In a world where everything is connected, power outages present a true problem. They can render you unable to work, force you to endure the winter cold, or even risk your health if you depend on something like a CPAP machine.
A generator can be the perfect solution to keeping you safe and connected when emergencies strike. But what's the best generator for you — and your budget? There are three kinds of machines to consider.
Generator vs. inverter vs. power station
You might think of a generator as a very loud, gas-powered machine. But newer generators can be much quieter and more versatile than their predecessors.
For example, a traditional portable generator can use regular gasoline or diesel (and most do), but some can be powered with liquid propane or natural gas. Inverter generators, even though they’re also powered by gas, diesel or propane, make much less sound. Many models, like our top pick, now come with a dual fuel feature and can be powered with gas or propane, offering greater flexibility.
Standby generators are the most powerful, with some reaching over 20kW. They are installed permanently, by a professional, in a household or commercial location, and they switch on automatically if you lose power. This kind of generator might either liquid propane or natural gas, but if you have access to the latter from the local power company, it provides quite a few benefits. Namely, it's a virtually unlimited power source, and you don’t have to buy new tanks or refill the generator (you do have to pay the bill, though).
Inverter generators, favored by campers, normally use gasoline, though dual fuel models (compatible with liquid propane) are becoming more popular. Inverters take initial AC current, turn it into DC current, then back into AC current at the rate needed by whatever’s plugged in. This stabilization is what makes them much quieter and more efficient than regular generators.
Then there are the new kids on the block: battery power stations. While some are known as “solar generators,” these are essentially oversized lithium battery packs and not generators per se.
But lithium batteries, which are used in cellphones, electric cars, and many other products, are now more efficient and better at keeping their charge for long periods. Modern power stations can pump out up to 3000W of power and, when charged through renewable sources, can keep small refrigerators running. They may not replace generators entirely yet, but for those worried about emissions, they could be a very good choice.
Generator buying guide
When shopping for a generator, here are some of the specifications you'll encounter:
• Wattage. A generator’s capacity is measured by wattage — that is, how many watts of electricity a generator can put out by the hour. This helps determine what you’ll be able to power. A common refrigerator, for example, can pull about 150 watts per hour, on average.
Generators also have a peak capacity and running capacity, which are the two main measurements you’ll see advertised. Peak watts can be reached for short bursts to start up appliances or power something large at a moment’s notice, but a machine's running watts are what it can sustain for long periods of time.
• Power source. Generators run on gasoline, diesel, liquid propane, natural gas, and some — although not technically generators — on lithium batteries. Gasoline, diesel, and propane are easily obtained, and out of the three, propane is the cleanest and easiest to store. Dual-fuel models (like our Editor’s Pick) can run on either gasoline or propane.
Finally, lithium battery stations are silent, clean, and can be stored almost anywhere; however, it’s important to determine whether they can be charged using solar panels, as not all batteries have the capacity to do so. If the battery station can only be charged by plugging it into an electric outlet, it could be useless in prolonged power outage situations.
• Warranty. Generator manufacturers generally provide three years of limited warranty, but some only give two and others can go up to five. If you’re using a generator for commercial purposes, make sure to take a close look at the fine print. If you use your generator to power, say, a food truck, your coverage can be as low as 90 days. Not a nice surprise.
• Safety. Generators emit dangerous gases and use volatile energy sources. Installing them improperly can damage your appliances or worse. First, make sure yours is certified by the EPA and CARB (California Air Resources Board) to reduce risk of contamination and intoxication. Second, consider models with smart features such as automatic shut-off, voltage adjustment, or even wireless alerts. Finally, set up the generator properly outside the home, and if you plan to use high wattage, have a transfer switch professionally installed.
1. Editor's pick: Westinghouse WGen9500DF Dual Fuel Portable Generator
Peak Capacity: 12500W │ Running Capacity: 9500W │ Advertised runtime: 12h at 50% │ Tank Capacity: 6.6 gal. │ Voltage: 120/240V │ Warranty: 3 years
For a little over $1,000, the Westinghouse WGen9500DF offers close to the maximum capacity found in portable generators. At 9500 continuous watts, it can easily power appliances like refrigerators, air conditioners, and electric heaters. It’s also versatile, as it can run on regular gasoline or liquid propane. The performance is a bit weaker on propane, with a peak of 11200W and 8500 running watts, but it’s a cleaner option and easier to store. These specs apply to a 20lb. tank, and you can always buy a bigger one if you like.
As a nice touch, this generator is also easy to turn on. It has a button, just like new cars, and a key fob to turn it on remotely (no need to walk to the shed in the dark). But don’t worry if the button fails or if you simply don’t trust it; there is also a reliable emergency recoil start.
2. Best overall: Generac 7042 Standby Generator
Peak Capacity: 22000W │ Continuous Capacity: 19500W │ Advertised runtime: Indefinitely with natural gas line and proper monitoring │ Tank Capacity: Natural gas line or desired propane tank │ Voltage: 120/240V │ Warranty: 5 years
For some, even an hour without power is unacceptable, due to extreme weather conditions or health risks. In those situations, the best bet is a standby generator that turns on automatically and can run on an unlimited power source, like the Generac Guardian 7042. With 22kW of peak capacity and 19.5kW of continuous power, it can keep almost your entire home on for an indefinite period of time, provided you give the unit proper maintenance and have access to natural gas. If natural gas isn’t available in your area, you can also set it up to use liquid propane.
The 7042 boasts a 5-year limited warranty and a wide range of smart features that ensure safety and aid with upkeep. It automatically regulates voltage, monitors temperature when in prolonged use, and yes, it has wi-fi and an app. You can monitor the amount of gas used and the voltage, and get alerts in case of an emergency.
3. Best for low prices: Champion Power Equipment 3500-Watt Portable Generator
Peak Capacity: 4375W │ Continuous Capacity: 3500W │ Advertised runtime: 14h at 50% │ Tank Capacity: 4.7 gal. │ Voltage: 120V │ Warranty: 3 years
Buying a cheap generator isn’t always a good idea. Normally, if you want to go down on price without sacrificing quality (and safety), you have to settle for less power. But for $349, the Champion 3500W has enough to keep valuable appliances running (up to a 15,000 BTU air conditioner), and to keep the competition on its toes too. It delivers the same performance and warranty as leading rivals, with a small edge on runtime, tank size, and extras like the proprietary "Intelligauge" to monitor performance.
For a slightly more powerful, but also budget-friendly, alternative, there’s the Westinghouse WGen3600. It offers 3600W, it’s equally reliable and also offers a three-year warranty. And while it’s usually more expensive than the Champion, you can often find the Westinghouse model on sale for as low as $314.
4. Best inverter generator: Briggs & Stratton P2200 PowerSmart Inverter Generator
Peak Capacity: 2200W │ Continuous Capacity: 1700W │ Advertised runtime: 8h at 25% │ Tank Capacity 1 gal. │ Warranty: 2 years
Inverter generators are known for their quiet motors, their portability and, unfortunately, their high price tags. The Briggs & Stratton P2200 inverter may seem pricey too, but $760 is reasonable for the capacity and reliability of this 112-year-old company. Designed mostly for camping, the P2200 has a peak of 2200W and a running capacity of 1700W. That can power a small refrigerator, fans, and small appliances like blenders or pressure cookers. At 25%, which is about 400Wh, it can run up to 8 hours.
Briggs & Stratton has some drawbacks, however. It has a two-year warranty, while most manufacturers offer three. And, if the generator is used for commercial purposes, the warranty goes down to only 90 days. The P2200’s power capacity is fairly limited, but if you need more, the brand offers inverters all the way up to 6500W at a good price and with the same reliability.
5. Best low price inverter: WEN RV-Ready 4000-Watt Open Frame Inverter Generator GN400i
Peak Capacity: 4000W │ Continuous Capacity: 3500W │ Advertised runtime: 7h at 50% │ Tank Capacity: 1.85 gal. │ Warranty: 2 years
If you want an inverter but need more wattage at a budget-friendly price, take a look at the GN400i by WEN. It can put out 3500 continuous watts, and runs for 7 hours at 50%, which is nearly the full capacity of smaller generators. The biggest downside is its open frame, which makes it louder and renders it more vulnerable to the elements than traditional, closed-frame inverters.
6. Best battery power station: Bluetti AC200P Portable Power Station
Peak Capacity: 2000W │ Continuous Capacity: 2000W │ Advertised runtime: Can run a 8,000 BTU A/C for 1.5h or a 7ft³ freezer for 34h│ Charging method: solar, electric, generator │ Warranty: 2 years
As lithium batteries become more popular and their technology advances, battery packs have reached the capacity of some inverter generators (although for roughly double the price). This is the case of the Bluetti AC200 and AC200P. We recommend the AC200P, which uses lithium iron batteries (LifePO4) instead of lithium ion. LifePO4 batteries have a reduced risk of ignition, so they eliminate lithium-ion’s overheating problem, especially in ongoing use. Thanks to this, the AC200P can reach 2000W and actually keep that output for continuous use. The AC200, powered by LG lithium-ion batteries, will maintain lower numbers (1700W). Both models have the same features, though, like 17 different ports (including USB-C Power Delivery and wireless charging), and the ability to power refrigerators, small heaters, CPAP machines, and charge any sort of electrical device.
If your biggest concern is recharging it, the Bluetti can be charged through solar panels with up to 700W of input, significantly more than what average power stations can take. This means a speedy charge when taking advantage of the midday sun.
7. Most versatile power station: EGO Nexus Power Station
Peak Capacity: 3000W │ Continuous Capacity: 2000W │ Advertised runtime: No specific runtime advertised │ Charging method: electric │ Warranty: 5 years on tool, 3 years on battery
EGO makes yard tools such as trimmers and chainsaws with the same type of detachable battery. The Nexus is essentially a modular hub where you can place four of these batteries together — or in any combination — and use it as a regular power station to charge your tools or power electronics like small refrigerators, fans, and medical devices. You don’t need to own EGO tools to take advantage of the power station, but if you have them already, this addition will make charging and using your tools easier, and keep you prepared. Keep in mind not all EGO batteries have the same capacity, so their combination will not always reach max power, but you have the option to buy the full 3000W set.
What kept the EGO from being our top battery pick is that, at the moment, it can’t be charged through solar panels. However, the company says it is planning on adding this ability soon. Until then, this is mostly convenient for those with EGO tools or recent homeowners building their new tool collection.