Why It Makes Sense to Get a Generator Now

If you have a power outage during the pandemic, a generator can keep you safe at home

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Having a backup generator is a good idea in general. That’s the case even more so now, given the risk of exposure to the coronavirus if you were forced to leave your home because of a power outage from a severe weather event. In the past few months, we’ve already seen the tragic impact of flooding and windstorms in the Midwest. Tornadoes throughout the South have killed dozens and left more than 1 million people without power. And we haven’t yet entered hurricane season.

A portable generator can keep four to six appliances and electronic devices running—refrigerator, window air conditioner, TV, phones. This makes staying home during a power outage more tolerable and safe.

More on Generators

Consumer Reports recommends having a licensed electrician install a transfer switch so that power from your generator can be distributed to multiple electric circuits in your house. That way, you don’t need to plug individual appliances directly into the portable generator. If that’s not an option, you can use 12-gauge outdoor-rated extension cords to connect your appliances to the generator. “But make sure to use a separate cord for each individual appliance to avoid overloading any one extension cord, which can be a fire hazard,” says Dave Trezza, CR’s test engineer in charge of generators.

In addition, always place the generator at a minimum of 20 feet from your house, with the exhaust vent directed away from any windows or doors. Generators produce carbon monoxide, a deadly gas with no odor or color that can kill in minutes if levels inside a home are high enough.

Consumer Reports recommends buying newer models that are specifically designed to emit less carbon monoxide, or that have automatic shutoff sensors that turn off the units when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are detected. Currently, one model in our ratings, a Ryobi, has both the newer design and a shutoff sensor. We no longer recommend a gasoline-powered generator without at least one of these innovations.

CR members can read below about three portable generators that have at least one of these safety features and also are recommended by CR. Our testers are currently evaluating eight additional generators that also have the safety features. For these eight, we offer performance information and features, but we don’t yet have scores or ratings. Our generator buying guide is a great place to learn more about these products. CR members can find more information about the generators we test in our generator ratings.

Best Portable Generators to Buy Now

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.