Selecting the best propane generator for your needs isn’t easy. There are just so many different models on the market, each offering a huge range of varying features. Where do you even start?
That’s exactly what we’ll be covering in this monster 5,000+ word guide, that will show you everything you need to know. We’ll look at the features you should be paying attention to, as well as reviewing and rating some of the best propane generators currently on the market. By the end you’ll be perfectly placed to choose the perfect generator for your specific needs.
Features of the Best Propane Generators
There are two elements to consider when choosing the best propane generator for your specific needs. The first of these are the experiences of people who already own these generators. We’ll discuss these in our “reviews” section a little later on. The other element, however, revolves around you and your lifestyle.
Depending on your reason for purchasing a generator you might have wildly differing expectations of what it needs to do. This section of the guide will therefore help you to understand the key features of propane generators, and how these apply to your own unique circumstances.
Power Output (by Fuel)
One of the most obvious distinguishing features between different propane generators is simply the amount of power they can produce. Try to assess how much power you’ll need by totting up the various devices – from electrical lights to washing machines – that you’ll want to run during a power outage. With this in mind you can make a more informed decision about which generator best fits your needs.
Furthermore, appreciate that it is normal for generator manufacturers to promote their highest figures. For dual fuel generators it is easy to see the power output when it runs on gas, but not realize that the output tends to be less when powered by propane. For this reason within this guide we’ve deliberately reported only the power output when running on propane to ensure a fair comparison.
If in doubt, consider choosing a more powerful model, which by default will ensure that you have a little “slack” in the system. This is a much better scenario than worrying whether or not your HVAC unit can fire up when you need it most.
Surge Watts Vs Rated (Running) Watts
Propane generators have two different levels of power output, and its important that you understand the difference between them. When you fire up a new electrical device it will quickly draw extra power to get started, then its power requirement will drop down to a lower level over extended use. For example, consider the amount of power required to get a standard air conditioning unit running; it will need a good “kick” to get started, but as the air becomes cooled it takes less power to run continuously.
These two elements are known as “surge watts” or “starting watts” (when starting a device) and either “rated watts” or “running watts” for ongoing long-term power. When selecting the best propane generator for your needs, therefore, try to assess not just the running watts that you’ll need, but also the surge watts.
Ensuring that both these metrics are in line with your expected use will prevent falling power – such as lights in your home dimming when the washing machine is turned on.
“Harmonic Distortion”, also known as just “HD” or “distortion”, is a measure of the “quality” of the electrical output that a specific generator produces. Some electrical items will run on almost any power at all. In contrast, other electrical items such as computers, phones and TVs are considered more “sensitive” and can become damaged by high levels of harmonic distortion.
Therefore it generally makes sense to select a propane generator that offers the lowest levels of distortion possible, so you can feel confident that all your electrical devices can be powered safely without risking their circuits.
It is entirely possible to run splitters and extension cables from most propane generators, but for ease of use you’ll want to ensure that your generator has suitable outlet sockets.
The Champion 7500-Watt generator, which receives our highest recommendation, comes with a 120V 30A locking outlet (L5-30R), a 120/240V 30A locking outlet (L14-30R) and four 120V 20A household outlets (5-20R). Such a generator can therefore power virtually anything, from your RV to your household HVAC unit.
It is wise to consider how you plan to use your generator and then to select a model that has the right output sockets to meet your needs.
It should come as no surprise that propane generators are weighty pieces of kit. All the same, some weigh far more than others. Broadly speaking the more powerful a generator is the more it will weigh, thanks to the size of the engine necessary to produce such an output.
At the same time you should put thought into quite how you’ll move your generator around. Remember that no generator – not even a propane model – should be used indoors thanks to the exhaust fumes they produce and the heat generated. You’ll therefore need to consider storing your generator in a shed or garage when it isn’t in use, then dragging it out for action.
If you’re going to be moving your generator then make sure you’re confident that you can move it easily into position. The easiest option here is to opt for a model with wheels (oddly, wheels are an “optional extra” with some models).
When it comes to generators there are two different approval ratings that you may need to consider. The first of these is that some propane generators are approved by the Californian Air Resources Board (CARB) while others are not. If you live in California, or are planning to visit with your generator (such as when RVing), then ensure that the generator you choose is CARB approved.
The other approval rating you’ll need to consider is primarily for RVers. In order to legally use a generator in a national park you’ll need to ensure that it is approved by the EPA. In essence this approval means that your generator won’t produce sparks that could start forest fires.
Propane generators use power at differing rates. Therefore a standard bottle of propane may power one generator for a matter of hours, and another for a day or more. The longer the run time of your generator, the less you’ll need to switch propane bottles over and the lower the running costs will be for you in cases of emergency.
While a low run time isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it does make sense to at least factor this element into your decision-making process when choosing a generator of any kind.
Propane Generator Reviews
Now that we’ve covered these basic features it’s time to move on. In this section we’ll review and rate some of the most popular propane generators currently on the market. Read on to find out the pros and cons of each model, together with our star rating (out of five stars) to help you choose the perfect model for your needs.
Champion 7500-Watt Generator – Best High Powered Propane Generator
The Champion 7500-watt generator is a dual fuel model, which means that it will run on both propane and gas, giving you the best of both worlds. If you opt to go down the gas route in the future then it’s comforting to know that the 3.4 gallon fuel tank can provide up to eight hours of runtime. Propane-only users will find they can get up to five and a half hours of runtime from a single 20 lb propane tank. What’s more, the unique “intelligauge” allows you to easily monitor the power output and fuel use for maximum efficiency and predictability.
Speaking of power output, the Champion generator is an absolute beast. Running on propane gives you an impressive 8400 starting watts and 6750 running watts; more than capable of running even high-demand electrical devices like larger AC systems.
With a harmonic resonance of less than 3% this unit is suitable for all electrical devices, including more sensitive pieces of equipment like computers which can become damaged by other propane generators. According to the manufacturer, who we spoke to while researching this guide, this is “as close to grid quality power you can get from a portable”.
Of great importance the Champion propane generator comes with a wealth of different power outlets for all eventualities, and all are live at the same time, allowing you to power multiple devices from a single generator. The current model offers the following:
- 1x 120V 30A locking outlet (L5-30R)
- 1x 120/240V 30A locking outlet (L14-30R)
- 4x 120V 20A GFCI protected household outlets (5-20R)
Lastly, unlike many other models on the market, the Champion 7500 watt propane generator is designed to start efficiently in cold weather; something that has traditionally been a problem for other propane generators. With the electric push-button start its these little luxuries that can make all the difference when you need off-grid power in an emergency.
If there is a downside to the Champion 7500 its that the size of engine required for such an output means that it can be very noisy, and chugs through more fuel than its smaller cousin (see below). At 202 pounds in weight it’s also a pretty hefty piece of kit to lug around when you’re preparing for a storm.
Combining all these features with a 3 year warranty and free lifetime technical support this is truly one of the very best propane generators currently on the market.
Our Rating: (5 / 5)
Champion 3800-Watt Generator – Best Low Powered Propane Generator
The Champion 3800 watt propane generator can be thought of very like the previous model’s younger brother. Many of the key features remain, but on a smaller scale. It can be started with the electric push-button or using the (included) pull start. This particular propane generator outputs 4750 starting watts and 3800 running watts; roughly half of what the previous model could produce.
Power outlets on this model are:
- 1x 120V 30A locking outlet (L5-30R)
- 1x 120/240V 30A locking outlet (L14-30R)
- 2x 120V 20A GFCI protected household outlets (5-20R)
This slightly lower power output actually has a number of advantages during use. Firstly, this is a relatively quiet propane generator that is less likely to annoy your neighbours. It can also therefore be handy for RVers looking for power while in more remote areas.
The smaller engine also makes it much lighter – in this case just 122 lbs. Combined with the folding handle, this means that the Champion 3800 watt propane generator is much easier to manouvre. It is both EPA and CARB rated so can be used in national parks and in California.
Lastly, this smaller power output leads to much longer run times. A single 20lb propane tank can feed this beauty for over 10 hours. This can be handy in difficult weather, as it means less messing around outdoors swapping fuel tanks over when it’s windy or wet.
With a long history of producing top quality products this model vies with the 8500 watt model for the title of “best propane generator”. Indeed, the smartest idea is simply to decide how much power you think you’ll need, then choose either the 8500 watt or 3800 watt model. Whichever of these two options you select its a decision you won’t regret.
Our Rating: (5 / 5)
Champion 3400-Watt Generator – Best Propane Generator for RVs
The Champion 3400 watt propane generator meets the same harmonic resonance output of other Champion generators; less than 3% HR. Once again, therefore, it is suitable for all types of electrical devices. Unlike many of the previous models, however, the Champion 3400 watt propane generator is designed specifically with RVers in mind. For example just consider these power output sockets:
- 1x 120V 30A RV (TT-30R)
- 2x 120V 20A household outlets (5-20R)
- 1x 12V DC automotive outlet
- 2x USB adapters for easily charging phones, tablets and laptops
The runtime of this little model is exceptional, clocking in at up to 7.5 hours, with an output of 3060 starting watts and 2790 running watts when using propane as a fuel source. Of course, should you need a little more power you could always opt to use gas for a short period of time, at which point the power output increases to 3400 starting watts and 3100 running watts.
Champion claim that, even when running on propane, this lightweight generator is capable of starting and running a 15,000 BTU RV air conditioning unit; perfect for those hot summer nights in your RV. The fact that it is considered one of the quieter models on the market (seriously – just read some of the reviews on Amazon) and is both EPA and CARB approved adds to its appeal as the best all-round propane generator for RVs.
Lastly, it weighs in at under 100 lbs (95.7 to be precise) and is very modestly sized, making it ideal for lugging around a campsite.
Our Rating: (5 / 5)
Sportsman GEN4000DF – Best Cheap Propane Generator
We make no apology so far for covering so many Champion propane generators in this guide, but of course they are far from the only generator manufacturer. When considering the best propane generators another make worthy of discussion is Sportsman; in this case the Sportsman GEN4000DF model.
The Sportsman GEN4000DF is one the lower powered propane generators, producing 4000 starting watts and up to 3500 running watts. Assuming a 50% load the GEN4000DF is able to run for 12 hours non-stop on a single 20lb propane tank.
Power outlet sockets are as follows:
- 4x 120V outlets
- 1x 120V RV outlet
- 1x 12V DC outlet
Frustratingly, unlike many other propane generators, this particular model offers no electric start option. While many generator shoppers actually prefer the reliability of a pull start, you should be confident that you’re physically able to use such a starting mechanism.
Another element that reduces the overall practicality of this generator is the lack of wheels. For RVers who are planning to permanently attach the GEN4000DF to their truck this shouldn’t be an issue.
On the other hand, home users who are purchasing their propane generator for emergency use will want to consider how they will move this generator around. Arguably the best solution is to purchase the separate wheel kit – sold on Amazon as the “DuroStar DS4000S-WK Wheel Kit”. Fortunately, as one of the lightest propane generators on the market, once the wheels have been fitted this is actually one of the easiest models of all to manouvre.
While the Sportsman GEN4000DF isn’t CARB approved, it is EPA rated so can be used in sensitive national parks without the risk of sparks.
All told, while the Sportsman GEN4000DF may not be quite as impressive as the competing Champion generators discussed so far, it does represent exceptional value for money. Consequently, we rate this particular model as four out of five stars, and suggest that this is probably the best low cost propane generator on the market.
Our Rating: (4 / 5)
Pulsar Products PG10000B16 Propane Generator
The PG10000B16 from Pulsar Products is another dual fuel generator. Unlike most competing products, however, this model has a unique “Switch & Go” feature built in. This allows you to swap between gas and propane while the generator is still running. For anyone concerned about continual power in an emergency – such as aquarium owners who can’t afford the time taken to switch propane bottles this can be a real godsend.
Started with either an electric button or a pull cord, the PG10000B16 propane generator offers a peak power output of 9000 watts and a running rate of 7000 watts. This generous power output does of course require a seriously large engine, which makes this both quite a heavy and a reasonably expensive generator.
Power output sockets are:
- 4x 120V
- 1x 120V/240V twist-lock
- 1x 120/240V 50A RV
Overall, while users tell us that this is an impressive and very reliable model, we believe the price means that this offers worse value for money than some of the other models discussed in this guide.
Our Rating: (4 / 5)
Duromax XP4850EH Electric Start Propane Generator
The Duromax XP4850EH is designed to be a very quiet propane generator. Built into the design are four isolated motor mounts, which helps to reduce vibration and sound transmission. This feature is further benefitted by the reasonably low-power engine, outputting just 3740 starting watts and 2975 running watts when using propane.
Power can be drawn from the two 120/240 Volt, 20 Amp, 3 prong outlet sockets. This power can be produced for an incredible 20 hours using a standard 20lb propane tank, meaning one of the most impressive runtimes seen in any propane generator on the market.
While most propane generators include only a very short fuel line, the Duromax XP4850EH propane generator is notable for its long and flexible line. This means that it can be connected to propane bottles of any size – or even to a mains propane supply should you benefit from such a utility.
Sadly, unlike the Champion propane generators the harmonic resonance is much higher with this model, meaning that additional care must be taken with sensitive electronic devices. The manufacturer themselves suggests adding a line conditioner to improve the electrical quality before use. Clearly this adds to the cost, and will make this particular propane generator a far less practical option for some people.
It is EPA approved and CARB compliant.
While this certainly isn’t a bad generator, and offers a few rather unique features, combining the low power output with the poor electrical quality there are much better ways to spend your hard-earned money.
Our Rating: (4 / 5)
DuroMax XP12000EH Dual Fuel Portable Generator
The DuroMax XP12000EH propane generator is a seriously powerful piece of kit, suitable for even the most demanding situations. With a starting output of up to 12000 watts and a running power of 9500 watts this generator is able to produce a seriously large amount of power. Interestingly, somehow DuroMax have managed to do the unthinkable with this particular model which obtains a 20 hour runtime assuming it is running at 50% of the maximum output.
Of course, these exceptional levels of power come at a price. Namely, the huge engine that this generator benefits from. The result is a seriously heavy generator that weighs almost 300lbs.
High-powered propane generators also tend to produce lots of noise. DuroMax have therefore fitted a sound muffler to this particular generator.
There are other weaknesses to be aware of too. For example, while this model is EPA approved it does not meet CARB guidelines so isn’t suitable for readers based in California. Some users also report frustration that the inflatable tires soon start to go down when supporting such a heavy generator. What’s more, these cannot be re-inflated. As a result, most owners opt to swap the air-filled tires for a rather more sturdy alternative, adding to the cost of buying the XP12000EH.
The manufacturer recommends using a line conditioner with this device to give a better sine wave for domestic use, further adding to the cost of buying what is, in essence, already quite an expensive generator.
While this is a popular and well-regarded generator we believe that the notable downsides earn it a ranking of 4 out of 5 stars.
Our Rating: (4 / 5)
DuroMax XP2000EH Dual Fuel Generator
The DuroMax XP2000EH is arguably the most portable propane generator in this guide. Weighing in at just 53 lbs it is a small and lightweight model, perfect for occasional use. For less physically able readers this is also likely to be the very best option on the market, as manouvering it around really couldn’t be much easier.
Started with a pull cord, you should hardly be surprised to hear that such a small propane generator produces only a modest power output. Powered by propane it offers a starting power of 2000 watts and a running output of 1600 watts. This power output has been carefully calibrated to ensure optimal harmonic resonance, making it perfect for sensitive electronics.
Of note, should you need more power it is possible to attach multiple DuroMax XP2000EH propane generators to one another another in a process known as “daisy chaining”.
In terms of efficiency, the XP2000EH comes with an interesting “smart throttle” that slows down the engine when you’re not using it on full power. By downregulating the engine speed, it ensures that your generator isn’t wasting fuel, therefore improving fuel efficiency.
In terms of weaknesses the XP2000EH propane generator really is quite expensive for what you’re getting. More budget-conscious individuals may therefore want to consider some of the other options discussed in this guide.
Being both CARB and EPA approved this is in many ways the best propane generator for anyone seeking a low-powered, lightweight source of power when camping or RVing, but who doesn’t mind paying over the odds for the benefit.
Our Rating: (3 / 5)
Propane Generator Comparison Table
Sometimes the easiest way to make an informed decision is to see the vital statistics laid out alongside one another. In this way it becomes easy to select the lightest propane generator, the most powerful generator or the generator with the longest run time.
Below we have therefore included a detailed comparison table of generators to make your ultimate decision just that little bit easier.
|Model||Running Output||Weight (lbs)||Run Time (hrs)||Line Filter Required?||EPA Approved||CARB Approved|
Benefits & Weaknesses of Propane Generators
Ever more people are starting to uncover the benefits of propane generators. All the same, most generators have traditionally been either gas or diesel powered. So what are the pros and cons of selecting a propane-powered generator over other fuel sources?
Benefits of Propane Generators
Just a few of the benefits of propane generators include:
While no generator could ever be said to be “quiet” most people find that propane generators produce considerably less noise than gas-powered generators.
In cases of power cuts this means that it’s far less embarrassing to have your propane generator running 24/7 until mains power comes back on. For those readers who are intending to use their generator to power their RV or other outdoor pursuits it’s also reassuring to know that you’re doing all you can to maintain the peace and quiet. No longer will you have to worry about other van-dwellers giving you black looks after your generator kept them awake all night.
Cleaner to Operate
Propane is a much cleaner fuel source to use than gas, which has a number of important effects. Firstly, your generator won’t be pumping out unpleasant gas fumes, which can make them far more pleasant to leave running for long periods of time.
Just as importantly, however, powering your generator with propane leaves less soot inside the mechanics, so can lead to lower maintenance levels and a longer life for your generator. As a result, propane-powered models can work out to be much better value than those using other fuel sources.
Easier to Source Fuel
If you’ve ever tried to buy gas when a hurricane or major storm is on your doorstep you’ll know how rapidly gas sells out. If that’s the only fuel source that your generator will use then you can find yourself in a nasty position; with an expensive generator but nothing to power it with. In contrast, propane bottles can be much easier to find in such situations.
Easier to Store Fuel
Gas quickly spoils when it is left in a fuel tank or storage can for long periods of time. If you’re planning to use your generator as an emergency back-up then you’ll have to regularly dispose of any gas you have sitting around and swap this for fresh. This isn’t just inconvenient; it can also get expensive pretty quickly.
In contrast, propane bottles can remain usable for years. Just purchase a bottle or two and keep them at the back of your garage for emergencies and you’ll know that you’re always fully prepared.
Weaknesses of Propane Generators
Generally speaking propane generators are far superior to dirtier fuel sources, but there are one or two potential downsides you should be aware of.
Lower Power Output
When comparing propane with other fuels, propane generators tend to produce slightly less power than their gas-powered cousins. This is crucial to realize, because it is all too easy to select a model that doesn’t give you the level of power that you need.
This is especially so, as we have seen, when it comes to dual-fuel models, where manufacturers have a habit of publicising the “upper” figure, while making the slightly lower propane output slightly less visible.
To give you a specific example, the Champion 7500-Watt generator, one of our favorite models, actually produces 6750 watts of running power when using propane as a fuel source. Anyone assuming that they’d get a full 7,500 watts from this model could be quite disappointed with the reality.
Can Be Harder to Start When Cold
If you live in an area that experiences considerable periods of snow and sub-zero temperatures each year then it is also worth bearing in mind that propane generators can be harder to start in cold weather than gas-powered models. This is because the propane tank itself needs to be above freezing temperature to turn from a liquid into the gas that your generator needs.
There are a number of suggested ways round this, such as keeping at least one propane bottle in your home, rather than your garage, so that it will always be a suitable temperature.
Alternatively, some users opt for a dual-fuel model, relying on gas to get their generator started, before switching to propane for ongoing power. With most models this is as simple as flicking a switch.
How to Select the Best Propane Generator For Your Needs
We all want different things from our generator. Some people, powering just a few low-wattage devices in an RV may not need the larger and more powerful models. However, if you want to be able to power your home then considerably more research is required. Air conditioning units, fridges and freezers, washing machines and dryers can all use a surprising amount of power.
For readers looking to purchase a propane generator as a back-up in cases of natural disaster, or where mains power is far from reliable, it therefore makes sense to do some simple math. Spend some time considering exactly what you’ll want to power, especially if the mains remains off for some days at a time (as is quite normal during storms).
Once you’ve made a list of the essentials spend some time assessing their power requirements. Look for stickers on the back or underside of white goods, consult your user manual or reach out to their customer service departments. From here you’ll be able to add up all the various things that are going to be drawing power from your generator so that you can confidently select a model that can cope with anything you throw at it.
Generally speaking the power outputs discussed in this guide are the “maximum” possible, but if less electricity is being drawn then you will hear your generator slowing down, reaching a lower power. This means that if in doubt it is generally wiser to buy a more powerful generator than you think you’ll need. In this way you’ll always have a little extra power to give if necessary, while you can feel confident that power won’t be wasted when the load is smaller than the maximum.