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Generators You Can Count On During a Power Outage

CR subscribers sound off on how satisfied they are with their stationary and portable generators

What makes a great generator? For starters, it should start.

And that’s not always a given.

In our 2016 survey of 8,787 Consumer Reports subscribers, we found that 14 percent of readers who owned generators reported problems getting them started during a power outage. Those aren’t comforting odds if you rely on the tool to power your house—or even a collection of key appliances—during or after a major storm.

Our generator reliability survey also reveals that portable generators are far more popular than stationary generators. Portable generators run on gasoline, for anywhere from 8 to 16 hours on a single tank; stationary models are installed permanently and can be configured to run on propane or natural gas, allowing them to operate indefinitely.

Respondents were three times more likely to own a portable generator. That's probably because they're about one-tenth the cost: The median cost for each configuration in our survey, including installation, was $731 for a portable generator and $7,317 for a stationary model.

More on Generators

Even though stationary generators cost more, our survey shows they offer a number of advantages.

For one, they’re far more capable. The median wattage output of stationary models, at 16,365 watts, was nearly triple that of portables, at 5,688 watts. To put that in context, a small space heater or a window air conditioner uses about 1,800 watts. Stationary models also seem to run quieter: Their owners were five times less likely to complain about noise when compared with folks who own a portable generator.

The vast majority of readers who own a generator reported using it in the previous 12 months. Owners of portable models needed the appliance an average of two times over that span, while owners of stationary generators reported relying on the tool an average of four times in the same timeframe. "Stationary models are generally the better bet if you live in an area prone to frequent power outages," says Dave Trezza, who oversees CR's testing of generators.

How to Choose the Right Generator

If you’re torn between the two configurations, start with our generator buying guide. For help choosing between models, the chart below—available to CR digital subscribers—details reader satisfaction with a broad array of portable and stationary generator brands, including Honda, Yamaha, Briggs & Stratton, Ridgid, Troy-Bilt, Champion, Harbor Freight, BlackMax, Craftsman, Generac, Coleman, PowerMate, Cummins, Kohler, and GE.

For each brand, you'll see the overall satisfaction score, along with how our readers rate that brand for issues around starting the generator and noise while operating. 

CR's Generator Satisfaction Survey Results

Compare the satisfaction data below with test results in our generator ratings to find the right model for your house.

Subscribe to read the full article & get access to digital ratings.

We investigate, research, and test so you can choose with confidence.

Generator Satisfaction
Portable generators
Brand and
Median price paid
Reader Score Starting Problems Noise
Honda
$1,814
92
Yamaha
$1,907
92
BlackMax
$749
89
Rigid
$904
88
Troy-Bilt
$690
88
Champion
$562
87
Harbor Freight
$515
87
Briggs & Stratton
$716
86
Generac
$771
86
Coleman
$578
84
Powermate
$551
84
Stationary Generators
Brand and
Median price paid
Reader Score Starting Problems Noise
Kohler
$8,768
91
Cummins
$8,749
91
Generac
$6,992
91
GE
$8,100
90
Briggs & Stratton
$6,472
89
GUIDE TO THE RATINGS Ratings are based on the Consumer Reports National Research Center’s 2016 summer survey of 8,787 subscribers reporting on a home generator they currently own that provides power during outages. Results don’t necessarily mirror the experiences of the general U.S. population. Reader Score reflects overall satisfaction with generators and isn’t limited to the criteria listed in the table. A score of 100 would mean all respondents were completely satisfied; 80, very satisfied, on average. Differences of fewer than 5 points aren’t meaningful. Ratings for starting problems and noise are relative and reflect mean scores on a 6-point scale ranging from Very Poor to Excellent. Price represents the median price customers paidfor their generator; for standby models this includes the cost of installation. Although portable and stationary generators are presented separately in our ratings table, our analysis included both types of generators examined as one common pool of data. Some exceptions were made for analyses of satisfaction drivers, where they were analyzed separately.

Generator Satisfaction
Portable generators
Brand and
Median price paid
Reader Score Starting Problems Noise
Honda
$1,814
92
Yamaha
$1,907
92
BlackMax
$749
89
Rigid
$904
88
Troy-Bilt
$690
88
Champion
$562
87
Harbor Freight
$515
87
Craftsman
$728
86
Briggs & Stratton
$716
86
Generac
$771
86
Coleman
$578
84
Powermate
$551
84
Stationary Generators
Brand and
Median price paid
Reader Score Starting Problems Noise
Kohler
$8,768
91
Cummins
$8,749
91
Generac
$6,992
91
GE
$8,100
90
Briggs & Stratton
$6,472
89
GUIDE TO THE RATINGS Ratings are based on the Consumer Reports National Research Center’s 2016 summer survey of 8,787 subscribers reporting on a home generator they currently own that provides power during outages. Results don’t necessarily mirror the experiences of the general U.S. population. Reader Score reflects overall satisfaction with generators and isn’t limited to the criteria listed in the table. A score of 100 would mean all respondents were completely satisfied; 80, very satisfied, on average. Differences of fewer than 5 points aren’t meaningful. Ratings for starting problems and noise are relative and reflect mean scores on a 6-point scale ranging from Very Poor to Excellent. Price represents the median price customers paid for their generator; for standby models this includes the cost of installation. Although portable and stationary generators are presented separately in our ratings table, our analysis included both types of generators examined as one common pool of data. Some exceptions were made for analyses of satisfaction drivers, where they were analyzed separately.

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Generators in Our Ratings.
Current Generator Ratings