When looking for the best portable generator to survive blackouts, especially in California where this has been more of an issue of late, there are plenty of factors to consider.
If you’ve already done your research and have determined that a portable generator is right for you, read on for my top picks for the best portable generator for 2020, including those with low emissions, high fuel efficiency, and a solid reputation for reliability. And remember, with those trade tariffs looking likely later this year, now’s the time to buy if you’re in the US.
One thing to note for this category, just as for gas-powered lawnmowers, is that I don’t give any of these generators a Leaf Score higher than 4. Even the best, most fuel-efficient, low emission gas generator is still bad for the environment compared to a portable power station charged with clean energy from renewable resources. Why feature these gas generators on Leaf Score at all then? Well, because power outages caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and simple brownouts and blackout are a reality for many people in the US, and if you have to rely on a gas-powered backup portable generator, we want you to know which generators are the most environmentally friendly.
Also, you might just prefer a gas generator for occasional use when RVing or camping, especially if there’s little sun exposure with which to power a solar generator. If this is the case, I’d strongly encourage you to share a generator with a group of friends or family. This will save everyone money, both on the upfront cost and maintenance, allow you to buy a higher quality generator in many cases, and keep resource consumption to a minimum.
I also want to mention why Briggs & Stratton aren’t among my recommendations below, before some eagle-eyed reader notices their conspicuous absence. I waxed lyrical about Briggs & Stratton engines in my LeafScore recommendations for lawn mowers (80% of which use these engines!). Why? Because they’ve been at this engine thing for more than a century and have made plenty of improvements and refinements along the way. Briggs & Stratton make reliable, hardworking, high-performance engines you can trust. And if there’s one thing you really want when there’s a hurricane heading your way, it’s a generator you can rely on.
That said, Briggs & Stratton generators aren’t CARB compliant, meaning they can’t be shipped to or sold in California. This might be apropos of nothing, but it could indicate that their engines aren’t low emission. So, until these engines are certified appropriately, they don’t make the cut for this category.
With all that out of the way, here are my top picks for small portable generators, medium-sized generators, and large generators, with some runners-up you might also want to consider. I haven’t include any extra-large generators because anything above about 12,000 W tends not to be CARB compliant. If you need a stonking 26,250 W of backup power though, perhaps to power a mansion, a huge grow-op, or a small village, the Generac 5735 GP17500E might be the behemoth for you as it is the largest generator around, is exceptionally well priced, and is consistently beloved by users.
Our Top Picks for Generators
Best small generator: Yamaha EF4500iSE
What we like: Very quiet (58-60 decibels) inverter generator, low emissions, great for camping and powering electronics on the go
Best medium-sized generator: Honda EU7000iS
What we like: Reliable, durable, high-performing, quiet ( 52-60 decibels), low emissions, electronic fuel injection system
Best large generator: DuroMax 12,000
What we like: Can run either on propane or gasoline, can easily provide backup power for a whole house during a blackout, features an electric start (with optional recoil start)
Champion 73536i 2,000W Portable Inverter Generator
Power: 2,000 W
Full load power time: 2.375 hours (based on 9.5 hours at ¼ load)
Weight: 48 lbs
The Champion 73536i is a budget-friendly, high-performing, low emissions, very quiet portable generator that is stackable, meaning if you need a little extra oomph you can just add a second generator using a twin cables. Not quite as quiet as the Yamahas (53 decibels vs 51) when running at ¼ load, the Champion is still a great choice for camping, tailgate parties, outdoor weddings and so forth.
Compared to the Yamaha EF2000iSE, the Champion has a slightly higher continuous output (1,700 W vs 1,600), which may explain why it has a run time of 9.5 hours at ¼ load, compared to 10 hours with the Yamaha. Still, this is a great runtime!
The Champion uses inverter technology and a smart economy mode to make for excellent fuel efficiency and suitability for powering sensitive electronics. It includes two 120V 20A household outlets and 12V DC outlet. That said, the Champion produces electricity with less than 3% THD, while the Yamaha has less than 1%. Not a big difference, but worth noting if you plan on powering very sensitive electronics.
The Champion is CARB compliant, weighs 48 lbs, is pretty darned robust, making it a good workhorse for rugged locations. The handle is also good and sturdy, and this generator comes with oil, unlike the Yamaha where you’re going to need a trip to the store. Oh, and the Champion has a US Forest Service Approved Spark Arrester. What’s that? Well, it means the generator has been designed in such a way as to minimize the risk of forest fires starting through sparks from the exhaust system. Definitely a good idea in this age of climate fires.
The Champion Power Equipment 73536i 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator is ideal for powering all your odds and ends in the RV and can provide backup power for a few basics like lights, microwave, TV, modem/router or phone charger. It’s not powerful enough, though, to be used as a backup generator for whole home air conditioners, stoves, furnaces or sump pumps.
This generator has a recoil start and Cold Start Technology to make it easier to get going in cold weather. The engine itself is an 80cc Champion engine and has a low oil shut-off sensor, a 0.4-quart oil capacity and comes with a bottle of 10W-30 oil. There does seem to be a slight tendency for fuel leakage with this one, but it’s easily remedied with a little nudge to free a stuck float.
At almost half the price of the Yamaha generator, this one is a steal. Just read some of the reviews from folks caught up in various hurricanes and other weather events in the US and it’s easy to see why it’s a smart move to have a Champion in your corner. That said, if you’re looking to be truly eco-friendly, consider getting a portable power station charged by solar. Some models, such as the Goal Zero 3000 W, provide almost as high a wattage without burning gasoline, and these are also much quieter!
Yamaha EF4500iSE 4,500W Portable Inverter Generator
Power: 4,500 W
Full load power time: 7.4 hours
Weight: 194 lbs.
The Yamaha EF4500iSE 4,500W Portable Inverter Generator is a very quiet (58-60 decibels) inverter generator and has low emissions, making this a great choice if you care about noise pollution and/or air pollution. Thanks to the inverter technology, the Yamaha can power all your sensitive electronics, such as laptops, phones, and so forth. It’s also ideal for taking camping or RVing because it complies with the highest level emission standards (CARB Tier III) and won’t annoy the neighbors like some louder generators.
At a full load, the Yamaha EF4500iSE can provide power for almost seven and a half hours. It also features a wireless remote start (up to 66 feet away), so you can kick it into action or turn it off without leaving your camp chair. It also has an easy key start and automatic choke, making it a breeze to get going even in cold temperatures.
This portable generator also features an easy to read Power Meter that indicates the amount of power being used and the amount available, so you can quickly tell if plugging in another item will overtax the system. The maximum output is 4,500 W, with a continuous output of 4,000 W.
There’s also an Hour Meter which tells you the cumulative run-time, making it easy to know when the generator is due for servicing or refueling. And, thanks to the low oil warning system, this generator has an automatic shut-off to protect the engine against dangerous operating conditions.
For ease of transport, the Yamaha has twin bars for lifting and loading. You can also use these to lock your generator to a solid structure, helping to avoid theft and making transport safer. With four wheels and a parking brake, this generator is truly portable and won’t go running off down any hills.
All in all, this is one of the best emergency generators around and is ideal for an earthquake kit, camping, road trip, or for an outdoor party. It can also help see you through a blackout, powering your refrigerator and freezer, window A/C, TV, computer, and more with ease. It’s well suited to running an RV 15,000 btu air conditioner and 1000 W microwave oven, for example.
If you’re looking to power a lot of high demand appliances, though, you might need something with a little more power, such as the Honda EU7000iS or the Yamaha EF6300iSDE. If you only need backup power for a mini-fridge, laptop, and maybe a small A/C unit, consider the Yamaha EF2000iS, the quietest, cleanest generator on the market.
This Yamaha generator has a large inverter and a powerful engine, allowing it to run at just 1000-2600 rpm. That translates to greater fuel economy and less noise and engine wear and tear. It is also rated for 1000 hours emission compliance, meaning that its performance doesn’t drop dramatically after a reasonable amount of use. Extended performance and durability are key elements of eco-friendliness, so this generator gets a big LeafScore thumbs-up.
Although not quite as powerful as the Yamaha, the almost totally silent Goal Zero 3000 W, provides excellent emergency backup without burning gasoline, and all for around the same price. So, perhaps consider a portable power station charged by solar as a truly eco-friendly generator.
Honda EU7000iS – super quiet for its size, with low emission
Power: 7,000 W
Full load power time: 6 hours (18 hours at ¼ load!)
Weight: 261 lbs.
If you’re looking for a medium-sized generator that is reliable, durable, high-performing, and quiet, with low emissions, the Honda EU7000iS is a fantastic choice. With a sound output of just 52-60 decibels (depending on load), this 7,000 W generator is quieter than some generators with less than half the power output! It’s also one of, if not the only generators with electronic fuel injection, which makes for even easier start-up and smooth running.
There are two major downsides to the Honda: its price and the lack of parallel connection capability. This model is prohibitively expensive for most folks, but if reliability, power, and some blessed quiet are your priorities, consider saving up for this one. That said, if you like the idea of being able to hook up two smaller generators for a bit of extra power once in a while, the Honda might not be for you.
The Honda EU7000iS was brought to the market in 2014 and is still highly prized. It regularly wins awards as one of the best generators around and the customer reviews and product specs make it easy to see why.
The Honda’s Eco-Throttle means this generator can modulate power output as needed, allowing it to run 6-18 hours on a single tank. Inverter technology means you can power sensitive electronics and all your high-powered white goods. And a handy iMonitor tracks cumulative runtime, RPM, Volts and wattage, so you know when to service the unit, how hard the generator is working to meet current demands, and power remaining for use if you plug in more devices.
This generator has electronic fuel injection technology to improve fuel efficiency and prevent problems with the choke or carburetor. It also has an Oil Alert to prevent engine damage, and it has a handy push-button electric start. Circuit breakers prevent overload, and the generator offers 5,500 W of continuous power. It uses a 120/240 voltage selector for high wattage requirements and has a Honda GX390 EFI Single Cylinder OHV air cooled engine with 389cc displacement and a fuel tank capacity of 5.1 gallons.
The GX engines are a mighty force. Reliable, high-performing, and beloved across the industry, the GX390 is arguably the best engine around. It can handle the coldest mornings up north and the hottest midday sun down south, without overheating or otherwise crapping out. It is CARB compliant, with low emissions and impressive fuel economy, and could easily last a lifetime if well maintained.
Offering 7,000 W of start-up power, this generator can more than handle the energy demands of a small household and most work on a construction site. It hooks up easily to a transfer switch too. If you have a larger home, however, or very high energy demands from a whole home A/C, you might want something a little larger. Otherwise, the Honda is as good as it gets in this power range, only facing competition from the Yamaha EF6300iSDE.
The Yamaha model is almost as powerful and is just as quiet, and it features a handy wireless remote control start (which the Honda doesn’t have). There is a version of the Honda generator with a remote control start and stop option, but the Honda EU7000IAT1 isn’t wireless like the Yamaha, meaning you have to run a wire somewhere or other.
The Yamaha is also priced around $600-$1200 lower than the Honda, but there are a few downsides to consider. First, the Honda is far easier to move around, even though it weighs about 60 lbs more than the Yamaha. Why? Because the Honda is designed with two bigger wheels and folding handles, while the Yamaha has four smaller wheels that don’t swivel and no useful handles. This makes it very difficult to, say, turn a corner, without having to somehow hoist a 200 lb machine onto just two wheels.
Oh, and the Honda has a back-up pull cord starter, in case the electric start fails (which it won’t) or the battery runs down. The Yamaha doesn’t have a back-up pull cord.
Hondas are also notoriously easy to maintain and service, with carefully designed hardware that allows good access to everything you need. It’s easy to drain oil, add oil, and access your spark plugs for cleaning with the Honda, while the Yamaha can make for messier oil changes, requires a funnel with a flexible nozzle to refill oil, and needs a special tool, not just a regular ratchet, to access the spark plugs.
As always at LeafScore, we favor products that will keep performing at a high level for a long time, as this drastically reduces resource use and waste. All in all, the Honda EU7000iS is a great choice for rugged use (it has steel tubing for the frame and steel insulating panels rather than plastic) and is also a top choice for an emergency kit, camping, or recreational use. And, at around 4.95 kiloWatt hours per gallon of gas, you can look forward to bragging about the fuel efficiency of this beast.
Power: 6,300 W
Full load power time: 3.325 hrs (based on 13.3 hr run time at ¼ load)
Weight: 200 lbs.
The Yamaha EF6300iSDE is an excellent second choice for a mid-sized generator. It weighs quite a bit (60 lbs!) less than the Honda EU7000iS, costs about $600-$1200 less, and has a handy wireless remote control start function. It is CARB Tier III compliant – the highest rating for low emissions – and has a long engine life as rated by the EPA. It’s also quiet (58-64 decibels), easy to use, and has Smart Throttle technology to improve fuel efficiency, reduce noise, and reduce wear and tear on the engine.
Maximum AC output is 6,300 W, with 5,500 W continuous AC output, and the option to power 120 V and 240 V appliances and tools. The Yamaha only has two standard 120 V outlets (the Honda has four). All of the household outlets have GFCI protection and the circuits are all protected by overload circuit breakers.
As it’s an inverter system, you can use this generator to power even sensitive electronic equipment, as well as variable speed power tools and other appliances. As noted above, the Yamaha has a wireless remote control start function that works from up to 66 feet away, as do the smaller Yamaha generators. This isn’t a feature of the Honda, although you can wire up a remote start and stop system.
The Yamaha generator features a convenient power meter, so you can see how much power is being used and what’s still available. This control panel isn’t quite as comprehensive as Honda’s, but it’s got pretty much all you need for a home generator.
As mentioned in my review of the Honda EU7000iS, the Yamaha EF6300iSDE doesn’t appear to have a backup pull cord to start this generator, only the push-button electric start. So, if your battery is dead, you might be in trouble. It does, however, have a handy fuel level gauge that let’s you check the fuel level at a glance, as well as a low oil shutoff to protect the engine. There’s also an hour meter showing cumulative runtime.
One advantage of the Yamaha over the Honda, aside from price and the remote start, is the relatively lightweight construction, thanks to the plastic components versus the steel. However, once you factor in the smaller wheels, the fact there are four wheels that don’t swivel, and no robust steering handles, and the weight saving doesn’t really matter. This generator is still a 200 lb machine that’s hard to move anywhere but in a straight line on a smooth surface. Also, all the plastic makes it less environmentally sound to start with and harder to recycle at the end of its life.
The Yamaha’s twin bar body does make it easier to lift, however, but you’ll need a friend to help. And, to steer it around corners, you’ll have to lift two of the wheels off the ground using the handle, which can be a bit awkward. The Honda’s larger, more robust wheels, make it a heck of a lot better suited to more rugged terrain, so if you’ll be using your generator in the great outdoors, rather than in the back yard, go for the Honda.
As for fuel consumption and energy efficiency, the Yamaha EF63000iSDE gives you about 4 kWh per gallon, which is great. It’s a lot less than the Honda’s 4.9 kWh per gallon, though, so if you run your generator quite a bit, you’ll quickly make up that $600 price differential in gas consumption.
All in all, the Yamaha EF63000iSDE is a good-looking, refined portable generator that is quiet, high-performing, and beloved by many. It’s a little cheaper than the Honda, but I’d highly recommend stretching your budget or looking out for a great deal on the Honda EU7000iS if you can.
Generac 7162 8000 Watt Electronic Fuel Injection Portable Generator-EPA/CARB, Orange, Gray, Black
Power: 8,000 W
Full load power time: 10-18 hrs (or 9.5 hours run time at ½ load)
Weight: 244 lbs.
The Generac 7162 8000 Watt Electronic Fuel Injection Portable Generator is one of the few of this size to be EPA/CARB compliant. It is also, by far, the best rated generator on Consumer Reports with a run time of 10-18 hours on a full tank (the manufacturer claims 9.5 hours at half load) and a reputation for reliability and performance.
The Generac’s XT8000EFI has an OHV 459 cc engine with electronic fuel injection (EFI), so you won’t have to worry about the generator getting gummed up with fuel while in storage, nor do you need to worry about problems starting it in cold weather. It also has a back-up recoil starter, in case the electric start runs out of battery power.
Splash lubrication and a load pickup response system also help keep this beast in good working order as the generator matches its output to demand to maintain steady power at all times, thereby reducing wear and tear on the engine.
The XT8000EFI features idle control, which conserves fuel for extended run times, and has an easy to understand Power Bar so you can check at a glance the load demands and how long the generator has been running for. There are also fold-down, locking handles that make it easier to move this 244 lb. behemoth while also making for more convenient, compact storage. And the 10 inch diameter wheels do a great job even on bumpy terrain.
The electric starts makes it easy to get this generator going, and the control panel and outlets are covered to help protect against rugged working conditions and the elements. The generator boasts a large (8 gallon) capacity steel fuel tank with an incorporated fuel gauge. A low oil shutoff helps automatically protect the engine against suboptimal working conditions.
There are five outlets in total, including two GFCI Duplex Outlets and one 30A Twist Lock 120/240V plug. Sadly, this is not an inverter generator, so you probably don’t want to use this to power sensitive electronics, unless you use your own surge protector. That said, the company does claim that the XT8000EFI features TruePower technology with a THD of less than 5% and is fine for powering sensitive electronics. Personally, I’d feel much safer with the slightly lower powered Honda EU7000iS (Consumer Reports’ top-rated inverter generator), despite the Honda costing significantly more (c$4,500 vs. $1,305 for the Generac). This consideration is why the Generac gets a Leaf Score of just 3.
DuroMax XP10000E 10,000-Watt Gas Powered Portable Generator
Power: 10,000 W
Full load power time: 20.8 hrs (based on 10.4 hours run time at ½ load)
Weight: 260 lbs.
The DuroMax XP10000E has 10,000 starting Watts and 8,000 running Watts, along with the company’s unique MX2 power boost to provide double the 120 V power for appliances and RVs. This generator might be a beast but it’s still easy to transport over even rugged terrain thanks to its all metal construction. And, of course, it’s CARB compliant and EPA compliant for low emissions, as are all the generators recommended at Leaf Score. It is not CSA compliant, however, but still seems to be sold in Canada.
The DuroMax isn’t an inverter generator but it does have surge-arrest technology to protect the generator itself from power surges. It boasts up to 8 hours of runtime on a full tank of gasoline and, as a dual fuel generator, you can choose to use gasoline or propane.
The XP10000E features circuit breakers, low oil indicator (and low oil shut-off) and idle control to lower the RPMs of the generator when it’s not in use, thereby saving fuel and reducing noise. The power panel includes two standard 120V household GFCI outlets, one 120V 30A twist lock outlet, one 240V 30A outlet, and one 240V 50A outlet. The panel also includes a voltmeter and 12V DC charging posts for charging external batteries.
The 18HP DuroMax 440cc OHV engine can handle multiple high voltage appliances and heavy-duty power tools, making it a great choice for powering a whole home or construction site. And that MX2 power boost switch lets you choose between operating the generator at both 120V and 240V simultaneously, or at 120 only with full power.
The generator has a heavy-duty frame with fully-isolated motor mounts, allowing for smooth, quiet operation. The XP10000E is built with all copper windings and is covered by a 3-year factory warranty (as are al DuroMax generators). Although most other manufacturers don’t list the noise level of their generators, DuroMax do. This one blasts out about 72 decibels, which is about the same noise level as a loud conversation about 5 feet away.
DuroMax 12,000 Max 9,500 Running Watts Dual Fuel Electric Start Portable Generator, XP12000EH
Power: 12,000 W
Full load power time: 14-18 hrs (or 7-9 hours run time at ½ load) gasoline/propane
Weight: 260 lbs.
With hundreds of five-star reviews, the DuroMax XP12000EG Dual Fuel Electric Start Portable Generator is an Amazon Choice and EPA/CARB compliant across 50 states. It offers 9,500 running Watts and 12,000 W maximum, thanks to an 18 horsepower, 457 cc OHV engine. And, remarkably, it costs less than the much lower powered 8000 W Generac at just under $1,300.
The DuroMax XP12000EH can run either on propane or gasoline and can easily provide backup power for a whole house during a blackout. White goods, home A/C, power tools, lights, and more – this generator has you covered. One big downside of this generator, however, is the lack of load indicator on the control panel. As such, you’re going to need to do some math, or just practice caution, before hooking up all your appliances.
The dual fuel nature of this generator is what sets it apart from others in its class. Liquid propane is typically more accessible in a power outage because you may get to the gas station only to find that their pumps aren’t working because of, well, the power outage. Also, you can safely store liquid propane indefinitely, whereas gasoline deteriorates after a few months, requiring a stabilizer. Liquid propane also burns a little cleaner than gasoline, so your propane generator produces lower emissions.
The XP12000EH has an electric start and an optional recoil start, features a handy MX2 switch, which doubles your 120-volt amperage for heavy loads, and offers two 120V/20AMP outlets, one 120v/30AMP twist lock outlet, a 120/240V 30AMP outlet, and a 50-amp heavy duty outlet. The panel also features a voltmeter, circuit breakers, low oil indicator, and idle control.
The DuroMax is well constructed and ideal for rugged conditions thanks to its solid fill tires, a heavy-duty all-metal frame, and fully-isolated motor mounts, It also has an oversized noise reducing muffler with a built-in spark arrestor allowing for smooth and quiet operation and, like all DuroMax generators, the XP12000EH is built with all copper windings that will last for years.
If you’re in the market for a serious gas-powered generator to survive any power outage, storm, or emergency event, the DuroMax is a solid choice. If you’re just in the market for a generator for small jobs here and there, or for RVing, camping, or to power smaller appliances and electronics during a blackout, this is definitely overkill, especially as this generator is not an inverter generator, so you’d need to use an extension cord with surge protection before plugging in your laptop, phone, or TV. Some users have hooked this one up to a whole home system using a Reliance Controls Corporation PBN50 50-Amp NEMA 3R CS6375 power inlet box and a 15ft Conntek 1450SS2-15 cable plugged directly into the power box, along with a manual interlock kit such as the Square D by Schneider Electric HOMCGK2C Homeline Cover Generator and QOM2 Frame Size Main Breaker Interlock Kit. If none of this makes any sense to you, call an electrician. During an emergency and a blackout, you do not want to find out that something is incorrectly installed and likely to cause an emergency itself.