Pros and Cons of Inverter Generators
These machines come at a premium price, but they run longer, quieter, and more efficiently
The portable gas generator has had some technological makeovers in recent years. One is critical to safety, and one significantly boosts the level of performance for a certain breed known as inverter generators. If you’re looking into getting a portable generator, you may want to consider an inverter.
To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, some new portable generators feature a built-in sensor that triggers an automatic shutoff if CO builds up to dangerous levels in an enclosed space.
A New Class of Generator
To help you make better sense of your options, we break our inverter generator ratings into three groups:
1. Large Inverter Generators
With very few exceptions, the large inverter generators in our ratings weigh around 250 pounds or more (wheels included). That’s too big to haul along to a tailgate party but big enough to power your house. They generate 5,000 watts of power or more (at 220 volts).
This category of inverter generator can be connected directly to your electrical panel with a safety device called a transfer switch, which CR strongly recommends. That allows them to power entire circuits in your home rather than having to plug in individual electronics with extension cords.
2. Midsized Inverter Generators
These weigh 80 pounds or more and might come with wheels. They produce 2,500 to 4,500 watts but don’t allow the recommended option of connecting to an electrical panel with a transfer switch. Instead, you plug appliances or electronics directly into the generator, which can be dangerous if you don’t follow certain guidelines.
This size is well suited for users of recreational vehicles. These models produce all the power you need for plug-in appliances like a toaster or microwave, and they’re light enough to unload and carry away to a safe distance from your RV before use.
3. Recreational Inverter Generators
These weigh up to 60 pounds and are designed to be carried with one hand. Most recreational models max out at around 2,000 watts, which should be plenty for tailgating or camping.
“Don’t let the size lull you into a false sense of security,” Trezza says. “Even though they’re about as big as a gym bag, our tests show that these models emit carbon monoxide at a rate that can quickly build up to unsafe levels in an enclosed space.”
They range in capability from the compact type you’d want for tailgating or camping to something that could be a steady source of basic backup power after a storm. Our generator buying guide is a great place to get the lay of the land, and our generator ratings will let you compare specific models.
CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of three top-performing inverter generators, one each from the three sizes we test.
3 Top Inverter Generators
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.