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Find out which is the best portable generator for your situation. Read expert and owner reviews and see which models are the most efficient and affordable.
If you’ve ever been without power for more than a day then you know how horrible it can be. I live in Virginia on the east coast of the US and we get hit by severe thunderstorms in the summer that knock down power lines and blow out transformers. In the winter we can expect at least one big ice storm every year that will pull down even more lines from the weight of the ice and knock the power out.
I respect the power crews who work 24/7 to get the lines back up and the power back on in my neighborhood. Despite their hard work though, it can sometimes take days to restore electricity depending on the severity of the storm and the conditions in the area. It’s very frustrating, but you can’t really blame anyone, except maybe Mother Nature.
After a particularly bad winter storm this past year, when the power was out for about 3 days, my wife and I decided we had just had enough. You can only take but so many cold showers in the middle of winter with no hot water, or burn candles at night for light, or even just miss your favorite TV shows.
So I started researching portable generators. My neighbor is a contractor and has a big ‘ole 8,000 watt generator to power his house during blackouts. So I started with him to get the basics down. Then I moved on to doing my own in-depth independent research to find out all I could about portable generators. Generators can be fairly complex with lots of different features and things to know before you buy. I put together a handy Buyer’s Guide on Choosing A Portable Generator to help you learn more about what features you should be looking for when generator shopping.
I like to be really detailed when I buy something as expensive and important as a portable generator. So I also read through all of the major magazines and journals that cover electronics, like Popular Mechanics and Consumer Reports. Plus I looked at any news articles I could find on the topic from sources like the NY Times and LA Times.
In addition to magazine and newspapers, it’s really helpful to look at owner reviews. Rather than just use my own opinion about a generator, I’m just one guy, I like to get other people’s opinions as well. And it’s good to see a cross section and not just a few opinions. If a generator has over 100 reviews written about it, with an average rating of 4 out of 5, all from people who have owned and used the machine, then you know it’s pretty darn good.
So after all that work I’ve been able to put together the following list of the best portable generators. I’ve broken the list out into categories based on wattage capacity. You need to decide what wattage you need before you go out and buy your generator. Doing an energy inventory can help you decide.
Just go through and add up all of the running wattages of the appliances you would like to use when a blackout occurs, or while you’re out camping, or in your RV. You will also need to add in the starting or surge wattage of your largest appliance. Many appliances with motors, like your refrigerator’s compressor engine, take 2 or 3 times as much energy to start up and they do to run. So your fridge may run using 600 watts but need as much as 1,800 watts to start. You only need to add in the surge wattage of the largest appliance because it’s very unlikely that 2 motors will cycle on at the exact same time. You can get wattage information from the Owner’s Manuals of each appliance and many devices even have it printed on their motors.
After you’ve added up the running or rated wattage of all of your appliances that you plan to run simultaneously and the surge wattage of the largest appliance, then you have the figure you need to determine the portable generator wattage capacity that’s right for your situation. Just pick out the size that matches your needs from the list below. The features comparison grid I’ve constructed lets you easily compare different models. Below the grid you’ll find more detail about each wattage capacity category and each generator model.