A lot of folks don’t even think about generators until the need arises. That’s why we see a huge swath of generator purchases right before a blizzard or hurricane hits. It’s the same thing that you see at grocery stores. I always laugh when a blizzard is in the forecast because I know that if I go to the store that all of the bread, milk, and eggs will be gone. The shelves will be empty. I couldn’t tell you why people do this.
The same thing applies to your home improvement stores with generators. If you go to a Lowes or Home Depot a day or two before the storm you’ll find that the selection of generators have been picked over. Usually the ones left over only have enough power to charge your phone or computer.
While buying these generators last minute can give you peace of mind, you are also losing something in this last minute decision. You lose your ability to pick and choose what size and options that you want. You lose the ability to properly research the company and brand behind the generator. And, most importantly, you lose in your wallet. Believe it or not, these big box retailers tend to mark these products up right before a storm hits.
Would you rather be purchasing something like this last minute, or would you like to do the proper research and really understand what you’re buying and how it can be used? Would you like to know that you received a competitive price? I know what option I would choose here folks.
In this article we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of generators. We’re going to view what size generator you need, what features to look at, installation and safety requirements, what price points to expect, and most importantly we are going to showcase ToughAssTools’ top generator selections.
Before you Buy
Before you consider purchasing a generator it is always smart to stop and take a step back to look at all of the possible considerations that need to be factored in. Generators come in all sorts of sizes, features, and safety concerns. Do you know what to look for? Do you know where to begin? If you do, then by all means bypass this section and move right onto the next section.
However, if you find that you still have some questions on what to look for then I highly suggest you take the time and read through some of our guides. These guides will serve as your compass in the maze that are generators. Yes, I know, that was a bad analogy. Oh well. That aside though, these will provide you the knowledge on what to look for and after reading these guides you find that this product isn’t the right one for you then we have served our purpose by steering you in the right direction.
- If you are not sure what size of generator you should be buying click here to be taken to our generator size guide. This sizing guide will walk you through the process on how to calculate total watts, amperage/volts, and the differences between starting and running watts.
- If you are not sure what features you should be looking for then click here to be taken to our top features for generators guide. There are so many things to consider like electric starters, wheels to help you move around, low oil indicators, and so on and so on.
- Lastly, if you are not quite sure how to safely use and run a generator then please click here to be taken to our safety guide. Safety is something I just can’t stress enough of when dealing with generators. These machines can be life savers but they can also be very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing.
ToughAssTool’s Top Generator Products
In my opinion there are three types of generators and generator applications. We have our camping/recreational applications with a lower power output, our medium units for powering some appliances in your home, and your high power systems designed to power your whole home either through a portable or a standby system. I hope that after reading our sizing guide you now have an idea of what you are going to use your generator for.
In this section we are going to review the best units out there for each category. Please note that there are many other great generator models out there. This is OUR list of what we have deemed the best. If the model you want isn’t listed don’t panic. Do you research, read the reviews, and make the determination yourself. Remember, we try to condense these recommendations so as not to overwhelm the consumer.
Camping, RVing, & Tailgating
Every Fourth of July a friend of mine and his family throw a rather large party. The party is held on some land they own quite a ways south of town. It’s about eighty acres of prairie with a large pond in the middle of it. There are no buildings or power supply anywhere to be found. Since this is a fireworks party attenders are going to be there when it gets dark and this is country dark where it’s hard to see a few feet in front of you.
To resolve this problem they bring in a portable generator and hook up some flood lights to it. These flood lights illuminate the buffet, seating area, and the kid’s play area. The generator is hooked up quite a ways away and the lights are wired with an extension cord. The unit doesn’t have a lot of power, but it has enough to keep the lights going and to keep the crock pots warm.
If you are looking for something like this for your camping, RV, or tailgating adventure then these are the generators for you. They are not too high in wattage and that means that they are not too high in price. Most of the time with these applications you can get away with two to three-thousand watts of power. To be exact though, I would refer to our sizing guide we mentioned above, and remember that it is recommended to go an average of ten percent higher watts then what you have calculated.
Ok, so now let’s take a look at our top camping generators:
- This generator from WEN comes in three different watt sizes ranging: Twelve-hundred and fifty, two-thousand, and thirty-one-hundred. These threes sizes should more then cover your camping needs. Please note that wattage sizes mentioned above are surge or peak watts. The rated watts are lower. (You want to base your sizing off of rated operation which is about eighty percent of the peak watts.)
- Along with the various sizes it also runs very quietly when compared to other generators. This unit comes in at fifty-one decibels which is about the same noise level as a standard window air conditioner.
- You also get two one-hundred and twenty volt outlets, one 30A RV plug-in, and two USB ports to charge your phones and electronics.
- Lastly, the product comes with a two year warranty to ensure your investment lasts.
- This generator from Westinghouse comes in all different wattage sizes. I won’t list every single one here, but the model we have selected to view is the thirty-six-hundred rated watt model. (Four-thousand six-hundred and fifty watts peak.)
- You also get a four gallon fuel tank with an estimated twelve hour run time when the generator is at fifty percent capacity. For those of you that don’t know, a twelve hour run time is unusual and very nice. Most of the time you’re filling up every four to six hours.
- With the WGen3600 you get a three year warranty rather than the two year we mentioned above on the WEN unit.
- Lastly, the price point on this product is much lower then WEN and you get a longer warranty. Personally, I would choose this product over the WEN.
- The other two units were great for camping and giving you that power support you need. This next product from Champion does that and more. You see, this product has a bunch of extra features added on to it that make your life easier when looking for power.
- First, this unit comes in at four-thousand seven-hundred and fifty starting watts and thirty-eight hundred running watts.
- Something I love about this product is that it’s a dual fuel system. What that means is that you can either use your standard gasoline OR you can use a propane cylinder. Yes, that’s right, just like the ones you use on your grill. Most RV’s out there carry some propane tanks with them and having your generator take propane will make things that much easier.
- This champion product is expected to run for around nine-hours on a full tank of gas and a little over ten hours on a propane cylinder.
- You also get an electric starer over the manual rip cord that you find on other units. Again, this makes things easier.
- Lastly, you get a three year limited warranty and LIFETIME technical support.
- If I was looking for a premium generator for my camping or RV trips then this is the one I would purchase. Just be aware, that this unit is higher in price then the others we recommended.
If you find that generators aren’t the right tool for you, or if you want something a bit quieter then a generator then you may try power inverters. (There are a lot of campgrounds that ban generators due to the noise but allow power inverters.) A power inverter acts much like a generator but provides a lesser amount of power and is much quieter.
Emergency Home Power – Partial Restoration
Let me paint a picture here. Let’s say it’s the Spring season and a severe storm has just rolled through and cut the power across your neighborhood. It’s been a few hours already and there is still no sign when the power is going to come back on. As the day drags on more and more time passes and you realize that your power is going to be out for quite a while. You need to get power back to your home, or at least for parts of your home.
This is where a generator will come in handy. In order to power your home, or partially power your home, you are going to need significantly more power then you would when compared to a camping trip.
First, let me ask you a question. Are you wishing to power just a few things like your computer and your phones? Maybe your refrigerator? In these cases you may only need a four-thousand watt generator. However, if you are wishing to power your lights, furnace, air conditioner, or even washer/dryer then you are going to need to go up in wattage but you are also going to need a manual transfer switch installed on your circuit breaker.
These transfer switches allow the generator to hook straight up to the power of your home and allow you to power your large appliances like your furnace or air conditioner. These transfer operate off of two-hundred and forty volt power and if you wish to have a transfer switch installed you will need at least a five-thousand watt generator. You may want to go higher though to accommodate for starting watts. Also, note that manual transfer switches need to be professional installed by a trained electrician. An install along with the switch could end up costing you between seven-hundred to one-thousand dollars.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top generators in this category:
- The Duromax Xp4400E comes with forty-four-hundred surge, or starting watts, and thirty-five-hundred running watts. This is about the same size as our larger camping and RV category.
- This is the unit you get for your home if you are on a budget and are just looking for a basic source for emergency power.
- That being said, you do get an electric starter on this unit as well as an emergency low oil shut-off switch so this product isn’t without features.
- You also get a four gallon gas tank that is rated for a eight hour operation time.
- As I mentioned above, I see this unit as kind of the entry model for home power usage. Continue reading for more powerful units.
- This Briggs & Stratton model comes with sixty-five-hundred starting watts and five-thousand running watts.
- The Q6500 does come with a two-hundred and forty volt outlet and can be hooked up to your home with a manual transfer switch. (Again, consult an electrician before doing this.)
- The product comes with a five gallon fuel tank and a rated operation time of fourteen hours. That’s a HUGE run time and one of the highest I’ve ever seen. That’s a great convenience for those of you who hate filling the generator up with gas every few hours.
- Like one of our models in the RV section, this Briggs & Stratton model is VERY quiet. In fact, it’s rated at sixty-percent quieter then your standard generator.
- For your money you also get a two year warranty on the product to ensure your investment is protected.
- Bigger and bigger! This Champion generator is rated at eighty-four-hundred starting watts and seventy-five hundred running watts. Those are some big numbers folks!
- This product comes with a two-hundred and forty volt outlet and can be hooked up to your home with a manual transfer switch. (Again, consult an electrician before doing this.)
- This model is dual fuel as well. So, that means that you can use either standard gasoline or propane. Personally, I’m a big fan of the propane as it’s an easier setup.
- You also get a host of other features on this Champion model such as a low oil engine shut-off block, an electric starter instead of the traditional rip cord, and built-in surge protectors.
- Lastly, this product comes with a three year limited warranty and a lifetime of FREE technical support from the Champion team.
Emergency Home Power – Full Restoration
Alright folks, so now we are on to the high wattage systems. Let’s use the same scenario we used above for the partial power. Your home’s power is out and you need to get power back. In our previous example we were powering on select systems such as refrigerators, phones, and furnaces.
If you wish to power on our whole home then you are going to need a whole lot more power. What’s that Home Improvement Tim Allen bit from the 90’s? More Power! This section is going to focus on generators that are over ten-thousand watts.
Now, before I get into our recommended products I want to make something clear. As we get above that ten-thousand watt mark the amount of portable generators begins to shrink. It is fairly rare to find units over ten-thousand, but there are some out there. There is another option though folks and this other option will automate the power transfer during a power outage. In other words, if your power goes out it will come right back on after a few seconds due to your generator. These units are called your standby generators.
Standby generators are immobile systems that are hooked directly to your home. They can range from ten-thousand watts up to forty-thousand watts. These are the kinds of systems that business owners or rural homesteads might have installed. A lot of the times these systems are tied directly to the homeowner’s propane tank so there is no worry about feeding gas every few hours. While these units are convenient, they are also very expensive. Depending on the system you could easily spend five to eight-thousand dollars. If you throw in the installation by a professional electrician then you could be looking at over ten-thousand dollars all in.
Depending on your needs a portable system would be cheaper, but it would not be automatic. You would still need to haul it out, hook it up, etc to get it running. The choice is up to you.
Let’s take a look at our top picks:
- This DuroMax unit is known as ‘The Beast,’ and I can see why. It comes in at a whopping twelve-thousand starting watts. That’s a whole lot of power, especially for a portable generator.
- This product comes with two-hundred and forty volt hookups and can be connected to your home via a manual transfer switch.
- Like other models we’ve gone over, this unit is a dual fuel system. You can use either gasoline or propane. Again, I prefer the propane method.
- At fifty percent capacity the run time on gasoline fuel is rated at around ten hours. With propane the run time is measured at twenty hours. Yes, you heard right. Twenty hours!
- You also get a host of other options such as the low oil emergency shut-off, low oil warning light, muffler to reduce noise, and a heavy duty frame to ensure durability.
- Just so you are aware, I want to warn you about the weight of this product. It comes in at over two-hundred and fifty pounds. It does come with wheels, but it will still be difficult to move around due to it’s size.
- Like our previous model, this A-iPower system comes in at twelve-thousand starting watts and nine-thousand running watts.
- This product comes with two-hundred and forty volt hookups and can be connected to your home via a manual transfer switch.
- You get a seven gallon all steel fuel tank that can provide a run-time of up to nine hours on fifty percent capacity.
- A host of other features are included such as GFCI outlet protection, electric starter, and a protective cover to conceal and cover any wires and electronics.
- Remember how I talked about weight on the previous unit? Well, the same can be said on this one as well. The good side though is that this unit is about sixty pounds lighter AND it has NEVER flat wheels so moving this thing around is a lot easier.
- And you thought twelve-thousand watts were big! This standby generator from Generac comes in at twenty-two-thousand watts.
- This unit includes a smart home transfer switch.
- You also get a tough and durable aluminum casing around your generator to ensure maximum durability.
- Generac stand behind their products with a five year limited warranty. That’s the highest warranty I’ve seen so far on a generator.
- Please note that standby generators need to be professionally installed by a trained electrician.
This is a smaller market but I thought I would mention it here anyways. It could be construction or at another job site where you need power. Most of the time this power is needed to run power tools. Because of this, the wattage needed can vary wildly. In our generator sizing article we got into the differences between starting watts and running watts, but I’ll briefly cover it here as well.
Starting watts are how many watts it takes to start your appliance or power tool. Typically you’ll see these with applications that have motors or compressors in them. These starting watts measure how much power it takes to fully start up your tool. While you will only need starting watts for a short time your generator will need to be able to have sufficient power to support the starting watts. Running watts are just that, how many watts it takes to run your tool or application. Normally, this won’t change once the application has been started but there are some exceptions such as a compressor turning off and on during normal running.
This is why it is so difficult to gauge an adequate construction site generator without knowing exactly what types of tools and applications that will be used. If you are looking for a generator for these purposes then I highly suggest you sit down and make a list of exactly what you will be using and what their running and starting watts are.
Once you have this information you can then add everything up and determine exactly what sized generator you need. Also, please note that with whatever number you came up with it is always safest to add an additional ten or fifteen percent so that you have some leeway in your total wattage.
Alright folks, we have gone through the sizing requirements for generators, what features to look for, what safety guidelines to follow, and what applications you may need. Along with all that we covered our top picks in each category. Our goal here was to make the most comprehensive generator guide on the internet today and I have to say, I think we did it. If you do find yourself having additional questions on generators feel free to reach out to us.
Lastly, I want to make clear that while generators can be a very resourceful tool they can also be dangerous. When installing and using these machines please ensure that all safety requirements are met and followed. While we here at ToughAssTools have given advice and recommendations on which generators to choose from we are not liable for any future safety concerns or injuries.
Thanks for reading,