The Ultimate Generator Buyer’s Guide
Read this and pinpoint the best generator for your needs with exceptional speed and accuracy
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-Styles||Portable||Standby||RV|
|What Type Looks Like|
|Style 1||Recreational||Essential Home Backup Power||Propane (LP)|
|Style 2||Home||Entire House Backup Power ||Gasoline|
|Style 3||Job Site||Commercial||Diesel|
> Which fuel type?
> Which fuel type?
> Which fuel type?
|Best Reason To Buy||Most Versatile||Most Dependable||Take Your RV Deep Into The Wilderness Comfortably|
|Power Range (Running kW)||0.8 - 17.5||7 - 150||3.4 - 8.5|
|Links||> All Portable Styles||> All Standby Styles||> All RV Styles|
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 Styles||Quiet - Recreational||Versatile - Home||Heavy-Duty - Job Site|
|What Style Looks Like|
|Typical Usage 1||Camping||General Home Use||Contractors|
|Typical Usage 2||Tailgating||Emergency||Construction Sites|
|Typical Usage 3||Weekend Events||Cabin||Rental Company|
|Best Reason To Buy||Very Quiet and Portable||Very Versatile and Affordable||Very Durable and Reliable|
|Power Range (Running W)||800 - 6,300||2,000 - 17,500||3,600 - 10,000|
|Links||> Top Recreational / Quietest Generators|
> Top Camping Generators
|> Top Generators For Home Use|
> Top Home Emergency Generators
|> Top Professional Generators|
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 Styles||Small - Essential Home Power||Medium - Home Power||Large - Commercial|
|What Style Looks Like|
|Best Reason To Buy||Prevent Home Damage From Loss of Power to Sump Pumps||Home Backup Power||Liquid Cooled Automotive Style Engines Provide Enough Power For Anyones Home Needs|
|Power Range (Running kW)||7 - 14||17 - 20||22 - 48|
|Links||> See The Best||> See The Best||> See The Best|
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 Styles||NG/LP||Gasoline||Diesel|
|What Style Looks Like|
|Best Reason To Buy||Clean Burning, Extended Storage||You Have Gasoline RV||You Have Diesel RV|
|Power Range (Running kW)||3.4 - 7.5||3.4 - 7.5||Up To 8.5 kW|
|Links||> See Top NG/LP||> See Top Gasoline||> See Top Diesel|
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Q & A
Generator Buying Guide: Q & A
- How do I know how many Watts I need my generator to have?
- If I buy my generator online how will the shipping to me work?
- 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?
- What sort of warranty do I get with my generator?
- Does my generator come out-of-the-box ready for use or is there some initial setup?
- What does CARB Compliant mean?
- How important is it to have an electric starter versus a manual recoil start?
- What is a good run-time in hours for my generator? And why do I always see run-time advertised “at 1/2 load”?
- Why do some generators come with wheels and some don’t? Can I buy a wheel kit if mine doesn’t?
- How loud is a typical generator?.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Be sure to get informed about the specific return policy of the generator you buy – before you buy.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Source||Sound Level (dBA)|
|Human Hearing Threshold||0|
|Whisper Quiet Library||30|
|Yamaha 2,000W Inverter Generator||51.5 at 1/4 Load|
61 at Rated Load
|ETQ 3,500W Portable Propane Generator||65|
|DuroMax 4,400W Portable Gas Generator||69|
|ETQ 4,900W Portable Diesel Generator||82|
|Jet Engine at Takeoff||140|
↑Go to the top of this page