The Ultimate Generator Buyer’s Guide

Read this and pinpoint the best generator for your needs with exceptional speed and accuracy

Start Here

The most important aspect of choosing the best generator for your needs is picking the correct type of generator – portable, standby or RV?

Take a look at the comparison table below to decide which type of generator is best for your needs. Once you decide, all you need to do is click that type/style’s link (located at the bottom of each column) and you will be taken to the best generators.

Generator Types and Sub-StylesPortableStandbyRV
What Type Looks LikeGenerac 5778 XG4000 Portable GeneratorGenerac Guardian Series 5875 Standby GeneratorGenerac 5851 RV Generator
Style 1Recreational
Essential Home Backup Power
Propane (LP)
Style 2Home
Entire House Backup Power
Gasoline
Style 3Job Site
CommercialDiesel
Fuel TypesGasoline
Diesel
NG/LP
> Which fuel type?
Diesel
NG/LP

> Which fuel type?
Gasoline
Diesel
NG/LP
> Which fuel type?
Best Reason To BuyMost VersatileMost DependableTake Your RV Deep Into The Wilderness Comfortably
Power Range (Running kW)0.8 - 17.57 - 1503.4 - 8.5
Price Range$199 - $2,679$1,799 - $29,599$1,899 - $6,985
Links> All Portable Styles> All Standby Styles> All RV Styles

See Portable Generator Styles→

Portable

The best way to pick the style of portable generator that is best for you is to decide on 2 things – (1) How quiet do you want it to be? (2) How often will you use it?

Want the quietest? Get the recreational style.

The quietest generators are the “recreational” ones with inverter alternators. They have closed cases unlike their open frame conventional alternator counterparts. They are significantly quieter and best for camping and occasional recreational use.

Will you use it daily? Get the job site style.

The best generators to get for daily use are the “job site” ones. They are designed with contractors and construction sites in mind and include more robust construction and better engine parts for longer engine life and easy maintenance.

Where does the home style fit in? 

Home is in the middle. If you are not too fussed about having the quietest generator and are also not going to be using it daily then get the home style portable generator.

Take a look at the specifics for each portable generator style:

Portable Generator StylesQuiet - RecreationalVersatile - HomeHeavy-Duty - Job Site
What Style Looks LikeYamaha Inverter Generator IsoViewDuroMax XP4400E Portable GeneratorGenerac XP8000E Professional Generator
Typical Usage 1CampingGeneral Home UseContractors
Typical Usage 2TailgatingEmergencyConstruction Sites
Typical Usage 3Weekend EventsCabinRental Company
Best Reason To BuyVery Quiet and PortableVery Versatile and AffordableVery Durable and Reliable
Power Range (Running W)800 - 6,3002,000 - 17,5003,600 - 10,000
Price Range$309 - $3,689$199 - $2,679$999 - $2,399
Links> Top Recreational / Quietest Generators
> Top Camping Generators
> Top Generators For Home Use
> Top Home Emergency Generators
> Top Professional Generators

See Standby Generator Styles→

Standby

The best way to pick the style of standby generator that is best for you is to decide on 1 thing – How comfortable do you want to be during the next blackout or natural disaster?

Do you want to not know the power went out? Get medium or large size.

If you want your entire home power to be supplied then you will need a “medium – home power” or a “large – commercial” depending on the size of your home and your home’s electrical needs.

The bigger your home is and the more electrical needs you have, obviously, the bigger your generator will need to be. The average home in the USA would quite easily be able to have a normal day with a 20 kW standby generator. Things like A/C and heating can drastically increase the power needs of your home so be sure to be sure.

Do you only want your “essential home” electrical stuff to stay powered?

Things like sump pumps and fridges are a must because if they lose power you lose money from damaged basements and wasted food. If you fit into this category then sump pumps, fridge/freezer, lights and some smaller cooking appliances can get power during a blackout.

Standby Generator StylesSmall - Essential Home PowerMedium - Home PowerLarge - Commercial
What Style Looks LikeGenerac CorePower 5837 Standby GeneratorGenerac Guardian Series 5875 Standby GeneratorGenerac Standby Generator QuietSeries
Best Reason To BuyPrevent Home Damage From Loss of Power to Sump PumpsHome Backup PowerLiquid Cooled Automotive Style Engines Provide Enough Power For Anyones Home Needs
Power Range (Running kW)7 - 1417 - 2022 - 48
Price Range$1,799 - $3,599$3,618 - $4,589$7,919 - $15,300
Links> See The Best> See The Best> See The Best

See RV Generator Styles→

RV

The best way to pick the style of RV generator that is best for you is to match your RV fuel type with the fuel type of the generator (or, simply decide if you would prefer clean burning and longer storing natural gas or liquid propane)

RV Generator StylesNG/LPGasolineDiesel
What Style Looks LikeCummins Onan RV Generator PropaneGenerac RV 5856 Gas Powered RV GeneratoGenerac 5851 RV Generator
Best Reason To BuyClean Burning, Extended StorageYou Have Gasoline RVYou Have Diesel RV
Power Range (Running kW)3.4 - 7.53.4 - 7.5Up To 8.5 kW
Price Range$2,165 - $3,969$1,899 - $3,499Up To $6,985
Links> See Top NG/LP> See Top Gasoline> See Top Diesel

See Fuel Types Comparison With Pros and Cons→

Which Fuel is Best?

How to Pick the Proper Generator Fuel Type for Your Needs

If you are confused about which fuel your generator should use, you are in the right place. If you already know which fuel type you prefer then you can go and take a look at the Best Generators of Each Fuel Type which, as the title suggests, spotlights the best generator of each fuel type.

Here I would like to show the pros and cons of each fuel type. And also, since each engine would be slightly different, I talk about some pros and cons of the engines.

Keep in mind these things:

  1. Buying a standby generator? The whole point of a standby generator is to have home backup power when the utility services go out. These almost always use propane or natural gas because most areas have an underground feed line for unlimited supply. And also, in the case of using these if you have no feed line – since you won’t be using your standby genset regularly – you would need the fuel to have the ability to be stored forever.
  2. Buying a portable generator? To be perfectly honest: All the pros and cons listed below for each fuel type pretty much balance each other out on the whole. What I mean is that even though diesel engines have longer service life and slightly better fuel efficiency, gas generators are slightly quieter and the lower fuel efficiency (because of modern engine design) is barely noticeable. In addition, there are heaps more gas powered portable generators for you to choose from. With the case of propane bottles, and a propane generator, I would get one for sure if you have many other uses of the propane around the house – like a barbie or outdoor heat lamp etc. All in all, with the way generators are designed these days, you can’t really go wrong with any fuel type.
  3. Mad keen on solar? Like I say in the table below, solar power generators will be the most expensive initially, costing you about $2 to $5 per Watt for the solar panels alone. If you live in a really sunny area and are truly looking to cut your energy bill long term then solar is an awesome option. Keep in mind that if you are looking to use the solar as home backup power you will need some serious battery banks to store the energy up for the blackout.

Check Out the Pros and Cons of Each Fuel Type:

Fuel TypeProsCons
Gasoline
  1. Gas stations are everywhere. And so, you can rest easy knowing that just around the corner is fuel for your generator's engine

  2. Most people own a gas can. And so, you can fill that up to take with you and your generator to use as a backup

  3. Portable gasoline generators are more common these days for home use and recreation and so you have a wider variety of choice when shopping around for a generator

  4. Depending where you live, of course, but a Gas Engine Mechanic may be easier to find and cost less money than a Diesel Mechanic
  1. When the power goes out in your local area the gas station may not be able to pump the gas you need

  2. Gasoline can not be stored in large quantities safely

  3. Gasoline can not be stored for too long (months up to a year) because it will go off like rotten milk

  4. Gasoline is highly flammable and has an NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) rating of 3/4. It is more flammable on this rating scale than diesel but less so than propane and natural gas
Diesel
  1. Diesel fuel has 14% more energy per volume than gasoline and this contributes to better fuel efficiency

  2. Diesel engine's performance peaks at much lower speeds than gasoline and so the engine has much longer life and longer time between maintenance

  3. Diesel engines are designed with thicker or stronger steels than gasoline engines and so this also contributes to better engine life and less maintenance

  4. Least flammable fuel type with a rating of 2/4 on the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) rating chart

  5. Probably easier to obtain during natural disaster/power outage than gasoline due to the fact it is used in most large scale vehicles like in the military

  6. Diesel engines have no spark plugs to replace
  1. Diesel engines are louder than others due to their more powerful compression reaction vs. spark ignition

  2. Another fuel that can not be stored for too long - longer than gasoline, yes - but still only like 1 - 2 years

  3. Diesel Mechanic may be more expensive and so if something on your engine requires work it could cost more to repair
Propane
  1. Can be stored indefinitely and its tanks can be transported easily

  2. A clean burning fuel for a more environmentally friendly generator

  3. When the power goes out you can still easily find propane tanks at your local gas station
  1. Highly flammable with a 4/4 on the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) list of flammable liquids

  2. Although tanks are transportable they are somewhat cumbersome considering gasoline and diesel generators have on-board fuel tanks

  3. Propane generators are more expensive to buy per kW produced because the fuel injection must include a feedback loop to the (slightly modified) carburetor throttle to match engine demands (does this via a vacuum controlled flow regulator linked to the carburetor)

  4. Although it has a cleaner combustion than gasoline and diesel it is still not as clean as natural gas

  5. Although propane fuel has a higher energy per gallon than gasoline and diesel it has a lower density and therefore uses about 20% more, on average, than gasoline and diesel to produce the same power


Natural Gas
  1. Most clean burning fuel out of gasoline, diesel and propane

  2. Most homes have underground feed lines, and so, natural gas is probably the best choice for home backup power as its supply is unlimited
  1. Highly flammable with a 4/4 on the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) list of flammable liquids

  2. Although some homes have an unlimited supply of natural gas some areas have none

  3. Generator initial cost seems to be higher than gasoline and diesel generators
Solar
  1. Doesn't burn any fuel so it has no emissions

  2. After high initial cost ($2 to $5 per Watt) the running cost is essentially free since the fuel it uses for energy is the Sun
  1. Initial cost is very high ($2 to $5 per Watt)

  2. To absorb enough Sun energy to provide adequate power for your home you need to spread the solar panels over a large area. You would approximately need your entire roof area to be solar panels. This is assuming 24kW-h of electrical consumption per day. So to be safe you need 2.4kW worth of solar panels. 16 of the 175W panels should do the trick considering inefficiencies in the system. So these panels have dimensions 1.593m x 0.790m and that equals about 4.5m x 4.5m area of solar panels. That's essentially your entire roof considering that you need to place the panels south facing and angled at the same as your latitude there are spots on your roof that are not suitable. Anyways, the gist of this being a "con" is that this large amount of panels would be considered, by most, as unsightly... Up to you really.

See Buying Guide FAQ→

Q & A

 

Generator Buying Guide: Q & A

Q: How do I know how many Watts I need my generator to have?

A: The short answer is: Go to this wattage calculator and select the electrical appliances you want your generator to power. The calculator will recommend a minimum running and starting Watts for your generator to have. You need to have that many Watts to sufficiently power the appliance(s) you selected.

Every generator will be listed with a max/surge/peak/startup Watts and a rated/running Watts so once you know your numbers it is easy to select the correct generator for your needs.

Without getting too “science-e”  the reason electrical appliances have a different startup and running power need is because of inertia (or, Newton’s First Law of Motion). Energy can only be transferred. And so, any appliance that uses electricity to power its components must first overcome inertia to start moving those components. Once the electrical energy (electricity) has started moving those components (ie. transferred adequate energy to create motion – also called mechanical energy) it is much easier to keep them moving and so the running Watts is usually substantially less.

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Q: If I buy my generator online how will the shipping to me work?

A: The reason many people ask this question is because generators are usually quite heavy and take up a lot of space and they think that buying one online means through-the-roof shipping cost – but this is just not true.

Most generators, in fact, qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping (Amazon.com purchases will be delivered to your house in 5 – 8 days) and you will be able to know if the generator you want qualifies right next to its price. I have indicated with the red box in the image below where you can find if the generator gets FREE shipping.

Generator Shipping FAQ

So, quite possibly you will get FREE shipping to your front door. It definitely makes it worthwhile to choose a generator that does qualify.

So, what if it doesn’t qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping? You will notice at the very bottom of that image above it says, “Want it delivered Thursday, January 5? […] choose One-Day Shipping at checkout.”

Well, that shows you that you can also pay a shipping fee (see the costs here) to get your item delivered via standard shipping and express “One-day” shipping and other options. For generators the cost of standard shipping (ie. 3-5 business days) would be $0.59/lb. And generators range in pounds from as low as 44 pounds up to 300 or 400 pounds for the more powerful ones. However, when you are buying a generator online you are already getting a highly discounted price off buying one in Lowe’s or Home Depot and so, paying $150 shipping on $1200 generator (that would cost you $1700 at Home Depot) is still worth it.

For all the Shipping & Delivery information simply go to this info-hub to peruse the details.

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Q: If I buy my generator online and some issues arise how do I get help, support and if need be how do I return such a big product for refund?

A: The first line of help is the generator user manual. It will have a troubleshooting section and you should definitely read that. If you are too pissed off that it is not working NOW then I suggest you get support from people who know about the particular generator you bought. Their contact details should be found, also, within the user manual.

If your generator arrived missing parts or accessories, is defective, is damaged or simply never arrived you can visit the Problem with an Order page to get instructions what to do…

If all this fails then you can return your generator to Amazon for a full refund (see how here); however, some generators cannot be returned.  If you look at the image below you will see inside the red box that it says, “This item cannot be returned…”. That is indicated just below the image of the product on Amazon.com. In this case, you cannot return the product to Amazon; however, if it is defective, missing parts or something similar, you can still use the warranty to sort out the problem. This is quite often ideal because quite often the manufacturer will have a dealer in your local area to perform the repair or supply the goods covered under your warranty. See more about warranties here.

Generator Buying Guide Returns

Be sure to get informed about the specific return policy of the generator you buy – before you buy.

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Q: What sort of warranty do I get with my generator?

A: Each brand of generator offers you a different warranty. They range from 1 year to 3 years and are almost always a limited warranty. All that means is the manufacturer guarantees their product will be free from defects in materials and workmanship for the duration of the warranty and if not, will pay for the replacement or repair of that unit. You will definitely need to do your due-diligence and read the warranty because they vary greatly and it always requires that you do proper maintenance and follow their user manual to a “T”.

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Q: Does my generator come out-of-the-box ready for use or is there some initial setup?

A: There is quite often some initial setup. This varies generator to generator. So be sure to thouroughly read your user manual before attempting start-up. Let me briefly explain some of the more common portable generator setup procedures:

  • Electric start battery connection. For safety reasons, if you purchased a generator with an electric start, the battery that powers the electric start will need to connected (red cable to (+) and black to (-) usually, but again, be sure to consult your manual).
  • May have to charge electric start battery.
  • Assemble handles, feet and wheels. All the nuts, bolts, washers, pins and whatever else required to assemble the handles, feet, and wheels will come in the box (we hope! haha). However, you will most likely need some different sizes of sockets and the socket wrench.
  • Add engine oil. These days most generators come with a bottle of SAE 30 engine oil. If not, you’ll need to get some. Follow the user manual instructions to add it.
  • Add fuel.

There are also some other consideration to make based on your usage intent and the local electrical codes you are operating in. Be mindful of:

  • Additional regulations for use on construction site.
  • Possible requirement to register your generator with the local utility company (especially common if you buy a standby generator with transfer switch).

Also make sure to register your generator on the website of the manufacturer (ie. Generac, Briggs & Stratton or whatever the brandname is). This is important for warranty purposes and for insurance purposes in the event of disaster or theft etc.

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Q: What does CARB Compliant mean?

A: If you live in California you need to have a CARB Compliant generator. CARB stands for California Air Resources Board. The compliancy  refers to non-road exhaust emissions. Given that a generator uses an engine and is not literally driving on the road, the manufacturer, if they want to sell their product in California, must design the engine/exhaust emissions to comply with the emission regulations.

CARB Compliancy is different than EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved and should not be confused with. Both have a different emmissions allowance for different sizes of engines and classes of engine.

An example of CARB Compliancy: an engine greater than 225 cc (like most generators) must not emit more than 12.0 g/kW-hr of Carbon Monoxide.

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Q: How important is it to have an electric starter versus a manual recoil start?

A: An electric starter is more of a convenience thing. There is no reason you need to get one unless you want one.

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Q: What is a good run-time in hours for my generator? And why do I always see run-time advertised “at 1/2 load”?

A: The most fuel efficient generators are ones that have a smart throttle to adjust the engine speed to match the load. Some generator’s engines just keep a constant speed are are thus not as efficient. The Yamaha EF2000iS inverter generator is probably the most fuel efficient generator and uses only about 13 fluid ounces (can of soda) of gasoline per hour (at 1/2 load). This translates to about 11 hours of run-time off only 1.1 gallons of gasoline.

As an example of fuel efficiency in a generator that is also 2,000W but does not use the smart throttle would be the All Power America APG3014 (1/4 the cost of the Yamaha just mentioned) which uses about 19 fluid ounces of gasoline per hour.

With regards to why “at 1/2 load” is always used is most simply because most generators are not at full capacity all the time. And so, for a more accurate run-time in hours, it is given for when the generator is producing half its rated load.

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Q: Why do some generators come with wheels and some don’t? Can I buy a wheel kit if mine doesn’t?

A: First off: some generators are not meant to be portable. So, here, I am going to talk about ones that are meant to be portable. Seems obvious, I know, but I just wanted to clarify.

The more mass the generator the more likely it is to have wheels. However, some models like the 106 pound Champion 4,000W (obviously meant to be a portable one) does not include a wheel kit. I really have no clue why not. However, you can almost always purchase an aftermarket wheel kit for your generator. Either from the manufacturer or from a modified existing wheel kit…

…I mean all a wheel kit is is two wheels, an axle, a handle, support leg and some nuts and bolts and connecting braces… You could probably make that yourself with parts from your local hardware store?

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Q: How loud is a typical generator?

A: All generators are different. Usually, the more power they produce the louder they will be. However, standby generators produce a lot of power but are often quieter than their smaller portable generator friends. We could talk about the why, but, really, who cares? Let’s just get to how loud your generator will be.

As a general rule: inverter generators are the quietest, then propane/natural gas, then gas, then diesel powered generators. Obviously there is some overlap and it greatly depends on the size of the generator’s engine.

Typically generators produce sound levels ranging from as quiet as your refrigerator to as loud as your lawnmower. Check out the table below to see more info:

Sound SourceSound Level (dBA)
Human Hearing Threshold0
Whisper Quiet Library30
Refrigerator50
Yamaha 2,000W Inverter Generator51.5 at 1/4 Load
61 at Rated Load
ETQ 3,500W Portable Propane Generator65
Normal Conversation65
DuroMax 4,400W Portable Gas Generator69
Vacuum Cleaner75
ETQ 4,900W Portable Diesel Generator82
Lawn Mower90
Jackhammer110
Jet Engine at Takeoff140

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