Power outages are no fun. Going hours without power can lead to uncomfortable, even unsafe temperatures, spoiled food and other headaches. Thankfully, there are plenty of portable generators to step in and keep things running.
Things to consider
Some generators run on gasoline, while others run on liquid propane takes. Deciding which fuel type to use likely depends on your available resources.
If you’re in a rural area with no nearby gas station, keeping a propane tank handy might be your best bet for emergency preparedness. If you do have quick access to gasoline, consider the smallest model for your home, so that you don’t burn more fuel than necessary. If you want both options, there are dual fuel models that run on either fuel type.
You’ll want to make sure you choose a model that has enough power to run everything you need in an emergency. Two terms are important here: starting watts and running watts.
Also known as “peak watts,” starting watts are the highest possible wattage that a generator will produce in order to get an appliance motor running. Generators won’t sustain this wattage long-term. Think of it like the amount of power needed to jump start your fridge.
Running watts are the watts a generator can produce for hours on end while powering appliances. You’ll want a generator with at least as many running watts as watts used by your home appliances.
To calculate just how much wattage you need, a general rule of thumb is to add up the wattage of all the appliances you want to power and multiply by 1.5. You can also look for the starting watts needed for your most power-hungry appliance and add those to the total to find your wattage.
This information will be on a sticker inside your appliance or in the manufacturer’s manual. If you appliance doesn’t list watts, but lists amps and volts, multiple the two to find the wattage. Whatever the sum of your needed watts is, that will be the minimum running wattage you need your generator to produce.
For instance, in my home, I would need to power a 864-watt dishwasher, 1,440-watt refrigerator and 3,600-watt oven. That means my generator must produce at least 5,904 running watts.
Of course price is a factor, and in general, you’re going to pay more for more power. You can find good generators from $300, or your can spend big for max power and end up with a $2,000 model.
To stay as frugal as possible, limit the number of large appliances you power with a generator. Consider a mini fridge and microwave instead of full size refrigerators and ovens. If the weather isn’t dangerously hot or cold, skip on powering your heating or cooling system. If all that sounds a bit overwhelming, there are several handy online calculators to help you tally things up.
The generators below aren’t CNET reviewed, but they are the internet’s most popular and highest rated models. We’ve divided them into low, middle and high price ranges. You’ll also find specs for each generator’s starting power, run time on half power and the fuel type and capacity.
Generators $500 or less
These generators all received high marks from consumers, and none of them will break the bank. If you have a small home or just a few appliances to power, you don’t have to spend big to get a good generator.
The most affordable model on our list, the Sportsman GEN400DF is just $300. This is a well-priced dual-fuel model that can operate with either a 3.6-gallon fuel tank or a standard propane tank.
With up to 10 hours of gasoline run time on a 50% load and 12 hours using propane, the Sportsman can keep things going while you get a full night’s sleep before needing more fuel. It comes with four 120-volt outlets, one 120-volt RV outlet and one 12-volt DC outlet.
With 4,000 starting watts and 3,500 running watts, it isn’t the most powerful on our list. Still, if you’re running small appliances or just one or two large ones, this model should get the job done.
If you don’t need the propane tank option, this DuroStar $429 portable generator runs on a 3.9-gallon gasoline tank. It also offers a bit more power than the Sportsman with 4,400 starting watts and 3,500 running watts.
Run time on a 50% load is 8 hours, and it is equipped with two 120-volt household outlets and one 120/240-volt outlet. The DuroStar includes its wheels, something often sold separately in kits for generators.
Another solid dual-fuel model, the $500 DuroMax XP4850EH has 4,850 starting watts and 3,850 running watts.
It can run off either the 3.96-gallon fuel tank or a 20-gallon liquid propane tank. Gasoline run time is about 11.5 hours at 50%, while propane will run 9.8 hours on 50%. There are two 120-volt outlets and one 120/240-volt outlet.
Up your budget, and you can double your wattage with these generators.
This $699 Champion model boasts 6,900 starting watts and 5,500 running watts powered by a 389cc engine. You’ll get eight hours on a full tank of gasoline or 6.5 hours on a 20-pound propane tank.
Dual fuel means you’ll get the option of propane tank or gasoline. You can also supply both and toggle a switch to change fuel sources. There are four 120-volt household outlets and one 120/240-volt outlet for larger items.
Briggs & Stratton
This Briggs & Stratton model costs $799, and runs on an 8-gallon fuel tank. Of our midprice range tier, this model offers the most wattage for the least money with 8,500 starting watts and 6,250 running watts.
You’ll get 11 hours of run time at 50% with the StormResponder from its 420cc engine. A digital screen Briggs & Stratton calls the “StatStation” displays the power load and provides maintenance reminders. A guide printed on the unit depicts which appliances can plug into which of the four onboard outlets.
Of all the models listed here, this generator offers the highest run time for the least money. You’ll get 12 hours at 50% load for this $850 CAT model. That’s thanks to a hefty 7.9-gallon gasoline tank. The CAT RP6500 delivers 8,125 starting watts and 6,500 running watts from its 420cc engine.
A CO Defense carbon monoxide automatic shutoff system keeps toxic fumes from building up near your home. There are six rubber-covered outlets, including four GFCI household outlets and two 120/240-volt twist lock outlets.
Generators $1,000 and up
These high-end units might be overkill for smaller homes, but if you’re looking for high starting watts, this group is your best bet.
This $1,129 Generac model delivers 10,000 starting watts for easy power-ups.
You’ll get 8,000 running watts for up to 11 hours at 50% load. A 7.9-gallon fuel tank feeds the 420 cc engine. The Generac GP8000E includes flat-free tires, a carbon monoxide auto shutoff and six GFCI outlets.
Similar in price to the Generac model, this Champion generator offers a bit more power.
You’ll have 11,500 starting watts and 9,200 running watts at your disposal, as well as a 7.7-gallon fuel tank and 459cc engine that can power your generator at 50% load for 10 hours.
One 120/240-volt 30-amp locking outlet, one 120/240-volt 50-amp outlet and four 120-volt 20-amp GFCI protected household outlets are included. A digital display reads output and maintenance messages.
Westinghouse boasts a 12-hour run time with its highly reviewed WGen9500 dual fuel model just under $1200. (Disclosure: The Westinghouse name on consumer products, like the WGen9500, is licensed by a division of ViacomCBS, which is also the owner of CNET.)
Powering up any appliance should be a breeze with 12,500 gasoline starting watts and 11,200 propane starting watts. To keep things running, the WGen9500 has 9,500 running watts powered by a 457cc engine and a 6.6-gallon fuel tank or 8,500 running watts on liquid propane power.
Westinghouse includes plenty of accessories, too. This unit comes with a remote-start key fob, 12-volt battery charger, oil, oil funnel and a tool kit.
This heavy-duty portable generator delivers 10,500 running watts and 13,000 starting watts. A dual-fuel option provides 8.5 hours run time on gasoline and 6.5 hours run time on propane, based on a 50% load.
Like other dual-fuel models, you can switch fuel types with an onboard button. Several outlets are provided: two 120-volt GFCI household outlets, one 120-volt 30-amp twist-lock outlet, one 240-volt 30-amp outlet and one 240-volt 50-amp outlet.