Summer weather is solidly here, which means perfect camping weather and destructive storms and hurricanes. Both scenarios stand to benefit from an emergency generator, which can produce enough power to keep your gadgets juiced and appliances running, even if you arent near a working outlet. But generators can run the gamut from small models thatll power a few personal items to larger models that will keep your whole house powered without skipping a beat if you arent well-versed in the latest generator tech, sifting through whats available can be awfully confusing.
These days, there are two main types of portable generators: conventional generators (which generally run on gasoline) and inverter generators (which run on gasoline and, in some cases, propane). An inverter generator is going to provide you with cleaner energy, but it wont power as much because its a lot smaller, explains Ryan Buckley, a generator technician at Reliable Heating & Air in Atlanta, Georgia.
An inverter may power the same as one traditional home circuit, where a conventional portable generator could power three to four rooms or more. But conventional generators are larger and louder, so they may not be ideal for all situations. Buckley puts it like this:
- If youre looking for something to power a portion of your home or if youre spending some vacation time at an RV park, a conventional generator will give you some good, short-term power.
- An inverter generator is better for powering your computer during an outage, tailgating or grabbing some quick camping sessions in the woods.
Both require refueling after a certain amount of time, though often eight to 10 hours, depending on the load so even with a few backup cans of gas, theyre ideal for shorter periods of time. That said, both types of generators vary in how much power they can put out. So, as you shop for the best generator for you, tally up how many watts of power youll need and buy accordingly. This chart is a good starting point if you arent sure how much wattage you need.
Generators to shop in 2020
If you want a generator that can power your homes essentials, look at a conventional generator like Generacs GP8000E series. It provides 8,000 watts of running power, as well as 10,000 watts of starting power for appliances that require extra juice when they first turn on. Thats enough to run, for example, your refrigerator and heating system, plus a few lights. Itll shut off automatically if it runs low on fuel or oil. And, unlike many generators, it will also shut off if it detects unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. You can connect appliances to the generator with long extension cords or with the help of a professional connect it to your homes electrical system with a transfer switch.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
For something a bit more portable, consider this generator from Honda, which offers 1,800 watts of running power and 2,200 watts of starting power. Its much quieter than a conventional generator, and while it wont power your whole house, its enough to power an appliance or two, as needed. Just put the generator outside, plug an extension cord into one of its three-prong outlets, and run the cord inside to your equipment. Itll shut off automatically if fuel or oil gets too low, and it comes with a three year warranty from Honda.
If youre on a stricter budget, Buckley notes that the Predator models found at Harbor Freight are great alternatives for the price. It has similar power output to the Honda model (1,600 watts running, 2,000 watts starting) at nearly half the price, and while Consumer Reports found the Honda edged it out in reliability, you cant go too wrong with the Predator if you only have a few hundred bucks to spend.
Those are just a few selections you can find options from the same brands in lower or higher wattages, if you need, with prices that’ll match. While Buckley notes most of these are pretty user-friendly, he stresses the significance of proper safety precautions.
- Never use a portable generator inside the house or even on a covered deck. You want to place it in open air, far away from windows and vents, since these generators produce odorless-but-deadly carbon monoxide.
- Be sure to read the generators manual and keep up with any maintenance it requires your generator may not come with motor oil, for example, and youll need to change its oil regularly. Fuel stabilizer can also help your gasoline reserves last longer.
- You can read more about generator safety at Take It Outside, an informational site from The Portable Generator Manufacturers Association (PGMA).
Portable generators will serve you well enough for short power outages, but if youre in a part of town where power doesnt always come back on quickly or you dont want to ration your power during an outage a home standby generator will provide more reliable and long-term power for your entire house.
Home standby generators, like this Generac model, are designed to be a more semi-permanent installation. Youll need a professional to connect it to your homes electrical system, but since it can run on natural gas, you can hook it up to your gas line and get practically unlimited power for longer-term outages. Itll automatically kick in when the power goes out, and flip off when the power comes back on.
Finally, if all that seems too involved and you just want something that can keep your laptop powered while you travel, a portable power station is much lower maintenance albeit less versatile. Think of them less like generators and more like very large battery packs: You charge them up at home and bring them with you when you know you wont have easy access to an outlet.
With 200Wh of power, Goal Zeros Yeti 200X can charge your smartphone 20 times, your laptop four times or run a 12V portable fridge for 10 hours. Its perfect for bringing along some juice while you travel, and will even work on a camping trip if you pair it with Goal Zeros Nomad 50 solar panel. You can grab it in higher wattages if you need to run appliances at home, but Buckley notes that it isnt as useful as a generator, which can produce more power independently.
More shopping guides and recommendations
Find the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations. Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.