A year ago Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. That island nation is still trying to recover. For a nation already struggling with economic collapse, their oh-so-fragile electrical grid was destroyed and still hasn’t been fully restored. Granted chaotic political factors may have contributed to their woes, but the bottom line is still many areas are without electrical service one year later.
Those of us living elsewhere in our great nation are rarely without electrical service. Folks who recently found themselves in the path of Hurricane Florence discovered dozens of electrical service trucks from all over the country parked in local motel and Wal-Mart parking lots. In an effort to minimize downtime of electrical power the federal government ordered a massive pre-staging of workers and equipment days before the storm was predicted to make landfall. Still, thousands of folks had to deal with outages for several days.
The solution for many is to buy a portable generator. A generator is likely one of the most expensive investments you will make as a prepper, therefore it is important you choose wisely. First of all decide if there really is a need. Buying a 9000 watt generator to keep your TV, Xbox, and wifi running is a nice plan, but those really aren’t necessities. For some folks, using a portable generator (gen-set) to pump water out of the well might rank as a higher priority. For me personally, I bought a half beef not long ago and would prefer not to lose it just because I can’t keep it frozen. Then there is the person who needs to get their car out and that garage door opener needs electricity to operate. (Although most modern units have a battery backup system.) Most refrigerators use electricity and many consider it a “need” to keep their food cold.
Do your research, add up the wattage you absolutely need. Then make your decision. Don’t forget to read the reviews of units that catch your interest. One of the best generator buying guides is on Northern Tool & Equipment’s website. According to Northern Tool, here is a list of questions you should ask yourself:
What is the generator’s wattage capacity and will it support your needs, including startup surge power required by some equipment?
Does the generator have enough outlets to plug in all of the items you want to power?
How noisy is the generator? Are there noise restrictions in your neighborhood?
What type of fuel does it use?
How large is the fuel tank and how many hours of operation will it provide?
Is the generator easy to move around? Does it have built-in wheels and handles for portability?
What accessories will I need to run the generator (fuel, heavy-duty extension cords, transfer switch)?
These are all qualifiers you need to discuss before you make the plunge. Also don’t forget to look for bargains on Craigslist (or similar websites), garage sales or local shopper ads. Now for the downside; Generators take fuel. Consider how you’re going to store that much fuel. Today’s ethanol-infused gasoline is prone to attracting water and water can diminish the quality of your gasoline. Some folks use non-ethanol gasoline and set it aside solely for their generator. Others use products such as Sta-bil which can be used to extend the life of stored gasoline.
There are a few rules about generator use. Never use it indoors. That seems like an overly cautious warning, but every year someone parks their generator in their garage, closes the door and there’s a disaster. Carbon monoxide from a generator is just as deadly as from your car. Then there’s the guy that figured out if he wired a male plug on both ends of an extension cord, he could power up his whole house. Bad idea! That can overload your home’s circuits, and possibly kill a lineman miles away working on what he thinks is a dead line.
Do your research, read the reviews and make a decision based on your need, not some advertisers slick campaign. Or you can email your questions and comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is a retired Postmaster and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us,” available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and other online booksellers.