Power when there’s no power: Buying tips for your first generator
We all have had times when our power has gone out due to some natural or manmade disaster. If you have any sort of frozen food stored, you definitely want to prolong its freshness in addition to carrying on your life as normal as possible. So what do you do?
Getting a generator is one of many options. Lots of people have them and they are great for short term disturbances in the power grid such as storms, fires, etc. Additionally, people might use them for recreational use such as camping or industrial uses on construction sites. For the purposes of this article we are going to focus on generators as backup power solutions, especially since it’s now fall followed by winter and more severe weather is coming up.
Let’s talk about standard gas, diesel or propane generators (fossil fuels) first. These types of generators are the standard ones most people have had for years. The simple truth about them is that they change mechanical energy from the engine itself into electrical energy. The engines can be quite large and can power a majority if not all of a home for a reasonable cost. The main limiting factor is fuel. You can only store so much and when it’s gone, it’s gone! For that reason, a traditional generator is a great short term solution to power outages rather than something to rely on for long-term grid-down crises.
In selecting a traditional generator there are several factors to consider. How many appliances do I want to run? How much combined power will they take? How much do I want to spend? How much fuel do I need to store?
Where we live, we use central gas heat/electric air, city water and have a gas water heater so we would need a generator that produces 3000-5000 watts. If you have a well pump and/or larger furnace/cooling system, a 5000 to 6500 watt generator may be needed. Here’s a good cheat sheet I found at Home Depot to help you determine your family’s needs.
You can expect to drop $2000 – $5000 for a good quality generator and accessories. Of course the grand total is based on the brand you purchase, extra features and all that good stuff. You might be able to pick one up for less than that, but that will be based on your individual family needs. Also keep in mind like any combustion engine based equipment there will be maintenance involved such as oil changes, replacing worn parts, etc.
Another consideration you may want to think about is noise. If you live in an area that has noise ordinances, consider dropping some extra dollars for a quieter running generator. Also, if there is imminent danger of civil unrest, you want something that runs more quietly to draw less attention to your home or property if SHTF happens.
Lastly, regarding traditional type generators, fuel is a concern. These types of generators will only run if there is fuel. Once it runs out then no more power. Generally speaking the larger the generator, the more power consumption and therefore the more fuel needed. You can take advantage of the situation to some extent by using a battery setup to store some of the energy you produce into batteries. WWII submarines did the same thing by running diesel engines near the surface which charged batteries and allowed them to submerge for many hours and “run silent, run deep.”
On a different note a newer alternative to fossil fuel generators is solar generators/inverters. These work a little differently but offer some advantages over the traditional generators. They are only dependent on sunlight so if you live in a sunny state, like us here in Texas, they could be ideal for you. These generators/inverters make no noise and are just as easy to setup as traditional generators, possibly even more so. Unfortunately, at this writing they are more expensive than the traditional generators, but the trade-off is silence, no running out of fuel, and since there is no output of dangerous exhaust you can run them inside your home or outbuilding with no issues. With more people switching to solar, the prices are going down at a decent pace. There are no mechanical parts, but the stored sun energy is usually captured in batteries either internal to the unit or external ones. Keep in mind a solar model might cost you a couple thousand more dollars than a comparable traditional generator.
As a last thought you may want to consider running your appliances directly from your generator/ inverter or getting an electrician to install a switch into your existing home wiring. The switch might make it easier to change from the regular power grid to your own power. If you go this route, be sure to factor in an extra $500-$1000 for parts and labor for the install. A switch is not required, but if you have multiple outages a year, it might make life a little easier to go to backup power and makes the transition smoother and safer by shutting off the grid power to your home.
In summary a generator can be a good choice for backup power, just in case you need it. They come in all flavors, sizes, shapes, fuel sources, and prices to fit your needs. Hopefully, by reading my article you have a better understanding of the basics and it can open your eyes to some more research. Happy Prepping!
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