In 1821, Michael Faraday invented the first electric motor. Since then, life has become more and more reliant on electricity for nearly everything that we do. Without electricity, most people wouldn't be able to keep their food fresh, cook their meals, wash their clothing or keep themselves warm. Many people depend on electricity for medical equipment. Many people in rural areas even rely on electric pumps for their water. If a hurricane or tornado hit, how would you manage without your necessary appliances for days or weeks at a time? A portable generator can be the difference between being miserable during an emergency and moving on.
Portable generators aren't just for emergencies. The best portable generators are reliable machines that you can use every day to power your tools on a construction site or provide entertainment while camping. They can go wherever you need power. Honda EM5000S, Yamaha EF5500DE and Sportsman Series GEN7500DF are the best examples of power generators that you can rely on. For more information, read our articles on portable generators.
The most important criteria you should consider is how much power you'll need. Most portable generator manufacturers provide calculators on their websites so that you can easily estimate how much power your household needs. The 5,000-watt generator is the most common range for families because it can power all of your necessary appliances. As such, we reviewed and compared generators within this range. After you know how much power you need, you'll want to consider the criteria below.
Power & Fuel Performance
Every power generator has two power ratings – running wattage and surge wattage. The running wattage is the amount of power that the generator can handle on a continuous basis. The surge wattage is the amount of power it can handle for short bursts, usually about 10 seconds. The surge wattage accounts for the surge created when appliances with electric motors start. Their starting power can be two to four times the amount needed to operate.
Most portable generators use gas engines. Some use propane. And some can use both. Propane generators have many advantages over gas generators – propane is cheaper, less toxic, cleaner burning and easily accessible during a power outage, and you can store it indefinitely because it doesn't degrade like gasoline.
Fuel efficiency is critical, especially when fuel becomes difficult to acquire during a natural disaster. The best generators burn less than half a gallon of fuel an hour and have a running time of up to 14 hours with a 50 percent load.
Any time you're dealing with electricity, you must pay close attention to safety features. This includes circuit breakers, grounding methods, never-flat tires and spark arrestors. The most important safety feature is the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection – a sensor that measures the alternating current going back and forth from the generator. If the returning current diminishes, then this could mean that the electrical current has found an alternate path to the earth. The GFCI cuts the power if this happens, protecting you from electrocution.
You should also consider the operating noise. Gas generators are combustion engines similar to your car. They're going to make noise. A loud generator can cause your neighbors to complain or make it difficult for you to communicate with others while you use the generator.
Control Panel Features
The control panel is where the business occurs. Most generators have four standard household plugs and at least one twist-locking 120/240-volt AC outlet for large appliances or industrial extension cords. The best portable generators have electric ignitions that only require a flip of a switch or a push of a button to start the generator. However, you should make sure that the recoil ignition is still available so that you can still start the generator if the battery is dead.
The best generators also feature a voltage selector switch, which allows you to isolate the voltage to whatever you're using at that moment. They also have readouts for voltage and hours operated, which are like odometers, gauging when you need to have the machine serviced.
Help & Support
The best generators come with a three-year warranty. While most manufacturers don't sell directly to consumers, you should still be able to receive excellent support for your generator. This includes adequate contact information and a service center network for getting your generator serviced or fixed. You should also look for videos, maintenance tutorials, product manuals and FAQs pages.
Natural disasters can happen anytime, anywhere. Don't get caught without power, wishing you'd have been prepared. A portable generator is the foundation of any emergency preparedness kit, a vital tool on a construction site and a convenience that allows you the comforts of home while camping.