Staying warm and keeping your home’s plumbing from freezing this winter could be a challenge if a storm shuts down the power. The best portable generators can run your furnace, refrigerator, and other essentials for as little as $600. Larger, stationary models, which install permanently outside your home, add an electric oven and dryer, central air conditioning, and other comforts to that list. And some of both types make less noise and use less fuel than others, though you pay for those benefits up front. Here are the details from Consumer Reports' generator tests:
The king of quiet. Efficient inverter technology helps keep the portable Honda EU7000is at roughly the level of normal conversation, compared with the equivalent of a loud vacuum cleaner for most other models. Automotive-style fuel injection also helped this 5,500-watt machine sip gasoline, rather than guzzle it. But at $4,000, it costs more up front than even the largest stationary generator we tested. A better value: the Generac RS7000E, a CR Best Buy for $900, which makes far more noise but offers even more power.
Power without pooping out. All generators should be able to deliver the wattage they’re claimed to provide, plus a little extra to handle temporary surge demands for refrigerators and other motorized items that cycle on and off. The portable Generac RS7000E and the stationary Kohler 8.5 RES-QS7, $3,200, and Cummins 13GSBA-6722B/12B, $4,300, were among the best at delivering that reserve power without bogging down or stalling. Kipor promises its portable Kipor IG6000h can “easily power appliances with a power-draining startup.” But this $2,300 generator cut out under even moderate loads and proved relatively noisy, despite its inverter technology.
Protection for sensitive stuff. Smooth, steady power without dips and steps helps protect computers and other electronics and keeps refrigerator motors from overheating. Several stationary generators delivered that power in our tests. But though most portables handled our household loads capably, few matched the smoothness of the pricey, inverter-equipped Hondas in our generator Ratings.