up to certain levels. A portable generator must have this feature to earn a spot on our list of CR recommended generators. More brands than ever offer models with this technology, including heavyweights like Generac, Cat, and DeWalt. In fact, we have over a dozen generators in our ratings with a CO safety shut off. You might see marketing terms such as “CO Guard,” “CO Protect,” “CO Detect,” “CO Shield,” or “CO Sense.” The way to verify whether a generator meets one of the two standards is to look for one of these references on the packaging:
• ANSI/UL2201 Certified for Carbon Monoxide Safety
• ANSI/PGMA G300 Certified Safety & Performance
When the power goes off, the generator goes on—without you lifting a finger. This is great if you travel a lot or work far from home, and can’t always get there quickly in an emergency.
Several portable models offer this push-button alternative to the hassle of pull-starting the engine. Just factor in the added cost (around $50) if the battery is not included. Stationary models have automatic starting.
Alternative Fuel Capacity
Most portable models run only on gasoline, though some come equipped to run on a propane tank or natural-gas line and others can be converted with kits.
Especially during long blackouts, you may appreciate the ability to check at a glance how much fuel remains in your portable generator.
If oil falls below minimum levels, the generator shuts down to prevent engine damage. Typically a standard feature on stationary generators, it’s increasingly common on portables.
Four or more lets you best use the wattage by spreading the load, though we recommend using these only in an extreme pinch at home, or for when you’re away at a campsite. See the next section on transfer switches.
This connects to the generator so you can plug in appliances without running (potentially risky) extension cords outdoors.
Yes, You Need a Transfer Switch
What’s that? The short answer: It safely connects a home standby or portable generator to your circuit panel via one cable. Skipping it could endanger utility workers, cause appliances to fry, and damage the generator itself.
We recommend that you have a licensed electrician install it, and you should be prepared to pay from $500 to $900 with labor. With a stationary model, the transfer switch turns on automatically. For portable models, you’ll need to flip a few switches by hand when the power goes out. (Be sure to have your electrician walk you through the procedure.)
Most transfer switches are designed for a 220-volt input, which means you’re looking at a generator of 5,000 watts or more. For stationary models, it shuts off when the power goes on; for a portable, you’ll flip the same switches the other way to bring up live power.
Want to save money? Install an interlock device instead, which costs $100-$200 less than a transfer switch and can be installed in less time by an electrician. This covers your service panel’s main cutoff switch—so when the power pops back on, you can’t accidentally put the generator on. Because that would be a bad thing. ILLUSTRATION: CHRIS PHILPOTGenerator Ratings5 Tips to Keep Your Portable Generator Ready
We’ve written about lots of external power sources before — including everything you need for a blackout, one writer’s favorite power station, and the best portable chargers — here, we’ve rounded up the best portable generators, as praised by the most enthusiastic reviewers on Amazon.
Best-rated portable generator
Westinghouse WGen7500 Portable Generator4.5 stars, 2,365 reviews$825
This is an electric start portable generator, a feature that appealed to many five-star reviewers, like one who says, “The electric start and remote worked perfectly. A very nice touch that everything was included (battery, oil, funnel, spark plug socket, etc.) and that the battery was already charged and ready to go.” Another has “had this generator for a year now and started it again in preparation for Hurricane Florence,” and calls it, “Well-designed and well-built, starts first try. The electric start is a nice perk, but pull start is there when you have a dead battery.” One says that for “a portable generator, Westinghouse is great” because while “you have to get a transfer switch installed by an electrician,” he adds “it is very easy to start thanks to the electric start button. It holds a lot of gasoline and has to be filled up twice per day depending on how much load you put on it.” And the battery, according to one reviewer, really holds a charge, even after five years: “Got it out of storage yesterday, put in fresh gas, and it immediately started and ran great. I could hardly believe that the battery still had a charge and i did not have to jump start.”$825 AT AMAZON
Best-rated (less expensive) portable generator
SereneLife Portable Generator, 155Wh Power Station$120$135 now 11% off4.4 stars, 288 reviews
This compact portable generator is a hit among campers. “It’s small, holds a strong, long lasting charge and has a heavy duty plastic body that looks like it’ll take a beating,” one reviewer writes, adding, “I really love that I can plug a solar panel in so we don’t have to use the stored charge while it’s sunny out.” It also charges with a standard AC plug or DC car plug, and it takes about eight hours to reach full battery, and that “means it can be used on successive days.” When it is fully charged, it has a capacity of 155 watt-hours, which “means it can power two 9-watt LED bulbs (60 watt incandescent equivalents) for a full 8+ hours. We also have a very low-wattage small AC-powered fan that only consumes 4 watts, which means we could get theoretically 38 hours of run time from that,” according to one reviewer. A majority of users bought this to power their CPAP machines, which help people with sleep apnea breathe at night while camping and have had a lot of success. “Most importantly for ME it will run my CPAP (Resmed Airsense 10) for NINE HOURS on a full charge, provided I turn off the humidifier/ heated tubing function on the unit,” one writes, while another says, “8.5 hours running CPAP, no problem and only used one bar on charger, so should run cpap two or three nights on a charge.”$120 AT AMAZON
Best quiet portable inverter generator
Westinghouse WGen9500 Portable Generator$479 now 5% off4.3 stars, 1,229 reviews$454
Half of all five star reviewers describe this portable generator as “quiet,” including one who keeps it on the porch without disturbing any neighbors: “My first impression was ‘Wow, this thing is quiet.’ I really didn’t expect it to be that quiet. I chose an inverter since I live in a townhouse complex and was concerned about powering my necessities when power went out but didn’t want to annoy my neighbors. I was very pleased when I finally heard it run.” Another is impressed that “This little baby just keeps on purring away and uses very little fuel,” adding that it ran, “13 hours on one gallon. Love it.” And it can run a lot. According to one reviewer, “I’ve being using it for four weeks as home backup power after hurricane Maria struck PR leaving the Island off the power grid. In average, I use it daily for 12 hours powering a refrigerator, 1 55-inch LED TV, 1 40-inch LCD TV, 1 Blu-ray DVD, 8 16-watt lamps, two big fans, one 800-watt espresso coffee brewer running six minute cycle in the morning, charging my cell phones, tablets and laptops and washing two laundry loads per week.” A fourth reviewer also purchased this after his home was hit by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, writing, “I have to say this little unit has been a life saver for me and my family. It has made our life much easier and I’m planning to buy another one for back up.”$454 AT AMAZON
Best (less expensive) quiet portable inverter generator
WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator, CARB Compliant$420 now 20% off4.6 stars, 1,181 reviews$336
This portable generator gets top marks for its low noise level. As one reviewer explains, “At up to about 600W, this unit is so quiet, you can actually run it outside on your balcony, without disturbing the neighbors.” Another exclaims, “This generator rocks,” explaining, “It kept two refrigerators and two freezers going 24 hours/day with a little room to spare for four days in the aftermath of the Irma induced storms in Atlanta.” One reviewer even calls this “one of the best investments I’ve done,” explaining, “ We live in south Florida and this generator got us through the hurricane Irma. The reason we got it because the price and performance; very fuel efficient, compact, light and quiet.” Another reviewer used this after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and concludes, “The generator has been used every day for at least eight hours per day and it’s still going strong with no problems whatsoever. That is at least four months, people!”$336 AT AMAZON
Best lightweight portable generator
Champion Power Equipment 42436 1500/1200-Watt Portable Generator$360 now 30% off4.2 stars, 559 reviews$251
“Good little generator and the perfect size for our needs (emergency power after a storm),” writes one reviewer, and more than 15 percent of reviewers describe this portable generator as “light.” “It’s small enough that I can pick it up and carry it, but puts out enough power to keep the refrigerator and a few other things running,” one writes, while another says, “One person can easily pick it up and carry it.” It’s fairly basic and easy-to-use, too. “I’ve had this generator for a couple of years now and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a lightweight gene for camping or for the garage when you don’t have an outlet handy,” one less-tech-savvy reviewer writes, adding, “I’ve run countless hours on this with minimal maintenance, and it starts and runs easily.” It has also helped several reviewers weather a storm. “We use it during outages to run the refrigerator, a few lamps, internet, computers and to recharge our phones,” one explains. “I top off the gas tank before bed and sleep for 8 hours with no worries.” Another says, “Power did indeed go out and I fired this up, and it worked perfectly for 5 days running 24 hours a day, until our power was restored.”$251 AT AMAZON
Best portable generator with fuel shutoff
WEN 56203i 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator w/Fuel Shut Off$3894.6 stars, 535 reviews
This generator comes with a fuel shutoff feature that uses up the remaining fuel from the carburetor before automatically shutting down — and though that’s very technical, it’s a feature that completely sold one reviewer. “This is very important because fuel will gum up carburetor if left in too long. It takes little over a minute for it to run out of gas,” they explain. Another points out that this feature will add to the generator’s life span: “Use stabilizer in your fuel, and use the fuel shutoff feature, and this generators should last a decade with no problem.” In general, though, reviewers say this generator uses a conservative amount of fuel: According to one reviewer, “This thing uses like NO fuel.” Another reports, “I have ran it during two power outage events now for about 6-8 hours each time, and I was nowhere near going though the 1 gallon of gas.” It’s not the most powerful generator out there, but one reviewer says it ran all their lights, refrigerator, entertainment center, internet, and security system, all at once.$389 AT AMAZON
Best dual-fuel portable generator
Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator$699 now 27% off4.5 stars, 1,191 reviews$512
“Wow, what a great generator,” rejoices one reviewer after testing out this dual-fuel portable generator. “After making the connections for the battery and adding some gas, I fired her up. Three cranks and away she went. Sounds smooth and fairly quiet. The quality is really great as it looks like it was assembled with pride. The dual-fuel makes it especially appealing.” Another reviewer appreciates the dual-fuel feature because she has “the ability to use both gas and propane,” which she calls “the selling point. With propane no worries about gas gumming up in the engine. Propane is clean.” One customer bought it for his RV, also saying that “the selling point was the dual fuel use.” He explains, “Pulled over that night and ran our A/C in our RV from midnight to 7AM. It was a little loud and was concerned with our neighbors but after hearing the semi engines, and other RV’ers with their generators all was good. We slept comfortably and still had propane to spare.” As this reviewer concludes, “Bottom line, it ‘just works’ for me, and I couldn’t be happier with this product. The dual fuel aspect is a real selling point, no need to worry about how old your gasoline is.”$512 AT AMAZON
Best easy-start portable generator
Champion 7500-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator$1,480 now 33% off4.6 stars, 295 reviews$999
“Take your old Honda, Generac, Kolar, Homlite, and all the rest and toss them in the recycling bin. Nothing beats this brand of generator,” one reviewer passionately reports, before adding, “It’s got to be the best generator made. And I have numerous generators. I have Champions with over 5,000 hours on them.” Another reviewer writes, “God bless this generator,” and explains, “This generator has more than paid for itself just keeping my refrigerators powered during Dominion Power’s numerous outages, so we do not have to toss out hundreds of dollars worth of food at a time. It always starts up with the electric push-button starter, and operation and maintenance are a dream if you use the propane option.” A third reviewer admits he “hates dealing with gasoline engines and I’m at that age in my life where I can’t deal with the frustration of pull starts, so the propane option and the electric start were a big factor in my purchase,” concluding, “ Started like a dream and runs much more smoothly than other generators. Plus, it looks great and I keep joking that we now have Bumblebee the Transformer living in our garage. Overall, another awesome Champion Power product.”$999 AT AMAZON
Best easy-start portable gas generator
Generac 7117 Gp2200I W 50St Inverter, Orange$503$679 now 26% off4.5 stars, 850 reviews
Unlike the above, there is no “electric push-button starter,” but more than 20 percent of reviewers still describe this generator as easy to use, which is uncommon for gas generators. “Amazingly, it started on the first pull after adding fuel, using the choke for only a few seconds,” one reviewer writes. And others have had similar experiences. “Super easy to start (even I can do it and I have trouble with other pull start machinery),” says one, while another reviewer says, “It starts with the first pull every single time.” What’s also impressive is how many gadgets this 2,200-watt generator can power. “We used it all summer long to run the 5,000 BTU AC unit,” one says. “We also used it for the coffee maker (shut off ac first) and for lights, charging computers, etc.” Another reviewer listed off a laundry list of appliances this powered, remarkably all at the same time: “Two 24” monitors, An engineering computer (a beast), Modem, Sonicwall VPN, A 50” tv, Bose speaker, Side by side fridge, Every single light (leds for bulbs),The furnace, Ceiling fans.” And while there are other 2,200-watt generators on the market, one savvy comparison shopper said this one is slightly better than the others: “I researched many of the 2000 watt to 2200 watt portable inverter/generators, and chose this one based on the slight 100 watts of running power over the 2000 watt models, even though this one is just a few db’s louder, while still being as light as, or lighter than, competing 2000/2200 watt options,” they say. “It also has a slightly larger fuel tank, netting a claimed 10 hours plus of runtime on eco (which works well for situations i have that require clean minimal power for long periods (a few hundred watts).”$503 AT AMAZON