These machines are more expensive, but they last longer, are quieter and more efficient than traditional generators.
Portable gas generators have seen significant technological changes in recent years, including the introduction of a relatively new category known as inverter generators. If you are looking for a portable generator with exceptional efficiency, you may want to consider an inverter.
As a group, inverter generators are more expensive than conventional portable models, but they have distinct advantages. The inverter generator electronically adjusts the engine power up and down to meet the demand, instead of constantly running at full power. The resulting increase in efficiency means you won't have to refill your gas tank as often. Inverter generators also produce less emissions and less noise.
“Inverter generators are generally quiet enough not to drown out nearby conversations,” says Misha Kollontai, who oversees generator testing at CR.
To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, some newer portable generators have a built-in sensor that triggers an automatic shutdown if CO reaches dangerous levels in an enclosed space. And some also have engines that emit less CO in the first place. The best generators have both features.
About half of the inverter generators in our ranking have automatic CO shutdown. Only those who have it can get our recommendation, no matter how well the models perform otherwise. In 2020, CR expanded its security tests to distinguish between generators that simply have these security features and generators that we have found to be more secure in various scenarios.
New class generator
To help you better understand your options, we divide 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 (including wheels). That's too much to carry to a back door party, but enough to power your home. They generate power of 5000 watts or more (at 220 volts).
This category of inverter generators can be connected directly to your electrical panel with a protective device called a freewheel switch, which CR highly recommends. This allows them to power entire circuits in your home rather than connecting individual electronic devices with extension cords.
2. Inverter generators
medium size They weigh 80 pounds or more and may come with wheels. They produce 2500 to 5000 watts, but do not allow the recommended option to connect to the electrical panel with a switch. Instead, you connect appliances or electronics directly to the generator, which can be dangerous if you don't follow certain safety rules.
This size is well suited for recreational vehicle users. These models produce all the power you need for electrical appliances such as a toaster or microwave, and are light enough to be unloaded and carried a safe distance from your motorhome before use.
3. Recreational inverter generators
They weigh up to 60 pounds and are designed to be carried with one hand. Most recreational models have a maximum output of around 2500W, which should be enough for a backyard ride or camping trip.
“Be aware that even a smaller generator can emit dangerous levels of CO in an enclosed space, so make sure you purchase a device with CO safety technology and follow placement guidelines,” says Kollontai.
Recreational inverter generators range in capabilities from the compact type you need for a tailgate or camping trip to something that can be a permanent source of primary backup power after a storm. Our generator buying guide is a great place to get a sense of the situation, and our full generator ratings let you compare specific models.