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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?