With the rise in weather events, a home generator is a critical resource for many households. According to the US Department of Energy figures, power outages caused by severe weather have doubled in the past two decades. Faults in the power grid are also increasingly common. Both are problems that are likely to get worse.
At the very least, blackouts are inconvenient. For the elderly or infirm, they can be life-threatening. The obvious solution is a backup generator, and there is plenty of choice. However, differences in performance, fuel requirements, and how the generator hooks up to the home can make it difficult to decide which is the right model.
In this article we’ll examine all of the key issues and focus on the best home generators in five popular categories.
— Best Overall: Generac Guardian 24kW Home Standby Generator
— Best Budget: WEN GN6000 6000-Watt RV-Ready Portable Generator
— Best Portable: Westinghouse WGen12000 Home Backup Portable Generator
— Best Inverter: Generac 7127 iQ3500-3500 Watt Portable Inverter Generator
— Best Solar: EF EcoFlow Delta Portable Power Station
How We Picked the Best Home Generators
There are two basic approaches to choosing generators for home use. For those who have critical power needs (because they work from home, or need to keep medical equipment running, for example) a whole-house generator is the optimum solution. This is permanently wired and ready to go in an instant. They usually come on automatically if mains power fails. Significant investment is required in the unit itself, and installation (at least part of which must be done by a suitably qualified professional) is likely to cost several thousand dollars.
A more affordable alternative is to buy a portable generator that can power the more important home electrical items (like lights, a sump pump, refrigerators, and freezers), and then to avoid using other items until grid supply returns. While this sounds like a major compromise, there are a number of very powerful portable generators available, some of which are capable of providing sufficient electricity for small homes, or a large part of the energy requirements for larger dwellings.
So given the number of potential approaches, and the varying power requirements of different homes, there isn’t really a single best home generator. Rather than simply choosing the most powerful options, our selection attempts to cover as many eventualities as possible. We have included complete home generator systems, but also modest portable models that have the potential for both home, work, and leisure use.
Best Home Generators: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Generac Guardian 24kW Home Standby Generator
Why It Made The Cut: The Generac Guardian packs whole-house power into a compact unit. It can run on natural gas or propane, and has an app to help with energy management.
— Peak Watts: 24,000W (24kW)
— Fuel Source: Natural gas or liquid propane
— Dimensions: 48 inches L x 25 inches W x 29 inches H,
— Weight: 514 pounds
— Most powerful in its class
— Low maintenance and self-testing
— Remote monitoring
— Big investment
— Transfer switch is extra
No brand has a greater presence in the home generator market than Generac, who have an unrivaled reputation for performance and reliability. Over two million houses have one of their standby home generator systems. The Guardian is the most powerful air-cooled model currently available, yet the relatively compact dimensions make it easy to find space for. Generac claims it can be installed just 18 inches from the building.
The power output of the Guardian when running on propane is up to 24kW (kilowatts). It will also run on natural gas, but because it burns cooler, the maximum output drops to 21kW, which is still enough power for many medium to large homes. Noise is rated at just 67 decibels when running normally. The Generac Guardian performs a self test once a week, during which it runs at just 57 decibels. All generators require periodic maintenance, though with this model it’s needed just once a year.
WiFi monitoring is provided via the PWRView smartphone app, which is available for Android and iOS. This allows owners to monitor performance, status, and provides fault or maintenance alerts. Generac says that proper use of the information can allow homeowners to reduce energy consumption by up to 20 percent. They are of course referring to when the generator is running, rather than when taking power from the grid. The system is automatic, so a remote control isn’t necessary.
Complaints about the Generac Guardian are almost non-existent. It is quite an expensive option, but has few competitors in terms of the performance delivered for the money. Somewhat frustratingly, a transfer switch, which is an absolute necessity, is not part of the package. While this is common practice with some portable generators, we would have expected one to be included with a unit in this price range.
Best Budget: WEN GN6000 6000-Watt RV-Ready Portable Generator
Why It Made The Cut: The WEN GN6000 generator offers reliable backup power for the home, or job https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0858216C5?tag=futurism0b-20site, and includes an RV outlet.
— Watts: 6,000W peak, 5,000W running
— Fuel Source: Gasoline
— Dimensions: 23.2 inches L x 16.9 inches W x 17.2 inches H
— Weight: 129.7 pounds
— Outstanding value for money
— Robust and reliable
— Good versatility
— Pull-cord starting
— Modest run time
WEN have built a reputation for reliable and durable equipment at very affordable prices. While they are often no-frills devices, the GN6000 generator bucks the trend with a host of user-friendly features that make it easy to live with, and very versatile.
The generator is based around a powerful 272cc 4-stroke engine that is EPA- (Environmental Protection Agency), and CARB- (California Air Resources Board) compliant, thus meeting low emissions regulations. Its noise rating is 68 decibels. It has pull-starting (similar to that found on many lawnmowers) rather than a push-button, but requires little effort. The 3.4 gallon tank gives 7.5 hours of run time at half load (ie 50 percent output). Obviously this will drop if it is working harder, which might well be the case if it’s used for home backup. If it did run out of gas it would need to be left 15 minutes before refueling.
The WEN GN6000 generator can fulfill a variety of roles. It has a twist-lock socket for a transfer switch so it could be set up for direct attachment to the household breaker box (a professional should perform the installation). There is a TT-30R receptacle for direct connection to an RV, and there are also two standard 120V, 20A outlets, and a 12V DC socket (the same as the cigarette lighter in a vehicle). Interestingly, it can run at either 120V or 240V, making it an ideal option for large air-compressors or professional welding equipment. A digital data meter displays voltage, run time, and there’s also a fuel gauge.
Wheels and fold-down handles make the WEN GN6000 generator easy to move around, though pneumatic tires would be better than the solid plastic ones included. It’s a minor criticism of what is otherwise a solid, dependable, and versatile machine that can provide essential home backup and portable power for work, camping, or RV use. Given the low price, it’s an unbeatable value for money.
Best Portable: Westinghouse WGen12000 Home Backup Portable Generator
Why It Made The Cut: The Westinghouse WGen12000 provides sufficient power to be an effective standby generator for a small home, and has the portability for multiple workplace or leisure uses.
— Watts: 15,000W peak, 12,000W running
— Fuel Source: Gasoline
— Dimensions: 34 inches L x 31 inches W x 35 inches H
— Weight: 352 pounds
— High-performance motor
— Tremendous versatility
— Push-button and remote starting
— Comparatively high fuel consumption
— Louder than many
Westinghouse is another of the world’s leading generator brands, and with peak power of 15kW, their high-performance WGen12000 is one of the most powerful portable generators on the market. It is a viable alternative to a fixed generator for small home backup, and is not only transfer-switch ready, but when connected to the main breaker box, it can operate automatically in the event of a blackout.
Electricity is generated by an impressive 713cc V-twin 4-stroke engine that is EPA- and CARB-compliant. It does run a little louder than our other top picks, at around 74 decibels, but that’s comparable with similar-sized competitors. This generator is started via a push-button on the unit, or a remote key fob. The gas tank is 10.5 gallons, giving a run time of 11 hours, however, at almost a gallon an hour it isn’t particularly economical. There is also a low oil level shut-off sensor that prevents potential damage.
The Westinghouse WGen12000 is another generator that can run at 120V or 240V, making it attractive for jobsite use or for other professionals. There are two standard 120V, 20A sockets, both fitted with GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters), making them safe for outdoor use. There are also two 30A outlets, one 50A outlet, and two 5V USB ports. The Westinghouse has a THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) of under 5 percent, meaning the power supply is very even. This makes it safe to run delicate electronics like laptops directly from the unit. A little surprisingly, this generator is not RV-ready, though an adaptor could be added to the 30A outlet.
Wheels and lift-up handles help with portability, though at 352 pounds without fuel or oil, it does take some effort to move around. It also requires a considerable investment. That said, the Westinghouse WGen12000 is hugely popular, and for those who need this level of performance at home or work, it has few rivals.
Best Inverter: Generac 7127 iQ3500-3500 Watt Portable Inverter Generator
Why It Made The Cut: While it can’t provide whole-house support, the Generac 7127 iQ3500 will run important equipment in an emergency, and can be run in parallel for double the power.
— Watts: 3,500W peak, 3,000W running
— Fuel Source: Gasoline
— Dimensions: 23.7 inches L x 18 inches W x 21.7 inches H
— Weight: 109.1 pounds
— High efficiency with low emissions
— Push-button starting
— Parallel capability
— Surprisingly heavy
— Modest output
Inverter generators are popular because they are quiet, have low fuel consumption, and produce low emissions. The Generac iQ3500 is a good example. In terms of noise, it is rated at just 55 decibels at half load, which is significantly quieter than other gasoline generators on our list. The 212cc 4-stroke motor will run for around 9 hours on a 2.6 gallon tank of gas (again, at half load), giving an impressive fuel economy of .29 gallons per hour. It is also CARB-compliant, but it doesn’t appear to be EPA listed for some reason. There is no indication why not, but CARB requirements are more strict anyway.
While peak watts of 3,500 will only provide emergency backup for a few household devices, one of the most interesting features of this generator is the ability to run two of them in parallel. Doing so provides double the power, which would be particularly useful to those who had bought one, and then found they needed additional output. Rather than buying a larger generator (perhaps at a higher cost), another iQ3500 could be added. A special cable is required to run them together, and this costs extra.
The Generac iQ3500 has push-button starting and a pull-cord as a backup in case the battery goes flat. There are two standard 120V, 20A household outlets, a 30A outlet, and two 5A USB sockets, and a THD of just 3 percent makes it very safe for laptops, tablets, and phones. Additionally, a multi-function LED displays watts, generator status, run time remaining, and fuel level.
A rugged steel casing protects the Generac iQ3500 generator from bumps and knocks if used for camping or at work. Carry handles are built into the top, but at 109 pounds, it’s substantial and would really need two people to move it around as wheels have not been fitted.
Best Solar: EF EcoFlow Delta Portable Power Station
Why It Made The Cut: The EF Ecoflow Delta is a light, compact, and portable power station that can store free solar energy for emergency home backup, camping, RVing, or work.
— Watts: 3,300 peak, 1,800W running
— Fuel Source: Solar, household or vehicle (see below)
— Dimensions: 15.7 inches L x 8.3 inches W x 10.6 inches H
— Weight: 30.9 pounds
— Free electricity
— Can run in parallel
— Multiple charging options
— Solar panels not included
— Comparatively expensive
The EF EcoFlow Delta is a very different device to the generators we have looked at so far. It doesn’t use a motor to create electricity, and instead it uses a large lithium battery to store power until needed. It is primarily designed to be charged via solar panels, and most models between 10 and 65 volts will work as long as they have a compatible connector.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of device. Charging via a 400W panel can take four to eight hours, or it can be plugged into a standard household outlet, reducing that time to around 1.6 hours. A further alternative is to use a 12V DC car socket, though that can take 13.5 hours. Clearly, fueling a gasoline generator is much faster, and the EF EcoFlow’s 1,800 running watts will only provide backup for a few home essentials. However, the big advantage with this solar generator is that it produces zero emissions, and therefore is completely safe to use indoors, and is also silent. If additional power is required, it can run in parallel with another unit, giving double the output (but the cable costs extra).
The EF EcoFlow Delta has a surprisingly large number of outlets. There are six standard 120V household sockets, 4 USB-A (two fast-charging), and 2 USB-C. While perhaps best suited to powering laptops, tablets, and devices with relatively low power demands, it could run a fridge for around eight hours or a CPAP machine for around 18 hours. Given its light weight and portability, it’s an excellent choice for recreational purposes, and although it would have limited use on a jobsite, DIY enthusiasts might prefer using the EF EcoFlow to running extension cables when power isn’t readily available.
The EF EcoFlow Delta isn’t a cheap solution, or a particularly powerful one, but the benefit of free solar power and zero emissions makes it by far the most eco-friendly way to generate backup power for your home.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Home Generator
The best whole-house generator on our list will be the ideal solution for some, but it comes at a cost. For those on a more modest budget, there are several alternatives but it’s important to spend time assessing needs and expectations. The following key issues will help with decision making.
Wattage: Every electrical device needs a number of watts (W) to run, perhaps best described as its power consumption. A lightbulb typically needs 60W, a sump pump around 1,000W (1,000 watts is also called a kilowatt, or kW), and an AC system can be 5,000W or more.
The wattage should be marked somewhere on the device. So in theory, adding up all the devices around your home will give you a total power consumption. However, totaling up the washer, freezer, air con, sump pump, oven, etc., could give a figure of 30 or 40kW. While whole-home generators of this size do exist, they are very expensive. Also, it’s unlikely that all the equipment in a house would run at the same time, so this theoretical maximum is likely higher than is really needed.
Many electrical devices demand more watts at startup, thus requiring extra power for a few seconds. The generator has to accommodate this surge, and most have two ratings: running watts, and peak (or startup) watts. It is generally recommended that the generator you buy is 1.5 times the total wattage required. Aside from supplying the necessary power, there are other good reasons for this. A generator that runs at full power all the time uses more energy compared to one that is running at 50 percent or 75 percent capacity, so a larger generator can actually be more economical in the long term. The generator is under less strain, so will last longer, and it will also run more quietly.
A 24kW generator is a sufficient whole-house solution for many. A 15kW model might power a small home, or provide backup for the most important systems. A 2kW solar generator could provide essential lighting, keep a fridge running, or supply emergency power for medical equipment.
Fuel: Many residential generators designed for whole-home supply can run off natural gas (NG) or liquid propane (LP). If natural gas is available, it can be piped directly, meaning there’s never any need to change bottles or refill a tank. Liquid propane can be an attractive option in more remote locations, especially if it’s already being used for heating. Most portable generators run on gasoline, though a few can be converted to propane. You should check your tank’s capacity, and estimated run time.
Installation: Any generator that’s connected to the main breaker board needs a transfer switch. This prevents supply from generator and grid from operating at the same time, and potentially overloading the system. Any automatic home generator that comes on in the event of a blackout will almost certainly need to be installed by a registered contractor in order to meet local ordinance or National Electrical codes. Not doing so is not only dangerous, but can result in the power company disconnecting your supply.
Portable generators should never be plugged directly into a household outlet. The feedback could start a fire. Like whole-house models, they need a transfer switch and many manufacturers state they are transfer-switch ready. The alternative is to plug individual items into the generator, which is a more temporary solution but can work for a few key devices. In this case you will want to check the number and type of outlets provided onboard the generator.
You must never bring a generator indoors, and that includes garages and sheds, because they can give off carbon monoxide which is invisible but toxic. This can make portable generators an impractical solution in storms, unless the device is housed in its own enclosure with suitable connections planned in advance. This is another situation where we would recommend the services of a professional electrician.
Noise: Today, even large home generators are relatively quiet, though the amount of noise varies depending on how hard they are working. The Generac inverter on our list can be as low as 45 decibels (dB) when working at 25 percent load, which has been compared to a hush in a library. The most powerful home generator we looked at is rated 67 dB, which is similar to the sound of a dishwasher, but for whatever reason that measurement was taken 23 feet away.
However, there is no standard for measuring these devices and as a result, some manufacturers do not provide them. A number of home generator reviews quote figures, but factors like testing equipment, ambient noise, distance, and power output all make a difference, so it is very difficult to get accurate results. That said, they can be useful for comparison if they all come from the same source.
Physical Size: The best generators for home installations are now surprisingly compact but still large enough that thought is needed as to their position. It’s worth marking out the area with tape or twine so you can visualize it in place.
While portable generators can be wheeled or even carried to another location when not in use, their size and weight should still be checked. For example, our best solar generator pick weighed a fraction over 30 pounds, and our best portable generator, the Westinghouse, weighs 352 pounds.
Q: How big of a generator do I need to run a house?
The size of house and the items to be powered makes a huge difference to the size of the generator required, and each home has to be treated individually. However, experts suggest that even a small home will need a minimum 5,000-watt generator, but 15,000 to 20,000 watts is not unusual.
Q: How do I calculate what size generator I need?
To calculate the size of generator you need you have to add up the wattage of the devices you expect it to run, then allow a margin for surge at startup. We discussed above how to assess this in more detail.
Q: What is the best generator for a small home?
When choosing the best generator for a small home it is important to think about what you expect from it. The best known brand for whole-home generators is Generac, but each of the brands that appear in our top picks is known for providing reliable equipment.
Q: How much does it cost to install a whole-house generator?
Costs to install a whole-house generator can vary considerably. Where you live, where the generator is sited, and the type of fuel all have an impact. Natural gas generators are more expensive to install than gasoline models, for example. The price could be anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 so we recommend getting quotes from several different contractors.
Q: How much is a generator for a 2,000-square-foot house?
Much depends on how much power you need, and our top picks highlight a range of solutions. A generator for minimal emergency backup can cost as little as $500. The largest generators for home use are $6,000 to $8,000.
Q: Who makes the quietest generator?
Inverter generators like the Generac 7127 we recommended are usually the quietest type of generator, although they may not provide sufficient output for your needs. Today, even whole-house generators like the Generac Guardian are surprisingly quiet. When sited away from the house (and neighbors’ houses) the impact will be negligible, though noise level does vary with power demands.
Final Thoughts on Home Generators
The Generac Guardian is an outstanding choice for those who need to ensure full power to their home under any circumstances. However, it does come at a substantial cost and installation will likely add a couple of thousand more. The Westinghouse is an option that will provide sufficient power for most needs and is considerably more affordable, if a little thirsty. For those who can get by on a more modest range of devices in the event of a blackout, the WEN is a superb value for money.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.