10 Best Inverter Generators Reviewed in Detail (Fall 2022)

Inverter vs. conventional generator: What’s the difference?

Both conventional and inverter generators convert a fuel – typically gasoline or propane – into usable AC (alternating current) electricity. However, whereas conventional generators produce AC electricity in one step, inverter generators do it in three steps. Inverter generators use their engine to produce AC electricity, but then convert it to DC (direct current) electricity and then back to AC electricity.

Why go through all this work? One of the biggest reasons is that converting AC power to DC and back cleans the electrical current, smoothing out the energy so that there is far less distortion. Basically, this means that the electricity coming from an inverter generator is less likely to cause miniature power surges that could damage your sensitive electronics, such as computers and smartphones. Conventional generators, on the other hand, produce “dirty” AC electricity that is only suitable for heftier circuits like those found in appliances and power tools.

Inverter generators also offer a number of other benefits over conventional generators.

Inverter generators are typically built with engines that are the fraction of the size that is needed in a conventional generator to produce the same amount of power. That means that inverter generators can be extremely compact and lightweight for portability and storage, but still pack the electric punch you need to power all your stuff.

On top of that, smaller, more efficient engines allow you to spend less on fuel to power your generator, but if you need even more eco-friendly model then you should check solar generators. You’ll also get longer runtimes for the same amount of fuel, although the exact runtime of an inverter generator compared to a conventional generator also depends on the size of the fuel tank – because inverter generators are compact, they often have fuel tanks only a few gallons in volume.

Another major advantage that converts many users to opting for an inverter generator over a conventional generator is that inverter generators are comparatively quiet. Inverter generators can be as quiet as 48 dB like on the Honda generator, which is considered to be one of the best Honda gens, and nearly all of the inverter generators we reviewed are less than 60 dB. Compare that to noise levels typically well over 60 dB for conventional generators, and it’s easy to see why inverter generators can be preferred in many situations.

With all those advantages in mind, there are a few drawbacks to inverter generators. Inverter generators are almost always more expensive than conventional generators in the same size class because of the newer technology they offer. More concerning, inverter generators can be much more difficult and costly to repair than conventional generators because of the complexity of the microprocessors coupled with the engine.

In addition, inverter generators are often limited in the amount of power that the most heavy-duty models can offer – for example, the most powerful inverter generator we reviewed, the Champion Power Equipment 200988, maxes out at 4,500 watts of power. On the other hand, portable conventional generators with maximum outputs well above 10,000 watts are available. That said, multiple inverter generators can be hooked up in parallel to increase your total available power, which is something that you cannot do with conventional generators.

How much power do you need?

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Once you’ve decided on an inverter generator, one of the most important considerations you’ll need to decide on is how much power you need. Generators have two power ratings: the maximum, or surge, power, and the continuous, or running, power. The surge power is the amount of power the generator can sustain for several seconds in order to allow motor-driven appliances, like refrigerators, freezers, and even some power tools, to start up. The running power is the amount of power that you’ll be able to draw from the generator over its entire runtime.

The simplest way to figure out how much power you need is to add up the wattage requirements of everything you want to power. This sum needs to be less than the rated running wattage of the generator, and typically it’s a good idea to leave yourself some breathing room. When in doubt, there are a number of online calculators that can help you estimate how much power common appliances draw.

Remember to leave some extra power for charging electronics as well, since this is a possibility with your inverter generator.

Most inverter generators are limited in the amount of power they supply – the most powerful generator we reviewed, the Champion Power Equipment 200988, offers a maximum of 4,500 watts of surge power and 3,150 watts of running power, and is also considered to be one of the best Champion generators. However, keep in mind that if you need more power than any single inverter generator can offer, you can hook up two inverter generators in parallel using an after-marker parallel connection kit to effectively double your power.

How long you need to run your generator?

Adding more fuel to your generator can be a time-consuming process, as you need to wait for the generator to fully cool down before you can top off the tank. Thus, runtime is an important consideration if you don’t want to lose power halfway through the project that you’re using the generator for.

The runtime of an inverter generator is typically measured at 25% or 50% load, and decreases as more power is drawn from the generator. Runtime is determined by a combination of the fuel efficiency of the engine and the capacity of the fuel tank (if you’re running on gasoline), which can vary widely between generator models. For example, the Honda EU2200i runs for just 9 hours at 25% load because of its small 0.95-gallon fuel tank, while the Champion Power Equipment 100302l has a 2.9-gallon tank and can run for 17 hours at a 25% load.

Generators that can run on either gasoline or propane, like the Champion Power Equipment 200988, may have longer or shorter rated runtimes on propane compared to gasoline depending on the size of the internal fuel reservoir. However, using propane also allows you to extend the runtime dramatically because you can buy a larger propane canister. You can also use a valve to connect two or more propane tanks to your generator, switching between them as one is exhausted so there is no downtime.

Generator noise level

10 Best Inverter Generators to Power Anything from Tools to Sensitive Electronics (Fall 2022)

The relatively low noise level of inverter generators compared to conventional generators is one of their major selling points. Inverter generators are typically 10 dB or quieter than conventional generators in the same power output class. With most inverter generators, you can actually hold a conversation within a few feet of the generator and they won’t wake up your neighbors if you are powering your house during an outage. However, inverter generators are not completely silent, so you’ll need to be careful in using them in situations like camping.

The reason that inverter generators are able to be so quiet is that they can actually modulate the amount of work the engine is doing in response to how much power you are drawing from the generator.

Thus, a generator like the model from Honda can scale from just 48 dB of noise at a low power draw to up to 57 dB of noise at maximum power. Inverter generator noise levels also vary a lot from model to model – while the Honda has a minimum noise level of 48 dB, the model from Firman has a minimum noise level of 58 dB.

Safety features

10 Best Inverter Generators to Power Anything from Tools to Sensitive Electronics (Fall 2022)

While generators are not extremely dangerous compared to other tools, it is advisable to look for inverter generator models that offer built-in safety features.

One major safety feature that most inverter generators have, and most conventional portable generators don’t, is an enclosed engine. This is partly to help reduce engine noise and protect the engine parts from damage during transport, but it also ensures that you can’t burn yourself on any hot exposed engine components.

Another important safety feature that all of the inverter generators we reviewed have is an automatic low-oil shutoff. This shutoff detects whenever the engine oil is dangerously low and powers down the generator before the lack of oil can do any costly and sometimes irreversible damage to the engine as well as cause power surges.

All of the generators we reviewed also have overload prevention built-in. That means that if you exceed the generator’s running capacity (or surge capacity when a motor-driven appliance is starting up), the generator will automatically shut down in order to prevent a power surge or damage to the engine.

Tips and tricks

It’s extremely important to maintain your generator and use it properly in order to keep it running for years to come. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to ensure the engine is properly oiled, since running low on oil can cause serious engine damage. You should change the oil every 50–100 hours, and possibly even more frequently if you use the generator in dusty conditions or at its maximum power output.

Another important safety tip is that you need to allow the engine to fully cool down before adding gasoline to the fuel tank. Adding fuel to a hot generator is a safety hazard that can present a danger to you as well as potentially cause damage to the engine.

How much do inverter generators cost?

Inverter generators typically cost significantly more than conventional generators in the same size class, but the cost of different inverter generator models can vary quite a lot. For example, the budget-priced model from Pulsar costs less than $400, while the expensive Honda generator is over $1,000. In general, expect to spend between $500 and $900 for a quality inverter generator.

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