One of the best portable generators from Consumer Reports' testing

When you need to power your house during an outage, you have two options: a home standby generator or a portable model. If you lose power often, you might opt for a standby—or stationary— generator. The unit itself can cost thousands, with an installation bill to match.

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But if you live in an area where outages are infrequent or where the lights often come back on in a few hours, you’ll save thousands by going with a portable generator. These units keep costs down and pack plenty of power to run most of the essentials in your home. Provided, that is, you're willing to pull the unit out of the garage during an outage and exert a little effort when it comes to storing gasoline for an emergency and refueling the generator when you need it.

“Portable generators really hit the sweet spot with price and performance,” says Dave Trezza, who oversees Consumer Reports' generator tests. “They’ll power most—if not all—of what you need during a storm, and you can be all-in for under $2,000, including the semipermanent installation.”

Unlike a home standby generator, a portable model will work right out of the box, meaning you can add gas and oil, fire it up, and plug in the equipment you want to power. But to get the most out of it, you’ll want to hire an electrician—well before an outage—to install a transfer switch, a device that allows you to connect your generator to your home’s circuit breaker panel. That preparatory step means you can power entire circuits rather than using extension cords to plug in equipment and devices one at a time. It also means that you can run hardwired equipment, such as a water heater or well pump.

Always operate a portable generator at least 20 feet from your home with exhaust directed away from windows and doors, and with a model-specific cover or tent in inclement weather.

The only drawback? Portable models typically max out at about 7,500 watts, meaning you can power, say, a gas furnace but not an electric range and dryer at the same time, like a standby model can. And because they run on gasoline (some burning close to a gallon an hour at peak capacity), you’ll need to keep a lot of gas on hand, stored with fuel stabilizer mixed in, to sustain you through a prolonged outage.

Check out our generator buying guide to learn more about portable vs. standby models, as well as large inverter ones, a more fuel-efficient variant of portable generators that we rate separately because their increased efficiency puts them in their own class. CR members can access our full generator ratings. Below, we've listed five picks for the best portable generators for a variety of needs.

5 Great Portable Generators

Best Basic Portable Generator

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Best Value in a Portable Generator

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Best Portable Inverter Generator

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Best Portable Generator for Long Run Times

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Best Portable Generator for Modest Power Needs

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