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Cheap Generators Buying Guide
Remember the last time the power suddenly went out? If you have a cheap generator, you can keep the electricity flowing in your home. That means lights, refrigerator, computer, and other important appliances and electronics will keep running even when the rest of the neighborhood waits it out in the dark.
For emergency home use, we recommend a cheap generator with at least 3,000 watts of running power.
We found plenty of cheap generators for less than $550 in the target power range. Our two favorite models are both from Champion Power Equipment: the feature-rich 46539 (starting at $482, Amazon) and the no-frills but equally powerful 46533 (starting at $358, Amazon). Gentron's GG3500 (starting at $415, Amazon) is a budget-worthy choice with an electric starter that sits in our runner-up spot. Buffalo Tools' Sportsman GEN4000LP (starting at $404, Amazon) appeals for its price and use of propane as fuel, but falls to the bottom of the list due to concerns about reliability. The powerful Briggs & Stratton 30466 (starting at $400, Amazon) earns its share of praise but also a handful of complaints about defective units.
Cheap generators are readily available. Popular brands include Champion Power Equipment, Briggs & Stratton, Troy-Bilt, Powermate, Gentron, Generac, All Power, and many others. You can find an inexpensive backup power supply at retailers such as Home Depot, Sears, Tractor Supply Co., and Lowe's, as well as online and at smaller shops that specialize in power tools and equipment. Generally, the more powerful a generator is, the more it costs. The cheap generators we focus on range from 3,000 watts to 4,000 watts while beefier models in the 7,000 watt to 10,000 watt territory cost well over $1,000. Extra features, such as an electric starter or a wheel kit, may also boost the price.
The most important criteria when choosing a cheap generator is power. You want a model with enough juice to provide the electricity needed to run critical appliances and must-have electronics during a blackout. (An online wattage calculator, such as these from Consumer Reports and Briggs & Stratton, will help you determine how much power you'll need.) And, of course, any generator worth buying must be easy to start and totally dependable.
In terms of specifics, here's what you should know:
The running watts and starting watts on cheap generators indicate how powerful it is. Starting watts is always a higher number because you need more watts to start some appliances than to keep them running. Cheap generators are generally powered by unleaded gasoline or propane fuel. Gas models are far more common due to the easy availability of gasoline (most of the time), but propane is safer and easier to store long term. Any good cheap generator should be able to run for at least eight hours and perhaps 12 on one tank of fuel. It should have a recoil start mechanism (a simple pull-start, like the type used on most gas lawnmowers), although some include a convenient electric starter, as well.
Cheap generators are fitted with an array of outlets, including a standard 120v outlet for household use. Some generators also include a locking outlet (120v or 240v), which secures the cord in place, and a 120v "RV" outlet. Most cheap generators come with a wheel kit, which is a very good thing. Generators are quite heavy, so moving them around is a chore. A wheel kit is especially useful if you want to take the generator on a camping trip or to any remote location where you need power.
A good generator can be a lifesaver in a severe storm and is handy for a variety of other purposes, like powering up that tool shed in the backyard or backing up a basement sump pump. Make sure you have fuel on hand along with several heavy-duty extension cords and a power strip to connect essential appliances and electric devices. (Note: Running a whole-house system, including overhead lights, off of a generator requires a manual transfer switch that's located near and connected to the main electrical panel.)
And finally, always be sure to run the generator outdoors; the burning fuel releases harmful carbon monoxide.
Best Cheap Generators
Champion Power Equipment 46539
This Champion Power Equipment generator has enough horsepower to keep your key electronics and appliances running when the lights go out, and it comes with some nice extra features (e.g., wireless remote start) rarely seen in this price range.Read more »
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Don't Bother Cheap Generators
Briggs & Stratton 30466 Review
Sportsman GEN4000LP Review
Gentron GG3500 Review
Champion Power Equipment 46539 Review
Champion Power Equipment 46533 Review
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