The amount of power a generator puts out is likely your top priority. A portable generator’s power is measured in watts, which stands for the energy consumption rate of one joule/second. Generators are also sometimes measured in horsepower, though that’s only if the generator is powerful enough for the horsepower to be noteworthy. If you need your portable generator to be able to power a lot of large appliances, you want one with a high wattage. Be aware that generators are measured by their starting or surge watts, and then continuous watts. Starting watts measure the amount of energy needed to start up the generator, while continuous watts represent what the generator puts out after it starts. For example, a generator 10,000 starting watts has 8,000 continuous watts. Portable generators range from very low wattage (1500) to very high (almost 18,000). They tend to get more expensive and heavier the higher power they have.
Portable generators should be durable and have a long lifespan. You should be familiar with the engine size measurement, which is cubic centimeters, or “cc.” Engine specs will frequently have a number, like 420, followed by “cc.” Bigger engines mean more power. OHV engines (overhead valve engines) are known for their reliability and power. You should also look at whether the engine is 2-stroke (also known as 2-cycle) or 4-stroke. 4-stroke engines last longer than 2-stroke, produce less emissions, and use less gas. Structurally, engines with features like cast-iron sleeves and steel bearings are better suited to harsh outdoor environments. The gas tanks of portable generators hold about 1-10 gallons depending on their size. The really big generators can even have gas tanks closer to 20 gallons.
When you are looking at how long a portable generator will give you power, be aware that the hours usually represent what the generator can do working at 50%. Some even measure by 25%, so don’t assume all descriptions use this same ratio. A small generator can give you between 7-8 hours at 50%, while larger ones can run 10-13 hours.
A portable generator’s efficiency can be measured most simply by looking at how much gas it uses per kilowatt hour (kWh). There are other factors as well. If the portable generator meets the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) standards, it will be more fuel efficient as well as more eco-friendly. Features like alternator laminations and automatic voltage regulation help reduce energy loss and regulate exactly how much energy a device or appliance needs so the engine doesn’t work any harder than it needs to. An Idle control and Smart Throttle perform similar tasks.
You connect all of your electrical devices and appliances to the generator by outlets. All generators have the standard connections, like 120v duplex-two outlets and 120/240v twist-lock outlet. You use twist-lock outlets to prevent cords from pulling apart. These outlets are most commonly used for power tools and other potentially dangerous electrical equipment. You might also see a 120v GFCI outlet. GFCI outlets, ground-fault circuit interrupters, are there to protect you from electrical shock if the outlet is in a damp or wet area. You might also get 20 or 30 amp outlets, which can handle bigger appliances (15 amps is standard for an appliance like a lamp). For charging batteries, look for a 12V DC (direct current) outlet.
The control panel on most portable generators has more to offer than just the outlets. Many are light by LED or LCD so you can see it in the dark. The difference between LCD and LED is that LED produces its own light while LCD screens are backlit. For a control panel on a portable generator, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. The panels also include some kind of monitor that lets you know how much power the generator is using and how many hours you’ve been using it. Other features include key start switches, a low-oil warning light, and circuit breaker to protect the outlets.
Portable generators can weigh very little or a lot depending on what you want from the generator. The more powerful ones tend to weigh the most, and can be almost 400 pounds. These are almost like home backup generators, except they come with wheel kits and probably don’t have quiet enough power. The lighter portable generators have significantly less wattage (in the 1000-3000 watt range) and can be less than 40 pounds, making them ideal for cars and camping. Look for solid handles and rugged wheels, especially if the generator is very heavy. Rolling casters and locking handles help keep even the heaviest portable generators more mobile.
Honda is internationally-famous for its cars, boats, and other vehicles. They also make home-backup generators and portable generators for work and recreation. Built with Honda engines, the portable generators are very durable and reliable. They’re also very fuel-efficient and quiet. Since Honda makes generators for all kinds of uses, you can get ones with very low or high wattage. Their portable generators intended for recreation are frequently more low-wattage, very lightweight, and use inverter systems, while heavier generators with more power are meant to help supply electricity during emergencies and power outages.
Generac is one of the top makers of generators, both portable and ones for home use. Their generators come with a lot of fuel options including propane and tri-fuel, so you have a lot of choice when it comes to what fuel you prefer. Generac also makes and uses the OHVI engine for all their generators. OHVI engines are extremely durable and lasts a long time. Other features include a spin-on filter, low-oil pressure protection, and components that reduce engine wear. You can find affordable, lower-wattage Generac generators and also more expensive commercial generators with more power.
DuroMax is the generator brand from power company DuroPower. DuroStar, another branch of DuroPower, makes larger generators meant for businesses and home backup. DuroMax portable generators are unique in that their engines are made from scratch, as opposed to coming from other companies like Honda. They frequently use OHV engines and dual-fuel systems, so the engines are versatile and run using less fuel. DuroMax generators are extremely durable, efficient, and affordable.
The Yamaha Motor brand, famous for its motorcycles, has also been making generators for 40 years. Each one is equipped with a Yamaha engine. Yamaha portable generators are noted for their fuel efficiency and engine protection.Yamaha also has a large series of inverter generators and model variations so you can pick the perfect portable generator for your needs. Yamaha portable generators are expensive, with one inverter model with under 3,000 watts costing over $1000.
Founded in 1886, Westinghouse made its name as a steam and then electrical company. It was responsible for powering the lights at the famous Chicago World Fair. In 2011, they started making portable generators. While this isn’t a long time, Westinghouse is more than experienced at creating other electrical products. In 2013, they expanded into inverter generators. Westinghouse generators offer long runtimes on little gas, and quieter operation.
Inverter generators are more expensive than non-inverter generators, but they offer energy made from pure sine waves. Pure sine waves (also called true sine waves) are more reliable and ideal for “delicate” electrical devices, like computers and cell phones. When you use an inverter for your devices, you won’t get interference or buzzing. Inverter generators typically have lower wattages.
Dual fuel system
With most commercial generators, you can use either propane or gas. Propane is popular because it burns cleaner and allows you to run your generator longer than with gas, but gas is more easily available and portable. When you get a portable generator with a dual fuel system, you can use both and enjoy the benefits. Even if you use propane most or all of the time, having a dual-fuel system is very useful when the temperature reaches 40-degrees or lower. Propane contracts at that temperature and it can be difficult to get your generator to run. By switching over to gas for a few minutes to get the engine started, you can go back to propane and it will continue working.
If you want to use your portable generator when you camp, it is important to get a generator with a spark arrestor. Spark arrestors keep sparks from leaving the engine. Without a spark arrestor, your generator poses a high risk for starting forest fires. If you want to camp in a National Park with a generator, you are required to have one with a spark arrestor. The inclusion of this feature doesn’t add much to the price, but not all generators are intended for a camping setting, so make sure you check to see if it has a spark arrestor.
Professional portable generators can be very loud. Many of them have mufflers, like the Pulse-Flo muffler, to help dampen the sound. Generators made with glass wool are also known to be quieter. Portable generators intended for camping frequently include mufflers and sound-blockers since remaining quiet for the sake of the experience and any camping neighbors is important. Inverter generators also run pretty quietly. Honda makes a line of “super quiet” generators that include 1000-2000 watt portable generators.