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Be prepared for the next big storm

The best generators and chain saws to use in a weather emergency

Published: August 2014
How will you keep the lights on during a blackout?

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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

A chain saw might come in handy in the wake of a weather emergency. Get the details below. And read about lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy.

Kohler 14RESAL

Shopping tips for generators

Look for smart features

Portables with electric start save you the effort of pulling on a starter cord. Most automatically shut down if engine oil gets low. A fuel shutoff helps you drain gasoline from the carburetor and lines.

Decide on portable or stationary

In addition to offering more power, stationary generators start automatically when the power goes out. And ­because they run on propane or natural gas, they save you the hassle and safety risks of storing many gallons of gasoline.

Plan for safe setup

A transfer switch (about $500 to $900 installed) safely connects a portable generator to your home’s wiring. Avoid carbon-monoxide risks by running portables at least 15 feet from the house, away from open windows and doors.

Factor in fuel

Most portables use about 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline or four to eight 20-pound propane tanks per day. Stationary models can run 8 to 15 days on a 250-gallon propane tank.

Don't forget cost of installation

To install a stationary generagor, figure on $2,000 to $5,000, along with the required town or municipal permits. Your contractor should be familiar with proper setback distance, noise, and other local requirements.

What you need in an emergency

• A whistle to attract help, dust masks, duct tape, a wrench or pliers, flashlights, and batteries.

• At least 1 gallon of water per person per day for three days, moist towelettes, plus garbage bags.

• Sleeping bags.

• A first-aid kit, hand sanitizer, pain medicine, tweezers, and sharp scissors.

• At least three days’ worth of crackers, cereal, canned foods—and, yes, a manual can opener.

Chain saws that clean up

Stihl MS 180 C-BE

Got trees? Add a chain saw to your list of emergency gear. In Consumer Reports' chain saw tests, the models below buzzed through 6x6-inch oak beams and include an array of safety features.

Before you start cutting, always keep safety in mind. Most saws have a brake that stops the chain if the bar kicks back toward the operator, but you’ll still need protective chaps, gloves, steel-tipped boots, a helmet, face shield, and hearing protection. (That gear costs about $200.) Start gas saws on the ground at least 10 feet from a fuel source. Use two hands when sawing. Don’t lean into the cut or saw above shoulder level. And avoid cutting with the tip to help prevent kickback.

Best for most needs

The Stihl combines speedy sawing with low kickback and a chain you adjust without tools. Paying more for the Echo buys less weight and easier handling.

For heavier work

All three are rated for 300 hours of use. The Echo and Husqvarna 455 Rancher are fast but heavy and kicked back more than some in our tests. The Husqvarna 445 trades some speed for less weight.

For more occasional use

Choose the gas Craftsman if power outages are common. Top performance at a low price makes the Worx a standout among corded saws, and the Ego topped our tests of cordless saws.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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