With extreme weather affecting nearly every region of the U.S.—from hurricanes and flooding to tornadoes and blizzards—chances are high that you’ll experience an extended power outage at some point in the relatively near future, if you haven’t already. No matter where you live, investing in the best portable generator or the best whole home generator can give you the peace of mind of knowing you’ll be able to take care of your family and your property when natural disaster strikes.
Portable Generators vs. Standby Whole Home Generators
Portable and standby whole house generators each offer distinct benefits and challenges, so it’s important to consider your priorities in a power outage as well as other key factors when choosing which type of generator to purchase. Read on for a brief overview of what each category has to offer.
Portable Generators – The Good
- Price: Portable generators are available at much lower price points than standby generators, cost less to maintain and don’t involve any additional fees for installation.
- Ease of use: To start using a portable generator, all you have to do is fill it with gas and connect it to your house with a dedicated transfer switch. They’re simple to operate and don’t require a permit from your local government.
- Efficiency: In the aftermath of a storm or other disaster, a large portable generator (7KW to 17KW) is sufficient to power essential appliances—such as your refrigerator, small air conditioner, lights and perhaps a television—at a relatively low cost.
- Flexibility: As the name implies, portable generators can be moved from one place to another when needed, so you can take yours on a camping trip, lend it to friends or use it in the yard or workshop. When you’re not using it, it’s convenient to store in your garage or basement.
Portable Generators – The Not-So-Good
- Noise: In addition to electricity, portable units also generate a lot of noise, which can be unpleasant when you’re trying to sleep and even potentially damaging to your hearing.
- Long-term value: Unlike standby generators, portable generators don’t increase the potential resale value of your home.
- Limited power: Most portable models don’t generate enough power to run your entire home, so you’ll have to choose a few to keep going and forget the rest. In an extended power outage, this could mean you’ll still be able to operate your fridge and AC, but doing laundry will be out of the question.
Standby Whole Home Generators – The Good
- Power: By design, standby generators are intended to keep your entire household operating without a hiccup during a power outage. You’ll continue to enjoy hot showers, home-cooked meals, entertainment and other creature comforts, no matter how severe the storm or how prolonged the outage.
- Value: Adding a standby generator to your property can boost the value of your home to future buyers.
- Quiet: Standby generators are much quieter and less disruptive than portable generators.
Standby Whole Home Generators – The Not-So-Good
- Cost: Standby generators can be prohibitively expensive, costing about $5,000 on average plus additional costs for installation by a certified electrician. In most places, you’ll also need to secure a permit from your local government to install one. They’re also pricey to maintain, requiring service after just a few days of continuous use.
- Lack of portability: Standby whole-house generators are permanently installed on a concrete pad near your home and directly connected to your home’s electrical system, so they’re only useful for powering your home. If you want electricity for a camping trip or tailgate party, you’ll have to shell out the cash for a portable generator.
- Testing requirements: To ensure that your generator is functioning properly and ready to keep your household going in an emergency, you should conduct regular self-checks (also known as exercise) during which you run the generator for a short time to make sure it works as expected.
Other Factors to Consider in the Best Whole Home Generator
To determine how much power your household will require from a generator, you’ll first need to calculate the total power requirements of all appliances you expect to need during a power outage. The online calculator created by Consumer Reports is an excellent resource to help you gauge your needs and find a generator that fits your family.
Before you buy, you may want to consider hiring a trained electrician to evaluate your power needs, size of your home, electrical system specifications and any issues that may come up during installation or use of your new generator—just to prevent any costly surprises later on.
Whole-house standby generators also tend to come with additional costs and considerations that portable generators do not. You may have to pay for fuel tank installation and set-up as well as any required permits and inspections. Standby generators, which are typically a bit larger than a standard residential AC unit, may be required to sit a specific distance from property lines or structures or be concealed by fencing or landscaping, and you may be expected to schedule regular inspections with your local government agency.
Best Portable Generators – Our Top 5 Picks
This powerhouse portable generator packs enough punch to run most of your large appliances in an emergency—without sporting a hefty price tag. The Westinghouse WGen12000 generates 12,000 running watts, which is more than enough juice to power a refrigerator, microwave, electric oven, lights and compact air conditioning or heating unit.
As with any portable generator you plan to use to power your home, you’ll need to purchase a separate transfer switch, but the WGen12000 includes a 120V L14-30R transfer switch-ready outlet for seamless compatibility, as well as several additional outlets with rubber covers for safety. The unit produces a clean sine wave with a total harmonic disruption (THD) of less than 5 percent, so you can connect sensitive electronics without worrying about potential damage.
The remote-start key fob makes powering the generator on and off incredibly convenient, and the instructions are simple and straightforward, allowing you to start using it almost immediately after unpacking.
The unit’s control center features a convenient display with real-time stats on voltage, frequency and lifetime hours, and the built-in gas gauge helps you plan for refueling. Automatic low oil shut-off and overload protection features ensure years of problem-free use.
Like most portable units, WGen12000 isn’t quiet to operate, but its noise level is a relatively tolerable 74 dB, on par with a typical household dishwasher.
- High-quality construction
- Simple set-up
- Plenty of power to maintain essential household operations
- Relatively quiet
- Excellent value
- Heavy (352 pounds)
- Low-to-average fuel efficiency
Not only is the Generac 5734 GP15000E the most powerful portable generator on our list, it’s also one of the most powerful on the market, delivering 15,000 running watts—more than enough to power a mid-sized home in an extended power outage.
The heavy-duty 992-cc overhead valve industrial engine is equipped with a proprietary X-Torq governor to keep it running smoothly without stalls or hiccups. The pressurized lubrication system keeps oil flowing to key components, while the automotive-grade oil filter and dual-element air filter ensure clean, consistent performance with minimal maintenance.
The massive 16-gallon fuel tank is a major advantage of this model, allowing you to run the generator a full 10 hours at 50 percent load before needing to refuel. In an unexpected power outage, the unit generates sufficient wattage to run security systems, computers and electric stoves, as well as air conditioning systems and sump pumps in tandem with a manual transfer switch.
This versatile machine also comes in handy for construction and landscaping needs, supporting lawn mowers, sanders and saws, as well as for camping and outdoor use.
The generator earns points for safety with its circuit breaker-protected outlets (two 120-volt, two 120-volt GFCI, one 120-volt 30 Amp twist lock, one 120/240-volt 50 Amp and one 12 VDC battery charger) and built-in automatic low-oil level shutdown mechanism. A low-tone muffler helps reduce noise levels.
The only significant mark against the Generac 5734 GP15000E is the company’s record of spotty customer support, which comes up repeatedly in consumer reviews and online forums. The generator does come with a two-year limited warranty.
- Most powerful model on our list
- Ample fuel tank
- Extended run time
- Lifting eye handles and pneumatic all-terrain wheels enhance portability
- Poor customer support
- Relatively expensive
While its shockingly low price tag may suggest equally low quality, thousands of customers who relied on this generator in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017 insist otherwise. This value-priced generator is the real deal, delivering outstanding performance as a backup power source.
The A-iPower SUA12000E is capable of generating 9,000 watts of running power, enough to maintain essential appliances like a small AC unit, lighting, TV and refrigerator in case of an emergency outage. (Just be sure to track your total usage and avoid connecting several power-hogging appliances at the same time.) The seven-gallon fuel tank keeps the engine running for at least 8 hours at 50 percent load, although some customers have reported getting as many as 13 hours of use before needing to refuel.
The compact, relatively lightweight (206 pounds) unit is easy to transport and store. The keyless, one-touch start button is effortless to use, and GFCI-protected outlets ensure safe operation in wet conditions.
- Durable steel fuel tank and solid frame
- Reliable performance
- Extended run time
- Low price and excellent value
- Limited power (9,000 running watts) requires users to carefully manage appliance needs
- Manufacturer is not well-known in the U.S.
The DuroMax XP12000EH Dual-Fuel generator offers the flexibility of two fuel sources—propane and gasoline—along with the best performance among hybrid generators currently on the market. The unit maintains just over 9,000 running watts on propane and 9,500 running watts on gasoline. Run times average 7 to 8 hours on 50 percent load, depending on the fuel source.
The DuroMax 457cc OHV engine is a workhorse that can handle multiple appliances in a power outage or several heavy-duty tools in the yard or workshop. Idle control reduces engine RPM when it’s not in use, which increases its fuel efficiency and reduces noise levels. Noise and vibration are further reduced by the sturdy frame’s four-point, fully isolated rubber motor mounts.
The unit comes with an easy-to-use electric key starter and also includes a backup recoil starter in case the battery is running low. Features like low-oil protection, AC and DC regulators and a spark arrestor create added security.
- Flexible dual-fuel design
- Quality construction
- Good value
- Moderate noise level (74 dB)
- Limited power
- Some users reported issues with flat tires
While slightly less powerful than the DuroMax XP12000EH, the DuroMax XP10000E still provides enough juice to get you through the aftermath of a storm while doubling as an excellent workshop generator. Its 8,000 running watts can handle heavy loads including lights, a refrigerator and home air conditioner as well as high-amperage power tools.
The power panel includes two standard household outlets, two 30-amp outlets and a 50-amp outlet as well as a volt meter, circuit breakers, automatic low oil shutoff and idle control. The 8.3-gallon fuel tank keeps the generator going for up to hours at 50 percent load.
At 260 pounds, the unit is relatively heavy and bulky for its power level, but heavy-duty wheels and a flip-up handle allow for easy transport. It’s also surprisingly quiet, averaging 72 dB at peak operation.
- Easy maintenance
- Low price
- Relatively quiet
- Limited warranty (one year)
- Challenging set-up
Best Whole Home Generator (Standby Generators) – Our Top 5 Picks
Even if you’re away when the lights go out, this powerful whole-home standby generator automatically kicks into gear, restoring power to your entire house within about 10 seconds.
The unit’s Kohler Command PRO OHV engine runs on clean natural gas or LPG, eliminating the dust and fumes associated with most portable generators. Producing less than 5 percent total harmonic distortion, it won’t damage sensitive electronics. The quiet-running system maxes out at about 69 dB, approximately the same noise level as a typical central air conditioning unit.
The corrosion-proof exterior protects the system from harsh conditions, and it’s backed by a five-year, 2,000-hour limited warranty.
For an extra $235, the OnCue Plus Generator Management System lets you monitor the generator’s settings remotely using your smartphone or computer. You can also set up text or email notifications related to the unit’s status, which can come in handy if you opt to evacuate during a major storm.
- Quiet operation
- Very quick power restoration
- Corrosion-proof enclosure
The Generac Guardian Series is the brand’s latest evolution in its catalog of home standby generators, and this model delivers robust performance for small- to mid-sized homes at an outstanding value.
The Generac 7033 features a reliable, pressure-lubricated G-Force engine that requires significantly less maintenance than many of its competitors. The multilingual LCD display on the Evolution Controller lets you monitor battery status and track scheduled maintenance to keep your unit running smoothly.
The innovative Mobile Link remote monitoring system, included in every Guardian Series model, gives you access to information about your generator no matter where you are in the world. Using your smartphone, tablet or PC, you can view current operating status, maintenance alerts and even request service from a local authorized provider.
Best of all, Generac stands behind its products with responsive, U.S.-based customer service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The generator also comes with a five-year limited warranty for added peace of mind.
- Powerful, reliable engine
- Low total harmonic distortion won’t damage sensitive electronics
- Remote monitoring system comes standard with generator
- RhinoCoat powder-coated finish protects unit from corrosion
- Wisconsin-based customer support team available 24/7
- May not be suitable for homes with large power needs
Like its smaller sister model, the Generac 7043 generator delivers powerful, reliable performance at a reasonable price, but this unit packs 22,000 watts—enough to power the operation of virtually any size home in case of an outage.
The mighty G-Force engine generates consistent power flow to every aspect of your home, from central heating and air and large appliances to HDTVs and laptops, which are protected by the engine’s low THD and smooth operation.
As with the Generac 7033, you’ll be able to control the generator remotely through the onboard Mobile Link technology, and the intuitive app allows you to monitor the system’s status and establish a schedule for recommended testing and maintenance.
- Powerful enough to support virtually any home’s needs
- Sturdy, corrosion-proof enclosure stands up to extreme weather
- Self-test mode guarantees the system will function when you need it to
- Responsive, 24/7 customer support
- Expensive – in addition to base price, you’ll need to consider installation and maintenance costs
This 16,000-watt standby generator provides a happy medium between the Generac 7033 and 7043 models, providing sufficient wattage to run a five-ton air conditioner as well as all the other essentials of your home life. The included 200-amp NEMA 3R smart switch gives you whole-house protection for peace of mind, and the solid aluminum enclosure is designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.
Like the other Generac models, the 7037 connects to Wi-Fi to provide remote access through its Mobile Link system and is supported by a U.S.-based, around-the-clock customer service team.
- Solid design and construction protect the unit in severe storms
- Remote monitoring and control through included Mobile Link feature
- Excellent customer support
- Almost as expensive as Generac’s 22,000-watt model
The Briggs & Stratton 40346 is a reliable workhorse perfect for mid- to large-sized homes requiring 200-amp service and support for one or two central HVAC systems.
The unit’s innovative Symphony II Power Management Technology carefully balances the demands of high-energy appliances and smaller items, delivering smooth, consistent power to your whole house. An automotive-style exhaust system and sound-dampening airflow technology keep noise to a minimum, a feature you and your neighbors are sure to appreciate.
The durable, rust-resistant stainless-steel base defends the system from harsh conditions, and the rugged aluminum enclosure is rated to withstand winds as high as 175 miles per hour. The generator can be installed as close as 18 inches from your home, making it a perfect fit for small lot sizes.
- Powerful enough for most residential needs
- Can be placed as close as 18 inches to your home With its 20 kW it is one of the most powerful home standby generators
- Automatic voltage regulation and overload protection keep the unit running smoothly for years
- Comprehensive five-year warranty
- Some users have reported customer service issues
Final Thoughts on the Best Whole Home Generator
Extreme weather and other threats to the utility grid are here to stay. Investing in a portable or standby generator now (instead of waiting until an emergency situation is imminent) allows you time to make the best choice for your household and avoid “panic pricing.” All of the 10 generators on our list are reliable picks to sustain you through an extended power outage in relative comfort and convenience.