6 Affordable Portable Generators For This Storm Season

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BE PREPARED AND POWERED UP

With hurricanes Harvey and Irma leaving a trail of devastation and power outages in their wakes -- and a storm season ahead that it appears will continue to be record-breaking in its severity -- we understand that many homeowners will be searching for immediate guidance regarding the best low-cost portable generators currently on the market.

We're in the midst of refreshing our longstanding buying guide to portable generators under $550, which contains tips on what features to look for in a back-up power system as well as several budget-friendly models from well-respected brands that have been proven to weather past storms and the test of time. In this blog post we've highlighted the best of the bunch and rounded up a number of popular models that might be considered should our top recommendations be unavailable. Most of our picks run on gasoline, but we've also got a propane-fueled unit for those who want, or need, an alternative option. Generally coming in at 3,000 watts or above, all of these units should be capable of covering basic household needs, from fridges and freezers to lights, TVs, and even PCs.

Editor's Note: Given the current rush to brace for impending storms, it may be easier to find many of these units online rather than in local stores. If shopping with smaller, or lesser-known online vendors, always pay attention to the fine print concerning shipping fees and return policies. Craigslist may also be a good resource for close-by deals, as many homeowners may have just upgraded older models as part of their emergency prep.
Photo credit: Courtesy of homedepot.com

CHAMPION POWER EQUIPMENT 46539

*Cheapism Top Pick* Portable Gas Generator
Price: $446 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3500/4000 watts | Gas | Electric starter/Wireless remote | 12-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant

This model has been around for a long time, and it's clear why it remains a favorite with budget-minded consumers looking for quality and reliability. With enough surge power to start up appliances that need that extra push after an outage, and constant backup power of 3,500 watts, this unit can easily handle a pretty heavy load. It's also got an impressively long run time and scores of reviews from satisfied owners who say that its electric starter and wireless remote make it particularly easy to operate (there's a recoil starter, too, just in case). An included wheel kit is another welcomed addition. Check the brand's website for additional local retailers.

Photo credit: Courtesy of homedepot.com

CHAMPION POWER EQUIPMENT 46533

*Cheapism Runner-Up Pick* Portable Gas Generator
Price: $349 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3500/4000 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 12-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant

For just about $100 less than the 46539 model, with the Champion Power Equipment 46533 users have access to a sturdy unit that can run multiple household appliances throughout the day or night on a singe tank of gas. While the lower cost means sacrificing certain conveniences -- like a simple push-button start and easier, wheeled portability – standard perks, such as multiple 120-volt outlets, an auto voltage regulator, and automatic low-oil sensor that shuts off the engine to prevent damage should serve most storm-struck homeowners well. It even has an RV outlet for recreational use. Check the brand's website for other local retailers.

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BUFFALO TOOLS SPORTSMAN GEN4000LP

*Cheapism Alternate Pick* Portable Propane Generator
Price: $339 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3250/4000 watts | Liquid propane | Recoil starter | 10-hour run time (at 50%)

The Sportsman GEN4000LP from Buffalo Tools is another model that's been a longstanding choice with bargain-minded consumers. With 3,250 running watts and 4,000 watts of starting power, its propane fuel source means both safer long-term storage and no fear of long gas lines or shortages in the case of a widespread weather emergency. It features two 120-volt outlets and one 12-volt DC outlet, as well as an RV plug. While there are some reports of units that arrived damaged or proved unreliable, the bulk of reviews for this model praise its ease of use, power, and surprisingly low noise level.

Photo credit: Courtesy of northerntool.com

GENERAC GP3250 (5982)

Recommended Portable Gas Generator
Price: $395 | Buy it from Northern Tool
Features: 3250/3750watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 9.7-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant

The Generac GP3250 is another budget-priced, gas-fueled generator that users say has provided reliable backup through power failures and severe weather in the past. Simple to assemble and start, it comes with a wheel kit included and a fold-down handle to ease transport. While some would like to see a little more power from this machine and say certain power tools (and some newer furnaces) might trip the system, most homeowners are happy with its performance. It has two 120-volt outlets, as well as a 120/240-volt locking outlet. Its steel frame is made for durability, but it's compact and, at 110 pounds, relatively lightweight for this sort of unit.

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RYOBI RY903600

Recommended Portable Gas Generator
Price: $399 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3600/4500watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 10-hour run time (at 50%)

The Ryobi RY903600 with its 212cc engine packs a lot of power for the price, and its four 120-volt outlets and RV receptacle means it can handle a lot of plugs to keep multiple appliances running. Wheels and a quick-release handle are welcome additions. It's also got an automatic voltage regulator to ensure cleaner, more consistent power. Some recent complaints of faulty units give us pause, but the overwhelming number of positive reviews posted on Home Depot's and the manufacturer's websites suggest it should do the job and power up your house in a pinch.

Photo credit: Courtesy of homedepot.com

WESTINGHOUSE IGEN2500

Recommended Portable Inverter Generator
Price: $549 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 2200/2500watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 6.1-hour run time (at 50%)

Inverter generators have become increasingly popular, particularly with campers and tailgaiters, due to their light weight, low noise, fuel-saving efficiency, and safe-powering (thanks to AC/DC conversion) of sensitive electronics, such as computers and cellphones. The cons are that cheaper models generally have very short run times (many manufacturers will list averages based on 25-percent loads) and usually don't have the on-board strength to sufficiently power many home appliances. The Westinghouse iGen2500 comes recommended by experts and is a rare find in the under-$550 price range with enough power for recreational use and the ability to keep fridge, freezer, and lights functioning during an emergency. In addition to a 120-volt duplex outlet, this model features two USB ports and can be paralleled with another unit for even more power. It weighs a mere 33 pounds.