I was walking to the gym Thursday morning last week…
…And as I past the parking lot under construction I noticed tradesmen were pressure washing the yellow lines to remove them.
But here’s the thing.
The parking lot has no electric outlets and he was using an electric pressure washer. How was he powering it?
I walked back a few steps to get a better view of his truck bed. And yup, there it was. A red Honda portable generator – it was nearly silent aside from a steady hum.
It got me thinking: What is the best portable generator for sale?
Not just for pressure washers but also for camping, tailgating and backup power at home. After 19 hours of research, relying on my mechanical engineering knowledge and experience and talking to the guys about portable generator reviews at my local power equipment retailer… Here’s what I came up with:
Why Buy a Portable Generator?
Backup power for essentials like your sump pump and fridge. Don’t wait until there is a major hurricane approaching to buy a portable generator. Read these portable generator reviews and get one now to be prepared. Many people don’t and they regret it. This chart is Google searches for ‘portable generator’ over time. You can see the major spikes all occurred during major hurricanes: Ivan, Katrina, Ike, Irene, Sandy. These massive hurricanes caused millions of people to go without power for many days up to weeks.
Stay comfortable and safe in a power outage. I’m sure you are aware if you are in an area prone to power outages. If so, would it not be better to just buy a home backup emergency generator and not have to worry? Keep your basement dry by having sump pump backup power. Keep your food fresh with power to your fridge. Stay cool or warm by having power for your air conditioner or heater. For only a few hundred dollars you can rest easy even if you live in an area with lots of blackouts.
Power electronics while camping, tailgating, boating, hunting or at the cabin. My uncle uses his portable Honda generator to charge his camper battery while on hunting trips. I have many friends that use their quiet inverter generators to provide power for lights, music and beer fridge while tailgating.
To recharge large batteries when off-the-grid. You can use a genset to recharge large car size batteries that would otherwise go dead in days. Like I mentioned above my uncles uses his generator for the sole purpose of recharging his camper battery. That battery provides power for inside the camper – lights etc.
Cool tool. At least I think so. A portable generator is a cool tool to own. They turn gasoline into electricity. It’s a great bit of technology.
6 Considerations When Buying Your Portable Generator
- Does it have enough power in kilowatts (kW) for your needs? A generator is usually labelled with its max / surge power output. This output is not what it can run at for hours on end. It can run for hours at its running wattage which is 70-80% of its surge capability. The reason for this is because an electric motor requires more energy to get started running than it does to stay running. If you plan on using your portable generator to power your electric pressure washer then keep this in mined. A typical 1,800 PSI machine with a 1.5 horsepower electric motor will require around 1,200 running watts and up to 3,000 surge watts. You would need to get a generator that can handle that surge.
- How long do you need it to power your pressure washer and other electronics on one fuel tank? From my research the longest run time on one fuel tank comes from a Yamaha inverter generator. It can provide power for up to 20 hours off one tank of fuel. The majority of electric gensets last 8 hours before you need to refill them. All manufacturers list runtime as how long it lasts off one fuel tank while providing 50% of it running wattage capacity.
- How much money are your willing to spend? You can get a small size conventional generator for $200. You can get a large size professional generator for $4,000. The price of inverter generators are around 3 or 4 times more than an equivalent conventional style one.
- Do you need your generator to be very quiet? The best option if noise is a big concern is an inverter generator. They throttle their motors when not in use or full speed isn’t required. For this reason and a few others they are much quieter. The popular Yamaha inverter is quieter than a vacuum.
- How portable/compact do you need your generator to be? Inverter generators are smaller and more compact than equivalent conventional generators. But to get large power output you need to pay a lot more money. What is more important: money or portability?
- What is the max number of things you want to power from the generator at one time? Naturally, the bigger the generator the more electric outlets it will have. This is something to keep in mind when choosing your portable generator.
How Does The Best Portable Generator Work?
A simplified explanation is this: It uses the fuel you put in its engine to turn the fuel’s chemical energy into mechanical energy or movement of the pistons. That movement then turns the driveshaft. The shaft is connected to the alternator’s rotor and that generates an electric field within that is used to create electricity in an external electric circuit. That is what is used to power your electronics.
All it is is an energy conversion machine: chemical -> mechanical -> electrical.
Hydroelectric dams use water as the mechanical energy and thus don’t require any chemical energy to turn the Francis turbines.
Common Uses of Portable Generators
The uses of portable electric generators are endless.
Here are a few more ways I have seen people using their machines:
- Recharging portable fridge battery when camping.
- Recharging camper internal battery when hunting.
- Power speakers, freezers and fridges when tailgating.
- Backup power for your sump pump in a storm.
- Power lights and other essentials at the remote cabin.
- Mobile contractors depend on generators to power tools while earning a living.
- Brownfields construction sites use portable generators to power tools before the site has access to mains electricity.
Working on mine sites for the past 6 years I have used diesel and gasoline portable generators. They are called portable but you need a forklift to get them off the delivery truck. We used them to power all the equipment as there was often no power in these remote areas. A huge use of them was to power huge spot lights for nightshift workers.
Styles of Portable Generators To Accommodate The Different Uses
There are 3 styles of portable generator to know about: recreational, home/emergency and professional/jobsite.
Recreational generators are the most portable. Inverter generators and small conventional generators fit into this style. If you need it to come with you often then this is the style for you. In portable generator reviews of these people are always surprised how silent the inverter style are.
Home and Emergency
Home and emergency generators are designed to be portable enough to move them around your home. They are fitted with wheels so you can move them around like wheelbarrow. These are larger than recreational in both size and power output. Get this type of generator if it is for home backup power.
Professional and Jobsite
Professional generators are designed for all day use and are the most expensive and most powerful of the 3 styles. You will find these generators on construction sites and other working environments where they will be used non-stop.
If the above are considered ‘styles’ then there are also two ‘types’ of generator: inverter and conventional. Here are the differences and advantages:
Inverter vs. Conventional Generators Explanation Box
- An inverter generator is the newer technology and takes advantage of microprocessor controlled electronics/circuitry to help turn the generated raw multiphase AC into high quality stable/clean AC for safe use to power your sensitive electronics. This happens by turning the raw generated electricity into direct current (DC) with a rectifying bridge diode, then inverting the DC into the clean AC with the microprocessor controlled inverter.
- Inverter generators are lighter, quieter, more fuel efficient, smaller – but more expensive.
- The main reasons an inverter generator is lighter is because it uses rare earth magnets instead of heavy copper winding (on the rotor) to induce a current in the stator windings like a conventional genset does. An additional benefit of the inverter genset using magnets on the rotor is that the magnetic field is at full strength immediately when engine starts (inducing full current flow).
- A conventional generators alternator uses heavy copper winding as the field coil and the rotor spinning inside needs to be going 1800 or 3600 rpm for peak voltage at correct frequency for electronics use (60 Hertz).
- Because the inverter generator uses permanent magnets there is no requirement to run at any specific rpm because it has a constant magnetic field. This allows the engine to throttle to the load saving fuel.
- Here’s a graphic courtesy of Honda, you can see the Honda engineers have combined the flywheel and alternator to further decrease mass and size:
Different Fuel Types of Portable Generators
Gasoline powered generators are the most popular and most affordable per kilowatt. Their engines work exactly the same as your car by igniting the fuel with a spark in the combustion chamber. Gasoline has the advantage of being readily available from your local gas station. It can’t be stored for long periods of time though and you’ll want to replace the fuel in your generator each season if you don’t use it often. Also when your generator needs maintenance there are plenty of gasoline engine mechanics to go around.
Diesel engines and diesel generators are more expensive. They are the most popular in heavy industry because they last longer and require less maintenance. The key difference is that diesel engines don’t use a spark to ignite the fuel-air mixture. Instead, they use compression ignition. The piston squeezes the volume of the intake air to the point where its temperature is at the ignition temp of diesel fuel… At this exact moment diesel is injected into the chamber igniting and causing a rapid thermal expansion. Without spark plugs and the accompanying electrics diesel engines are easier to maintain. They also are built bulkier to cope with this more powerful explosion. Diesel will be more available in a natural disaster since most military vehicles use diesel.
Propane is a cleaner burning fuel and can be stored indefinitely since it is stored as a gas. Plus maybe you already have propane camping gear and you’ll mainly be using your portable generator for camping? Gasoline generators can be converted to operate off propane fuel. The air-fuel mixture ratios are different and so the modification is all outside of the engine. Check out this guide on how to convert a gasoline engine so it can also run off propane.
There are no portable generators that run off natural gas but many standby generators do. Standby generators are the ones that sit on the side of your house and are hooked in via a transfer switch to your homes electrical distribution board. Many areas have underground natural gas feeds coming to their homes. You can get a qualified plumber to hook up your natural gas standby generator to the feed line. Standby generators have small automobile engines to power their alternators and are meant to provide enough power for your entire home. They are much more expensive than portable generators but will ultimately last longer.
Solar portable generators are becoming more popular as the price per kW gets close to gasoline generators. Solar generators are a battery and a solar panel used in combination with an inverter to turn the Sun’s energy into usable AC electricity to power your laptop and phone. GoalZero’s Yeti 1250 solar generator has the battery and inverter electronics built in so all you have to do is plug in the solar panels and wait.
Best Brands of Portable Generators
Generac – Sells power washers, portable and standby generators, water pumps and dominates the commercial generator market. They only offer gasoline powered generators at the residential level and are known to be reliable, affordable and great value for the money. Their portable products division was sold to Briggs & Stratton after being briefly owned by a private equity firm. In 2008, Generac re-entered the portable generator and power washer market.
Honda – Known for their cars, motorcycles and power equipment, Honda is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Honda started out supplying piston rings to Toyota. After selling that business to Toyota, Soichiro Honda used the money to create a motorized bicycle from readily available parts. That lead to making his own engine. After that company was sold, Soichiro used the money to found what we now know as Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
Yamaha – Another Japanese company, Yamaha is best known for their motorcycles and boat engines. Toyota is a major shareholder in Yamaha Corporation.
Champion Power Equipment – Offer a range of inverter and conventional generators that are very popular because they are affordable. They design their engines in their Champion Engine Technology research building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Those are engines are then manufactured in China then shipped to Champion’s facilities through North America for assembly.
Briggs and Stratton – A well known American small engine manufacturer. Briggs & Stratton engines are used in many different lawn and garden equipment.
DuroMax – A factory outlet company based in California that imports and distributes portable generators from China. DuroMax offer a range of gas generators for affordable prices. They don’t sponsor race car teams or pull SuperBowl ads so their marketing costs are much much lower than other brands of portable generator. For this reason they can offer the best price to kW ratio of all the brands.
WEN – A power tools and equipment company that has been around since 1951. WEN sells a range of portable gas gensets in all sizes. Their bestselling generator is their smallest – a $199 small size 1,800 watt recreational style.
Westinghouse – Company falls under the Berkshire Hathaway umbrella owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. Westinghouse has a long history that goes back to 1886. Their portable generators are popular for home emergency use and their most popular is the 7,500 W.
Introducing The Best Portable Generators To Power Anything You Need
Absolute Best-of-the-Best If Money Is No Issue
Without question the best residential generator money can buy is the Honda EU7000is. It is a masterpiece of Honda engineering and innovation. Here’s why:
- 18 hours run-time at 1/4 load and 6 hours run-time at full rated load
- Quietest in class – at 60 dB it is quieter than a vacuum cleaner and not much louder than an air conditioner from 20′ away. People talk about how their neighbors generator 100′ away is louder than this Honda when standing right next to it. And it is a more pleasant purr compared to a loud ragged sound. If you use it as backup power just put it in your side yard and you won’t even hear it when inside
- Smart electronic fuel injection gets rid of having to use engine choke with electric start. That and it start every time with the push of the button not ever having to revert to the recoil
- Rock solid clean, smooth power. Because of the Honda inverter technology you can rest easy powering your laptop and other sensitive electronics with the electricity coming from this generator. Some people have tested it for fluctuations and claim it is cleaner than the power out of their wall socket
- Ability to connect in parallel with another Honda generator to increase the power output even further.
If you want to buy one generator and have that generator for many many years to come and never have to worry about it not working this is your best option. Yes, you will need to pay attention to it and perform the recommended maintenance but aside from that you will be getting a workhorse that is without question worth every penny.
Best Value For The Money
For only around $500 you can get this gas powered portable generator from Champion Power Equipment. It is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars from over 200 happy customers on Amazon and people rave about and love the remote control electric start.
Champion Power Equipment has sold over 2.5 million generators since the company was founded in 2003. They design their own engines and all their generators are CARB compliant meaning they comply with the strict California Air Resources Board’s emission requirements for small engines.
If you want a reliable generator for around your home and to backup essential power in a blackout emergency then this is an option that won’t cost you a crazy amount of money.
Introducing The Best Inverter Generators For Recreational Use
Best Inverter Generator Review – Most Portable, Most Silent and Most Fuel Efficient
When it comes to inverter generators 95% of experts recommend you get either Yamaha or Honda – blue or red. Both are compact and lightweight with great fuel efficiency and you can speak to your friend while standing right next to it.
The difference between the Yamaha and the Honda is the Yamaha has a fuel gauge, is 2 pounds lighter and has slightly more fuel capacity (~750 ml). So if you feel those extras are justification enough then go ahead and click the link below to see further details for this Yamaha.
The Yamaha is the most popular inverter genset on the market for good reason – it’s great value and a durable little generator to take with you wherever you need power.
A slightly more expensive option that is top notch: Honda EU2000i 2,000 Surge Watts 1,600 Running Watts
The only reason I’m listing the Yamaha above the Honda is because it is more affordable. Around $120 less. Both inverter generators are reliable, quiet, durable, portable and fuel efficient…
My uncle who is a heavy-duty mechanic for a ferry company would buy the Honda. But my dad who has owned Yamaha motorcycles his whole life would go the Yamaha. It’s really up to you.
The Yamaha and Honda are rated 4.5 and 4.6 out of 5, respectively, from over 420 ratings on Amazon.com. There really is no wrong decision here… What color to you prefer – red or blue?
Jamey has been testing and reviewing top pressure washers for 7 years. He worked as a commercial pressure washer at a rendering plant for 3 years and all up has been using commercial and residential pressure washers for 15+ years. He is also a mechanical engineer and while working in the mining industry designed several turn-key light industrial vehicle wash pads.