Peak hurricane season is upon us and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting that it will be a be an active one, with the possiblity of up to five major hurricanes. With memories of Superstorm Sandy still fresh, Consumer Reports has tested another batch of generators, including three large ones that can handle all your household needs. Of the 27 models in our generator Ratings, 14 performed well enough to make our list of top generator picks.
The three large stationary models from Kohler, Generac, and GE can deliver up to 14,000 watts, enough for the usual essentials plus a midsized central air conditioner and an electric range and dryer. Also called standby models, these install permanently outdoors and start themselves when needed, running on natural gas or propane from a large tank. Of the trio, the Kohler 14RESAL, $3,700, was best and, like most of the stationary units we tested, comes with a transfer switch for a safe connection to your circuit panel.
A new star among small stationary models is the Generac 6237, which at $2,250 costs nearly $1,000 less than the top-ranked Kohler 8.5 RES-QS7. Like the Kohlers, it was notable for power delivery and the smoothness of the power. And like other stationary models, the Generac periodically starts itself and diagnoses potential trouble between power outages. It also includes a transfer switch.
If you just need to power a few essentials, including your furnace or boiler, sump pumps, and lights, a portable generator could suffice—and most cost far less. The catch: You need to start it regularly, so it'll be ready when you need it, and to perform other maintenance such as changing the oil. You'll also need to stock up on fuel, since most portables use about 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline a day. A few models, such as the $800 Generac LP5500 we just tested, use propane. For these, you'll need four to eight 20-pound propane tanks.
The best performers among portables include the 7,000-watt Troy-Bilt XP 7000 30477 and Briggs & Stratton 30470, CR Best Buys for $900 each. Both machines offer electric start, fuel shutoff (which protects the engine from gasoline as it deteriorates during storage), low-oil shutoff (again, to protect the engine), and a fuel gauge. To be safe, you should also have an electrician install a transfer switch.
For full Ratings and recommendations, read the generator buying guide.