In this Guide
Few investments can give you as much peace of mind as a home backup generator. These burly motors can churn out enough power to help you get through an outage without having to worry about food spoiling, or medical equipment running out of juice. In fact, many allow you to operate as usual, until your power supply is restored!
On the other hand, home backup generators are a massive investment, and buying one can be one of the most challenging shopping experiences you face as a consumer. These machines are big, industrial, and highly sophisticated. It can be a real chore for the average consumer to choose between the options.
We’ve put our team to work creating this comprehensive guide to the best whole-house generators on the market today! In our research, we’ve compared dozens of leading models. We consulted our own expertise, as well as expert test results from Consumer Reports, and reviews from everyday buyers who have spent time running these generators in their own homes.
In this guide, you’ll find in-depth reviews of our three favorite whole-house generators. Our own reviews talk you through all you need to know about these models, and explain why we think they’re better than the competition. At the bottom of the page, we’ve also compiled a handy list of pointers to help you decide which generator is your best bet.
Let’s start off with our Top Three recommendations, at a glance:
Best on a Budget
- Rating: 4.3
- Reviews: 6
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- 5 Year Limited Warranty
- Rating: 5.0
- Reviews: 5
- Free Shipping
- 5 Year Limited Warranty
- Rating: 4.1
- Reviews: 20
- Free Shipping
- 5 Year Limited Warranty
Home Generator Reviews
1.Generac 6462 Guardian Series
Our most budget-friendly recommendation for a whole-house generator comes from Generac. It’s a powerful machine in a compact, convenient package with a few smart features which make it a reliable, low-maintenance backup system for your whole house. It’s our top choice for people who want to spend the least amount possible on a backup system without skimping on quality, power or reliability.
It cranks out a lot of power. At 16KW, this machine can keep your house running pretty much as usual during an outage (though we always recommend cutting down on extra usage, like TV, to preserve fuel in case the outage lasts longer than expected). 16KW, for perspective, is enough to run a five-ton industrial air conditioner!
Previous buyers said they had no issues whatsoever with the power output. They complimented the sheer amount of power the Generac produced, as well as the evenness of the output. It produces power at less than 5% harmonic disturbance, which is relatively clean and safe for your appliances.
Even though it’s very powerful, it has a relatively small footprint. This model only takes up about a 2X4 feet footprint, and it stands just over 2 feet tall. The entire casing is made from steel, and it’s rated to stand up to 150mph wind speeds.
It’s the most convenient of our recommendations, and the least obtrusive to install around your house. This one’s easy to build into flower gardens or landscaping without leaving an eyesore.
It can run on both natural gas or liquid propane. You can switch between fuel sources with a simple handswitch, and you won’t need any extra equipment to convert the motor. It’s also rated to operate well in areas which have a lower natural gas pressure, down to 3.5” of water column. That means it’ll work pretty much anywhere, no matter your fuel source.
It’s efficient and quiet. Previous buyers said they barely noticed the Generac running. It produces very little noise, and very low emissions. For fuel usage, it goes through about 3.5 gallons per hour running full bore, and 2 gallons per hour at half-power.
It’s up to all modern standards for safety and environmental protection. The Generac is rated to UL, CUL, and EPA standards. Plus, it’s CARB compliant, so it’s legal to install in California (where standards are strictest). Its high safety and emissions standard compliance ratings allow this model to be installed up to 18” from your house, provided there aren’t any windows or doors nearby. By contrast, many other budget-priced generators have dirty emissions, low efficiency, and poor compliance ratings which mean they have to be placed far away from buildings.
The Generac is one of the easiest models to operate. It has an intuitive, user-friendly control panel, with a simple layout and no cluttered instructions. There’s a simple LCD display with color-coded control buttons.
It’s also a smart little machine. This one is a self-testing model. It’ll turn itself on to test the system and keep everything working properly on a regular schedule. You can choose weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly intervals for testing.
Previous buyers loved how low-maintenance the Generac was to operate, and said the self-tests gave them even more peace of mind each time they heard the it turn itself on. The air ventilation system means it also self-cools, so you don’t have to worry about anything overheating.
It comes with a special pad which allows you to skip pouring a concrete base. That makes installation much, much easier, and much less expensive.
It comes with a smart transfer switch bundled with the generator. The smart transfer switch switches the generator on automatically in an outage, so you never have to worry about manually starting the generator, or being home when the power goes down.
This sort of switch is usually sold separately, so it’s a very convenient inclusion here. You’re saving money, and saving yourself extra shopping time. Plus, you have the guarantee that it’ll work properly with the generator, which can be a bit of a guessing game when you’re getting components separately.
It’s covered by a 5-year warranty. Generac also provide 24/7 customer service every day of the year, in case you run into trouble. We particularly like that their call center is located in Wisconsin, instead of overseas.
It’s relatively inexpensive. This model costs well under $4,000.
As with any big home generator like this, installation can be very pricey if you’re not going to be doing it yourself. We recommend that anyone without a confident knowledge of electrics and plumbing have a professional help out, or at least inspect your work to make sure everything’s done properly.
If you’ll be getting professionals to install your generator for you, plan on spending about $1500 over the ticket price. Previous buyers who were confident DIYers said they got the job done in a day or so of work. However, we wouldn’t recommend DIY installation to anyone who has any hesitation about how to do it.
You’ll also need to buy a battery separately. Generac provides all the important specs and requirements for a battery on their website and in the product manual.
2. Kohler 14KW
This Kohler model is a more rugged, sophisticated, and convenient generator than the Generac. It’s a Consumer Reports Best Buy, and it’s our top midrange recommendation for a whole-house generator.
We love the rugged, impermeable housing, as well as the superb power regulation and rapid startup. It’s more efficient, more durable, and more reliable than the Generac, without raising the price too much. We think it’s an excellent choice for smaller homes, or average-sized houses that don’t use a great deal of electricity.
It’s consistently recommended by objective testing agencies as one of the most reliable, user-friendly home generators. Consumer Reports gave this one a Best Buy award, and it made Green Builder’s Hot 50 Products list when it first came out. It’s touted for its efficiency and convenience, as well as its overall smart design.
It has a lot of the key features we liked about the Generac: the Kohler can run a 5-ton air conditioner unit, it can switch between natural gas and liquid propane, and it’s rated to all the same safety and environmental standards. It comes with a polymer base, which eliminates the need for a concrete slab.
It’s self-testing, and it’s easy to use. The Kohler is also nearly the same size. Plus, you get the transfer switch thrown in for a bargain price.
It produces cleaner power than the Generac. The Generac filters out harmonic distortion to about 5%. The Kohler takes that down to 1%! It’s much safer for expensive electronics that aren’t attached to a power filter of their own.
It’s also cleaner in terms of efficiency. This one uses just over 2 gallons of fuel per hour at full load, which is more than 1/3 more efficient than the Generac! That helps save the environment, and it helps save you money.
It’s quieter than the Generac. The interior is insulated with acoustic foam, which helps cut down on the noise a lot. Previous buyers estimated that the Kohler was about 25% quieter than other generators they had used.
A special hydraulic system in the engine keeps it running smoothly with less maintenance and a shorter break-in time than the Generac.
It’s even more rugged. The entire casing is corrosion-proof, and it’s impact-resistant even when temperatures dip to 30 degrees below zero! This one’s designed to be able to stand up to harsh coastal conditions, where wind sends water into any crack or crevice it can find. Kohler has vacuum-sealed the windings with a fungus-resistant epoxy, and the whole of the construction is drip-proof.
It’s more convenient to use, and even more responsive in an outage. The Kohler turns on and gives you full power within ten seconds of your power going out. That’s thanks to a rapid-response system onboard, as well as a boosted start feature which helps this one get up to full-speed faster than most other models. While the machine is running, an electronic speed control system makes sure the generator instantly responds to any additional load you place on it.
It has a digital controller for both the generator and the transfer switch, so all your controls and adjustments are in one convenient place. The backlit display is easy to read in any lighting, and it’s as simple as the Generac to figure out.
It’s also covered by a 5-year warranty. The Kohler has an excellent reputation for reliability, and many technicians and installers recommend these machines. However, you do need to make sure that a Kohler technician actually starts the machine for the first time, otherwise all subsequent maintenance comes with a fee.
Overall, previous buyers said that while the Kohler was more expensive than the Generac and other models they’d considered or used previously, they could tell the difference in quality. It was apparent in both the rugged build quality and the fast, clean power delivery from the motor.
It’s a bit more expensive than the Generac. Prices vary, but we’ve seen the difference stick around $1,000 or so.
It’s not quite as powerful as the Generac. Plus, the transfer switch is rated at half the amperage. While most homeowners won’t notice the difference, people who have larger homes and lots of appliances or a larger central heating system might want to check their usage, to make sure this Kohler can handle the load.
Again, installation will cost extra, and you’ll need to buy an appropriate battery.
3. Kohler 20KW
Our top quality recommendation for a whole-house generator is this ultra-powerful Kohler model. It’s the most heavy-duty machine here, from the build quality to the power output. This 20KW system has all the smart, rugged features as the smaller Kohler, with a lot more juice. We think it’s the best choice for people who have larger homes, and want to weather an outage like nothing ever happened!
It has all the features we’ve just looked at in the smaller Kohler: automatic self-testing, natural gas and liquid propane compatibility, a polymer base, straightforward controls, noise control foam and corrosion resistance.
It’s very, very powerful. At 20KW, this provides even more power than the Generac, and nearly 1/3 more power than the smaller Kohler. It’s more than enough to keep the average or large home running with no cuts in usage. You could easily bake bread, make dinner, and watch TV without noticing any difference from your normal power supply.
Even though it’s so powerful, it produces a refined supply that’s safe for all your appliances. As with the smaller Kohler, you’ll see less than 1% harmonic disturbance in the A/C current from this machine.
It has the same rugged, weather-proof construction as the smaller Kohler. It’s drip-proof, coated with anti-fungal veneer, and impact resistant at -30 degrees F. However, the most impressive part of the housing for us is the fact that it has almost exactly the same footprint as the 14KW Kohler, but packs 1/3 more power into that space!
It responds just as quickly. You’ll have power at full bore within 10 seconds of an outage, and instant electronic response to additional load requirements while it’s running.
It’s still efficient. In fact, this one’s the most efficient of the three. It’ll use about 1 gallon of fuel per hour under full load. If you live in an area where outages are frequent, you’ll really appreciate that lower fuel usage.
It comes with a smart load-shedding automatic transfer box. It’s even better than the one that’s included with the smaller Kohler. This model has a transfer box which is rated at twice the amperage, for average to larger size homes and service entrances.
It’s also a load-shedder, which isn’t a feature on the smaller Kohler’s transfer box. Load shedding allows the generator to automatically switch off some loads to make sure that the important things in your house get their power. So, you could set up the system to turn off the cable box and TV supply if the heating system needed extra power, since heat is a higher priority.
It’s also convenient for people who have outbuildings or other additional loads to power, since you can set priority levels.
Given how much more power this one puts out, it doesn’t cost a great deal more than the smaller Kohler.
It’s covered by the same 5-year warranty coverage. It’s made in Wisconsin, and covered by American phone support.
You’ll need a big fuel tank. Previous buyers recommended that this one be attached to a 250-gallon tank to work optimally.
It’ll cost you more than $5,000, plus installation.
As with the other Kohler, this one’s warranty is dependent upon a Kohler technician doing the initial startup. If you don’t follow that protocol, you’ll pay more for service, and end up with a shortened warranty.
When this model came out, Kohler seems to have had some quality control/design issues. A few reviews from 2014, when the first version of this model was introduced, cite throttle problems and other internal issues. Some buyers from that period also reported poor customer service experiences. However, in the past two years, Kohler seems to have both fixed the problem and brought their customer service up to the high standard they’re now known for.
Which is the Best Generator for Your Home?
If you’re on a budget, we think the Generac is the best choice for you. It’s much better thought-out than other generators in its price range, and it provides a lot of bang for your buck. It has enough juice to power an average house in comfort.
However, it uses a lot more fuel than the Kohler models, and it’s not quite as weatherproof. Generac also has a much worse reputation as a company for reliability and customer service than Kohler.
If you have a smaller to average-size house, the Kohler 14KW model will take care of you very nicely. It’s more efficient, more user-friendly, and more reliable than the Generac.
It’s also built to stand up better to weather and elements, and it provides cleaner, safer power. There’s a reason this has won so many awards and recommendations from professional testers and installers!
However, it costs about $1,000 more, and it isn’t quite as powerful as the Generac. We don’t recommend it for people who have larger homes.
If you have a larger house, a central air system, lots of appliances, or outbuildings to think about, the larger Kohler 20KW is your best bet. It’s also the best bet for people who simply want a generator that will get them through an outage without really noticing any difference.
It’s very nearly as compact as the other two recommendations, even though it packs 1/3 more power than the smaller Kohler, and 1/5 more power than the Generac. This one also has the best transfer switch of the three, which is thrown in for the price. The only downside for us is the price. This one’s $1,000 more than the smaller Kohler, and about $2,000 more than the Generac.
Best Portable Whole House Generator
So far, we’ve looked at fixed, hard-wired generators for keeping your house powered during an outage. However, we realize that a lot of people are looking for a portable generator solution to the same problem.
A portable whole-house generator is a very cost-effective purchase, because you’ll be able to use it for much more than an emergency backup. Sadly, a lot of portable generators simply aren’t powerful enough to deal with house-scale power loads like sump pumps, air conditioning systems, and large appliances.
However, Honda has recently introduced a heavy-duty, high-wattage model in their Ultra Quiet series which we think deserves your attention:
Consumer Reports has recommended this as one of their top generator picks overall, and it’s one of our favorite new models on the market. While this one technically falls into the portable generator category, we think it’s a capable whole-house solution for people who just need to run the essentials during a power outage, and want a generator they can use for other applications as well.
At 7,000W, the Honda has about half the power of the smaller Kohler we’ve reviewed. That’s still enough to run a sump pump, water pump, and other essentials like septic, fridge and heating equipment. It’ll leave a bit left over for lights and other amenities, but it’s not big enough for you to carry on as if there weren’t a power outage.
We think it’s a great option for smaller homes, and people who don’t use a lot of electricity anyway. Or, if you can live without some of your appliances, you could use this for an average size or larger home.
The most impressive feature on this model is the noise level-it’s quieter than any fixed home generator. That makes it a great solution for having an outdoor party with music, lights and hot plates. If you do lots of DIY projects, this is also one of the most capable portable systems you can find on the market.
It’s also a good generator to take camping, as a way to power your motorhome or camper amenities. It’s as quiet and unobtrusive as most portable generators half its size, and it cranks out a serious amount of power that should satisfy any camper’s creature comforts.
Overall, we think the Honda is the best alternative for people who need a backup solution for their home, but want to be able to use their generator for other projects when the house is online.
How to Choose the Right Whole House Generator
Decide on your budget:
Home or whole house generators start around $3,000, and they can easily cost up to $10,000+. We generally recommend that the average homeowner aim for somewhere between $3500 and $7500. Above $7500, you’re looking at massive, hulking machines that are more appropriate for a big farm or a business.
Generators are priced in a fairly straightforward manner: the more powerful the machine, the more it will cost. You’ll also find that more expensive generators are more efficient, and have smarter, safer features which make them more convenient and more reliable to use.
Budget-priced generators below $4,000 can be very powerful, but they’re generally less efficient and a bit less responsive than more expensive models. So, it’s common to see a budget 16KW generator cost $4,000, while a more efficient, smarter 14KW generator costs the same or slightly more.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to opt for one of the more powerful but less efficient models. However, a larger initial investment in a more efficient generator can result in long term fuel savings, especially over the course of a long outage.
Around the $5,000 mark, you’ll start to see very efficient generators which use as little as 1 gallon of fuel per hour. In many cases, that’s a 1/3 or 1/4 the consumption of one of the budget options.
Your own budget should take into account the overall power needs you have, and the cost of the fuel you’ll be using to run your generator. You’ll also want to think about how often the generator will be used.
If power goes out frequently in your area, or if there are a lot of strong weather events or natural disasters nearby, it’s probably worth spending at the higher end of the spectrum for something that’s super reliable and efficient. You’ll see the fuel savings add up quickly, which can offset a lot of the initial cost.
We recommend spending as much as you can afford on your new generator. While these machines can be a huge investment, they add to your home value, and can give you invaluable peace of mind. It’s not worth saving $1,000 by skimping on your generator, if you come home and find that the sump pulp didn’t have any electricity to run on in a disaster.
Think about your house size and power requirements:
Before you make any decisions or get carried away with shopping, you should nail down exactly how much power you need your new generator to produce during an outage. Look at your utility bill to see what your average usage rate is, and make sure you ask an electrician or a utility representative if you have any questions about making your estimates.
If you’re just planning on keeping all the essentials running, and can make do without amenities like an electric stove, air conditioning, or other extras, you probably use about 7KW in your house. Think of that number as the bare minimum the average homeowner needs to get through an outage safely.
That’s what you’ll need from a portable generator if you want it to power your whole home (sump pump, furnace, water pump, and basic lights/fans). If you use propane or natural gas for your heating, oven, and other appliances, that might be enough for you to make it until the grid comes back on.
However, most people buy a whole-house generator in order to be able to ride out a power outage with most amenities intact. You’ll want to make yourself dinner, use tech devices, and have heat or air conditioning when the weather demands it. Plus, most of us want to get through an outage without sacrificing our creature comforts like TV or microwaves.
With that in mind, here are a few good benchmarks:
(Again, it’s always a good idea to use your utility bill for reference, and ask an electrician if you have any questions.)
For a small house, or an average-sized house that doesn’t use a great deal of electricity in the first place, we’d recommend something to the tune of 12KW-14KW. That’s enough to cover most people who use electricity for most appliances and utilities in a smaller home, or an average home which doesn’t have a large central air system or another big draw that would require a larger supply.
If you have an average house, with all the usual electrical loads (sump pump, furnace, water pump, etc.) plus air conditioning, chest freezers, or another larger load, you’ll probably want to look at something around 16KW.
That’s our general benchmark for the average homeowner. It’s a good rule of thumb for people who don’t live extravagantly, but also don’t want to have to cut back on comfort during an outage.
Larger houses require something more like 20KW. That’ll cover any larger homes, with all your amenities online, even if you’ve got air conditioning, a big refrigerator, outbuildings, and chest freezers going all at once.
Factor in efficiency and upkeep costs:
Remember that a home generator comes with a few ongoing upkeep costs, as well as the large initial ticket price.
You’ll need to plan on spending a bit of money every year for periodic maintenance and tuneups. That service should be covered for the first few years of ownership, but you’ll eventually need to cover it yourself.
And, of course, you’ll need to pay to keep your fuel supply stocked up, so your generator is always ready to go in the event of an outage or emergency. To lessen your fuel bill, we think it’s a good idea to consider spending more on your generator up front in order to get something that uses less fuel while it’s running.
An extra few hundred dollars up front for an efficient generator is probably a smart financial move if you’re going to use save a third of the fuel costs over the cheaper option. However, we also understand that some people simply can’t afford to spend a premium all at once for an efficient machine.
If your power goes out frequently over the course of the year, spending extra money for a more efficient generator is definitely a smart move. Your savings will be substantial enough to offset the extra cost, probably within the first couple years of owning your generator.
If none of our recommendations are quite right for you, check out all of Amazon’s best-selling models here!