Quiet Portable Generator

To anyone familiar with portable generators, the very idea of a “quiet portable generator” seems like quite an oxymoron. With decibel levels akin to the roar of an approaching freight train, portable generators have very deservedly received a bad rap for being noisy.

Of course, no one runs a portable generator for the ambiance; we have very good reasons, usually unavoidable, to run them, so when circumstances dictate, the best we can do is look for the quieter ones among the group.

How noise is measured

To understand how we measure generators’ noise output, it’s important that we first understand a little about how noise is quantified in the first place.

Sound travels in waves, and the measure of the strength of those waves is referred to as amplitudeDecibels are the unit in which amplitude is expressed. Decibels are sometimes abbreviated as dB or dBA. Every sound can be measured in a number of decibels, from 0, which is the softest sound the human ear can detect, through 65 dBA, which is about the level of normal spoken conversation, all the way up through 135 dBA, the level of a jet plane as heard from 100 feet away, and on through any sound possible.

The danger a loud noise poses to your hearing increases exponentially. In other words, a sound of 100 dBA not twice as damaging, but many times more damaging to the hearing than 50 dBA. To illustrate, 8 hours of continuous exposure to sound levels of above 85dBA (approximately the level of a busy city street) can permanently damage a person’s hearing, while a sound of 100 dBA may take as little as 30 minutes to inflict the equivalent amount of damage.

Above 85 dBA, for every 3 decibels that the noise increases, the safe time span of exposure is halved. So whereas it is safe to listen to a 97 dBA sound for half an hour, one should avoid listening to a 100 dBA sound for more than 15 minutes.

A standard converter generator often produces in the mid- to upper-60s decibels, while an inverter may be in the 50s.

When a quiet portable generator is important

Because portable generators are generally so noisy, you will definitely pay a premium for a quieter machine. Consider your intended usage carefully so as to decide realistically when quiet portable generators are worth the expense. For example, at a worksite where protective gear is readily available and workers are used to protecting their ears, it may not be worth prioritizing a quieter generator. If you are camping, though, and want to power your coffeemaker or portable fridge, it may make sense to spend a bit more for a machine that won’t totally spoil the idyllic mountain setting.

Which are the best quiet portable generators?

In general, people who choose to prioritize quiet operation are looking for an inverter generator. Inverter-generators convert DC power to AC power. They tend to operate much more quietly than comparable converters. However, they are often double or triple the price of standard generators, and also tend to have shorter runtimes because of their smaller fuel tanks. (For more information, see our Converter vs. Inverter section.) If the quiet operation or any of inverters other features are your priority, here are some top-performing inverter generators to check out.

Best Quiet Portable Generator: Inverter-Generator
Best Quiet Portable Generator: Converters

Choosing a Dual Fuel Generator or Tri-Fuel Generator

What is a dual fuel generator?

Most people in the market for a dual fuel generator are familiar with the concept, but for those without experience, what is a dual fuel generator?
Exactly as the name implies, a dual fuel generator has the option to employ either of two alternate types of fuel, typically gas or propane, so the user is able to choose which type of fuel is best suited for that day’s circumstances.
For example, a particular carpenter might prefer to use gas to power his worksite. However, because gas does not have a long shelf-life and is often unavailable during power outages, with a dual fuel generator our carpenter has the option to use the propane he stores in his garage for just such an emergency.

Advantages of dual fuel generators

The critical advantage of a dual fuel generator is obvious; because it uses two types of fuel, you always have an alternative if one type is unavailable. Additionally, depending on the use you’re putting it to, you may choose to use gas, which has a longer run time on a full tank, or propane, which has a shorter run time but burns cleaner. People who use their generators in different situations appreciate being able to choose the fuel type most appropriate to their usage.

Disadvantages of dual fuel generators

Price

With any additional features, the most notable disadvantage is that additional features usually come with an additional price tag. In the case of dual fuel generators, this generally is not much. For example, on Amazon, you can purchase a Champion 9.375-watt dual fuel generator for about $80 less than a similar Champion model that supports only a single fuel type. True, its feature set may be somewhat smaller, but this illustrates that you can obtain a dual fuel generator for not much more than a comparable single-fuel type.

However, the price is a factor inasmuch as there are not many small dual fuel generators available. The smallest dual fuel generators start at about $500 for 4400 watts of power. If you have a low wattage requirement, a dual fuel generator probably won’t be cost effective for your needs.

Complexity

Additional features come along with additional complexity. Although switching between fuel types is generally straightforward, users do report confusion in the instructions of some models. Additionally, the added complexity introduces more failure points. Ensure that you choose a reputable brand with good reviews when purchasing a dual fuel generator.

Also double-check that your purchase includes all parts you will need to run it, or whether there are connectors or attachments that you will need to buy separately.

Tri-fuel Generators

Also available are tri-fuel generators. For preppers or survivalists who want to be prepared for any emergency, tri-fuel generators also support natural gas as a fuel source.

Portable Generator Reviews

Welcome to portablegeneratorguide.net, where you can find portable generator reviews, a glossary of important terminology, and lots of other helpful information to help you make a smart purchase. Even to savvy shoppers, the sheer number of products and variables can be overwhelming, so we are here to help you sort through the data and find the portable generator that’s right for your needs.

Why purchase a portable generator?

According to a report by insideenergy.org, in recent years the average number of outages over a five-year period has been doubling every five years! As our electrical infrastructure ages, the load we place on it mounts, and global climate changes, we can expect to see more blackouts as well as more severe ones, making a generator a wise purchase. Generators for backup power range from small ones that can supply just a couple of critical appliances all the way up to trailer-mounted generators that can supply an entire house for as much as two days.

Others use portable generators to power equipment at work sites. If this is you, you need no explanation for why you’d need a portable generator to get your job done! Power tools are power hogs, so choose wisely.

A third common use for portable generators is recreational activities, such as boating or camping. These generators are used to power lights, cooking equipment, or other creature comforts. Often, people choose to buy quieter generators (such as inverters) for these uses, and they don’t require the level of power that the previous uses do.

Once you have determined the uses you expect to put your generator to, you can begin to consider the factors that will help you choose which generator to purchase. Our portable generator reviews will help you understand which generator addresses the needs you determine.

Choosing a generator

Converter or inverter

Generators are often divided into two basic categories, converters or inverter-generators.

Converters have traditionally been the workhorses of the generator world, supplying lots of raw power for a substantial duration at relatively affordable prices. A large converter on wheels can theoretically supply the power needs of an entire house in case of a utility outage, and its large gas tank would keep those lights running for hours, if not days.

Inverter-generators, on the other hand, convert DC power to AC power. This is a smoother, more stable power supply, critical for sensitive equipment like computers or TVs, which may even be ruined by voltage fluctuations or power surges from a conventional generator. They are most beloved for their quiet operation. They are typically more fuel-efficient, being able to adjust their output based on their loads, as opposed to converters which must run at a constant RPM regardless of which appliances are plugged in. However, they are often double or triple the price of standard generators, and also tend to have shorter runtimes because of their smaller fuel tanks.

Generator Wattage Output

Wattage, or the number of watts you require your generator to output to power your electrical appliances, can be calculated fairly easily. Use the handy chart below to tally the number of watts you will need to run your various appliances. Because some appliances have startup “surges”, meaning a burst of high energy consumption when they are first plugged in, calculate your approximate surge wattage by adding the running wattage of your most demanding appliance. In other words, if you plan to run an 800-watt sump pump, add an additional 800 watts to your estimated electrical load to determine your total surge wattage. Of course, this value is approximate, but it will help you get a ballpark estimate of your needs. If you need more exact numbers, check out…

Once you’ve reached a rough approximation of your power consumption needs, make sure to add some padding to allow for errors in calculation or the appliance that you overlooked but you just can’t live without. You want to over-purchase rather than under-purchase and discover when it’s too late that you don’t have the power you need; do bear in mind, though, that the generator’s cost will increase proportionally with its power output.

Fuel types

Gasoline is a fairly common fuel, and relatively easy to obtain under normal conditions, but bear in mind that gas stations need electricity to pump gas, so it’s too late to go shopping once the power outage hits; you’ll need to store some with your emergency supplies. Note that gas is highly flammable, making it hazardous to store; you also can’t store it for very long, one year at most.

Diesel fuel is much less flammable than gasoline and can store for 50%-100% longer. Diesel-powered generators tend to be much louder than gasoline-powered ones.

Propane has the longest shelf-life, and also is the gentlest on the environment. You can buy it inconvenient cylinders in 5- or 10-gallon sizes, which make it easy to store and hard to spill. Because it does not require electricity to pump, you can still buy propane during natural disasters or power outages. It is flammable and can become dangerous if lines are disconnected. Propane fuel systems are more complex than gas, and thus more prone to failure, and more difficult to fix. Propane does not burn well in very cold weather.

Our portable generator reviews and sortable table have each generator’s fuel source clearly marked to enable you to check this important fact at a glance.

Some portable generators allow you to run more than one type of fuel–check out the dual and tri-fuel generators here.

Other features to consider:
  • If you intend to use your generator as standby power for your home, it is critical to install a transfer switch. This shuts down the power flow from your utility wires and switches the load to your generator. These can be either automatic or manual and should be installed by a competent electrician.
  • If your generator is very large or heavy, consider getting a wheel kit to facilitate transporting it. For the very largest models, this is an absolute must.
  • An electric start allows you to fire up your generator with the touch of a button, instead of pulling a cord. Make sure that you have a manual backup, though, in case the electric start fails.
  • A manual fuel shut-off switch prevents fuel from remaining in the system and spoiling when the unit is not in use.
  • Because operating an engine with insufficient oil can destroy it, an automatic low-oil shut-off is a great idea. Bonus points for an indicator that shows the reason for the shut-off, so you aren’t left scratching your head.
  • A fuel gauge is important so that you will always know how close you are to needing a refuel.

Once you have considered which features are important to you, head over to our portable generator reviews for more in-depth information about your choices.

Portable Generator Safe Usage Tips

Despite their appeal to hardware geeks, generators are not toys and have posed serious hazards when handled improperly. Before you continue your research and choose the portable generator that best suits your needs, please do take some time to review these important safety tips.

  • Generators put out potentially lethal carbon monoxide fumes. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill. NEVER operate your generator indoors, or outside near open doors or windows that can allow the vapors in.
  • The fuel you use for your portable generator is highly flammable (where do you think the electricity comes from?). Store it in an approved container, away from heat-generating appliances like furnaces, and check local ordinances for the quantity you may store and any other regulations. Make sure the generator is cool when you re-fill the tank, as spilled fuel on hot parts can ignite.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator or into a heavy-duty extension cord that is sufficient for the load you intend it to power. If you want to use your generator to provide backup power for your house in case of an outage, make sure to have a transfer switch installed, as plugging the generator in without one can cause back feeding that can electrocute utility workers.

About Our Portable Generator Reviews

Our portable generator reviews cover a number of key points to consider about each generator: its type (conventional or inverter), its fuel source, its power output, price point, cost to run, fuel capacity, and which extra features it has. Below is a convenient table showing a number of features of some of the most popular models at a glance.

ImageName and
Model Number
Price RangeGenerator TypeFuel Type50%
Runtime
(hrs)
Running
Watts
Weight
(lb)
PowerPro 56101 2-Stroke Generator, 1000-wattPowerPro 56101 2-Stroke Generator, 1000-watt$conventionalgas/oil mix5 90036
Champion Power Equipment 42436 1500-Watt1Champion Power Equipment 42436 1500-Watt$$conventionalgas10120056