The important thing to understand is that as good as these portable generators are, they are not intended as an alternative way to power your entire home. For that you need a standby generator that is wired in permanently. A portable generator is designed to provide household electricity in the case of an emergency, but it can also be used for powering tools when you're away from a convenient socket, or for when you are camping, boating, or are involved in other recreational activities. It should also be noted that many electrical items "surge" when first switched on - they briefly demand more power. For that reason, almost all portable generators quote the wattage they produce when running normally and also a maximum amount that they can supply to cope with those surges.
Portability & Ease of Use
They are all called portable generators, but are they actually easy to move around? Has the manufacturer only thought about output, or have they included other features that make the machine user friendly?
Fuel Efficiency/Run Time
The figures associated with portable generators can be confusing. We analyze how long these machines will run under real-world conditions.
While the cheapest machines haven't made our review of the best portable generators, that doesn't mean we’ve only picked the highest-end models. We’ll tell you which generators are a good deal, and which you should stay away from if you are price-conscious.
Operating at a maximum output of 4000 watts, and with a continuous output of 3300 watts, the DuroStar DS4000S won't run your entire household in the event of an outage. However, it will run modest amounts of lighting, plus a refrigerator, microwave oven, and enough other gadgets that you'll be able to cope during any emergency. For recreational use it should be more than adequate.
Champion Power Equipment 46539
In terms of power output, there's little to separate the the Champion Power Equipment 46539 from the Durostar. The Champion has an identical maximum of 4000 watts but a slightly higher continuous running output of 3500 watts. In real terms, that's roughly equivalent to a few extra lights, a cordless phone, or maybe a small laptop.
With the Westinghouse WH7500E, you have considerably more power available: 9000 watts starting output and 7500 watts under normal running conditions. That's the kind of supply you need to run several kitchen appliances at the same time, plus lights, and your TV, too. You also get automatic voltage regulation that irons out fluctuations in power supply, so things already running don't stall or stop when another device is added.
Briggs & Stratton 30663
The Briggs & Stratton 30663 gives you a 25 percent boost for starting/surge output, yielding an impressive 8750 watts that should cope with all manner of large appliances. Given that normal running power is 7000 watts, we put it in the same league as the Westinghouse. It's one of most powerful machines on the market, and virtually every owner we talked to was blown away by its power.
The final generator in our ratings is the Yamaha EF2000iS which, at 2000 watts starting and 1600 watts running, delivers the lowest output out the other machines on our shortlist by some margin. However, pure power is not the reason we have selected the model, as we'll find out in a moment.
At 94 pounds, the DuroStar DS4000S is one of the lighter machines to make our top five review, which you would expect to be a plus point. The problem is, it doesn't come with wheels. They are available as an extra, but we feel that's a rather disappointing omission. Although it doesn't have electric starting either, the owners we surveyed consider the EZ-Pull recoil system to be incredibly easy to use. Some customers comment that the frequency of oil changes required by the machine is on the higher end, but we didn’t find this to be a noticeable issue.
The Champion Power Equipment weighs in at 104 pounds, but it does have wheels and a handle - which makes a big difference. It also comes with a battery powered remote starter, so you can be indoors - up to 80 feet away - while it's outside (there's also a pull-start should the remote fail). In addition to voltage reading, the meter also gives operating hours which many owners find to be very useful. There is some debate among owners concerning noise levels. While a few customers we surveyed considered it a bit loud for camping, we didn’t find noisiness to much of an issue. The machine is rated at 68 decibels (the Durostar is 69 db), so we can only say that it must be a question of personal opinion - or proximity!
At 210 pounds, the big Westinghouse WH7500E is no lightweight. Like the Champion, moving it around is made easier by wheels and a handle. Starting is easy with the electric start provided (though not remote) and again, there's a pull starter just in case. In general, owners are very pleased with their purchase and in particular really liked the meter that allows for run-time monitoring.
Weighing 221 pounds, the Briggs & Stratton 30663 is heavy and bulky. With its never-go-flat wheels, however, it’s fairly maneuverable. Starting the machine is much like starting your car; you just turn the key.
We appreciate the useful hour meter/fuel gauge and the rubberized covers over the sockets, which are designed to keep out dust and dirt. The latter is an especially helpful feature, because when you need your portable generator, you need it now—and the last thing you want is to find that you can't get the plug in!
At just 44 pounds, the Yamaha EF2000iS portable generator isn't just the lightest machine in our top generators review, it's also one of the most mobile. It has a wrap-around upper handle rather than wheels, but in this case wheels would simply be an unnecessary addition. The smart design is more reminiscent of a portable radio than a generator. It has push-button starting and a DC output option for charging batteries. As a last resort, you can also link two of these generators together should you need extra power.
Locke has worked in the construction industry for over 15 years. He began as a foreman, but he rose through the ranks and now runs one of the largest bridge builders in the region. His current responsibilities include procurement and operations for all construction projects. In his spare time, you may find Locke reading about construction trends or researching equity investments.
When rating the top five portable generators for fuel efficiency, you need to take into account the way manufacturers quote figures. The DuroStar DS4000S 4,000 Watt portable generator, for example, has a 4 gallon tank and will run for 8 hours at half load. You might think from that you could easily work out that it would run for 4 hours at full load, but that's not the case. Like a car engine when pushed to its limits, it consumes proportionately more fuel. Also like a car, you're unlikely to be using a portable generator at full load for extended periods. You'll have a surge when you start things up, but then it will even out. That being the case, the half-load statistic at least gives us some kind of benchmark in comparing one machine with another.
Champion Power Equipment 46539
The Champion Power Equipment 46539's 12 hours at half load seems much more efficient. The gas tank is similar at 3.8 gallons, so you'll be refueling a lot less often - which is just what you want if it's nasty outside! It should also be noted that at 50% load, the Champion still yields 100 watts more power than the Durostar. Actual engine size is very similar - the Durostar’s is 208cc, and the Champion’s is 196cc - so the only conclusion you can make is that Champion portable generator's motor is a much more efficient unit. In fact, it is the most efficient out of all of the machines on our shortlist, and this was something that many customers mentioned as a key differentiating factor in their purchase decision.
The Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator has a big, 420cc motor, so although it's giving you considerably more output, you can't expect the same kind of fuel efficiency as you would with the Champion or DuroStar, right? Wrong. The Westinghouse will run for an impressive 13 hours at half load (and has a 6.6 gallon tank). With this generator, the half load is still 3500 watts - which would be pushing the Durostar or Champion close to their limits.
Briggs & Stratton 30663
A 420cc motor is also what you get on The Briggs & Stratton 30663 Portable Generator, so it would be reasonable to expect a similar fuel efficiency from this machine. In fact, although the Briggs & Stratton will take a fair bit more fuel in its 7.5-gallon tank, the run time is somewhat shorter, running for around 9 or 10 hours at half load.
The Yamaha EF2000iS provides much lower output than our other four contenders and has a tiny 1.1 gallon tank - so you might think you'd be refilling it forever. In fact, it will run for 10.5 hours in what Yamaha calls "Economy Mode,” which is comparable to other manufacturers' half load. Like many owners, we were quite impressed with this machine’s efficiency.
The list price for the DuroStar DS4000S is $479, although you can actually get one at the moment for just $249. It is EPA approved but not CARB compliant, so it cannot be sold in California. Some owners have expressed doubts over durability given that the generator is made in China, yet few have actually reported any long-terms problems. This machine is tough to beat if you're looking for emergency back-up for little cost. The only frustration is that wheels - which should be fitted as standard - are an extra.
Champion Power Equipment 46539
The Champion Power Equipment 46539 can also be found at a considerable reduction on list: currently $499 rather than $599. It's slightly more powerful than the Durostar, has more sockets, is CARB compliant, and has those indispensable wheels. It also has a two year warranty against the Durostar's one.
The Westinghouse WH7500E 7500 Watt Portable Generator is a big step up in power and price. It's a thousand dollar machine, available right now for $956 with a three year warranty. For that money, you get a powerful machine with plenty of sockets and, thanks to the Pulse-Flo muffler, it's surprisingly quiet. Sadly it's not CARB compliant, but very few portable generators are.
Briggs & Stratton 30663
There are numerous similarities between the Westinghouse and the Briggs & Stratton 30663, including price. Right now, the Briggs & Stratton costs $899. A big plus is the legendary name that Briggs & Stratton carries in producing powerful, reliable, and durable motors that are used in everything from lawn mowers to snow blowers. The unit is backed by a three-year warranty in the rare case that something goes wrong. Most owners we surveyed swear by the quality and durability of this machine, suggesting that its longevity may actually end up saving you money in the long run.
Offered now at $926 (list is $1099), the Yamaha EF2000iS might seem rather expensive given its output. However, this is not a unit you buy for power alone and, in truth, direct comparison with the models above is a little unfair. We've included it in our top five because it's particularly good for those people it's aimed at: if you want a quiet, reliable, lightweight portable generator for purely recreational use - one that you can just pick up and go - the Yamaha is an exceptional choice.
Selecting the top five portable generators on the market is a tough task. Choosing the very best is equally difficult, but after having rated the specifications, considered the factors that are important to prospective users, and taken into account the opinions of owners, it's the Briggs & Stratton 30663 that comes out ahead.
The DuroStar and Champion have few faults, and the Yamaha is excellent, but it suits a particular market. Our most difficult decision was choosing between Westinghouse and Briggs & Stratton.
In the end, the choice of Briggs &Stratton 30663 as the best portable generator wasn't due to one big thing but rather lots of small ones. The power output is more than enough for emergency back-up in the home. It will run numerous power tools when there's no electricity supply available. It's no lightweight, but it is manageable, so recreational use is feasible as well.
What's more, it's competitively priced, especially if you can take advantage of current offers. It has well though-out features like the covers over the sockets, the power surge alternator, and the key for starting. The build quality is excellent, and no manufacturer has a better reputation for reliability. Add it all together and the best portable generator on the market today is the Briggs & Stratton 30663. It earns our highest recommendation.