When hurricane season rolls around, we always get a ton of questions about the best generator for a lot of different needs and prices. Even as hurricane season begins to wind down, winter storm season warms up and the reality is every season is generator season.
We got our team of experts together including contractors, outdoorsmen, and hurricane veterans to recommend the best generators in 2020. Since our list includes portable units, whole-home devices, and even models designed for camping and tailgating—peruse the list to land on the specific recommendation you’re looking for.
Best Portable Generator for Home Use
Generac 6500/8125-Watt Portable Generator with COSense (GP6500 COSENSE)
To determine the best portable generator for home use, we wanted a model that has a balance of everything: power, quality, portability, price, and with the understanding that it’s going to be used on an occasional basis. There was one feature we required for the list: carbon monoxide detection.
Generac’s GP6500 is an all-around great generator. Its 6500 running watts and 8125 starting watts are more than you get from the small 5000-watt class. It provides plenty of power and enough outlets to run just about anything on 120V. Plus, it has a 120V/240V plug if you need it.
While the total harmonic distortion is too great for sensitive electronics, it has the carbon monoxide sensor we’re looking for and wraps it up for less than $800.
- Ryobi 6500/8125-watt generator with CODetect (RY906500S): pretty much the same as the Generac GP6500 with a slightly larger engine and slightly smaller gas tank. Buy it for $799 at Home Depot .
- Craftsman 5000/6250-watt generator with CO detection (CMXGGAS030731): Lower on watts but still highly effective and $150 less. Buy it for $649 at Lowe’s .
Best Generator for Camping and Tailgating
Westinghouse 2200/2500-Watt Portable Inverter Generator (iPro2500)
The best generator for camping and tailgating has to be one that’s small enough to easily transport and quiet enough not to disrupt the party. Everything else—like USB ports and GFCI outlets—is a bonus.
We like the Westinghouse iPro2500 thanks to its combination of a very manageable 48-pound dry weight and whisper-quiet 52-decibel operation on the low end. Kicking it over the top even more, it has a THD under 3% so your electronics won’t have any issues.
- Honda 2500/2800-watt portable inverter generator (EG2800i): a bit less refined, but with more power and longer runtime—plus a Honda engine. Buy it for $1029 at Acme Tools .
- Champion 1850/2500-watt generator (100889): 39-pound dry weight and still under 60 decibels with less than 3% THD for electronics. Buy it for $479 at Lowe’s .
Best Whole House Generator
Generac Guardian Series Natural/LP Gas Whole House Generators
When you’re looking for the best whole generator—also known as a standby generator—it’s a different device altogether. These turn on automatically when the power goes out, and they’re not at all portable. Some people (my neighbor included) bury an LP tank to keep it out of the landscape view when they don’t have a natural gas line already in place.
As you shop for these systems, keep in mind that you need to add the cost of a transfer switch and professional installation to the price.
The Generac Guardian series ranges from 10kW (10000 watts) to 24kW (24000 watts) and comes with a pretty reasonable price tag. Generac’s Mobile Link also lets you monitor the status of your system from anywhere in the world using cell data or WiFi.
Price: $2,759 – $5,609
- Kohler Natural/LP Gas Home Generators: $2,964 to $5,377 (6kW – 20kW) at Home Depot
- Briggs and Stratton Natural/LP Gas Generators: $2,599 to $10,499 (10kW – 25kW) at Acme Tools
Best 10000-Watt Generator
Honda 9000/10000-Watt Portable Generator with CO-Minder (EB10000AG)
One thing to keep in mind as we start considering watt-specific generators: manufacturers often use the peak, or surge, wattage rather than the running watts to classify them. As a result, 10000-watt generators may only have 8000 running watts.
When you get to 10,000 watts, you’re pretty much at the top of what portable generators offer while still being readily available. The best 10,000-watt generator in our book needs to have a powerful engine and a top-tier feature set to make using such a beast easier.
The Honda EB10000AG is a true commercial-grade generator. The Honda GX630 powerplant includes 688cc of displacement. Newly updated for 2020, this model now has CO-Minder carbon monoxide detection to go along with an electric start and low noise/high efficiency for its muscular class.
- DuroMax 9500/12000-watt electric start portable generator (XP12000EH): true 9,500 running watts with 120V (20A), 120V (30A) twist lock, 120V/240V (30A) twist lock, and 120/240 (50A) heavy-duty outlets and an electric start. Buy it at Home Depot for $1299 .
- Firman 8000/10000-watt electric start portable generator (P08003): Solid value with dual-fuel capability, remote electric start, and 12 hours of runtime on its 8-gallon tank. Buy it for $899 at Lowe’s .
Best 5000-Watt Generator
Honda 5000/7000-Watt Electric Start Portable Generator with Co-Minder (EM5000SX)
5000-watt portable generators sit in the sweet spot between power, portability, runtime, and price. You can still find a nice feature set, and it’s a versatile power level that is relevant just about anywhere except camping and tailgating.
No one puts together a better package than Honda does here. It starts with a commercial-grade Honda iGX390 engine with electric start and CO-Minder carbon monoxide detection. Wrapping up the major highlights, it’s also compatible with Honda’s My Generator app where you can monitor or turn on/off the generator remotely. Overall, it’s the most complete package we’ve seen.
- Cat 5500/6875-watt portable generator (RP5500): a bit more power with 15-hour runtime on a 7.9-gallon gas tank. Buy it at Lowe’s for $849 .
- Craftsman 5000/6350-watt portable generator with CO Detection (CMXGGAS030731): Excellent value choice with Briggs and Stratton 306cc engine and carbon monoxide sensor. Buy it at Lowe’s for $649 .
Best 3000-Watt Generator
Honda 2800/3000-Watt Electric Start Inverter Generator (EU3000IS1AG)
We see 3000-watt generators primarily around RVs and with smaller crews on residential jobsites. With plenty of quiet models in this range, they also crossover into camping and tailgating.
If you’re looking for a life of portable generator luxury, Honda’s EU3000S1AG is the best 3000-watt generator. Powered by Honda’s GX200 commercial engine, it’s one of few in this class to offer an electric start.
Running 50–57 decibels depending on the load, it’s super-quiet. It runs more than 13 hours at 50% load on a full 3.4-gallon tank and has CO-Minder to monitor carbon monoxide levels. It’s also parallel capable if you want to connect 2 together.
- Ryobi 3400/4000-watt portable inverter generator (RYi4022X): Excellent high-value choice with 3400 running watts and 12-hour runtime. Buy it at Home Depot for $549 .
- Briggs and Stratton 3500/4375-watt portable generator (30712): higher power and monster 14-hour runtime at 50% with a lower price for users that don’t need a quieter inverter. Buy it for $399 at Home Depot .
Best 2000-Watt Generator
Westinghouse 2200/2500-Watt Portable Inverter Generator (iPro2500)
The best small generator is typically in the 2000-watt class. These are highly portable and our picks all include an inverter to give you “clean power” that’s appropriate for sensitive electronics. As the smallest in power, they also tend to be the most affordable inverter generators.
Great for camping and tailgating, the Westinghouse iPro2500 is also our top pick for the best 2000-watt generator. Reasonably priced in this group of inverter generators, it has 2200 running watts, super-low noise level (52 decibels), is less than 50 pounds, and gets 6 hours of 50% load runtime on a gallon of gas.
- Honda 1800/2200-watt portable inverter generator (EB2200i): powered by a Honda engine with low noise and weight, but it costs over $1,000. Buy it for $1059 at Acme Tools .
- Champion 1850/2500-watt portable inverter generator (100889): Good sub-$500 budget pick with low noise and just 39 pounds dry weight. Buy it at Lowe’s for $479 .
Best Gas Generator
Honda 5500/7000-Watt Electric Start Inverter Generator with EFI (EU7000iS)
In determining the best gas generator, we pulled cost out of the equation. We tasked our team to tell us about the generator they think is the best based on their experience and why it outshines others.
Two brands really set themselves apart for our team: CAT and Honda. After a few tense words and a damaged ego or two, Honda came out on top thanks to its use of a seemingly bullet-proof GX engine and some extra features.
Of the choices available, the Honda EU7000iS puts together the best package with a GX390 EFI engine at its heart. With 5500 running watts, it’s impressively powerful for a generator that includes an inverter to deal with electronics and maintain and quieter noise level. How else do we love thee? Let us count the ways!
- Push-button electric start
- GFCI outlets and electric circuit breakers
- Parallel capable
- Electronic fuel injection (EFI)
- CO-Minder version coming soon!
- CAT 7500/9375-watt electric start portable generator (RP7500E): Higher available power with lithium-ion electric start and 11 hours of 50% load runtime on its 7.9-gallon fuel tank. Buy it for $1,199 at Lowe’s .
Best Dual Fuel Generator
DuroMax 8000/10000-Watt Dual Fuel Electric Start Portable Generator (XP10000EH)
Dual fuel generators can use either gasoline or propane to run the engine. After a storm, it may still be possible to find propane even after fuel stations run out of gas. They also tend to run cleaner on propane. The trade-off is the power level typically drops slightly but it has excellent runtime compared to a tank of gas.
The best dual fuel generator our team selected is the DuroMax XP10000EH. Coming in just under $1,100, this is a power play on our part—an 8000-watt power play. You can actually go with a bit more with the DuroMax XP12000EH, but we like that you get nearly 2 hours more runtime with the same 8.3-gallon fuel tank.
- Firman 3000/3300-watt portable hybrid inverter generator (WH03041): Inverter generator with decent power, low noise, and safe for electronics. Buy it at Lowe’s for $849 .
- DuroMax 3500/4400 portable electric start generator (XP4400EH): Solid value pick with electric start. Buy it at Home Depot for $499 .
Best Electric Start Generator
Cat 6500/8125-Watt Electric-Start Portable Generator (RP6500E)
One feature that drastically changes your generator experience is electric start. There’s no hassle of pulling a cord—as long as you remember to charge the battery. These come with both lead-acid and lithium-ion power sources and we prefer lithium-ion. The nice thing is you can find them across a pretty wide range of power levels.
Cat has several electric start models that feature a lithium-ion battery instead of lead-acid. There’s less natural energy drain, making it ideal for occasional use. At the same time, the generator charges the pack, so daily use is just fine, too. Of the Cat models that come with this feature, we like the 6500-watt model as a good balance for both jobsite and emergency power use.
Best Quiet Generator
Honda 2800/3000-Watt Electric Start Inverter Generator (EU3000S1AG)
Generators are definitely not quiet by nature but they can improve greatly with smaller engines (and power) and full enclosures. Most models are in the 2000–3000-watt range, though you can find a handful that reach a little higher.
Honda’s EU3000S1AG takes home another accolade from our team, this time as the best quiet generator. Powered by Honda’s GX200 commercial engine, it’s one of few in this class to offer an electric start.
We like it’s super-quiet 50 – 57-decibel noise level, making it one of the quietest available. Other highlights include 13-hour runtime at 50% load on a full 3.4-gallon tank and CO-Minder to monitor carbon monoxide levels. It’s also parallel capable if you want to connect 2 together.
- Briggs and Stratton 5000/6500-Watt QuietPower Inverter Generator (Q6500): Big power for an inverter generator. Buy it at Home Depot for $899 .
- Champion 1850/2500-watt portable inverter generator (100889): excellent budget pick under $500 with < 60-decibel operation and 39-pound dry weight. Buy it at Lowe’s for $479 .
Best Battery Inverter Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 3000 1500/3000-Watt Lithium Power Station
Okay, so if you really want a quiet generator, nothing beats a battery inverter. Noise level is only part of the equation, though. Because there are no emissions, this is the only way to have a generator for indoor use.
There are a couple of trade-offs, though. You need to have enough batteries to cover the length of time you’re going to be without power (solar charging can help with that). You also won’t get near the power you can from a gas, propane, or diesel generator.
They’re also more expensive on a watt-to-watt basis.
This was another really tough choice with 3 quality competitors that have major plusses but also a caveat or two. Goal Zero’s Yeti 3000 ended up with the most votes by our Pro team thanks to its massive 3075Wh capacity and available solar panels.
The downside? It’s expensive and we didn’t get as much startup wattage in our testing as our other recommendations.
Price: $3,199 bare, $3,499 with 200-watt solar panels
- EGO Nexus 2000/3000-Watt Power Station : better performance than Goal Zero with easily swappable batteries and highly functional display and app, but lacking solar panel option currently. Buy it for $699 bare or $1,699 with four 56v, 5.0Ah batteries at Acme Tools.
- DeWalt 1800/3600-Watt Portable Power Station and Charger : Best surge wattage available that’s great for jobsite use. Limited total capacity to just 864Wh at a time and no app control. Buy it for $499 bare at Acme Tools .
Best Generator Brand
When we sat down to discuss the best generator brand, we thought through a lot of different characteristics. In the end, we all agreed that the number 1 consideration is that it has to work reliably. It can have all the features and power in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything if it won’t start when you need it to. But, hey, we still want those features.
Given those parameters, we feel the best generator brand is Honda. Their engines are incredibly long-lasting and start reliably for both consumer and commercial uses. They have available features that compete against what anyone else has to offer. Plus, they are committing to adding carbon monoxide detectors on their entire line of generators.
You’re going to have to pay premium prices, though. Honda generators tend to run hundreds of dollars more than others.
Buying the Best Generator in 2020
We put together a comprehensive buying guide that you can read here for full details. If you just want the summary of what to look for, here you go:
- How much power do you need?
- 120V, 240V, USB? What outlets do you need to run your equipment or home?
- Running electronics? Check for total harmonic distortion (THD) under 6%)
- Powering a jobsite every day or emergency power a few times a year?
- Gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, or solar fuel sources?
- How long do you need to run on a tank of fuel?
- Recoil or electric start?
- Is noise a factor?
- What about electronic fuel injection for better fuel efficiency and fewer maintenance issues?
- Carbon monoxide detection: the up and coming must-have feature
- Need a set of wheels? Not every generator comes with them
- Need a lift? Lift hook bars are helpful
- Connecting directly to your house? It’s not a DIY job!