The Best Affordable Generator For Your House, RV, And Emergency Preparedness
Even if you don’t own one yourself, you have probably seen an electric generator in the wild. They’re extremely common to see outside RVs, food trucks, tailgating parties, and even houses during power outages.
Electric generators generate electricity. They convert mechanical energy into electrical power, and when paired with outlets you can run your electronics off of them. The electric generators we’re looking at today are all powered by gas. Fill the fuel tank with gas, start it up, and electricity will be available via the outlets. Some support dual fuel, which lets you connect a propane tank to use propane gas instead of gasoline fuel.
Some of them come with household 20A outlets, while some come with 30A or even 50A for RVs, welders, and power tools.
Today we’re reviewing affordable electric generators. That doesn’t mean we’re going to recommend something unreliable and not powerful. We picked products from reputable brands that are at least strong enough to run an air conditioner in an RV. Note that none of the products on today’s list are inverter generators which usually are smaller, quieter and lighter than the style we’re looking at today. That kind of features cost more, which is why we have left them out of today’s post. If you want to know more about the differences, check out the FAQ at the bottom of this article.
If you are looking for inverter generators or more powerful generators with more features, stay tuned for those articles coming very soon. Or if you have no idea what you need, navigate down to the “What to consider” section and we’ll go through the specifications that you should consider before purchasing an electric generator.
Now, let’s take a look at and review the products on today’s list.
All Electric Generators Compared On The Table
Note: Scroll left/right on tablets and phones
Each Generator Reviewed
DuroStar is a brand owned by DuroMax and on today’s list there is one DuroStar product and one DuroMax.
The first one we’re taking a look at is the DS4000S. It’s an impressive gas-powered generator that has some serious power with 4000 surge and 3300 continuous watts while running. That makes it powerful enough to run a 15,000 BTU A/C as long as there aren’t a lot of electronics running at the same time since an air conditioner of that size on average requires 3200 to 3500 watts to start up and 1200 to 1700 watts to run.
A 7 HP air-cooled OHV gas engine will power the generator and shutoff automatically in case oil levels are low. It’s started manually with a pull start. When testing this unit we were impressed with how easy it starts. It never took more than one or two pulls, so no complaints there.
The 4-gallon gas tank allows us to use the generator for up to 8 hours on half load. This is slightly under average with a tank of this size but take into consideration that half load of 3300 is 1650 watts which is quite a lot to be pulling at all times unless you have an AC on.
Along the side, you will find two 120V 20A outlets, one 120V 30A AC outlet, a circuit breaker, a voltmeter, an oil lamp alert, and an engine switch.
What we would have liked to see included is a wheel kit to make it easier to transport. DuroStar does sell a wheel kit to go with the DS4000S though, so at least there is that. Since the unit weighs 105 pounds, it’s something worth considering.
Carrying it around is relatively easy with the steel frame covering the unit. At over 100 pounds it does take two people to move and transport unless you buy the wheel kit.
If you’re planning on plugging the DS4000S into an RV, you will most likely need a Camco Heavy Duty PowerGrip 30 amp 3 Prong Generator Adapter. The adapter plugs into the 30A on the generator, and then into your standard 30A RV cord into your camper.
Like most units we’re looking at today, it’s quite loud under load. This isn’t the kind of generator you buy if you mostly care about the noise, then you want an inverter generator.
The DuroStar DS4000S is a reliable option that will run your whole RV, residential refrigerator, or other appliances in a home during a power outage. With 8 hours of run time at 50% load, it will output a lot of power before you have to fill up the 4-gallon gas tank. We’re impressed with what DuroStar has done, and while it will be loud, its power won’t disappoint. It’s one of the most affordable generators on the market.
- 7 HP, air cooled OHV engine
- 4000W surge/3300W continuous
- 8 hour run time at half load
- Power panel for easy monitoring
- Two 20A, one 30A outlet
- No wheels included
Champion Power Equipment is a company that makes exactly that, power equipment. Generators, pressure washers, log splitters, and engines are categories where you’ll find some of their products.
When it comes to electric generators, they have models available at several price points with different features. On today’s list, we have two of their portable generators, the first one being the Champion 3500-Watt RV Ready Generator.
With 4000 starting watts and 3500 running watts, it’s another great choice that can output a whole lot of power. Enough to run a 15,000 BTU air conditioner in an RV.
A low-oil shut-off sensor will stop the engine from getting damaged in case you’re running low on oil. There is also a volt guard that prevents overloads to protect your electronics. Champion recommends using 10W-30 oil, like the Castrol 03093 GTX 10W-30 Motor Oil.
The engine found inside is the Champion 196cc. It’s a single cylinder air cooled engine that will last up to 12 hours at 50% load. With a 3.8 fuel tank, that’s pretty good stats. A pull start gets it started.
A steel frame surrounding the engine will protect it and make it easier to move and transport. At 99.2 pounds, it’s a massive beast that will require two people to carry. There is also a storage cover made by Champion. In the FAQ we answer a question about how you’re supposed to deal with a heavy unit on your own, use the quick navigation on the right to get there quickly.
What Champion means with the “RV Ready” in the name, is that it has a 30A RV Outlet on the unit, which is fantastic. It also has a 120V 30A locking outlet and one 120V 20A household outlet. The fact that it comes with an RV outlet installed is a big plus. Not having to deal with adapters (which you have to buy) with other products takes away an extra step and a place where something could go wrong.
Next to the outlets, you’ll find a voltmeter, a circuit breaker, and an on/off switch.
Compared to the DuroStar DS4000S, the Champion 3500W has a smaller gas tank (0.2 gallon difference), but runs for longer at 50%, although it can output 200 more watts. The most significant difference that we like is the built-in 30A RV plug. We also found the Champion 3500W to be a little bit less noisy. For RVers, we recommend the Champion model over the DuroStar for those reasons.
Overall, the Champion 3500-Watt RV Ready Portable Generator is a solid, reliable choice for the money. It comes with a 3-year limited warranty and more features than we expect from a generator at this price point. We would’ve liked to see a wheel kit included and one more 20A outlet, but for RVers it’s perfect.
- Champion 196cc air cooled engine
- 4000W surge/3500W continuous
- 12 hour run time at half load
- Power panel for easy monitoring
- One 20A, one 30A locking, one 30A RV outlet
- No wheels included
DuroMax XP4400E is a portable gas-powered generator with wheels and a handle for easy transport. As we talked about earlier, DuroMax and DuroStar is from the same company, but the XP4400E has some features that the DS4000S doesn’t.
The first difference is the fact that it comes with a wheel kit, which makes it more convenient to deal with. Another feature it has is the electric start. Having an electric start means that you just have to turn a key to turn it on, it’s powered by a small battery on the unit. There is also a pull start for backup.
The XP4400E can output 4400 surge watts and 3500 continuous watts, which makes it slightly more powerful than the DuroStar and the Champion 3500. An automatic low-oil shut-off will prevent engine damage when oil is running low.
A 4-gallon gas tank will let the generator run for up to 10 hours at half load, and DuroMax recommends filling that tank with 87 octane gasoline. An air-cooled 7 HP OHV engine is pretty loud, but with this kind of power output that is to be expected.
In the outlet section, DuroMax has put two 120V 20A outlets and one 120V/240V 30A twist-lock outlet. There is also a 12V outlet for charging 12V batteries. If you’re planning on plugging this into an RV, you’re going to need a Camco Heavy Duty PowerGrip 30 amp 3 Prong Generator Adapter if you have a standard 30A RV cord.
Next to the outlets, you’ll find the main breaker, a 120V/240V switch, an AC breaker, a voltmeter, and the electric start.
So is the DuroMax XP4400E one of the better choices? It has a lot of great features, like the wheels, electric start, 3500W continuous watts, and a 4-gallon gas tank. We’re missing a 30A RV outlet, and a remote for the electric start, but it’s still a good product that will power your air conditioner, residential fridge, and more.
- 7 HP, air cooled OHV engine
- 4400W surge/3500W continuous
- 10 hour run time at half load
- Power panel for easy monitoring
- Two 20A, one 30A outlet
- Electric start
- Wheel kit included
The second Champion product on today’s list is the 3800W dual fuel generator. Not only does the name give you a hint that it packs more power, but it’s also a more feature-packed product in general that left a great impression on us.
As the name implies, it’s a 3800 running watts generator capable of outputting 4750 surge watts. It’s powered by a 224cc Champion engine, which is bigger than the 196cc engine found in Champion’s 3500W. It’s an air-cooled single-cylinder engine that is as loud as the Champion 3500W.
The engine can be started with the push of a button with its electric start. A battery is included and installed on the unit to make it possible. There is also a pull start for backup.
The name also gives away that it’s a dual fuel generator, so what does that mean? It means that not only does it have a gas tank that is 3.4 gallon, it’s also capable of running on propane gas. A propane hose is included so if you run out of gas or prefer propane gas you have two options. It will run for 9 hours on gasoline and 10.5 hours on propane gas at half load.
Another neat feature is the “Intelligauge” screen that allows you to monitor power output and track maintenance intervals by showing volts, Hz, and hours run. For safety, there is a volt guard and a built-in surge protector.
Champion has done a great job with outlets, packing in two 120V 20A outlets, one 120V 30A twist-lock outlet, and one 120V 30A RV outlet. It’s great that it’s ready to be plugged into an RV from the start without additional adapters. I am surprised more companies don’t do this.
On the same side as the outlets, you’ll find a grounding plug, circuit breakers, a battery on/off button, and the electric start ignition.
Last but not least, the Champion 3800W comes with wheels installed, so you don’t have to purchase them on the side. A cover is not included, however. It comes with a 3-year warranty and a propane hose.
So are the extra features on the Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel worth it over the alternatives? For RVers, this is one of the best budget generators money can buy. With a 30A RV outlet, wheel kit installed, gas and propane support, and 3800 running watts it will be able to run your whole camper and then some. It weighs 119 pounds though, so if you don’t think you’ll be needing all that power and an electric start, a smaller option might suit you better. If you’re planning on storing it in the back of your pickup truck and not move it a bunch, it will be the best feature-packed choice for the money.
The dual fuel support also makes it a great choice for emergency uses. If gas or propane gas supply is low where you’re at, at least you have a choice to use either one of them.
- Champion 224cc air cooled engine
- Electric start
- 4750W surge/3800W continuous
- 9/10.5 hour run time at half load with gas/propane
- Intelligauge screen for easy monitoring
- Control panel with circuit breakers, battery switch, fuel switch
- Two 20A, one 30A twist-lock, one 30A RV outlet
The last generator we’re reviewing today is the WEN DF475T. Another powerful choice that has a lot in common with the Champion 3800W above.
It offers the same dual fuel feature that lets you choose between gasoline and propane for fuel. A 47-inch propane hose is included with the purchase for use with large propane gas tanks. The WEN DF475T can output 4750 surge watts, and 3800 continuous watts on gasoline, and 4350 surge, 3500 continuous watts on propane gas.
It also has an electric start, that with the help of a small battery, gets the unit going with the turn off a key. The engine is a 224cc 4-stroke OHV engine that can run up to 11 hours on half load. A 4-gallon tank makes that possible, and we’re impressed with the run time. If you’re using a 20-pound propane tank, the run time is 7 hours.
Along the side where you choose what kind of fuel you want to use, there is also a 120V/240V 30A twist-lock outlet, and two 120V 20A outlets. Circuit breakers, DC breaker, a voltage selector (120V/240V), a 12V DC outlet, and the electric start is also found on the control panel. It’s missing a 30A RV outlet, but instead, there is a cigarette plug receptacle.
Note that this is the most powerful option on the list that lets you choose between 120V and 240V. This makes it the best option for construction workers and welders with 240V power tools.
We found the WEN DF475T slightly quieter than the Champion 3800W but not by much at all. It’s not a quiet generator by any means, but with power output like this that would be too much to ask.
The WEN DF475T is another heavy beast at almost 106 pounds, but the wheel kit that comes with the purchase makes it easier to transport and store. It comes with a 2-year warranty and a 47-inch propane hose.
Is it the best choice for you? It depends on whether you want to be able to plug your RV straight into it or not, as the WEN does not offer that capability without an adapter like the Camco PowerGrip Adapter. It has an impressive run time, engine, and features in general. The 120V/240V switch makes it a great choice both for construction and welders.
- 224cc 4-stroke OHV engine
- Electric start
- 4750W surge/3800W continuous on gas
- 4350 surge/3500 continuous on propane
- 11/7 hour run time at half load with gas/propane
- Control panel with circuit breakers, voltage selector, fuel switch
- Two 20A, one 120V/240V 30A twist-lock, one DC 12V cigarette plug outlet
Conclusion And Recommendations
When shopping for a generator, it’s good if you know what you’re looking for. Do you have to be able to run an air conditioner or a residential fridge? Are you only going to use it to keep your RV batteries charged up and watch some tv? Before buying anything, I recommend scrolling down to the “What to consider” section in this post. By thinking ahead of what you’ll need, you won’t buy something that is too much/not enough for your uses.
In terms of budget generators that are powerful enough to at least run a 15,000 BTU air conditioner, here are our recommendations based on our reviews and opinions.
Champion has made the best electric generator for the money in our opinion. With lots of power, dual fuel, electric start, Intelligauge screen, and a 30A RV plug it’s our top pick for RVs and off the grid uses.
In the end, we don’t think you can go wrong with either product on today’s list. Our top 3 picks were extremely close, and they’re all great choices. It might seem like the WEN is more worthy of being No. 1 with its run time and lighter engine, but for us, the 30A RV plug means a lot and even though all that’s needed is an adapter with the WEN, having it on the unit already makes it more convenient for us.
If you don’t plan on using it for RVing, but more for power outages at your home, pick the most powerful option as you will probably need it to run more appliances in your home.
WEN has packed a lot of features into this portable dual fuel generator. Being able to choose between propane and gasoline is great both for RVers and home emergency uses. It will run your whole camper with the air conditioner going all day long before needing more gas. All-in-all, we believe it’s a top choice for RV and emergency use.
We like and recommend the DuroMax XP4400E. With 3500 continuous watts, 10 hours run time at 50% load, two 20A outlets, one 30A, and one 12V outlet, it’s a powerful, versatile generator that will run your camper and house appliances for hours.
What To Consider
When shopping for a generator, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. What do all the numbers mean, and what do I need? For this reason, we thought it would be helpful to go over a couple of features and numbers you will see and talk about what difference they make. If you have any questions, please leave a comment down below, and we’ll do our best to help you.
Watts – Watt is the unit of power. When it comes to generators, they can output a certain amount of watts. If you plan on running several electronics at the same time, you must make sure you get a generator that can handle it.
For example, if you’re going to plug it into your RV, you should sit down and make a list of how much each of your electronics uses. Your microwave might need 1500 watts, and your air conditioner could need 3500 watts to start. If you want to run both of them at the same time, you would then need a generator that can output at least 5000 watts. It would be smart not to use them both at the same time so you could get by with a smaller generator.
When it comes to the air conditioner in your RV, it has starting watts and running watts. The reason is that the compressor in the air conditioner requires lots of power to start up. Therefore, your 15,000 BTU AC might need all the energy from your generator when it’s starting up, about 3300-3500 watts, but after a minute or two it will only require 1300-1800 watts to run. Turning off everything but the AC when first starting it is recommended for this reason.
If you have a 13,500 BTU AC, it usually requires 2800-3000 watts to start, and 1500-2000 watts to run.
If you’re a welder or construction worker it’s best that you look up how many watts your specific welder or power tool uses.
Starting/Running Watts – Some electronics require more power when they first start. Electronics like an air conditioner, a refrigerator, an instant pot or a portable fan. Generators can handle a certain amount of surging watts without quitting as long as it doesn’t last for more than a couple of seconds. That’s why you’ll see two different watts when looking at generators, one surge/starting and one running.
If you exceed the wattage that the electric generator can output for too long, an overload protection feature will kick in and turn off the unit.
Outlets – The outlets will give you access to the electricity produced by an electric generator. Pretty much every generator has at least one standard household 20A outlet. Most of them also have a 30A outlet. The 30A outlet can look different depending on what kind it is. Some are 30A RV plugs while others are 30A twist-lock style.
If your generator has a 30A twist-lock style outlet and you want to plug it into your RV, you’ll need a . If you would rather use one of the 20A outlets, you’ll need an adapter like the Parkworld 884852 Generator 20A to RV 30A Power Adapter Cord 5-20P Male to TT-30R Female.
Standard 20A household outlets can be used with your regular 120V electronics. Like coffee makers, computers, fridges, etc. Before purchasing you should consider how many outlets you’re going to need. Of course, if you only have one 20A outlet and need more, you could plug in a power strip.
Electric start – The electric start is a convenient feature that lets you start the generator by turning a key instead of pull starting. None of the products in today’s post have remote start, which is another convenience feature that would let you start the generator from a distance.
Electric start is possible with the help of a small battery placed on the unit. If this battery would be discharged for any reason, a backup pull start is always available.
Do you need an electric start? Probably not, it’s mostly for convenience.
Dual fuel – Dual fuel is a neat feature that lets you run the engine both on propane gas and gasoline. You have to choose between one of them before starting the unit and can’t run both at the same time.
Dual fuel is great for RVers or emergency uses. I recommend purchasing one with dual fuel because it’s good to have a backup choice in case you run out of gas or propane.
120V/240V – Some big appliances, welders, and tools run on 240V. If you don’t have any of those, this feature won’t matter much to do you and shouldn’t be a significant factor when deciding what product to choose.
Noise – Electric generators are noisy. If you want the least noisy one, you should look at inverter generators instead of the conventional generators. Inverter generators are more expensive and less powerful, but they use less fuel, are less noisy, and more lightweight on average.
Noise will be a bigger or smaller deciding factor depending on what you’re doing. If you plan to boondock or live off the grid, noise might not matter as much since you can use an extension cord and place it further away. If you’re tailgating it will be a more significant factor.
Weight – Not only are generators noisy, but they’re also heavy. Conventional electric generators often weigh around 100 pounds. If weight is a huge concern for you, take a look at inverter generators which usually weigh less. You can also check out the products we recommend in the FAQ below about dealing with a heavy generator on your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I leave my power tools/RV plugged in when I start the generator?
No, you don’t want any load on your generator during startup. If there are things plugged into it, remove the cords and let it start without anything connected at all. After starting, wait about 10 seconds before plugging in your electronics or tools. With most generators, it’s easy to hear when it’s ready for electronics to be plugged in.
The same applies to if you’re plugging it into a food truck since power-hungry appliances in the vehicle can make it hard for the generator to startup.
What kind of maintenance do electric generators require?
The most critical maintenance/service you need to do is change the oil. An electric generator has an engine just like your car and should be treated as such. Change the oil every 100 to 200 hours depending on where you use the generator. If used in dusty places I recommend changing the oil every 100 hours as the dust can pollute the oil.
If you need a generator for emergency preparedness, I would recommend also storing some oil for it. Since you never know how long you will be out of power when it does happen, it’s good to be prepared and have what’s needed to service the unit.
Inverter generator Vs standard generator?
Inverter generators are usually more quiet, lighter, and more fuel efficient. Inverter generators are often pure sure wave inverters that can maintain a single phase sine wave that is better for sensitive electronics.
Inverter generators are capable of adjusting the engine speed to the load, where conventional generators deliver a more constant amount of power. This makes inverter generators more fuel efficient which saves gas and money.
Since a conventional generator generates power with constant engine speed, it also gives out a constant level of noise. On the other hand, microprocessors and tech in inverter generators let the engine throttle during low loads and therefore be quieter.
If you plan on doing a lot of tailgating, it makes more sense to go for a quiet inverter generator. If you live off the grid however in the woods, maybe noise won’t matter as much.
My generator has a 30A twist-lock, what adapter do I need to plug it into my RV?
There are different kinds of 30A outlets. The one usually found on generators is the 30A L5-30 receptacle. If you have a 30A RV Cord, it’s most likely a TT-30R receptacle. So what you need is an adapter, like the Camco PowerGrip Adapter. If you would rather use one of the 20A outlets, you’ll need an adapter like the Parkworld 884852 Generator 20A to RV 30A Power Adapter Cord 5-20P Male to TT-30R Female.
Of course, you could also use a cord that has a 30A L5-30 on both sides if your RV has one, like the Marinco Marine Grade Cordsets.
If your RV is 50A you’ll need a Camco 55412 12
How am I supposed to lift a generator weighing 100 pounds?
While conventional electric generators are lovely units that let you generate electricity with some gas and oil no matter where you are, they are often cumbersome and hard to deal with as one person due to their weight.
Fortunately, there are other products to assist you with moving and transporting your generator. There are hitch mounted hoists like the Viking Solutions Rack Jack II that can lift up to 300 pounds, making it an excellent option for generators since they often weigh around 100 pounds.
If you’re looking for something even more heavy duty, a company called Apex has you covered with their Apex Hydraulic Hitch-Mount Pickup Truck 1,000 lb Jib Crane that can lift up to 1000 pounds.
Can generators handle rain?
Generators do not like moisture and should not be put outside in the rain. It can damage both you and your generator. If the water gets into the outlets on the generator, it will not only hurt them but can lead to electrocution if you’re unlucky.
While there are generator covers available, a lot of them aren’t supposed to be used while the generator is running. You want to look for a specific weather cover like the GenTent Safety Canopies that fits your generator. They’re straightforward to install and remove which makes them a perfect accessory for your generator. The difference between a GenTent Safety Canopy and a regular cover is that the GenTent cover can breathe and has good enough airflow to be used while the electric generator is running without overheating.
What can I do about a noisy generator?
Based on my experience, the only thing that works is moving the generator further away from your campsite and put it behind a tree or set up a small sound barrier like a piece of plywood. It might sound like an obvious one, but we believe it’s more worth it to buy an extension cord to be able to do this than purchase anything else like an enclosure or a new muffler. When purchasing for the most affordable generators, you’re going to have to deal with noise.
Can generators run an RV air conditioner?
Whether a generator will be able to run your RV air conditioner or not depends on how many watts it can output. Air conditioners are extremely power-hungry and will use a lot of gas to run.
Most RVs, fifth wheels and travel trailers come with either a 13,500 BTU or a 15,000 BTU RV air conditioner. If you don’t know how big yours is, check the spec sheet that came with your camper at purchase.
The 13,5000 BTU AC requires about 2750 watts to start, and about 1250 average watts while running. For this reason, a generator that can output at least 3000 watts is recommended. If your generator has 3000 watts surge, and 2500 watts running, it might or might not be able to start your AC. Better to be safe than sorry and go with a product that can output more than your AC needs.
The 15,000 BTU AC requires about 3500 watts for the startup, and about 1500 average watts while running. This is why we recommend a generator capable of outputting at least 4000 watts to run your AC.
Remember that if you plug your generator into your RV and turn on your AC, there might be other appliances using power as well. Like your fridge, TV, outlets, fans, battery charging, etc. This is another reason to buy a generator that is big enough to run your AC + 500-1000 watts more. This is especially important if you want to plug it into a house that has lots of appliances and electronics.
If you have a smaller generator already and are looking for ways to run your AC with it, check out the Hutch Mountain Run AC with 1 Generator – Microair Easy Start 364 that lowers the power required to run your AC. It helps save fuel and makes inverter generators compatible with most RV ACs.
If you have any questions that haven’t already been answered, please leave a comment, and we will do our best to help you.