Best and Worst Inverter Generators from Consumer Reports' Tests

    These machines are pricier than more common, portable generators. But they run longer and quieter, and use less energy.

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    recreational inverters Photo: Brian Finke

    Inverter generators are a relatively new, and improved, type of portable generator. You use both types of generator the same way, to power appliances and electronics after an outage at home or when you’re far from an electrical source. But as a group, inverter generators do better than regular portable generators in almost every way.

    They run longer and use less energy. They also run more quietly, whether you’re using one at home or at a tailgate p arty. And they typically cost more, though the extra expense may be worth it.

    "If money isn’t an issue, I would choose an inverter over a portable," says Misha Kollontai, the Consumer Reports engineer who tests generators.

    More on generators

    But all inverter models are not created equal. Far from it. Consumer Reports tests have found big differences among inverter generators, especially when they’re pushed to extremes.

    How an inverter generator works when demand for power is at its peak is important. A model that can’t keep up with power needs may shut itself down or cause appliances to overheat or stall out—something we routinely see in testing. If you have a generator that can’t keep up during peak demand, you’ll need to unplug some appliances in order to plug in others. You’ll also need to reset the generator’s circuit breaker each time you do.

    How CR Tests Generators

    To test generators for performance, our engineers load up each model with key appliances you might want to power during an outage, such as a space heater, refrigerator, and window air conditioner. We make sure the generator can handle the load it’s supposed to, and also look at what happens when a sudden electrical spike hits, for example, if your refrigerator compressor kicks on when the generator is already close to its limit. The best models take that in stride while others bog down or even stall. We also look at how easy it is to move and use a generator, as well as how efficiently it uses gasoline and how long it runs on a single tank.

    We also developed a CO safety technology test to evaluate new automatic shutoff features on portable and inverter generators and low-CO engines.

    Our ratings of dozens of models include the brands you’ll see whether you’re shopping online, or buying at home centers or dealers: Briggs & Stratton, Generac, Honda, Predator and Ryobi. In addition to inverters, you’ll also find traditional gasoline-powered portable generators and home standby generators. Prices for generators in our ratings range from about $450 for a modest generator that can power a few key appliances, to more than $4,000 for home standby models that can handle everything in your house.

    Start with our generator buying guide for advice on which kind of generator you’ll need. CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of top-rated or CR Best Buy inverter generators, one from each of the four size categories. We also call out two large inverter models to skip.

    As always—and regardless of whether or not you buy a generator with a CO safety shutoff—use a gasoline generator only outdoors, at least 20 feet from your house, with the exhaust directed away from any windows or doors.

    Best Inverter Generators in CR's Tests

    Each of these top-rated or CR Best Buy inverter generators has CO safety technology designed to stop the engine if carbon monoxide reaches certain limits in an enclosed space, a feature CR considers very important. Each scored Very Good or Excellent in tests of that function.

    Large Inverter Generator

    Produces 5,000 watts or more (220-volt-capable)

    Midsized Inverter Generator

    Produces 2,500 to 5,000 watts

    Small Inverter Generator

    Produces 1,500 to 2,500 watts

    Mini Inverter Generator

    Produces less than 1,500 watts

    Worst Inverter Generators in CR's Tests

    These 5,000-watt units, though less costly than other large inverter generators, failed to reliably produce the amount of power promised by their manufacturer. You’ll have to spend several hundred dollars more to get a highly rated, large inverter model that reliably produces the claimed wattage.

    Generator Tips

    Damaging storms can happen anytime. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, host Jack Rico learns from Consumer Reports expert Paul Hope how to avoid being left in the dark during a power outage.

    Paul Hope

    As a classically trained chef and an enthusiastic DIYer, I've always valued having the best tool for a job—whether the task at hand is dicing onions for mirepoix or hanging drywall. When I'm not writing about home products, I can be found putting them to the test, often with help from my two young children, in the 1860s townhouse I'm restoring in my free time.

    Tobie Stanger

    I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger