The short answer: Yamaha EF2200iS 2200 Watt Inverter Generator. Read on to see why this is my pick.
The first question you may be asking is, what is a website in the solar power niche doing discussing a gas generator? Truth is, there is a place for the distillate fuel backup generator whether you are tied to the national power grid, produce your own power from solar or wind, or just rely on your vehicle for power generation.
A small inverter generator is just another tool in your chest for those rainy weeks when you just aren't producing enough solar output to fully charge the batteries. Or, God forbid, you lose your main inverter or a main battery cell, while camping out in the middle of nowhere.
Should you need your generator only every so often, or even if you fire it up only to check it out for readiness reasons, you will take comfort in knowing you have planned for most any power contingency, and may even start to feel a little cocky about your ability to deal with the uncertainties of off-grid living.
Generators come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and my experience with them covers from the small portable, 1000 watt light duty models up to the whole home backup variety. I want to shed a little light on what I feel is the best size and capability for today's off-grid camper or cabin, as a backup generator.
Let me also qualify this discussion by stating that I believe gas generators make poor primary power systems, and should be thought of as a backup power source only. This is due to several reasons including noise, fumes, fuel logistics etc.
However, when the chips are down, the weather is nasty or scary, and you've GOT to have power, your small gas generator will save the day, or night.
Why the EF2200iS ?
I have owned generators from Sears, Generac, Champion, & Yamaha, among others. My Yamaha has survived for 15 years with virtually no maintenance and despite substantial abuse. Let me explain…
I purchased my Yamaha about 15 years ago in anticipation of an especially active Florida hurricane season. Anybody living in Florida in 2004 will remember what a crazy year that was with 4 hurricanes and a 5th almost-hurricane hitting the state.
It seemed all summer like you would prepare for the storm one week, be in the storm the next, recover from the storm the following week, then go right back to preparing for the next storm. It began to feel routine, which is crazy. Trust me, you don't want 100 MPH winds blowing through your yard.
So, I ordered the Yamaha generator as a backup to my whole home generator. It did get extensive use that summer, mostly to keep fans running to help cool a bedroom. But really it became a convenient way to power my electric chainsaw in subsequent months and years.
Then What Happened?
One day, a young couple in an old RV appeared on an adjacent property, which happens to be owned by a Baptist church. The couple and their two dogs, were related to a church employee, and they had no real visible means of support, so, long story short, we took them under our proverbial wing. This included the unlimited use of the Yamaha generator for as long as they needed it.
This turned out to be yet another in a series of poor decisions on my part. Somehow, I was told, there was some mishap which caused most of the oil to spill out of the Yamaha, and for weeks (weeks!) it would run and suddenly stop due to its low oil shutdown. Apparently, they even tried to disable the low oil sensor but were unable. Still, the constant pulling on the coil starter couldn't have been good for it.
When I stopped by to check on them and realized what was happening, I gently admonished them for the oil situation and made sure to deliver what they needed. Another big mistake!
They and my generator were several acres away and out of earshot. But weeks later when they were leaving and the Yamaha was returned to me, the first thing I noticed was that it looked like it had been dragged down the road behind a vehicle. The panels were loose, screws missing, and just had the look of abuse. I tipped it on its side and there was oil. It was very difficult to pull start and it ran rough. Reluctant and rough is the only way to describe it.
I decided to take it to my local Yamaha dealer and let them go through it and perhaps tune it up. The next day they called to ask me why I had put so much oil in it?! Apparently, it had been lain on its side and filled completely up with oil. Wildly overfilled, which caused much higher internal pressures and really should have damaged or destroyed the little engine. Instead, it was run that way for weeks.
So, I retrieved the generator, kicked myself some more, then stuck it in my shop and tried to forget the whole episode and didn't touch it again for about 3 years! Not even to start it or empty the gas tank. Just packed it away and forgot about it.
One day, I needed power at the back of my (then) 6 acre property and pulled out the little Yamaha. The fuel in the tank had turned a strange color and also smelled funny. At least I ran it out of gas before neglecting it. After checking the oil, and replacing the gas, I pulled the cord 3 or 4 times and it sputtered to life. Once warmed up, it ran smoothly and has been in service ever since – which is, as I write this, 13 years later.
I have never changed its spark plug or any other component. I always made sure it had oil and fresh gas, and the damn thing continues to work for me despite 15 years and some measured stupidity along the way. It is quiet, doesn't smoke, and in eco-mode, throttles itself down until a load is applied and basically becomes a background ‘hum'.
There may be other generators on the market that could have survived the torture test mine was subjected to that summer, but I believe you would have to pay much more than I did for mine to find it. I am convinced that the build quality of my Yamaha, and of Yamaha products in general can mean the difference between success and failure in the field. It sure did for me.
What I Like About the EF2200iS Inverter Generator
Compairing the Yamaha EF2200iS to the Honda EU2200iTA1 (photo shows the similar 2000i) you will find some interesting differences. Let me say here that either model will perform admirably and are very similar in price. I would probably be just as happy with the Honda as far as reliability is concerned, however, the Yamaha has a couple of advantages.
First is the Yamaha's larger fuel tank (1.24 gal vs .95 gal) and smaller motor (79cc vs 121cc) . Their continuous operation at 1/4 power rating (so light load), definitely favors the Yamaha. Its 10.5 hour run time is significantly better than the Honda's 8.5 hours. 25% better!
The Yamaha also features a very easy to see-at-a-glance fuel gauge, which is missing on the Honda. I also like the easy ‘Carb Drain' feature on the Yamaha which allows the easy clearing of the carburetor for storage.
Other little touches such as the tool-less access panel of the Yamaha, again not found on the Honda, gives the impression that the Yamaha is a more modern, more evolved design and all things considered, more than holds its own against the more popular Honda.
Both have the features desired by the RV'er including the ability to connect to similar generators via parallel cable, 30 amp RV-type plug, super quiet (under 60 DB) so about the level of your average background music.
Both are around 50 pounds and (55 lbs Yamaha and 51 lbs Honda), provide 1800 watts continuous and 2200 watt surge, AC power. When it comes to the inverter, the differences are a little murky.
Both appear to produce modified sine wave, microprocessor controlled power. The Yamaha literature clearly states that it employs Pulse Width Modulation to smooth out the wave and reduce the power loss inherent in a square wave inverter.
The Honda talks about micro processing and power that is literally “Clean enough” to run the most sensitive electronic equipment. So I am left to assume it also uses some form of PWM to deliver a smoothed out, simulated sine wave power output.
This is where you want to be careful. The best time to buy a generator is when you don't need one and can really shop for the best current price. When I bought my Yamaha, a hurricane was bearing down and I had to reach out to Oklahoma with a credit card, and meet a tractor trailer out on the highway to take delivery of it.
Suffice-it-to-say it was a sellers market back then!
This is an extremely popular size category in the generator market so anytime a vendor runs a sale they tend to quickly run out of stock.
I have noticed the Honda routinely being sold for over the MSRP, which is insane.
Amazon sometimes has them at about the same price – $1000 – $1100 for either one, but I have seen the Honda go for as much as $1600 – $1700. You really need to do your homework here to avoid overpaying, especially if you're a die-hard Honda fan.
At the same or similar price, both the Yamaha and Honda are up to the task and will very likely save you money over their lifetime when compared to a knock-off generator costing half as much initially, but which lives a far shorter life.
The Honda is just slightly lighter, slightly quieter, slightly smaller than the Yamaha, but those differences are so minor that the design advantages of the Yamaha more than make up for that and, in my opinion, make the Blue Gen a better choice than the Red Gen.
For a small portable generator in the 2000 watt class, my vote goes to the Yamaha 2200iS. It doesn't blow the Honda out of the water so to speak, but I do believe its more modern, more ergonomic design make it the better value.
Whatever you go with, I would be careful to whom you loan it out!