The best thing about generators is they give us the ability to function with some normalcy when the electricity fails. Generator owners exude a certain smugness knowing they can still function, to a degree, when all others have just been relegated to the stone age. The generator owners I know don’t realize they’re being smug, nor do they purposely conduct themselves with an air of superiority, but it’s there. Trust me.
If you have been considering joining this exclusive club of generator owners, first ask yourself some questions. What do I plan to do with it? Am I going to just power up my travel trailer when I’m camping or do I intend to provide electricity for my home when the power goes out?
The power company does an amazing job of keeping the electricity flowing, especially during our winter wind and rain storms. How those lines stay attached to their poles and keep the juice running is a marvel of engineering. But we all know there are still times when things happen and service is interrupted. Sometimes things get fixed right away and sometimes it’s days before the lights come back on. It’s those times when it takes more than a day or so that you need a generator. You may need to pump water out of your well, keep your refrigerator and freezer cold, or in some cases open your garage door.
Here are some things to keep in mind. Unless you’re in the position to spend upwards of $15,000 for a permanently mounted unit, don’t plan to energize your whole house. A smaller, portable unit of 3500 watt capacity will handle your fridge, freezer, a few lights and your TV. The going cost for a unit like that will be in the $500 range. The bigger the wattage output, the more the unit will handle. Like everything else, you get what you pay for. Avoid the $99.00 2-cycle unit. It will probably do more damage (like to your computer or to your $2000 flat-screen TV) than it does good. A high quality surge suppressor is a really good bit of insurance for your delicate electronics.
There are some nice features offered on today’s units. Electric start will save your back, muscle strain and a whole lot of physical energy. Some generators are designed to run on two different fuels. The ones I’ve seen will use either gasoline or propane. Very handy since propane will store longer than gasoline. Some are diesel powered and yet some will run off natural gas. The natural gas version must be plumbed into the natural gas supply which could become interrupted during an earthquake or other disaster. And finally, the wheel kit. The wheel was invented to avoid all the lugging, dragging and even adult language when it comes to putting your generator in it’s place. Get wheels.
The main drawback with generators; they require fuel. Don’t plan on using your generator as a long-term solution. Even running the unit only a few hours a day for more than a week, you’d need to store more stabilized fuel than most budgets allow. Not to mention the inherent dangers of storing gasoline. Speaking of gasoline, today’s ethanol-infused product presents its own problem. Ethanol naturally attracts water, thus dramatically shortening the storage life of gasoline. A generator sitting idle for months on end will almost surely fail to start because of bad gasoline. The solution is to purchase non-ethanol gas (at a much higher price) or using a product such as Sta-Bil to keep fuel fresh for 12 months or longer.
A very good resource for information is the Generator Buyer’s Guide at Northern Tool & Equipment’s website. They’ve got answers for your generator questions. They also offer a huge inventory of brand-name generators.
As always send your comments or questions to email@example.com. Previous columns are on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is the Postmaster in Bandon, Oregon, and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us”.