Backup Power

Harbor Freight 800 Watt Portable Power Generator Review

For quite a while I've been wanting a portable power generator that we could use to power a few essential items during an extended power outage. Problem is, I haven't been willing to fork over the cash. Then I noticed that Harbor Freight has an 800 watt generator that currently retails for $149.95 but can frequently be had for much cheaper. In my case, my wife found a coupon for $89.95.

Now 800 watts isn't a whole lot of power; what I really want for a portable emergency power generator is something in the 3000 to 5000 watt range. But I reasoned that  800 watts of power beats the heck out of zero watts. So, after visiting the Harbor Freight website and reading the customer reviews for this generator, I decided to give it a try.

 

Unpacking and Setup

After unpacking the generator, the first thing I did was attach the handle. Next, I removed the spark plug that came with the unit and replaced it with an equivalent NGK spark plug. Why replace a brand new spark plug? Well, because several of the reviewers on the Harbor Freight website were not exactly thrilled with the performance of the stock Bonin spark plug, and reported that the generator ran much better after they replaced that plug with an equivalent NGK, Autolite or Champion spark plug. So I decided to heed the voices of experience and replace the plug. The equivalent spark plug part numbers are:

  • NGK: BP6ES
  • Champion: RN11YC
  • Autolite: 64

 

Fueling the Generator

This generator is powered by a two-cycle engine. This means that rather than filling the fuel tank with just gasoline, you need to fill it with a mixture of gasoline and two-cycle motor oil. The manufacturer's manual specifies a 50:1 ratio of unleaded gasoline to 2-cycle motor oil, and notes that the correct mixture can be obtained by mixing 2.5 ounces of 2-cycle oil to 1 gallon of gasoline.

NOTE: If you ever have to figure out for yourself how much 2-cycle oil to add to gasoline in order to obtain the correct ratio for a two cycle engine, don't sweat it, it's actually fairly simple. All you need to know is the required ratio, the quantity of gasoline you are adding the 2-cycle oil to, and that 1 gallon=128 ounces. Now divide the total quantity of gasoline - in ounces - by the ratio. The result is the number of ounces of 2-cycle oil you need to add to the gasoline. For example, I'm using a full one gallon gas can so I have about 128 ounces of gasoline, and this generator requires a 50:1 ratio of gasoline to 2-cycle oil. So I divide 128 by 50, and the result is about 2.5. So I need to add 2.5 ounces of 2-cycle oil to the gallon of gasoline to get a 50:1 ratio.

When I removed the fuel tank cap I noticed a couple of neat features. First, sitting inside the mouth of the fuel tank is a measuring cup for measuring out the proper amount of 2-cycle oil to be added to the gasoline:

 I removed the measuring cup and found that it actually sits inside of a fuel strainer that will filter out any debris that may fall into the tank during fueling:

 

I measured out the oil and added it to the gas can, shook the gas can several times to mix the oil and gasoline thoroughly, then filled up the generator gas tank.

 

Starting and Running the Generator

 Starting the generator is straightforward:

  • Turn the fuel switch to the "Open" position
  • Move the engine choke lever to the "Choke" position
  • Set the engine power switch to the "On" position
  • Pull the starter rope until the engine starts
  • After the engine warms up, move the choke lever to the "Run" position

I followed the steps above and the generator started on the third pull of the starter rope. The manual recommends that the generator be allowed to warm up for 3 minutes before connecting a load. The manual also states that the break-in period for the generator is 25 hours, and during this period the generator should not be operated at more than 75% of it's load limt (600w). With this in mind, I connected a 300w halogen work light to the unit for testing.

 

The generator ran a bit rough with no load connected, but as soon as I plugged in the 300w work light it settled down to a nice steady hum. While it's not whisper-quiet by any means, it's not terribly loud either. I wouldn't use it in a campground with other campers close by, but if I knew I was going someplace where I wouldn't be too close to other people, I would gladly take this generator along.

 

Overall Impressions

All-in-all, this is a pretty neat little generator. Among it's benefits:

  • Inexpensive (especially if you find a coupon)
  • small and lightweight
  • easy to start
  • not excessively loud

So what will this generator power? 800w certainly won't even come close to powering your whole house, but it will power a few things that could make your life a bit easier in an emergency (though it won't necessarily power all of them at once) The following is just a partial list:

  • lights
  • cell phone chargers
  • rechargeable lantern chargers
  • radio / weather radio
  • television
  • small refrigerators and freezers
  • fans
  • small electric heater on low power setting
  • blower on wood burning stove

Other owners have reported that they have used this generator to power full size refrigerators and freezers, laptop computers, amatueur radios, satellite television receivers, and small window air conditioning units (5000btu).

 

Conclusions

 There are other generators in the 800-1000w range that have more features and run more quietly than this Harbor Freight generator ... and they cost several hundred dollars more. And while I still plan to buy a larger generator eventually, this little generator gives me at least limited emergency power capabilty while I save up for a larger unit, and it gives me that capability at an attractive price.

 So if you're looking for an inexpensive, low-power, basic portable power generator for emergency use or use in remote locations where electric power isn't available, take a look at the  Harbor Freight 800w portable power generator. It just might fit your needs at a price that won't strain your bank account.

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