LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.
The best portable generator for home use in an emergency or as a regular power source when living off the grid is not the same as the generator you use in your shed or workshop.
My husband and I have tried and tested many generators over the years. Here's my top tips for what to look for when buying a generator for home use . . . and which portable generator I think is the best.
How I Use My Generator
My house is not connected to the grid, so my family relies on either solar power or generator power to operate any electrical appliances in our home.
In an ideal world, the sun would shine on our solar panels every day and keep our deep cell batteries fully charged. But we don't live in an ideal world, so I need to rely on generator power more often than I would like.
Whenever I turn on our generator, it is required to complete two tasks simultaneously:
- It supplies electricity to our lights and appliances inside the house.
- It tops up our deep cell batteries, ensuring we'll be able to continue powering our home after we turn off the generator.
My Choice for Best Portable Generator for Home Use: the Honda EU2000i
For those of you in the USA and Canada, it is worth noting that the equivalent generator is called the EU2000i.
It seems to have all the same features but the power output suits your local plugs and type of power.
In Australia, the UK and Europe, this model of generator is called the EU20i.
10 Reasons Why the Honda EU20000i Is the Best Generator for Home Use
Here's my top 10 reasons for saying my portable Honda generator is the best generator for home use:
- It is an inverter generator (as any generator powering a modern home should be).
- It is quiet compared to the many other generators we've owned and seen.
- It is relatively light.
- It remains stable.
- It is fuel efficient.
- It powers the essential electrical equipment in our home.
- It has an 'Eco' switch.
- It has multiple power outlets.
- It can directly connect electrical appliances within the house (via an extension cord) without needing converters.
- It is affordable.
Not too big and not too small, this portable generator meets all the needs of our off-grid family.
This Generator in Australia, the UK and Europe
Honda makes slight alterations to accommodate different countries. Throughout Europe, the UK and Australia, the model is called the EU20i.
There's a number of different 'types' of the EU20i: B, W, F, G, GP3, GW and U. (The U is Australian.)
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Your local supplier will sell the type of EU20i best suited to your home, but be aware of the slight difference if you are looking for good deals on the internet.
The main difference, as far as I can tell, is the shape of the plug for electrical appliances and extension cords.
The same owner's manual and service manuals are used for all type of EU20i.
Tips for Choosing (and Using) a Portable Generator to Power Your Home
If you don't have a solar power system with storage batteries, you probably won't work your generator quite as hard as I work mine.
However, anyone using a generator to power their home—even during short periods after a natural disaster or some other kind of emergency—should be aware of basic rules associated with generator power. You need to understand what a generator can actually do, so you don't have unrealistic expectations.
Here's some tips to protect your generator—and yourself and your family—from common mistakes made by the inexperienced user.
Tip #1: Never Operate a Generator Indoors!
When you buy your generator, buy a long heavy-duty extension cord at the same time if you want to power appliances within your home. Your generator must remain outdoors at all times when it is running—at a distance from any doors or windows.
If you plan to rely on generator power during an interruption to your regular grid power and have neighbors nearby, keep your generator away from their doors and windows as well.
Why? Because carbon monoxide poisoning can kill you (and your neighbors.)
- Don't operate a generator anywhere inside your house or near doors or windows (whether or not they are open at the time).
- Don't run it in your basement, garage, bathroom or even the room 'nobody goes in'.
Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning, often because they underestimate the need to keep generators a long way from the air we breathe.
Generators are made tough enough to withstand outdoor temperatures and conditions. You'll have to be tough enough to walk to the generator outdoors to turn it on and off.
If you don't think you can do that, don't buy a generator to power your home.
Tip #2: Insist on an Inverter Generator to Power Your Home
What home doesn't have at least one computer, or other electrical equipment sensitive to frequencies? If you try to power your computer with the same kind of generator you use to run your compressor or other heavy-duty equipment and tools, you risk ruining your computer.
Most modern televisions also respond badly to any generator other than an inverter generator. So when purchasing a generator for home use (as opposed to shed use), make sure you insist on an 'inverter generator'.
Honda's EU20i promises commercial-quality electricity due to its 'microcomputer-controlled sinewave inverter'.
Commercial-quality electricity is exactly what I want to use in my home. You can save yourself the frustration and expense of damaging expensive equipment in your home if you choose a generator model that features an 'i' (like the EU20i).
Tip #3: Connect Low-Demand Appliances to Your Home Generator
My portable generator can run:
- a TV (depending on the power level it consumes)
- PlayStation or Nintendo Wii
- small electrical kitchen appliances
And it can still top up the deep-cell storage batteries connected to my solar panels.
In theory, it could also run (although probably not with all the above items operating at the same time) a fridge—as long as it is not a power-guzzler, so check how much power your fridge uses.
I don't ever run my fridge on my generator because I don't like the idea of interrupting the power supply to my fridge—and I live 100% off-grid so I'm set up with a perfect fridge for off-grid living—but if you are suffering a complete power black-out and want to preserve your foods, you might need to.
The size and age of your refrigerator will influence how successful you'll be at powering it with the EU20i. Take a look at the power requirements before connecting it.
If you want to run multiple electrical devices, add up the total power draw and decide which items can be safely powered at the same time.
The EU20i can produce a maximum of 2,000 watts, but there's often an extra burst of power required when an electrical appliance is first connected, so I suggest you aim for no more than 1,600 watts total when doing your calculations.
Do You Need a More Powerful Generator?
If you want to operate air-conditioning, a two-door refrigerator/freezer with an automatic ice-cube maker, an electric clothes dryer, an electric oven or a high-demand electric heater, you'll need a much bigger and more powerful generator than the Honda EU20i. You'll also need more fuel.
It will cost more to buy the generator, and more to run it.
Before you opt to buy a bigger generator, give careful thought to the following questions:
- Will you always need/want the higher power level? (You'll be running at a greater power output irrespective of how much power you are actually using.)
- Are there cheap and easy alternatives to your power-guzzling air con and electric heater?
- Can you cook on a barbecue or rocket stove?
- Is it really worth trying to keep your enormous fridge/freezer powered? Perhaps it is wiser to opt for the smaller generator, and simply make a claim on your insurance for any food spoiled as a result of your power interruption.
Remember, if you leave your freezer door closed during a power outage, frozen foods can remain frozen for a surprisingly long time.
If you have a small bar fridge, perhaps that could be connected to your generator to keep your milk cold. Or perhaps you consider it a better economic decision to simply live without cold milk for a few days if necessary, and save the expense of buying a more powerful generator.
Tip #4: The Best Home Generator Is a Quiet Generator
Have you ever been near a working generator before and tried to have a conversation? Have you had work crews with generators operating near your house, and found the noise hard to escape? Most generators are frighteningly noisy.
- There's no point powering a television if you can't hear the TV over the noise of the distant generator.
- Forget about running your generator all night if you have no hope of getting to sleep.
- Your neighbors might never forgive you if you subject them to the relentless noise and vibrations generated by many models.
One of the reasons my family prefers the Honda EU20i over other generators is the fact that it is, by comparison, surprisingly quiet. Yes, it still makes noise. But nowhere near as much noise as others.
Here's what makes a significant difference . . . the EU20i has an 'Eco' switch. Yes, it helps with fuel economy because it prevents the motor from running at full power unnecessarily, but equally important is the fact that running on Eco means running more quietly.
If we are running lights, a laptop computer, a TV and a gaming system (like a PlayStation4, for instance) on Eco, our generator purrs away quietly. As soon as I turn on the water pump to take a shower, the generator responds with a higher level of production—and therefore more noise. But the moment I turn off the water pump, it drops down to its lower—and quieter—level.
I love that!
And if you are prepared to make some extra effort in housing it, you can make this type of generator even quieter.
Tip #5: Muffle the Sound of Your Generator?
The Honda EU20i/EU2000i is one of the quietest generators on the market (many would the say the most quiet, but I never like to exaggerate and I don't know for sure.)
However here's a few helpful hints if you live extremely close to your neighbors and want your generator to be less noisy.
- Position your generator on grass, not concrete or wood. Or better still, sit it on firm foam. Vibrations are noisy. As you'll see in my photos, my generator currently sits on firm foam (raised to a suitable height for comfortably pulling the starter cord.)
- Give your generator some kind of 'housing'. This can protect it from the weather, but it also offers a level of additional protection from the generator's noise.
- We live off-grid on a small farm, a long way from neighbors so we don't have to worry about disturbing anyone else. That's why we simply have a corrugated iron structure to house our solar system and the generator—with the open side facing away from our home.
- In other locations, we've used different structures. Once we used concrete blocks to build a small structure to house our generator. Be sure to allow plenty of airflow.
- The most effective little house we built for a generator was made of straw bales. They absorb the noise extremely effectively. We didn't bother rendering them, but we left plenty of room between the exhaust and the nearest bale (not wanting to accidentally start a fire.)
- We placed a big piece of plywood over the top of the structure, and straw bales over that as well. Then we put some corrugated iron off-cuts on top, held down with a couple of bricks. Again, you need to allow ventilation—but that means only a small amount of noise escapes through the gaps.
Tip #6: Don't Waste Unnecessary Fuel
I am not aware of any other company's generator that offers the brilliant 'Eco' function some genius at Honda included in the design of my preferred inverter generator.
Yes, there are cheaper 2000 watt inverter generators . . . but they won't run as long on a tank of fuel—and they won't be as quiet—as my portable Honda generator with Eco switched on.
To my way of thinking, it is false economy to pay a few hundred dollars less for a generator that can only run for five hours with a full tank—and will cost me much more long-term in fuel.
I also like the convenience of fuel in my 20l storage tank lasting longer. There's no need me for me to race into town in a panic buying more fuel to last me through a rainy few days without solar power.
Tip #7: Check and Change Oil Regularly
If my generator won't start (and I'm sure it has fuel and I've done everything right), the most likely problem is low oil.
I know the instruction manual suggests always checking oil before starting the generator, but we don't do that every time we use the generator. We do, however try to remember to check the oil on the first day of every month—just so we don't overlook it.
My husband changes the oil quite frequently. We think it is easier to do that small maintenance task rather than risk needing to take it to a (distant) service center if we neglect it.
Tip #8: Wasps Build Nests in Exhausts
Here's a tip I wish someone shared with me years ago when we bought our first generator . . . wasps occasionally build little nests inside the exhaust of a generator.
If your exhaust is blocked, your generator won't work.
Here's a photo of how we prevent that problem when the mud wasps are looking for a new home.
By inserting a small piece of wood in the exhaust hole when the generator is turned off, wasps can't enter—so we don't need to mess around with long bits of wire trying to get around internal bends trying to break up a nest.
As you can see, we keep the wood tied to the generator's handle for convenience.
Important note!: Only block the exhaust while the generator is turned off. Remove it before you turn the generator on!
Tip #9: The Best Portable Generator Has Multiple Power Outlets
Here's why two power outlets is much better than having a portable generator with a single outlet.
- You can run one extension cord to inside your home, and use the other outlet to power tools or equipment outdoors.
- You can run one extension cord to your home, and the second one to a caravan (as I have done when we had visitors.)
- You have the ability to run extension cords to both sides (or ends) of your home . . . instead of needing to run internal cables from only one source.
- You could, in an emergency situation where all the homes in your neighborhood lose their grid supply, share power with a neighbor. (Of course you'd need to trust them not to overload your system.)
Tip #10: Use Power Boards With 'On/Off' Switches
If you are using a portable generator to power lights and appliances within your home, run an extension cord inside . . . and then connect a power board with individual on/off switches.
This is most useful when it comes to controlling which items are drawing power at any given time.
So for instance, if you're not using your television, switch off the television . . . and switch it off at the power board. Similarly, if you're not using your laptop computer (or it is fully charged) switch if off on your board to eliminate unnecessary load.
You don't want to draw unnecessary power because you do need to keep your load at around 1600 watts, allowing for increased load when you first turn on any appliance.
If you are new to using a home generator, you might need to discipline yourself in the early days by restricting yourself to only having two or three switches on at any given time.