Last winter the DC area was hit by a few snow storms that left tens of thousands without power for several days. From what I heard on news radio (WTOP 103.5 in the metro area), recent thunder storms have resulted in more days of lost power than the snow storms. Apparently blackouts are a growing problem in the U.S., with even “non-disaster related outages affecting at least 50,000 consumers” up 124 percent in the past two decades.
Although last winter’s blackouts didn’t affect my household, I’ve decided to invest in a generator in case we face an extended loss of power. I don’t see this as primarily for a TEOTWAWKI type event (i.e. total collapse), but more for localized disasters for short relatively short periods of time – days up to a couple of weeks. Anything beyond a couple of weeks and my guess is it’s nearing time to bug out.
There are a lot of different options to be aware of when searching for generators and what you need will depend on where you are and how you plan to use the generator:
- Purpose: Will it be a smaller portable unit, or a whole home installed generator? For running appliances directly, or charging batteries that power your home through an inverter?
- Capacity (wattage): What items will you need to power (at the same time) in your home, RV, or other location? Are the appliances you’ll need to use gas or electric?
- Fuel: Primary choices are gasoline, diesel, propane, and natural gas. What do you already have? What can you easily obtain and store?
I’ve decided on a portable option that will be able to power some lighting (high efficiency bulbs), communications (internet/phone), the fridge in warm weather, and a few small appliances at one time. Because we rent, I will not install a switchover box to power the entire home, which would also connect a lot more items that would be needed, putting more of a load on the generator.
Adding up the wattage of the items I’d normally want to power at one time comes to 1,500 watts or less. Occasionally I may want to run some devices that pull up to 2,000-2,500 watts. From what I’ve read, generators do better with a lower load, and even fuel consumptions list running times based on half capacity. So I need something at least in the 3,000-4,000 watt range.
I did consider planning for bare bones eclectically service – a few lights, and small appliances only – in the 1,000 watt or less range, but rejected this. For not much more money a lot more capacity can be had, and you can do a small job with a larger generator, but you can’t do a big job with a small one.
For fuel my options are gasoline and propane; diesel generators tend to be cost prohibitive, and I don’t know if my next location will have natural gas available. However, there are a lot more options for gasoline generators and (currently) gasoline is easier to obtain. If I want to use propane or natural gas later, there are tri-fuel conversion kits available.
I haven’t purchased one yet, but it’s on the short list. Reviews at Amazon.com have convinced me that I don’t want the cheapest one of a certain wattage, just not worth the hassle of oil/fuel leaks and other malfunctions. I’ve mostly been looking at Amazon, but recently found this site that has a good selection with similar prices and mostly free shipping.
If you’re considering alternative power sources, see this site for information on generators, another for bike powered devices, and a howto for converting a lawnmower engine into a small generator.