What size portable generator will run a house? What to look for when buying a portable generator? Is it worth it?

Gasoline portable generator. Mobile backup standby Generator.

Living in extremely hot or cold areas, or relying on medical devices tethered to power, a few days without electricity can pose serious risks. Instead of relying on the power company, the best portable generators offer an immediate solution to restore power to crucial items. This not only makes power outages less disruptive but also ensures safety for you and your family.

These nifty machines transform fuel (gas, propane, or solar) into electricity and come equipped with multiple outlets for different power cords. Unlike permanent “whole house generators,” portable generators prioritize mobility, featuring wheels and handles for easy transport. This adaptability extends beyond emergency situations, proving useful for tailgating, camping adventures, or providing power tools with the juice they need on a construction site.

What is a portable generator?

A portable generator is like a power superhero you can take with you wherever you go. It’s a compact, self-contained device that can generate electricity on the go. Think of it as a backup power source for when you’re camping, tailgating, or facing a sudden power outage. They usually run on gasoline, propane, or diesel fuel, and their handy-dandy nature makes them perfect for providing a quick boost of power when you need it most.

Portable Gasoline Inverted Generator Staying Next to Camper Van Class C Motorhome. Supplying Electricity When Camping.

What size portable generator will run a house?

The size of the portable generator you need to run your house depends on your power requirements. It’s like finding the right superhero for the job! You’ll want to consider the wattage of your essential appliances and devices.

For basic necessities during a power outage, like lights, refrigerator, and a few essential appliances, a generator with a power output between 3,000 and 5,000 watts might suffice. If you want to power more appliances, including a sump pump, heating/cooling systems, and maybe even your computer, you might need a generator in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 watts.

Always check the power requirements of your specific appliances and devices to make sure you get a generator with enough capacity. It’s better to have a bit more power than you think you need, just in case!

What to look for when buying a portable generator?

When picking out a portable generator, it’s like assembling your superhero squad—you want the right mix of features. Here’s a checklist for your generator shopping adventure.


There are two main types of portable generators—conventional (or “standard”) and inverter generators—each generating electricity in slightly different ways.

Conventional generators have a straightforward setup: an engine powers a motor, which, in turn, drives an alternator to produce alternating current (AC) electricity. While they’re easy to repair and maintain, their efficiency is tied to engine RPMs, making them less fuel-efficient. Most picks in our guide fall under conventional generators, with exceptions like the inverter and solar-powered models.

Inverter generators, on the other hand, take a more sophisticated approach. Instead of directly outputting AC electricity from the engine, they add two extra steps for better electrical control. After generating AC, inverter generators convert it into a stable direct current (DC) and then back into AC, finely tuning it to the specific device’s power requirements. Unlike conventional generators, inverter models adjust their engine speed based on the electrical load, making them significantly more fuel-efficient.


All portable generators need fuel to generate electricity. While most use gasoline, others opt for propane, and larger generators may run on diesel or natural gas. Choose the fuel type that suits your situation best. Consider where you’ll store the fuel and how accessible it is in your local area. Gasoline is popular but requires you to have a supply on hand for emergencies. Waiting until you need your generator might mean long lines at the gas station, so planning ahead is key.

“Dual-fuel” generators, accepting both gas and propane, are increasingly common and prove invaluable during prolonged outages when gas stations may run dry. Switching to propane becomes a seamless solution. After a major storm with multi-day power outages, it is easier to get a tank of propane than it is to get a gallon of gasoline.

Solar-powered portable generators, relying solely on sunlight, offer an unlimited fuel supply (weather permitting). Though they take longer to charge, they’re the go-to option if you’re completely off the grid.

Wattage (Starting and Running)

Portable generators come with two wattage outputs: starting and running. Starting wattage lasts only a few seconds, while running wattage is sustained over longer periods. To ensure your generator meets your needs, calculate the total energy consumption of your devices. Larger appliances usually list starting and running wattage on their data plates, while smaller items may require consulting the product’s manual.


To make sure your generator plays well with your gadgets, check if it has sufficient and appropriate outlets. For smaller devices, standard 20A 120V duplex three-prong outlets work, but hefty appliances may need larger 30A outlets.


While portable generators promise mobility, they’re not feather-light. You should be able to move it from storage to your desired spot, considering it needs to be placed outside in an open area, away from windows and doors. If a hefty generator is too much to handle, think about getting two smaller ones that can work together.


Generator engines can be quite the chatterboxes, especially during prolonged use. If peace and quiet are priorities, compare the decibel (dBA) levels of potential generators to find the most hush-hush option. Inverter generators usually win in the quiet department, and solar-powered models? They’re the silent stars.


Safety is paramount when dealing with generators. Those powered by combustion fuel, gas, or propane must be outdoor champs, positioned at least 20 feet away from your home to dodge deadly carbon monoxide buildup. The best portable generators in our list come equipped with carbon monoxide detection and automatic shut-off features for an extra layer of safety.

Once you’ve ticked off these points, you’ll have your very own power-packed sidekick ready to save the day!

Gasoline portable generator with canisters. Mobile backup standby generator.

Should I buy a portable generator? Is it worth it?

It’s like having a safety net for your power needs. If you live in an area prone to power outages or enjoy outdoor activities, a portable generator can be a game-changer. Here’s a quick rundown to help you decide:


  1. Emergency Power: Be the hero during power outages, keeping essential appliances running.
  2. Outdoor Adventures: Take it camping, tailgating, or wherever your adventures lead. You’re never too far from power!
  3. Versatility: Use it for DIY projects, outdoor events, or as a backup for your RV.


  1. Cost: Quality generators can be an investment. Consider it an investment in uninterrupted Netflix binging during blackouts.
  2. Maintenance: Generators need regular TLC. If you’re not a fan of maintenance tasks, this might be a drawback.

If you value uninterrupted power or love the great outdoors, a portable generator could be a worthy companion. Just make sure to assess your needs and weigh the pros and cons before unleashing your power-packed sidekick!

To sum it up

In a nutshell, if you reside in an area prone to disasters, consider opting for a home standby, large inverter, or portable generator to meet your power needs during emergencies. These generators can deliver the necessary wattage to keep your essential appliances up and running when the lights go out. Before making a purchase, it’s wise to consult with your trusted electrician for professional advice on the right-sized generator for your home.

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