Portable Power

June 2, 2011
Filed under Feature Stories, Generators & Power

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Thanks to the modern portable generator, you don’t have to feel like you just started up a lawnmower when you’re in the campground. Today’s Compact Generators are incredibly smooth, quiet and fuel-efficient — and have some amazing capabilities. Honda brought portable generator technology into the 21st century with features like the fuel-sipping Eco-Throttle and inverter technology, which produced “clean” power for running computers and other sensitive equipment. But since the introduction of Honda’s popular EU Series inverter generators several years ago, competitors have emerged — not the least of which are Yamaha and Generac.

All three manufacturers offer 2,000-watt portable generators. Each boast of lightweight fuel efficiency, quiet operation and “clean” power generation. We decided to see how Honda’s popular EU2000i, Yamaha’s EF2000iS and Generac’s iX2000 compare to give you an idea of which generator may be right for you.

Parameters for weight, ease of use, sound level, fuel consumption and price were established. Each of the Packable Generators was filled to the manufacturers’ recommended top-off point with oil and fuel. We then used each generator to power a common 650-watt coffeemaker for 90 minutes. We chose this appliance for two reasons: 650 watts represents about one-third of each unit’s maximum output, which we felt was a reasonable average for a day’s use (running television, DVD player, short bursts of microwave use, etc.) and would give us a good idea of sound level and fuel consumption for a typical day. And coffeemakers cycle on and off, which mimics typical use as different loads are turned on and off.

We knew that this load alone would be considered too cushy for most of you, so after the coffeemaker test, we connected a 1,500-watt electric heater to each generator for one hour to create a steady load near the unit’s maximum output.

We measured the sound level of each unit using a digital decibel meter in both economy and normal settings, and under the static load created by the 1,500-watt heater to determine how loud these generators are when they’re really working. The goal here was not to duplicate the manufacturer’s decibel findings, but to compare how loud each unit was under the same conditions. To do this, we marked a spot on the garage floor (door open, of course) and placed the test subject on that mark, with the exhaust facing toward the open garage door. We then stood five feet behind and to the left of the generator on another marked spot to establish some consistency.

When each test run was complete, we used a measuring vessel marked in milliliters to refill the unit to the manufacturer’s recommended top-off point, which gave us a good idea of fuel consumption. Why not use a burette marked in CCs to measure fuel consumption? For one thing, it would be easy to inadvertently vary the top-off point (before or after testing) by several CCs, and at least a few CCs were lost fueling each unit. And does anyone really care if one unit is a few CCs more efficient in fuel consumption than another? In any case, we decided that, if the fuel consumption was that close, we would obtain a CC burette and run the test again.

Generac iX2000
The Generac iX2000 looks like something from a Buck Rogers movie. Fit and finish were good, and the side case can be removed with one large-head screw.
The Generac was the only unit in this test that came with its own oil and a handy funnel, which we used to fill the other test units with oil. The Generac was also the only unit in this test that required priming. Before starting, the cap must be switched to the “off” position and the integrated plunger pumped a few times. When we started the Generac, it was noticeably louder than the Honda and Yamaha; and pulling the cord yielded a mechanical noise. Once it started, it vibrated considerably more than the others.

The business end of the Generac iX2000
The Generac was heavier, louder and thirstier than the two others we tested. It can’t be operated in parallel like the others, and it’s only 49-state certified, so California residents won’t be able to purchase it. However, it’s also nearly half the price. Bottom line: If you’re on a budget, you don’t ever need to double up your generators, and if you don’t live in California, this might be an option to consider.

Honda EU2000i
The Honda's pull cord and starter switch are on one side.
Honda was first to bring inverter technology to super-quiet, fuel-efficient portable generators, and campers haven’t been able to get enough of them since. We found the Honda EU2000i had a narrow fuel opening, which could make fueling a time-consuming process. Rush the job, and fuel can sputter out of the top and down the side of the unit. Our California model also had a tethered cap, and the tether was too short, so half the time the cap was in the way.

The control panel and power outlets are on one end of the Honda EU2000i generator.
The Honda is easy to access for service, with only one screw holding the engine cover on. And, Honda cleverly made it a large screw head, which you can tighten or loosen with a coin or key if you don’t have tools handy. It also requires the fewest steps to start, which may not sound like a big deal until you’re trying to remember how to get it going outside in the cold wind. And, of course, the Honda is wonderfully quiet and runs smooth as silk.

Its control panel is well-organized and offers two 120-volt AC outlets, a parallel power outlet and 12-volt DC outlet.

Yamaha EF2000iS
The Yamaha was the best-looking generator in our test, and the most compact.
The Yamaha was an attractive unit with a bright chrome ring around the starter. If the competition had been for best-dressed generator, the Yamaha would have won hands down — but this unit also worked as good as it looked. The Yamaha had a wide fuel neck, making refueling easy, and it had a built-in fuel gauge (the only one in this test so equipped). The curb weight was the same as the Honda. And it was slightly quieter at idle, just as smooth and more fuel-efficient than the Honda.

All the controls on the Yamaha are in one convenient location.
Yamaha was the only generator in our test with a fuel petcock, which meant we could turn off fuel flow to the carburetor. This is a clever feature that allows you to store the generator for extended periods without fear of gumming the carburetor with old fuel. After removing fuel from the fuel tank, the petcock is switched to “off” and the engine is run until it is out of fuel.

Other Yamaha features we appreciated included a gear-driven camshaft, as opposed to the rubber belt of the Honda, and a 500-hour emission compliance lifetime, which is twice that of the Honda’s.

The only improvement we would make is to the engine cover. It uses two small screws that require a screwdriver to remove. We would prefer larger, easier to remove fasteners like the Honda cover has.

The Generac is a bargain for those who need one, and the Honda is a great generator and worthy of anyone’s investment, but in our opinion, the Yamaha offers a little more for your money when it comes to buying portable power.

To see how two of these generators worked together, check out “Parallel Operation.”

What is an Inverter Generator?
An inverter generator works by generating “raw” (unconditioned) AC power, which it converts into DC power, then “inverts” back to AC power. In the process, the unit’s inverter cleans and stabilizes the power, creating stable, consistent current that is suitable for use in sensitive electronics such as computers. A standard (non-inverter) generator is subject to fluctuations in voltage that, while not harmful to things like lights and radios, can wreak havoc on high-tech devices.

Engine: 127cc OHV
Fuel Capacity: 1.0 gal
Dimensions (L x W x H): 22″ x 12″ x 18″
Curb weight: 56 lbs.
Starting procedure: Open fuel valve, close cap vent, prime fuel system with integral plunger, open fuel tank vent, engage choke, pull starter cord
Sound levels (Db): Economy mode, 78.6; normal mode, 80.5; 1,500-watt load, 82.3.
Fuel consumption: 1,200 ml
MSRP: $681
Warranty (residential): Two years
The good: Nearly half the price of its competition; comes with oil and funnel
The bad: Heavy, loud, rough, thirsty, not 50-state legal, can’t be used in parallel

Engine: 98.5 cc OHC
Fuel Capacity: 0.95 gal
Dimensions (L x W x H): 20.2″ x 11.4″ x 16.7″
Curb weight: 50 lbs.
Starting procedure: Turn fuel cap to on; activate choke; turn engine switch to on; pull starter cord
Sound levels (Db): Economy mode, 70.3; normal mode, 78.3; 1,500-watt load, 78.5.
Fuel consumption: 950 ml
MSRP: $1150
Warranty: Three years
The good: Quiet and reliable, features innovations such as Eco-Throttle, inverter technology and parallel operation, easy to service
The bad: Difficult to fuel, sometimes stubborn to start

Engine: 79cc OHV
Fuel Capacity: 1.11 gal
Dimensions (L x W x H): 13.3″ x 11.0″ x 17.9″
Curb weight: 50 lbs.
Starting procedure: Turn fuel cap to on; activate choke; turn engine switch to on; pull starter cord
Sound levels (Db): Economy mode, 70.3; normal mode, 78.3; 1,500-watt load, 78.5.
Fuel consumption: 950 ml
Price: $1,099
Warranty: Three years
The good: Great looking, easy to start, quiet, integral fuel gauge
The bad: Engine cover requires screwdriver to remove

888/436-3722; generac.com

American Honda, Power Equipment Division
770/497-6400; hondapowerequipment.com

Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA
800/962-7926; yamaha-motor.com

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