In this review of the indelible Champion 100478 generator you’ll learn why it’s such a hit with consumers and you’ll begin to wonder how Champion managed to make this such an affordable generator. This is a versatile 2000W inverter generator with plenty of practical features for home emergencies, or taking into the great outdoors such as camping / RV‘ing, picnics or powering your tools in obscure locations.
A portable generator is your first line of defense against issues caused by random blackouts. Outages can vary in both frequency and duration, depending on which part of the country you live in. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2016 the average American household spent 4 hours with no power. And the majority of people facing these outages don’t own any auxiliary power sources, such as generators.
Your power cut may last for a few minutes, or a few days if a storm has knocked out significant chunks of the distribution grid. Prolonged loss of power for days might result in spoiled food due to the freezer not working, or a flooded basement and moldy walls when your basement pump shuts down. If you don’t wish to invest in a home standby generator, a portable generator is the next best option. However, there is one major issue associated with almost every portable generator- noise.
2020 / Best Cheap Inverter Generator : 🐭 A-iPower SUA2000iV (AMAZON)
A typical portable generator uses an internal combustion engine to generate the mechanical force that drives its alternator. This engine is extremely loud, and generators use various techniques to dampen the noise. The noise created by a generator is of two types-
- Primary: This consists of the sound generated directly through the operation of the engine, it combusts gasoline/ propane within its cylinder and the explosive force drives the piston + crankshaft. The “bang” you hear from the exhaust is the sound of those explosions going off within the cylinder.
- Secondary: The engine vibrates whenever it operates, and these vibrations are transmitted into the generator chassis. Vibration induced noises don’t reach as far away from the generator as exhaust noises, but they are still extremely annoying.
To deal with primary or exhaust noise, generator engines use mufflers that cancel out much of the noise from within the engine. Secondary noises are controlled by using special engine mounts- rubber pads and springs that isolate the engine vibrations and prevent them from transferring into the generator chassis. Then, there is the generator enclosure which is primarily found in inverter models. An enclosure causes sound waves to bounce around inside rather then spill out into the open.
If you live in an urban setting or plan to purchase a generator for camping, you need something silent. Or at least as quiet as possible, because the last thing your neighbors and fellow campers want to hear is the sound of a noisy generator. Most national parks and homeowner associations have restrictions on generator usage, preventing you from using them at night. And even when they do allow generator operation, there are strict guidelines on max noise levels (measured in decibels) which are usually under 70dB.
Table of Contents...
- 1 2020 Reviews / Best Cheap Silent Generators
- 1.1 🐷 My Top Pick — Champion 100478 Review
- 1.2 Review — WEN 56203i
- 1.3 Review — Westinghouse WH2200iXLT
- 1.4 Review — Rainier R2200i / 2200W Inverter
- 1.5 Review — Westinghouse iGen2500
- 1.6 Review : Goal Zero Yeti 500X | Truly Silent
- 1.7 Do You Need a Silent Generator?
- 1.8 3 Main Types of Generators :
- 2 Generator Fuel Types
2020 Reviews / Best Cheap Silent Generators
🐷 My Top Pick — Champion 100478 Review
- Lightweight : 38 lbs.
- Quiet : 53 dBA from 23 feet
- POWER = 2000 starting watts / 1700 running watts
- 🔹 Parallel Ready : Optional 30A parallel kit = double your output power
- Includes : Standard 30A RV outlet / 120V 30A locking outlet.
- Clean Power for Sensitive Electronics / (less than 3% THD)
- Outlets : 2x 120V 20A household outlets (5-20R) / 1x 12V DC automotive-style
- Cold Start Technology won’t let you down in cold weather.
- EPA certified and CARB compliant
- Will run up to 8 hours at 25% load.
- Smart Economy Mode
- 3-year limited warranty with FREE lifetime technical support
📑 View or download the MANUAL for the Champion 100478.
Champion Power Equipment has built up a solid reputation over the past couple of decades, designing and manufacturing some of the finest portable generators in North America. They cater to pretty much every segment of the market — casual, enthusiast/ DIY, and professional. Their classic yellow + black color scheme is instantly recognizable, and the Champion name is synonymous with quality.
They pioneered several advancements in dual- fuel and hybrid technology, and their V- twin engines are some of the best in class. Today I’m taking a look at the Champion model 100478, a 2000- watt inverter generator which breaks new ground in terms of lightweight design and clean power delivery. The best part about this generator is that despite all its features and incredible performance with respect to size, the price is very reasonable. Then again, that’s characteristic of most Champion generators- excellent quality at affordable prices.
The 100478 only weighs 38 pounds. For reference, the WEN 56200i (also a 2000W inverter) weighs 10lbs more (over 26 percent more). And even the highly popular Honda EU2200i weighs 46.5lbs, although it does have slightly higher starting and running wattage (along with a more premium engine). For me, the 100478 is ideal as a RV generator or camping generator. It is so light you can easily carry it between your RV and campsite with just one hand, and the dimensions of 17.3” x 11.2” x 17.5” mean you can stuff it into really tight spaces.
Want to run some tools? The Champion 100478 is accommodating as a portable generator for home improvement DIY projects, you can carry it around the house and power all sorts of equipment from its 120V receptacles. The generator can delivery a continuous current supply of up to 14.2 amps, which is enough to run powerful corded chainsaws and miter saws. The 16.7amps of starting current should be more than enough for any RV air conditioner under 10,000 BTU.
If you’re worried about noise in RV parks and campgrounds, the Champion 100478 is extremely quiet. On economy mode, it is quieter than a normal conversation (which is around 60dB). If you’re just powering a few LED lights and a battery charger, this generator will hum along silently in the background as you relax in your tent/ camper (sound level of just 53dBA at a distance of 23 feet). If you plan to use this generator as a portable power supply for your chainsaw to do some post storm cleanup in the yard, it will run the tool for several hours thanks to that 1.1 gallon tank.
The engine is a 4-stroke 79cc model, it’s quite efficient and is mounted to the chassis with a set of really effective shock absorbent mounts that eat up all the vibrations. And there’s a really well designed plastic shell on top to further dampen noise. If you’re worried about ease of maintenance because of the enclosure, rest assured- it’s as easy as undoing a couple of screws to gain direct access to key components such as the spark plug and air filter. Changing oil is also really easy, and the recoil starter is positioned in a convenient spot. The controls are so easy a child could operate this generator, you’ve got the fuel dial which turns the generator on/ off, a choke for cold starts, and circuit breaker reset switches on the outlets that prevent the generator from overloading.
If you’ve got only 100 to 200W of equipment connected, you can turn on the economy mode which significantly reduces noise output while increasing fuel efficiency. While the generator is on and supplying power, the output light will glow green. There’s an overload light which turns on if an appliance or tool draws more current than allowed, tripping the breakers. If 1700 watts of continuous power isn’t enough for your requirements, you can hook up two Champion 100478s in parallel with the parallel connection kit (sold separately).
Review — WEN 56203i
Consideration List : ► One of the Best Cheap portable generators in 2020
- 39 pounds for easy transport and storage
- Quiet : 51dB at 25% load
- 2000 surge watts / 1700 rated watts of clean power — safe charging of sensitive electronics (phones, tablets, televisions, computers, etc.)
- Fuel shutoff maximizes the generator’s lifespan by using up the remaining fuel in the carburetor before shutting down
- Outlets : two three-prong 120V receptacles, one 12V DC receptacle, two 5V USB ports, and a two-year warranty
WEN claims their brand- new ultralight 2000W inverter generator is quieter than a window AC or regular conversation when it’s running at quarter load. The decibel figure they quoted is 51dB, which is actually a lot quieter than a normal conversation at 60dB. Remember- the decibel scale is logarithmic, so a decrease of 9 decibels is nearly half as loud (as perceived by our ears). Some independent reviewers tested this generator (albeit through crude methods) and found out that at 25 feet, it barely makes 47 to 49dB of noise if you set it down on a soft surface.
Now, 25 feet is the average distance at which you’ll be operating this machine, so you barely hear it running in the background. Unless you’ve got the load cranked up all the way to 1700 watts (which is the maximum running wattage of this WEN generator).
Not only is the 56203i ultra light and silent but it also produces clean AC power, with a THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) under 1.2 percent at full load. Harmonic distortions are basically “jiggles” or abnormalities in the sine waveform, and the less you have of it, the better. Too much distortion results in voltage fluctuations that can damage sensitive electronic circuits, such as the microchips in your game console or computer. The IEEE deems any THD over 5% as unacceptable, and most conventional generators have a THD in the 7 to 10 percent range. A THD of 1.2 percent at full load is really good, even by inverter generator standards. You can trust the WEN 56203i with your phone/ laptop/ camera, etc.
The 7hr half-load runtime is more than sufficient for camping and home renovation work. However, I wouldn’t recommend this generator for home backup if you’re planning to power freezers or air conditioners overnight. A 3000W inverter is more suitable for such tasks. The WEN 56203i is also EPA III and CARB compliant, so you can use it in the state of California and most campgrounds without breaking any emissions regulations. There are a couple of USB Type A ports on the outlet panel, so you can connect your phone or tablet for charging (the max amp draw is just 2.1 so no fast charging).
Controls are super easy- a single dial controls fuel flow and ON/ OFF, so you don’t have to fumble around if you decide to operate this generator in the dark. And there is a large, easily recognizable choke lever right on top of this dial. The eco mode switch is on the bottom left of the choke lever, activate it whenever you’re under 25 percent load (425 watts and below). Eco mode will reduce noise and fuel consumption significantly, a great feature for sleeping at night in campgrounds while still powering essential equipment.
Review — Westinghouse WH2200iXLT
A classic inverter generator that’s endured over time. Solid engineering.
- Bring power to your home during a power outage or recreational activities
- 2200 peak watts, 1800 running watts and runs for up to 13 hours on a 1.3 gal. gas tank
- Enhanced fuel efficiency – variable engine speeds allow 30% to 50% higher fuel efficiency than a traditional generator
- Lightweight and compact design – weighs 43 lb. and features a built-in carrying handle for easy transportation
- Super quiet – as low as 52 dBA with double-insulated acoustic enclosure, asymmetrical cooling fans, and low tone mufflers to reduce operating noise
- Safely powers sensitive electronics such as laptop computers, cell phones, and more with less than 3% THD
- (2) 120V 5-20R standard household outlets and (1) 12V DC outlet
The WH2200iXLT is a nice low cost alternative to the ►Honda EU2200i, the gold standard of inverter generators, but it’s expensive and out of reach for most people, especially during these challenging economic times. Thanks pandemic! It delivers more starting power and running power than both the WEN 56203i and Champion 100478, without a significant increase in price. You also don’t have to compromise too much on weight, as it is just 5lbs heavier than the Champion 100478, at 43lbs dry.
The quarter-load runtime of 13hrs is 13% more compared to the Champion 100478, which makes this generator a viable option for getting you through the night if your area’s grid has been taken out by a storm. The extra 200 watts of starting power gives you more options when it comes to operating heavy duty tools and appliances. You can easily start a 10k BTU air conditioner or electric chainsaw, even a dishwasher. With 1700 watts of continuous power, you’ll be able to run the TV, computer, lights, wi-fi router, freezer, and printer- all at the same time.
The WH2200iXLT also has the Champion 100478 beat in maximum current draw- 18amps as opposed to 16.7 on the Champion. It also supplies up to 15 running amps so you can comfortably power any 120V tool in your arsenal. The Champion doesn’t come with a commercial warranty, it only has a 3-year residential warranty. However, the WH2200iXLT does have a commercial warranty- 1 year of it. This is a big deal if you’re purchasing the generator for a jobsite or small business.
So why did I choose the Champion 100478 as my top pick when the WEN WH2200iXLT outperforms it? Well, the WEN 2200iXLT scores high in performance but in terms of size and weight it does lag behind the Champion. Plus, it’s a tad bit more expensive. In terms of overall value, it comes pretty close and if you’re not super concerned about size or weight and don’t mind paying a little extra money, go for the Westinghouse.
✓ Read our original review of the WESTINGHOUSE WH2200iXLT.
Review — Rainier R2200i / 2200W Inverter
One of the best cheap inverter generators on the market in 2020.
- POWER = 1800 Rated Watts / 2200 Peak Watts
- Runs up to 13 Hours of Run Time; Gasoline Powered / 1.3 Gallon Fuel Tank
- Rainier 79cc OHV 4 Stroke Engine with “Eco (Economy) Mode”
- As quiet as 52 dB (from 7m)
- Safe for Sensitive Electronics such as power tools and laptops.
- Includes : Low Oil Alarm, Overload Alarm, and Output Indicator
- OUTLETS : Two 5-20R 120V 20 AMP Household Outlets; One 12V 15 AMP DC Outlet; One Neutral Floating Grounding Port; Stop and Reset Buttons
- Built-In Handle / Lightweight 44 Lbs.
- EPA and CARB Compliant
- Ideal for : Home Use or Recreation Use Such as Power Outages, Camping, Outdoor Activities, Emergency Backup Power.
- Can power — RV air conditioner (11,000 BTU)
- 3-Year Limited Warranty
I don’t know if Rainier is trying to confuse potential buyers looking for a Honda EU2200i, or if they straight up ripped off Honda’s naming scheme on this one. Either way, the R2200i is a fantastic little generator for the price and while it doesn’t match up to Honda’s consistency or reliability, it is still a very effective tool in your arsenal to deal with sudden outages.
The R2200i is rated at 1800 watts continuous and 2200 peak, just like the EU2200i. However, it experiences harder voltage drops when you connect a heavy load like a 1500W heat gun, compared to some of the more expensive 2200W inverter models. And although the noise levels are definitely in line with the rest of the inverter models here, the silent performance isn’t exactly chart topping. Rainer measured a noise level of 52dBA at a distance of 21 feet (7 meters), although they didn’t specify what load they were using (probably eco mode).
The generator is EPA and CARB compliant, and it weighs in at just 44lbs. It has all the usual outlets you’d expect- two 120V 20amp 5-20R outlets, a 12V DC automobile outlet, and a parallel port for connecting two generators. It lacks any USB ports, which is a slight inconvenience.
Review — Westinghouse iGen2500
- Bring power to your home during a power outage or recreational activities
- 2500 peak watts / 2200 running watts
- Runs for up to 10 hours on a 1.0 gal. gas tank
- Efficient : Variable engine speeds — 30% to 50% more fuel efficient over the competition
- Super Convenient – Weighs 48 lbs. / Built-in carry handle
- Real-time LED display with runtime, remaining fuel, load/output, volts and lifetime hours data
- QUIET – as low as 52 dBA with double-insulated acoustic enclosure, asymmetrical cooling fans, and low tone mufflers to reduce operating noise
- Safely powers sensitive electronics such as laptop computers, cell phones, and more with less than 3% THD
- OUTLETS : (2x) 120V 5-20R standard household outlets / (2x) 5V USB ports with rubber outlet covers
Slightly larger and heavier than the older Westinghouse iGen2000 (2000W) or iGen2200 (2200W), but well worth the weight and size penalty in my opinion. This isn’t the quietest inverter generator out there, but it’s still exponentially quieter than any conventional generator in existence. At a distance of 20 feet in eco mode, the iGen2500 is relatively quiet at just around 61dB. Once you move further than this bare minimum operating distance, the noise levels get lower to the point where it is quieter than a conversation between 2 people.
VIDEO : A Closer Look at the iGen2500
Under higher loads, the generator runs louder (as it should) so you’ll see decibel readings in the 70dB range at 20 feet. Once you get to 30 feet, that drops into the 60s. The iGen2500 is equipped with a LCD display which shows all important data such as remaining runtime, voltage, power draw, etc. Despite its small 1 gallon tank, the iGen2500 runs up to 10hrs on 25% load. I was slightly disappointed by the fact that Westinghouse went with a smaller tank for their larger generator, while the 2200W WH2200iXLT features a 1.3gal tank. Then again, this generator is primarily for camping and tailgating. If you really want that LCD display and the additional power over the WH2200iXLT, this is a nice choice.
✓ Read our full review of the Westinghouse iGen2500.
Timeless Brand, Since 1886. My God — Over 130 year old company!
I love Westinghouse, the brand. I never met the man — Yes, I’m old, but not quite “old” as in ‘over a century.’ If you’ve been following our site you would have surely noticed the wide array of articles on the company. They’ve been in business since 1886…think about that for a second. George Westinghouse was one of the pioneers developing large scale electricity distribution to the homes of Americans.
He was there battling Thomas Edison’s DC system with his AC system inspired by Europe’s burgeoning AC industry which incorporated transformers as a ‘stepping up’ mechanism, tapping into the advantageous economy of scale principle.
Electricity has a fascinating history filled with an eclectic cast of characters with Mr. Westinghouse being one of many. If you an entertaining book on the topic, I recommend reading : Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. You won’t be bored, I promise.
Alright, back to generators.
Review : Goal Zero Yeti 500X | Truly Silent
- USB port (Output): 5V, up to 2.4A (12W max), regulated
- USB-C port (Output): 5/9V, up to 3.0A (18W max), Regulated
- USB-C PD port (Input/ Output): 5-20V, up to 3.0A (60W max), Regulated
- 6mm port (Output, 6mm): 12V, up to 10A (120W max)
- 12V car port (Output): 12V, up to 10A (120W max), Regulated
- 120V AC Inverter: 120VAC 60Hz, 2.5A (300W, 1200W surge) (output, pure sine wave)
- Charging port (input, 8mm): 13-22V, up to 10A (120W max)
BATTERY DETAILS :
- Cell chemistry: Li-ion NMC
- Pack capacity: 505Wh (10.8V, 46.8Ah)
- Lifecycles: 500 Cycles to 80% capacity (Discharge rate: 0.2C, Full charge/discharge, Temp: 25C)
- Shelf-life: Charge every 3-6 months
- Management system: ‘MPPT’ charge controller, low battery protection
The Yeti 500X is very different from any generator you’ve ever seen. While all generators on this list produce some level of noise, this one is literally silent during operation. Why? Well, it’s not exactly a generator… rather it’s a portable power station- a giant battery connected to an inverter. The Yeti 500X is the next step in portable power station technology, and manages to cram more capacity than its predecessor in a smaller + lighter body. All that is thanks to lithium ion battery technology. The Yeti 500X can recharge its battery from the wall, or through a solar panel setup. It can even recharge from the 12V outlet in your automobile, so you can take it with you wherever you travel.
Unlike a portable generator, the ►Yeti 500X is intended to be used as a large power bank to charge up your smartphone, camera, drone battery, or laptop. It is good for campers and hikers, not so much for emergency home backup unless you only have a couple appliances to run. The maximum continuous output is 300W (120V and 2.5A). The surge wattage is quite impressive at 1200W, or 4X the running watts. That’s useful if you want to run some light duty tools. One thing you’ll find on the Yeti 500X that’s absent from even the most recent inverter generator models is a USB Type C Power Delivery port which can pump out up to 60W of power (fast charging for your phones, laptops, and tablets). It also has a standard USB Type C port (18W and 3 amps).
VIDEO — A Closer Look Goal Zero Yeti 500X
The main advantage of a Yeti 500X over an inverter generator is portability- this little guy weighs just 12.9lbs, which is a mere fraction of what even the lightest 2000W inverter generator weighs. On top of that, it’s barely larger than a lunchbox and comes with a nice integrated carry handle. Plus, you can use this indoors, unlike a generator which produces toxic fumes and has to be operated at a distance of 20 feet or more.
Do You Need a Silent Generator?
Unless you’re going to operate your portable generator on a large ranch or jobsite, I recommend you get one that’s as quiet as possible (while also sticking to power and budget requirements). A quieter generator is easier to live with, both for you and the people around you. This is especially important if you’re camping or using your generator for home backup in an urban environment where there are bound to be several people nearby.
Generators can be as loud as 85dB for some of the larger, open-frame industrial models that prioritize power over quietness. While this is good for running more appliances at the same time, you’ll also create more enemies out of your neighbors (which is very undesirable). A quieter generator ensures that you don’t have to wear hearing protection, and you family can sleep or watch TV in peace. Most campgrounds and national parks have a limit of 75dB or lower on noise levels, so you should bring a generator with you that adheres to those guidelines.
3 Main Types of Generators :
These are mostly open-frame generators with conventional alternators, they produce an approximated sine wave AC current and aren’t nearly as energy efficient or quiet as inverter generators. However, they do tend to cost less on average than an inverter generator of similar capacity. And, they also have higher wattage models in the range of 7kW or even 12kW (inverter generators top out at 6 to 7kW).
⚡️ Inverter :
Equipped with a special inverter alternator, these generators feature closed off internals with a plastic shell on top to dampen noise. They take AC power from the alternator and convert it to DC using a rectifier, then this DC is converted back into AC with an inverter module. The product is pure sine wave power, similar in quality to what you get from the utility company at the wall. It can be used to power sensitive electronic equipment such as laptops, phones, smart TVs, game consoles, etc. Inverter generators are smaller, lighter, and produce less noise compared to portable generators/ conventional generators (technically, inverters also fall into the “portable” category).
Unlike inverters and portable generators, home standby generators have to be installed by a professional technician or group of technicians. Large and stationary, they connect directly to the breaker panel and turn on automatically in the even of a power failure. If you frequently experience power failures in your area, a home standby generator might be what you need. These come in capacities ranging from 5kW to over 20kW, and can power every circuit in your home. Standby generators usually operate on propane or natural gas, and they are necessary if you’ve got any mission critical equipment in the house such as CPAP machines, patient monitoring systems, workstation PCs/ servers, etc.
Generator Fuel Types
Generators that are portable usually operate on gasoline only, although there are dual and even tri- fuel models which can accept propane and natural gas. I recommend dual and tri- fuel portable generators for emergency and home backup scenarios, because you’ve got a lot more room to work with in terms of fuel flexibility. Don’t have enough gasoline stored up? No problem, you just hook up a propane tank or connect your generator to the natural gas line.
Propane is cheaper and easier to store compared to gasoline, plus it’s more environment friendly. When there’s a hurricane or snowstorm, you may not be able to access the local gas station (or the station itself might not be operational). In such situations, you can easily walk into the nearby hardware/ home improvement store and purchase some propane tanks (or refill an empty tank).
On top of that, propane can be stored almost indefinitely unlike gasoline which has a limited shelf life (3 to 6 months). If you’re preparing for the long haul (through the winter for example), you need to add fuel stabilizer to your gas cans. This prevents microbes and other unwanted compounds don’t form on the surface.
- Learn more, read : Storing Gasoline and Other Flammables.
Large industrial generators and farm/ ranch generators operate on diesel fuel. When purchasing a portable generator, look at the marketing/ model name to see if it says “hybrid” because that means your generator can operate on more than one fuel type (usually gasoline + propane). You can also purchase aftermarket conversion kits that transform your gasoline- only generator into a dual or even tri- fuel model.
Which Portable Generator Should You Buy?
— Generator Buying Guide
Sizing : A generator should always be slightly larger than your maximum simultaneous energy needs. By size, I mean the wattage or power capacity of the generator. It should be slightly higher than what you need, this leaves room for future expansion and you don’t always have to run your generator at 100 percent. Constantly running your generator at maximum rated load will reduce its lifespan by overworking the engine. Its internals will burn out, and you’ll have to service it more frequently. Another thing worth considering is the fact that generators get a lot noisier at higher load levels. They also lose fuel efficiency once you go past 60 to 70 percent load. The advertised runtime on most generators is usually done with 50 percent load.
Take the wattage requirements of all the equipment you plan on running with your generator in the event of a power failure. Search for the appliance/ tool with the highest starting wattage. It should be your fridge/ AC, or some other capacitive load such as a sump pump. Pumps and motors can take up to 2 or 3 times their running wattage while starting. Same with the compressor on your fridge or AC, whenever it cycles on the power consumption drastically increases for a few seconds.
Your generator’s starting wattage should be above the starting wattage of this appliance. And when you turn on your appliances, don’t do it all at the same time, else you’ll overload the generator. Start with the one that has the most starting watts, then continue with the rest. Consider how many appliances you want to run at the same time (TV, coffee machine, lights, laptop, etc.). Add up all their running wattage’s, your generator’s running wattage should be around 1.4 times this figure.
Note: Don’t oversize your generator, because you’ll end up wasting space and fuel (while also making more noise).
Inverter vs Conventional: Inverters are more expensive and usually don’t go beyond 5 to 6kW, but they deliver extremely clean power while making much less noise. Inverters don’t have to constantly run their engines at a fixed RPM, so they can throttle down at low loads to further reduce noise levels. And they have enclosures which act as sound dampening devices, along with more advanced mufflers compared to conventional generators. I recommend inverter generators for camping and occasional home backup, if you want something that can power sensitive electronics and is relatively quiet.
Build Quality: Commercial grade generators aren’t too feature- rich, but they are equipped with the most rugged components. The air filters, engine, bearings, and alternator on a commercial grade generator are all significantly beefier and more durable compared to their residential counterparts. If you live off- grid or on a ranch, you might use your generator more than a few hours every year. So invest in a product that will last for a long time.
Galvanized steel is great for sucking up impacts, like on a construction site where rocks and tools might fall on the generator. But if you want corrosion resistance like for a seaside property, you’re better off purchasing a generator with a aluminum shell. If you live in an area which experience freezing temperatures and lots of snowfall, I suggest a propane generator since it starts easier and the internals won’t gum up in cold weather.
Commercial and prosumer generators also have heavier gauge steel frames and larger wheels, coupled with more outlets. They also have more precise voltage monitoring, resulting in cleaner power with fewer fluctuations.
Features: Depending on your requirements, you might need specific features within your portable generator. For instance, if you’re purchasing a generator for the RV or trailer, you need a 30Amp RV outlet (TT-30R). If you’re purchasing a generator for emergencies and home backup, you probably want a hybrid model which can run on both propane and gasoline. If you’re going to camp for multiple days with your generator, you could benefit from a remote ON/ OFF system. This ensures you don’t have to walk out in the rain/ snow to turn on your generator.
If you want a basic backup generator that anyone in the home can use, get one with electric push button start and wheels. If you want a generator to power a small group of appliances and wish to monitor energy consumption due to a tight power budget, get one with a digital display on the control panel. If you want a generator to power the AC/ lights/ fans throughout the night, get a generator with a large fuel tank. To prevent moisture and dust from accumulating within the outlets, get a generator with flip- up rubber outlet protectors.
Runtime: Generally speaking, a larger fuel tank means more runtime. But runtime is also influenced by other factors such as operating altitude, load, and engine efficiency. If you don’t have easy access to a gas station or extra fuel cans, try getting a hybrid generator which can run on alternate fuels such as propane or natural gas. You need a large gas tank for home backup and off- grid living.
Fuel Type: Propane burns cleaner and costs less, plus it’s easier to store. Natural gas also shares a lot of the same positives as propane, and if your home has a natural gas line you should definitely consider a generator which can utilize this uninterrupted source of fuel.
Noise: A quieter generator has more advanced engine mounts coupled with better mufflers to lower noise emissions. You can also build a shed around you generator which serves two purposes- it keeps noise down, and protects your generator from rain/ snow. I recommend an inverter generator if you’re sensitive to noise. If you want a completely silent backup power source, check out portable power stations.
Portability: Smaller generators in the 1000 to 3000 watt range have puncture proof wheels and built- in carry handles so you can move them around with ease. Most of these small inverter generators also weight under 60lbs, so a single person can lift them up. For larger industrial or commercial portable generators, the tubular frame is equipped with a crane hook on the top.
Outlets: More outlets allow you to connect more appliances. If you’re out camping, you can connect a small freezer, battery charger, lights, pellet grill, etc. all at the same time. If you’re doing some home renovation, you can power multiple tools together- a miter saw, an air compressor, angle grinder, etc. It’s not recommend that you use a power strip certified for generator usage, preferably with a built- in surge protector. With more outlets on the actual generator itself, you eliminate the need for a power strip.
Outlet type also matters, there’s the standard 120V duplex outlets you use to power tools and appliances. Larger generators have 240V outlets for running heavy- draw tools. RV generators have the 30amp TT-30R outlet which lets you power the equipment inside your trailer/ RV. Home backup generators need rated for 5000W and above should have a L14-30R outlet, so you can connect them to your transfer switch to safely power circuits within your home.
Portable Power Station vs Inverter Generator
— Convenience vs Versatility
A portable power station is a giant battery with an inverter module connected, sort of like the UPS which powers yours PC in the event of a brownout/ power failure. Portable power stations are equipped with multiple outlets, and can be charged from solar panels or the wall. They don’t generate their own power; they merely store electric energy and discharge it when needed. You can get portable power stations in varying sizes and capacities, just like with inverter generators.
Unlike inverter generators, portable power stations — also known as ‘indoor generators’ — are completely silent. They have no moving parts except for the cooling fans that prevent their battery from overheating. Modern portable power stations feature lithium ion batteries and built- in wireless connectivity so you can control their outlets through your phone from a remote location. Some are small enough to fit inside your backpack.
An inverter generator can provide backup for much longer than a portable power station, but it’s also much less mobile due to weighing more and being bigger in size. Inverters also pollute the air, and cannot be used indoors. If you want a backup power source that can be used indoors and is completely silent, get a portable power station. If you want something that is more robust or versatile, get an inverter generator. You don’t have to wait multiple hours to recharge your inverter when it runs out of gas, you simply wait a couple minutes until the gas tank is refilled and you can use it again. Inverter generators keep running as long as there’s gas in the tank. Some propane/ natural gas powered models can run for days on end as long as they are hooked up to a continuous supply of fuel.
What Makes A Generator Quiet?
Like all other sounds, generator noise is also measured in decibels. However, the decibel system doesn’t scale up and down linearly. For instance, 90 decibels is twice as loud as 80 decibels. Generators are loud by design; any internal combustion engine is going to make lots of noise. However, advancements in materials technology and alternator design have allowed us to lower noise levels compared to older generators.
Inverters can play with voltage output, so the engine in an inverter generator doesn’t have to keep running at a constant RPM of 3600 like conventional generators. This means at lower loads inverter generators produce far less noise compared to conventional generators. Another thing that makes inverters quiet is their closed design, there is a hard polycarbonate shell around the generator which has internal chambers to segregate various internal components. These chambers also isolate vibrations from one component and prevent it from reaching the rest of the generator. Sound waves bounce around inside the enclosure, so there’s less noise outside. Inverters also tend to have more advanced mufflers and smaller engines.
People who are concerned about noise levels will often build custom enclosures for their portable generators. The internal walls of these enclosures are covered in sound dampening material like cloth, medium density fiberboard, mass loaded vinyl, or foam. The enclosure itself is usually made from common materials like plywood or drywall. A simple enclosure can reduce sound levels by around 10dB, making the generator half as loud as before. The base of the enclosure is usually foam mat which reduces resonance and vibrations. Some DIYers go so far as to install automobile mufflers on their generator exhaust.
Explaining Wattage and Starting vs Continuous Power
The advertised wattage on a generator isn’t always its true wattage. For instance, a generator advertised to have “5000 watts” of power might have 4200 watts of “continuous” power delivery. That is to say, it can deliver a maximum of up to 4200 watts in continuous usage, while delivering up to 5000 watts in short bursts of 10 to 15 seconds. That burst power is called “starting” power or “surge” power, and it’s used to start motors/ compressors/ pumps.
Appliances such as freezers and air conditioners consume way more power when their compressor cycles, otherwise their running wattage is actually not that high. Same applies for sump pumps and certain power tools. Appliances with resistive load, i.e. no motors/ pumps such as your TV, computer, etc. have the same starting watts and running watts.
If an appliance draws more power than a generator can provide, it will trip the breaker. Sometimes, you’ll see amps and volts instead of watts on the back of an appliance. Not to worry, you can get its wattage by multiplying current with voltage, W = V x A (power in watts equals voltage times current). So if an appliance is rated for 5amps at 120V, it has a rated wattage of 600.
Decibel Loudness Scale — How Does It Work?
You probably know that sound is the product of vibrations between air molecules. But did you know that your ears are so sensitive, they can hear the sound created by air molecules vibrating in a space smaller than the width of a single molecule of air? In contrast, the sound generated by a jet engine is nearly 1,000,000,000,000 times louder. That’s a difference of one trillion times. And that’s not even the loudest sound your ears can hear before the eardrums rupture! If we took the smallest audible sound as a baseline and judged the loudness of various objects and creatures in multiples of that baseline, we would end up with some pretty big numbers.
That’s why we came up with a logarithmic scale to measure sound pressure levels. The decibel isn’t an absolute number, rather it is a relative unit. This unit is derived from the Bel, named in honor of Alexander Graham Bell. The Bel represents a difference in relative power of 10X, and the decibel is 1/10th of a Bel or 0.1Bel. So if a value is 10 decibels higher than another, it is 10 times greater. If it is 20 decibels higher, it is 10 times 10 = 100X greater. And so on.
On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound is considered 0 dB. A sound that’s 10 times louder is 10dB, and a sound 100 times louder than the weakest sound you can hear is 20dB. A 1000x louder sound than 0dB is 30dB. Here are some real life examples to put things in perspective-
- Near complete silence- 0dB
- Whisper- 15dB
- Normal conversation- 60dB
- Lawnmower- 90dB
- Car horn- 110dB
- Rock concert- 120dB
- Gunshot- 140dB
Any sound above 85dB can cause hearing loss if you’re exposed to it over a prolonged period of time. At 140dB, you experience immediate pain and bleeding. It is also important to remember that sound pressure level falls off exponentially with an increase in distance from the source. When you’re looking at noise ratings for a generator, pay attention to the distance at which it was measured as well as the ambient noise level. If it is 70dB at 15 feet, and you’re operating your generator at a distance of 30 feet, chances are it will barely be any louder than a normal conversation at that distance.
Note: To ensure safety, your portable generator should be at least 20 feet away from the house/ camper/ work area.