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Have you thought about adding a generator to your emergency preparations?  If you’re just getting started with emergency preparedness, you’ll want to start with more important things (like food and water), but at some point, you may wonder if a generator is right for you. In this post, I’ll cover some basic things you’ll want to consider as you decide whether or not to purchase a generator.

To begin with, generators are machines that create electricity. There are a variety of different types of generators, but all require some sort of fuel, and they produce electricity. Generators are used for a variety of purposes where electricity is desired but unavailable—people take generators camping with them, generators are used in some RVs, they are used at some types of construction work sites, and some homes and businesses have generators as a back up source of power.

To meet varying needs, generators come in a variety of sizes.  Smaller generators are usually portable, but they tend to be heavy, so they usually have wheels. Whole-house generators are very large and heavy, and they require special installation.

Here are the basic options for purchasing a generator:

  1. Buy a camp generator.  These are the smallest and the cheapest, and they run on gasoline.  They will not provide enough power to run your whole house, or even all of the “essential” electric items, but they will provide enough power so that you can do some things.  The cheapest generators are usually about $150-300 and they provide about 1000-2000 watts of power.
  2. Buy a medium portable generator.  These are larger, but they are still on wheels, and they still use gasoline.  With a medium portable generator, you can choose to run certain items, for instance, your refrigerator and furnace.  Medium portable generators really range in price and functionality; you can find something for $350-800 that will provide 3000-8000 watts, or you can spend up to $2000 for 10,000 watts.  Prices vary considerably depending on what brand and features (eg, size of the gas tank) that you purchase.
  3. Buy a whole house generator.  These are quite large, and they are installed.  They typically run on natural gas.  With a whole house generator, you can run all “essential” and/or non-essential electric items, including central air systems.  A basic whole-house generator will cost about $4500 plus installation, and it will provide enough power for the most important electric items (10kW); a large whole-house generator will cost about $15,000 plus installation, and it will power everything in a large house (48kW).

So, now that you have a basic idea of what the options are, here are some things to consider:

  • What items do you want or need to provide power to?  If you have a well with an electric pump, it may be important to power that.  For us, we store a lot of meat in our freezer, and we would want to prevent it from going bad in an emergency.  If you’re comfortable with “camping” for an emergency, the expense and hassle of having a generator may not be worthwhile.  How much power do you actually need for the items that you would want to power in an emergency?
  • What will you do without a generator?  If you only need a small amount of power, you may want to get a solar or crank charging system or store other things to compensate for loss of power.  For example, before we bought our generator, we planned to use propane to compensate for lack of electricity.  We have a propane heater and a propane cooktop, so in an emergency we would be inconvenienced—but not devastated—if we lost the use of our furnace.  Particularly for shorter emergencies, it isn’t the end of the world if you choose to use flashlights, lanterns, or candles for light.
  • Can you store fuel for a generator?  Unless you plan to purchase a whole-house generator, you’ll need to have fuel to power your generator. This means a couple different things: the actual amount of time that you’ll be able to use your generator in an emergency is limited by the amount of fuel that you have immediate access to in the emergency and, therefore, you’ll want to store fuel. Some medium portable generators run on propane, but they are more expensive.  Are you able to store fuel?  Is the amount of fuel that you can store worth the benefit that you would be able to get from a generator in an emergency?
  • How much can you afford to spend on a generator?  If money is not an important consideration for you, by all means, a large whole-house generator will be most convenient because it will allow you to live a very normal lifestyle even without power.  Fancy generators operate automatically, and they are available in “quiet” models.  On the other hand, if money is really tight, I think for most people, generators are not actually necessary, and other preparations can be made to compensate for lack of electricity.

I hope this information serves as a useful introduction to generators.  Comments are welcome—did you decide to go ahead and purchase a generator?  Why or why not?

6 Responses to “Do you need a generator?”

  1. Becky

    I would recommend getting the most quiet generator that you can afford, or figure out a way to sound proof the area around the generator without allowing the concentration of fumes to accumulate. This is why. I went to Jasper, TX following the landfall of Hurricane Rita to clear my aunt and uncle’s property. Besides experiencing more devastation than I could have ever imagined, this is what I observed. During the daylight hours I could hear chain saws, heavy equipment and the sounds of generators running. However, once nighttime fell, the chain saws and heavy equipment stopped running. So all I could hear throughout the night was the sparse buzzing of generators running while also seeing which homes were lit up. It was a very eerie feeling. It was also easy to figure out who had been “prepared”. Don’t be the house for “easy pickins”. Just food for thought.

  2. Zeeter

    There is a certain amount of “peace of mind” with having a generator. I know that we will be able to heat the house or have running water and have some normalcy if the SHTF or any other emergency. We purchased a generator a few years ago on sale. We also installed a transfer switch. Without the transfer switch, powering the well and heater would be difficult. Granted the “peace of mind” will only last as long as the fuel. In an emergency, figuring out a generator schedule would be important. We store about 20 gallons of gas. How long will that last? Good question!

  3. dave

    if you DO get a genny you best make sure it will put out the maximum wattage of the nearest girl with a blowdryer! imagine my shock while camping out with my 300 watt inverter as a buddies girlfriend walked her 1600watt wonder up to my setup & stated “oh look, Bugsy has power…!”

  4. Howard Bannister

    How come to comments on solar powered electrical generators i”ve seem them on the Jim Bakker christian television show. He also encourages people to be prepared for with storage food . They will send you a generator for $1,700.00 donation. It seems high but I don’t know the market. From there demonstrations they seem to work well. Solar seems to be the way to go, no need for a traditional fuel supply.

  5. Larry

    I have a whole house generator on propane. My tank will last about 14 days of continous running although I’ve never run it 24 hours straight. What peace of mind as we live out in the sticks and when a storm takes out the power it can be anything from a few hours to 5 or 6 days before we are back on the grid.