Questions to ask before choosing a generator

Questions to ask before choosing a generatorIf faced with a disaster, people will wait until the last minute to get a generator for their home and most of them think that anything will do. Last year’s blizzard showed us how quickly people will change their mind and how choosing a generator for your home becomes an important survival task. 

The market is flooded with all types of generators and yet, when a storm hits a certain area it seems that generators are nowhere to be found. Have you wondered why this is happening? According to retail stores, most people buy a generator before a disaster not because they don’t own one, but because they own the wrong type. As I’ve found out years ago, choosing the right generator for your home is no easy task and it requires a little research. This article is meant to help those struggling to find the right generator for their home and hopefully it answers all the questions you might have regarding this topic.

When choosing a generator for an emergency situation, make sure you have the answer for all the questions listed below.

What size generator do you need?

For some, this can be a tricky question and they need to first figure out what appliances they need to operate during an emergency. While using a generator to power all sorts of devices to pass the time might provide you with the proper comfort to overcome a crisis, the reality is that you can live without many of those devices. However, you won’t be able to live for long without heating your home. Once you figure out what type of devices you need to power, you have to calculate how many watts it will take to run each piece of equipment. Add up the wattage requirements for each piece of equipment on your list and it will tell you what size of generators you will need.

This is a rather easy task and in order to find out how many watts an appliance uses you just need to look on the silver tag on the back.  Some labels will list the amp such as 15A or 15 Amps. If that is the case you need to multiply that number by the voltage. In the United States the voltage can vary between 110 and 120. As a quick example, if you have a 110 volt service and an appliance that uses 11 amp, multiply 110 Volts by 11A. It will give you 1201 watts. Keep in mind that if your appliance has a motor, you will need to multiply the watts by 3 to get the power needed to start and run that appliance.

There are appliances with reactive loads (air conditioner, circular saw, blender, etc.) and restive loads (light bulbs, electric burners, television sets, etc.) Reactive loads take three times the wattage to start.

Suggested reading: Essential tips to keep you alive when the power grid goes down

When do you choose a generator?

If you established what type of appliances you want/need to run and once you know how many ways of power you will need is time to decide if you go with an inverter or a generator.

In case you need to power appliances to play videos for your kids or music on the stereo system for 2 or 3 hours, it is better if you go with an inverter/deep cycle battery system. However, if your power necessities require more than 1,000 watts and you need to operate your appliances for more than 3 to 4 hours, you should definitely chose a generator.

What type of generator to use for my computer?

Computers need a generator with a low harmonic distortion rating. Brushless generators are better suited for computers than brush generators. Just to be on the safe side, make sure you buy a good surge protector and install it in the line somewhere between the generator and your computer.

Should I go with a standby or portable generator?

This really depends on your long-term survival plans and if you plan on bugging in or bugging out. A standby generator is usually permanently or semi-permanently mounted on a pad. It turns on automatically when the utility power goes off and it supports the entire load. On the other hand, a portable generator needs to be turned on manually and as an advantage; it can be moved from one location to another.

What is the difference between gas and diesel generators?

In general diesel generators are much more expensive than gasoline generators because they have better fuel efficiency and a longer engine life. The downside is that these types of generators smell, they make a lot of noise and they emit smoke.

Gasoline generators are the most common generators in use, especially the smaller models. Most households in the United States have one or two gasoline generators and there are also those who use propane generators as an alternative to gasoline generators.

Recommended reading: Fuel Type options for Emergency Preparedness

How much fuel does a generator use?

The common sense rule is that the bigger the generator, the more fuel it will use. However, most manufactures advertise the use of one gallon of fuel per hour, more or less.

How much do generators cost?

The price depends on various factors, but usually the size of the generator and whether it uses gasoline, diesel, or propane is what dictates the price. There are low end models that produce the same amount of power as high end models, but they don’t last as long and they make a lot of noise. You will need to use a car muffler or any other trick to silence it during a crisis event if you need to stay under the radar. They can cost everywhere between a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.emp334

When do you buy a generator?

Certainly not before a blizzard is heading your way because you will buy it at a higher price and due to the rush of the moment you might end up buying the wrong type of generator. Choosing a generator for your home should be a preparedness task, regardless the reasons behind it. You should check out various models and get the one that fits your budget. You can also take advantage of sales and make a whishlist with the model you want.

What to look for in a generator?

Here are some features that you should consider when choosing a generator for your home:

  • An overhead valve engine for longer life and quieter operation
  • An auto idle control to reduce noise level and fuel consumption
  • A large fuel tank. The larger the tank the longer the power will last.
  • A low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage.
  • A wheel kit. There are generators larger than 3,000 Watts that can weigh more than 100 pounds. If you need to move it around without breaking your back, a wheel kit is a must.

Other Types of Generators available on the market

If fuel is a concern for you and if you think that you need another alternative choosing a generator like the ones listed below might help you in the long run:

  1. Solar Generators – although most of the solar generators will work for small loads such as lights, small power tools and computers, there are also some interesting alternatives. There are now companies manufacturing solar generators that can provide power for small army camps.
  2. Biogas Generators – these ingenious generators work by utilizing the waste from your home and they were designed to solve the garbage dump problems of third world countries. Smaller scale models can be built for your home. Find out more.
  3. Wind Generators — these costs a lot more money than their gasoline-powered counterparts. But they don’t require any fuel and you can even build them yourself if you have the right knowledge. There are all sorts of DIY projects and books available on the internet, teaching you how to make your own.
  4. Hydro Generators – just like the wind generators, the costs for this types of generators can raise pretty high, but as long as you have a running water source, you won’t have to worry about needing fuel.

Choosing a generator for your home may seem tricky at first, but if you have all the right info it will become just another shopping trip that you need to make. If you consider buying a generator don’t wait until there’s a pressing reason to do so and get one in advance. It will save you the headache of the last minute shopping spree.

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3 thoughts on “Questions to ask before choosing a generator

  1. Another option, if you have a tractor, is a Power Take-off (PTO) generator that attaches to the PTO on your tractor. I would recommend that you use the smallest generator that will meet your needs. The larger a unit is the more fuel it uses. Propane is a good choice because the fuel has a very long storage life. Gas and Diesel, if treated, will last a couple of years. PRI-G and PRI-D are the best fuel preservatives I’ve found.

  2. And for the love of all that is holy! Put engine oil in them the minute you get it home from the store. Last big ice storm around here my local Lowes had 8 big nice gennies sitting in a stack at return counter. Clerk told me the buffoon purchasers had fired them up without putting oil in. Blew the motors and brought them back as defective for return. Got so bad lowes put up a “no return on generators” sign at every entrance to the store. The depths of human stupidity never cease to amaze.

  3. Having a portable generator really helps during dire situations. I remember when we where in the mountains during a holiday trip and snow was falling hard outside and it was impossible to gather wood. Gladly, we had a portable generator and it probably was the deciding factor if we were to make it out alive that night.

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