With hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria leaving a trail of devastation and power outages in their wakes, many homeowners want to ensure they'll be prepared, and powered up, in the face of severe weather and other emergencies to come. To provide peace of mind without a lot of out-of-pocket expense, Cheapism.com waded through scores of user reviews and expert commentary to find the best portable generators under $550.
Many of these budget-friendly models come from respected brands and have weathered past storms, and the newer models are popular and similarly lauded for their performance and reliability. Most are standard portable generators that provide running power of 3,250 watts or more, so they should be more than capable of covering basic household needs, from fridges and freezers to lights, and TVs. Most run on gasoline, but we've also got a propane-fueled unit for those who want, or need, an alternative option.
Inverter generators, which are safe to use with sensitive electronics like cellphones, are lighter, more compact, and less noisy than conventional generators, making them a favorite with tailgaters and campers. While these models tend to cost more, we managed to find a good one under $500, along with three other relatively affordable choices with enough wattage to serve as a backup home power source in a pinch.
Editor's Note: Given recent demand, it may be difficult to find these generators currently available at large nationwide retailers. Calls to many manufacturers suggest they will be restocking in early to mid-October. Consumers who need a generator right away can check local vendors, or try other online retailers or eBay (pay attention to the fine print concerning shipping fees and return policies). Craigslist can also be a good resource for local deals, as many homeowners may have recently upgraded from an older model as part of their emergency prep.
Best Portable Gas Generator Under $300
Price: $299 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3,600/4,650 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 12-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Very high-powered for a model in this price range.
- Fuel-efficient for its size; can run up to 12 hours on a 4-gallon tank.
- Simple to set up and operate, with included tool kit, oil, and funnel.
- Users say it starts easily on the first or second pull.
- Relatively quiet for this type of generator; manufacturer rates the noise level at 62 dB running at half load.
- RV-ready, with additional locking outlet and duplex 120-volt household outlet.
Cons:- No wheel kit included, and at 112 pounds, it's not quite lightweight.
- Some find the pull cord a bit awkwardly placed.
Takeaway: The Westinghouse WGen3600v is a newer model that has yet to prove its stripes over the long haul, but most buyers are pleased with its performance so far. The unit offers a lot of power at an incredibly low price, with sufficient wattage to run multiple home appliances at once, including a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, and TV. The lack of wheels limits portability, but given the low price, many homeowners find the trade-off acceptable.
Best Portable Propane Generator Under $300
Price: $269 | Buy it from Walmart
Features: 3,250/4,000 watts | Liquid propane | Recoil starter | 10-hour run time (at 50%)
Pros:- Good for recreational and emergency home use, with enough power to run a freezer/refrigerator, lights, and more.
- Many buyers say it's not difficult to set up and starts easily and consistently.
- Very fuel-efficient; runs for a long time on a 20-pound tank of liquid propane.
- Two 120-volt outlets and one 12-volt DC outlet in addition to an RV outlet.
Cons:- Rated at about 68 dB; some buyers say it's louder than expected.
- Doesn't include a wheel kit, but at 102 pounds, it's lighter than many others.
- Can take a few pulls to get started, according to some owners.
Takeaway: The Sportsman GEN4000LP from Buffalo Tools is a longstanding choice for bargain-minded consumers seeking an alternative to gas-fueled generators. Its propane fuel source means both safer long-term storage and no fear of long gas lines or shortages in a widespread weather emergency. While there are some reports of units that arrived damaged or proved unreliable, most reviews of this model praise its ease of use and power. It typically sells for about $100 more ($366 at Home Depot), but even that could be considered a deal.
Good Portable Gas Generator Under $500 From a Top Brand
Price: $329 | Buy it from Overstock
Features: 3,500/4,000 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 12-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Longtime top seller known for quality and reliability.
- Works well for emergency power and can run multiple household appliances throughout the day or night on a single 3.8-gallon tank of gas.
- Easy to start and operate.
- RV outlet alongside 120-volt locking outlet and 120-volt household outlet.
- Auto voltage regulator with built-in meter.
Cons:- Wheel kit not included, but at 98.3 pounds, this unit is lighter than some others.
- Rated at 68 dB, it's on the noisier side.
Takeaway: The Champion Power Equipment 46533 is a real workhorse, with enough juice to run most if not all home appliances and electronics. While its low cost means sacrificing certain conveniences, like wheeled portability, it's a proven performer that has served many storm-struck homeowners well. It's also good for recreational use, although it might not be the quietest unit at the campground. Champion generators are in high demand, so if you can't find this model online, check the brand's website for local retailers.
Good Portable Gas Generator Under $500 With Wheels
Price: $439 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 3,250/3,750 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 9.7-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Very good build quality, with a durable steel frame and steel fuel tank.
- Wheel kit and fold-down handle make it easy to move around.
- 120/240-volt twist lock outlet for appliances that require more powerful connections.
Cons:- Amperage may not be high enough; some users say the circuit breaker is easily tripped, especially by certain power tools (and some newer furnaces).
- No noise rating from manufacturer, and some say it's a bit loud.
- Some reports of defective units and problems with the pull cord breaking.
Takeaway: The Generac GP3250 is sturdy and built to last, but still compact and easy to cart with its attached handle and wheels. It also has enough power to run just about anything needed in an emergency. While some would like a little more punch, and we wouldn't necessarily recommend this generator to power construction projects around the house, users say it's a dependable standby that serves well in a pinch.
Best Portable Gas Generator Under $500 With Wheels and Remote
Price: $480 | Buy it from Tractor Supply Co.
Features: 3,500/4,000 watts | Gas | Electric starter/wireless remote | 12-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Plenty of backup power to run several home appliances and electronics at the same time.
- Very fuel efficient; operates for up to 12 hours on less than 4 gallons of gas.
- Simple to set up, start, and use; push-button electric starter and wireless remote are particularly welcome features.
- Folding handle and wheels for easy portability.
- RV outlet alongside 120-volt locking outlet and two 120-volt household outlets.
- Rated at 62 dB, it's relatively quiet for this type of generator.
- Auto voltage regulator with built-in meter.
Takeaway: This model has been around for a long time, and it's clear why it remains a favorite among budget-minded consumers. Similar to the 46533 model, the Champion 46539 has an impressively long run time and can easily handle a pretty heavy load. But the extras make it stand out: In addition to built-in wheels, the electric starter and remote make it especially easy to operate (there's a recoil starter, too, just in case). For a cheaper price on this popular unit, try waiting for stocks to be replenished (it normally starts around $446 at Home Depot) or check the brand's website for additional local retailers.
Best Inverter Generator Under $500
Price: $479 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 1,800/2,200 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 8-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Ideal for camping and tailgating.
- Very quiet, with noise level of 53 dB.
- Small and lightweight, at just 46 pounds.
- Easy to use and easy on fuel; needs only 1.2 gallons of gas to fill the tank, and efficiency mode stretches standard run times.
- Two USB ports, as well as a duplex 120-volt household outlet; designed to safely power sensitive electronics like cellphones and computers.
Cons:- May not have enough power to run every home appliance.
Takeaway: The iGen2200 is a newer generator from Westinghouse, and early reviews are overwhelmingly positive. There are very few reports of problems, and most users say this inverter unit is quiet, efficient, and easy to start. Several claim it stands up to models that cost more than twice as much. While it's designed primarily for recreational use, the iGen2200 can also power the essentials in an emergency -- just don't expect it to manage everything at once. Several users say they've had success running two units parallel to boost power.
Bonus Inverter Generator From a Top Brand
Price: $599 | Buy it from Abt.com
Features: 1,700/2,200 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 7-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Very lightweight at 46.6 pounds; easy to use anywhere.
- Starts easily, with just one or two pulls.
- Very fuel efficient, with econo mode to cut consumption and noise.
- Surprisingly quiet, users say, although there's no sound rating from the manufacturer.
- A good choice for camping; can be paralleled with another unit for extra power.
- 12-volt DC outlet, duplex 120-volt household outlet, and USB outlet for devices like tablets and phones.
Cons:- Costs a bit more than other models with similar specs.
- May not have enough power to run every home appliance.
Takeaway: Inverter generators are more expensive than conventional generators, and at the lower end of the spectrum, you don't get a lot of power for the price. That said, buyers looking for a generator primarily for camping trips praise the Generac GP2200i for its light weight, portability, and low noise level -- some say it's almost inaudible in econo mode. This inverter generator can also keep a few home essentials running in an emergency. While it's a bit pricier than our value pick, the Westinghouse iGen2200, some would say the Generac name alone is worth the added cost. The brand has a long-standing reputation for high-quality, American-made generators, and many experts consider it a worthy, more affordable rival to top-of-the-line Honda.
Inverter Generator With Extra Power
Price: $624 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 1,700/2,200 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 6.5-hour run time (at 50%)
Pros:- Good for RV owners and tailgaters and powerful enough to run several home appliances at once.
- PowerSmart mode saves fuel, automatically adjusts the engine speed to suit the load, and protects sensitive electronics against surges.
- Can run for several hours on a single 1-gallon tank of gas; some users claim more than 10 hours with a light load.
- 12-volt DC outlet, two 120-volt household outlets, and a USB adapter; can connect to a second generator to run in parallel mode.
- Consistently starts on the first or second pull.
- Shape of the handle makes it easy for one or two people to carry.
Cons:- Some reports of faulty units; though it claims to have a fuel gauge, many buyers say they didn't see one.
- At 59 dB, it may be a little loud for camping.
- On the larger side for an inverter generator, and a relatively hefty 54 pounds.
Takeaway: The Briggs & Stratton P2200 PowerSmart is a bit more expensive than the other inverter generators listed here, but its 111cc engine also packs a bit more power. Buyers like to use it for RVing, camping, and tailgating, and they report that it's also strong enough to run a home refrigerator, TV, and some small electronics at the same time. Keep in mind that, with a bit of brawn under its belt, this generator is not exactly a peaceful power source for the great outdoors.
Bluetooth Inverter Generator
Price: $599 | Buy it from Home Depot
Features: 1,800/2,300 watts | Gas | Recoil starter | 6.7-hour run time (at 50%) | CARB compliant
Pros:- Bluetooth technology and app allow users to check on the fuel level and turn off the generator remotely.
- LCD screen provides stats on remaining run time, load, and fuel level.
- Parallel kit for running two generators at once.
- Powerful enough to run a refrigerator, yet gentle on sensitive devices like computers and cellphones.
- Two 120-volt household outlets and two USB ports.
- Starts easily, runs efficiently, and can automatically adjust to match power needs; 1.2 gallon tank can power a quarter load for up to 10.3 hours.
- Built-in wheels and a pull-out handle for easier portability.
Cons:- Reports of faulty units; several users say the generator runs erratically in auto-idle mode or shuts down frequently and needs to be reset.
- App doesn't allow remote starting.
Takeaway: Ryobi's RYI2300BTA is an affordable inverter generator packed with perks. The accompanying app, with its remote shut-off capability, is a standout feature that consumers really like. Its compact size, wheels, and handle make it ideal for RVing and camping. On the other hand, some users say it's very easy to overload this unit -- many have had trouble running an air conditioner or powering more than one major household appliance at once. For lighter loads and recreational use, however, most buyers seem very satisfied.