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We all have a lot of needs when it comes to power and that’s why it’s important to have a home generator. Electricity keeps food cool, rooms warm, and the lights on. In my area of Western Montana, our extreme weather makes for plenty of power outages. The heavy winds, rain, and snows regularly interrupt our electrical supply, and with two full freezers of food in the garage, a backup energy supply is needed. Even in areas without extreme weather, a heat wave or technical glitch can cause you to be without power for hours or even days.
To help you find the best home generator for your needs, I did some hands-on testing, including a simulated blackout, and lots of research. Here are my top picks:
- Best for Light Use: Firman W2000i Inverter Generator
- Best Do-Everything: DeWALT 6500 Watt Portable Gas Generator
- Best Standby: Generac Guardian 18KW Generator
How I Chose the Best Home Generators
To make my picks I consulted with industry professionals in construction, maintenance, and disaster preparation to help find good options for homeowners to meet their backup power needs. I also took the DeWALT 6500 generator and tested it with a simulated power outage at my home.
Best Home Generators: Reviews and Recommendations
Best for Light Use: Firman W2000i Inverter Generator
- Size: 21.7 X 15 X 18.5 inches
- Weight: 51 pounds
- Fuel: Gasoline
- Receptacles: 1 – 5-20R 20A-120V, 1 – L5-30R 30A-120 V Twist Lock, and 1 – USB Outlet 2.1A-5V
- Clean inverted power
- Included RV adapter
- Low wattage
The little Firman is an excellent choice for keeping a fridge running during a short outage or taking camping. At only 51 pounds and 18.5 inches tall, it is relatively easy for one adult to put in an RV storage compartment or the back of a pickup. When it comes to backup home power, the Firman is just for essential power. You will not be running the dishwasher and microwave with this little generator.
Topping out at 54 dB, it keeps the noise down. The W2000i barely sips gas with a run time of 9 hours on the 0.9-gallon tank. The W2000i provides clean inverted power, so the kids can watch a little TV while they wait for the power to come back on. One note: The W2000i (and similar generators) require some jetting changes at altitude, so read the manual. Firman has good service, though, and if you contact them, they will send you the high-altitude jets.
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Best Do-Everything: DeWALT 6500 Watt Portable Gas Generator
- Size: 25 X 27.25 X 26.8 inches
- Weight: 186 pounds
- Fuel: Gasoline
- Receptacles: 2 – 5-20R 20A-120V GFCI and 1 – L14-30R 30A-120/240V
- Good value
- Transfer switch ready
- Fuel efficient for level of power
- Covered receptacles
- Heavy for one person
Contractors and field technicians love this versatile generator. I think homeowners looking for backup energy will find it to be one of the best home generators too. The 6500 running Watts covers a lot of electricity needs. I tested this generator around the house and cabin while sawing down wood for a burn pile, performing home repair, and even tested it out in a simulated power outage.
I flipped the breaker to my shop and kept two 19 cubic-foot standing chest freezers running normally for six hours. Then, I also burned about 1/3 of the 7.5-gallon gasoline tank with the automatic low idle feature. It takes a couple of people and some effort to lift it in the back of the truck at 25 X 27 X 27 inches and 186 pounds. However, the folding handle and sturdy flat-free wheels make rolling it out of the garage and hooking it up to the house a breeze.
Homeowners electing to have a transfer switch wired into their home can even make use of the 6500 running watts to keep their essentials powered through a blackout—as long as they aren’t using too many appliances at once. It comes equipped with a twist-lock L14-30R receptacle. My favorite feature of the DeWalt was its versatility.
Like a lot of open-frame generators, the DeWalt 6500 isn’t exactly quiet, running at decibel levels from the mid-70s at idle. The 6500 isn’t as inexpensive as the Firman is, but there is a lot more power and utility included in its price tag of around $1,000. It is also much less expensive than the enclosed generator competition with similar power ratings, making it a great value.
Read Next: Best Inverter Generators
Best Standby: Generac Guardian 18KW Generator
- Size: 48 X 25 X 29 inches
- Weight: 420 pounds
- Fuel: Natural gas/propane dual fuel
- Receptacles: Transfer switch
- Whole home power
- Automated activation
- Peace of mind
- Only for backup home power
There are some logistics to installing this full-featured generator to your house. It is sold with a 200 amp transfer switch. That, and the fact that it needs to be plumbed for fuel and placed in an appropriate location, means you are going to have to schedule with a local installer.
The 18,000 watts supplied by this generator can pretty much run a 2,000-square-foot home like the outage never happened. You can hook up the Guardian to your WiFi as well and check on the system even when away from home.
This system can really take the worry out of long and/or frequent power outages at your home, but the downsides are clear:
- Cost. The generator and transfer switch are $5,726.00, and installation varies with an average of around $2000.
- Lack of Versatility: The Guardian is a set-it-and-forget-it backup power solution. You aren’t taking it RVing.
Choosing the Best Home Generator
When choosing a backup generator for your home, there are a few factors you need to consider, including power output, fuel type, noise level, and price.
The power output of a generator is measured in watts. The amount of power you need will depend on what you need to charge or power. For example, a small generator that produces 1,000 watts may be sufficient for powering lights and radio during an emergency, while a larger generator that produces 5,000 watts may be needed to power a refrigerator, freezer, and range at home during a power outage.
Portable generators can be powered by gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas. The type of fuel you choose will depend on your budget and availability. Gasoline is the most commonly available type of fuel, but it is less efficient than other types of fuels. Diesel is similar in availability and more efficient than gasoline, but louder and more expensive. Propane and natural gas are the most efficient and is a good option for standby generators when the home already has these fuels available.
Portable generators can be noisy, so it is important to choose a generator that is quiet enough for your needs.
Generators range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The price of a generator will depend on its power output, fuel type, noise level, weight, and quality of manufacturing.
Generator Use Tips
When using a portable generator, it is important to follow these tips:
- Always operate the generator in a well-ventilated area.
- Only operate the generator outdoors.
- Keep the generator away from flammable materials, fuels, or chemicals.
- Turn off the generator and disconnect everything before refueling.
- Read and understand the owner’s manual before using the generator.
A portable generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. Typically, that mechanical energy comes courtesy of a gasoline engine, but it can also be powered by diesel, propane, or natural gas. Portable generators are used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Providing backup power during a power outage
- Running tools and appliances at job sites
- Supplying power to remote homes and cabins
- Powering an RV
What are the Different Types of Home Generators?
Enclosed Home Generators
Enclosed generators produce stable power with all of the engine and components covered by a housing. The primary advantage of an enclosed generator is the cover reduces the noise during operation, but they also provide a little more wind and weather resistance. Enclosed generators are typically more expensive than other types of portable generators, but they are a good choice for people who need power but not the noise
Open-Frame Home Generators
Open-frame generators provide similar amounts of power to enclosed generators but are noisier to operate. The components are also more exposed to the elements. They generally cost less than their enclosed counterparts.
Standby (Backup) Home Generators
Standby generators are utilized for backup power for homes and businesses. They are larger and more expensive than other types of portable generators, but they can provide continuous power for an extended period of time. Standby generators are a good choice for people who need to protect their home or business from power outages but are not as versatile as more portable models.
Solar vs. Fuel Generators
Solar generators are one of the latest innovations and offer some appealing benefits over their fuel counterparts. The solar panel charges a portable power station, which is what you’ll use to power appliances, power tools, or charge your phone. These portable power stations vary in size and power output, so it’s important to match the power station to what you plan to power with it. The negatives of solar generators is that unless your power station is fully charged, you have to wait sometimes an entire day for the sun to power it up. That’s not ideal during a storm.
Fuel generators on the other hand can be used no matter the sun exposure, providing you have fuel. Of course, their downside is that they are loud and produce carbon monoxide—you can’t use them indoors.
If you’re looking for a portable and quiet way to power small appliances, a solar generator is ideal. If you need a lot of reliable power you still can’t beat a fuel generator.
Q: How many watts do I need?
Check the wattage requirements for the appliances you need to run, and add them up. For example, if you need a refrigerator (192W), Microwave (1500W), and Dishwasher (1500W) to run, then you need at least 3,192 running watts.
Q: What kind of gasoline is best for gasoline-powered generators?
As a general rule of thumb, ethanol and small internal combustion engines like those used in generators don’t get along. While many generators allow for the use of 10 percent ethanol gasoline, most experts I talked to agreed that ethanol-free gasoline is the best fuel for gasoline generators.
Q: What are starting/surge watts?
Electrical appliances require a surge of energy to get started. The starting watts specification for generators is the maximum load it can deliver for a short period without tripping its breaker.
Q: What is an inverter generator?
Regular generators produce AC power directly. Inverter generators produce AC power that is converted to DC power and inverted back to AC power, so the user gets better, more consistent power similar to that from your home electricity provider. Inverter generators are better for devices with sensitive, stable power needs like electronics.
Final Thoughts on the Best Home Generators
Power outages are part of home ownership in many areas. Having a plan to keep food cold and lights on is wise preparation for the homeowner. Whether your backup power needs are big or small, one of the best home generators should help you wait out the storm during a power outage.