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Generators you can depend on in a storm

Our top-rated generators will make blackouts more bearable

Published: August 2013
Tester Dave Trezza fires up the latest crop of portable generators.

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Power-zapping storms like Superstorm Sandy have helped generators join hardwood floors and granite countertops on homeowners’ wish lists. Our tests of almost 30 generators include a 7,000-watt portable that can power most needs for just $600. But even this one can’t match a brawnier stationary model if you want it all.

Stationary generators install permanently and can switch on automatically when needed. That helps explain why stationary sales are growing fastest. A newly tested $3,700 Kohler topped two others that deliver more than 11,000 watts—enough for the usual essentials plus a central air conditioner and more.

Our tests also include a new Generac portable generator that isn’t affected by gasoline shortages, along with an ultra-quiet new Honda. But less noise and friendlier fueling can come at a hefty price. And one new Briggs & Stratton stationary generator could put appliances at risk when the lights go out. Subscribe to read the full report.   

How to choose

Stationary generators were a hit with subscribers we surveyed after Superstorm Sandy, especially for fueling: Only 9 percent who owned one complained about closed gas stations and long waits compared with nearly 70 percent of portable owners. Here’s what else to consider.

Include a transfer switch. About $500 to $900 installed, it safely connects a generator to your circuit panel (letting you power hard-wired appliances) and avoids the risk and hassle of extension cords.

Plan ahead for fuel. Most portables use about 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline a day or four to eight 20-pound propane tanks. For stationary models, figure on 8 to 15 days for a 250-gallon propane tank. And be sure any gasoline is stored away from the house and preserved with a fuel stabilizer.

Look for smart features. All but the portable Troy-Bilt 6000 and Briggs & Stratton 30468 turn themselves off when engine oil is low. A fuel shutoff on the gasoline models also makes it easier to run the engine dry before storage.

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