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Do You Really Need that Generator?

As I write this article, I have a guy out gutting the old motorhome and it ‘s  Honda generator.  We are going to keep the generator, but with great hesitation.  The most likely emergency scenario for us would be an hurricane.  I have been through my share.  Both with a generator and without.

When I lived in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Hortense made a visit and we were without power for a week in the mountains.  There was no television or video games during that time, but other than that, life was pretty much the same.  Water was plentiful in the buckets we put under the roof to collect the deluge.  That was for flushing and the cistern worked as it always did with the flat roof solar water heaters working fine as soon as the clouds had moved on.  Oh we HAD to use the candles and kerosene lamps instead of lights and the kids did more monopoly and card games than usual.  It was normal to cook out on the propane grill.  We had plenty of feed for the animals and ourselves and we did quite well.

In 2006, Hurricanes Frances (Sept. 8-10), Ivan (Sept. 17-19) and Jeanne (Sept. 27- 28) hit our small farm in Pennsylvania and again I found myself without electricity for a week.  We had a freezer full of food and not much ability to get out due to downed trees or flooding.  Close-by friends came on the fourth day of no lights with their generator to save the freezer food.  We bought a generator after that experience.

Here are my concerns about having a generator in harsh emergencies: They get stolen.  They have to be housed when there is not an emergency.  They need gasoline and gasoline goes bad. They are loud and an obvious arrow as to who has a generator.  They need to be serviced and in top shape in time for the emergency. They emit carbon dioxide.

My feeling is that it is a luxury, not a necessity, unless you have a freezer full of food.  I don’t keep a large quantity of frozen food now, mostly because of that Pennsylvanian hurricane experience.  If we had a bugout location out in the middle of nowhere, it would be different.  If I had someone who needed electricity to survive I might reconsider it.  I am leaning more and more towards getting off off-grid.  I am learning to live with more manual devices that don’t depend on electricity to run.  Not living in horse and buggy days necessarily, just having and using things like knives instead of food processors, a whip instead of hand beater, a rake instead of leaf blower, a treadle sewing machine, that sort of thing.  We use solar for a few things, like small fans and heating water.  But re-thinking electricity has led me to change what I used to see as necessities.  Living off off-grid is considering a life-style which millions have lived not that long ago.

The difference between the two homes was that one was set up better to do without electricity.  Puerto Ricans had helped us develop a better sense of living off the grid than we did in Pennsylvania.  With a husband who has spent his life working in the electricity business, (nuclear power instrumentation and controls engineer), listen to us when we tell you that the grid may not always be at the ready when you flick a switch.  If you think that a generator should be part of your preps, then get one that will do the job you need it to do but keep in mind that there is much more needed than buying that piece of machinery.

Questions to ask yourself are:

1. Do you have all the things that machine will need including extension cords, gas, oil, spark plugs?

2. Do you have it housed so it will not be exposed to the elements and do you have the needed place for it to run keeping the exhaust fumes in mind?

3. Do you know how to maintain it or fix it should it quit running?

4. What will you do about people knowing that you have it in an emergency?  The sound will direct them to you.  Are you prepared to share or offer hospitality if the emergency is longer in duration?  Or will you need to defend that generator?

5. Finally, what do you have that needs electricity that cannot be remedied in other ways?

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29 Comments on "Do You Really Need that Generator?"

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  1. If I might make one point on your premise that generators need gas and gas goes bad.  We all have propane grills.  It doesn’t cost a lot to have a few extra propane bottles.  They are easy and safe to store.  And best of all, there are some really good portable propane powered generators.  

    The other option is a diesel powered generator.  Diesel stores for a longer period of time than gas. Is safer to store and there are small, portable diesel generators too.

    • Ranger says:

      The problem with diesel is that like here in California you can only get bio-diesel. With that you get algae growing in your storage tanks wethere it be on the generator or in storage cans. Propane powered generators just use up an enormous amount of propane.
      I have a very quite (85 db) Honda 2000I which only uses about a gallon per 8 to 12 hours of operating time. It ll deoends on the load put on it. If you only run it for a couple of hours twice a day you can charge all types of electronic devices including 12 volt batteries. But for my money I say you cannot beat a solar panel system tied into two 12 volt deep cell batteries with an inverter. No noise and can power a 12 volt system for hours and hours per day even with the use of a small TV. I will give propane one atta boy on one thing and that is for running a RV type refrigerator. Turn it on twice a day for two hours and you can maintain a cool storage enviroment for medicines and what not. You won’t use a 1/4 gallon per day of propane doing this. Very cost effective and propane does not go bad, at least that I ever heard of.

  2. Very true. It is a decision each of us will need to make. Knowing the pros and cons equals what these articles are all about.

    Thanks for leaving the comment!

  3. annie says:

    I feel we need a gen. A small freezer that I try to keep rotated by canning the meats the work well. Right now the frig is neede for insulin. We have a diesel military one on wheels,locked up tight,a propane one in the garage,and 3 gas jobs.The frig in the rv will be the primary with a lot of propane for back up,the diesel for the well,to keep the freezer cold,(hopefully 1 hr.every two days)and the 550 gal. water tank full.I pray I never need any of these things to survive.

    But I still try to keep my tanks full and my powder dry.

    • TheDude says:

      So, I just left a comment on the other article about this – for you folks looking to secure your fridge or freezer and maybe watch a little TV – go look at the JASPak Solar Generator. We could not be more satisfied. This unit will run hard even wothout the solar panel and when the panel is hooked up – it recharges the unit in hours! The panel is 300 watts and averages about 240 watts output. Fantastic generator and does exactly what it says it will do. Just sharing…

  4. You beat me to that one – I was considering using it in my next What NOT to Prep article. I hadn’t made up my mind though what stance I was going to take. For all of the reasons you listed we really aren’t planning on depending on a generator. We lack adequate fuel storage, but we are considering buying a propane conversion for the generator we have now, we have lots of propane. But STILL you run into the same problems of running out of fuel. When its gone – its gone. If we haven’t recovered yet you will then be forced to a plan B. Why not have that plan B up and running now? 

    If we only used propane for cooking and heating water, and some supplemental light it will last us a very long time. If we have to use it for power, it will last us half that time. If we can have power from wind or solar we don’t have to tap into our precious propane supply. 

    But it is handy for short term emergencies. Living out in the country its not uncommon for us to lose power during storms – we are not a high priority for the power company to get back up because of the low population and lack of commerce out here so it could be a week before we have power again. A generator has come in handy in those situations. 

    Here is a story I heard of taking place in Seattle this last winter:
    A guy has a spare generator and mentions it off hand to his neighbor one day in passing that he really ought to sell it to make the wife happy. 9 months later there is an Ice Storm and parts of Seattle go without power for days. Said neighbor, whom he has not heard from in quite sometime, shows up on the second day without power demanding his “spare” generator. After all they have one and his family has none, the stores are sold out. He literally would not leave without the generator.

    We should all keep that in mind when run our toys or talk about them. 

    • kelley says:

      he would have left if he was looking down the barrel of your trusty friend and/or they both knew the end was not now so sell at a large premium

  5. Sasha says:

    You made some great points. We decided not to have a freezer full of food for that reason. We do have a tri-fuel generator, it is housed outside under the deck, behind some fencing, with a lock and key. The gas is stored with Sta-bil, (I think that’s how you spell it) and we rotate it every few months. The generator house has some sound-proofing and we plan to get more. You can still hear it some, but not near as much as before we housed it. Oh . .. I put a “Danger High Voltage” sign on it. Under that, it says solar powered electrical. (I’m tempted to put “try it — you’ll fry it under that!) We’ll string some eletrical wires around just for show. It’s too heavy for one person to carry off and we’ll put an alarm on the door as well. Of course nothing is fool proof . . .
    We have a cooler to use short term if we lose the fridge, then it will be propane and charcoal for cooking. Hopefully the woodstove will be in before that. Sadly, that will draw people as well, so we’ll just have to burn at night.

  6. 9thID says:

    My 2 cents on propane generators:
    – Fuel stores indefinitely.
    – Quieter than most gas/diesel generators.
    – Emits less toxic fumes.
    – Less maintenance and easier starting than gasoline.
    This is why many indoor forklifts and auto-start generator systems run on propane.
    Bonus – many country folk use bulk propane for heating and/or cooking, and we have adapted our system to run off the main tank if we run out of bottled propane.

    • I appreciate your 2 cents. Since I have that one they pulled out of the motorhome, it will run on propane, should we need it. We do have a large propane tank at the big house that was for running the spa. Most years it sat empty, especially after putting in the solar heating, but it might be worth investing a fill.

  7. Good point Stephanie (and sorry I beat you to the story). One of the good things about prepping in the urbans, is that we are on the hospital circuit and seldom go without electricity. I am more concerned about a long time emergency and the rising cost of electricity at this point in the “game”.

  8. mamahen says:

    Good article. I was just talking to my hubby about possibly buying a generator. I hadn’t yet looked into them, so now I know. Thanks. Although we aren’t rural, we do live in a small community that is very prone to hurricanes. I think the only reason I would want one now, is for the deep freeze we keep filled at all times. Something eles to consider is researching the way Amish live without electricity, ( they do use generators from time to time) but if they can live everyday by mechanical means, the rest of us should certainly learn how to survive an emergency by doing so.

  9. Thanks Mamahen! I had many Amish neighbors when I lived in Pennsylvania. They keep to themselves, of course but I traded with them, buying fruit and vegetables that I didn’t grow. They considedered me quite an oddity. I was english (not Amish) and I canned and preserved like they did. I was a grandmother and should not have to work so hard at my age (smile). And I was a foster parent, taking care of other people’s children. I was talked about, alot in their community but it was with respect. It was interesting to see how they lived and I learned much from them. Some knew me before I knew them through what they offered to sell. Often they would give me baked goods for the children, quite a kindness.

  10. mamahen says:

    What a beautiful thing Sandra! I have never met any Amish, but I sure admire their way of life, seems so peaceful. Sounds like you’re just as hard working, no wonder you were spoken of with respect.

    When my two older girl’s were little I read the entire series of little house on the prairiebooks to them. They loved them so much, we decided to try and go a weekend with no electricity or anything electric. We used candles and the fire place for light and heat and cooked outside. We even churned our own butter. It was so fun

  11. Erin says:

    How about a solar powered generator? There is a “prepper” store near where we live and they sell the Humless Sentinel. It’s a bit expensive, but maybe worth the investment? Here is the link to their website:

  12. joe says:

    I have a small 2000 watt honda inverter/generator and also a portable 80 watt solar system and three deep cycle marine batteries with a 1500 watt inverter. In grid down situation I would use the gen to charge the batteries if the sun was not enough. I only have the system for to run the fridge and frezzer and maybe a few electronics for while each day. With the battereries fully charged I should get 2-3 days use out of them before recharging is needed. I would love to get a kerosene or propane fridge and frezzer as backup but not in the budget now. I do believe that is what the amish use and propane and kerosene will store indefinetley.

    • Hi Joe!

      It sounds like you have given this a great deal of thought and I must say that you have very advanced prepping ideals! In your case, the generator is part of the big plan and I have absolutely nothing but admiration for that plan. Just one question, if the scenario that you are making these plans for, should continue for a long time, what do you intend to do about replacing batteries or other components?

      As I said, I do have a generator that will work on propane but I am more inclined towards off… off-grid, learning from how it was done in the past. I sympathize with people who need refridgeration for medications. I am one of those people as a diabetic. Yep, read and heard WILLIAM R. FORSTCHEN and the diabetic situation portrayed. (our family homes are actually in Montreat). So what are my plans for keeping things cold in a situation of chaos and the end of the world as we know it? Stay tuned!

  13. Alex says:

    In listing the dangers of gas generators you said it emits carbon dioxide.  I think you meant to say carbon Monoxide, which will kill you if in a enclosed space.

    • Hi Alex!

      I was thinking more about it being another pollutant, and as such, we need to consider what motors we absolutely MUST have.

      Wikipedia had this list of the output from exhaust:”
      The largest part of most combustion gas is nitrogen (N2), water vapor (H2O) (except with pure-carbon fuels), and carbon dioxide (CO2) (except for fuels without carbon); these are not toxic or noxious (although carbon dioxide is generally recognized as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming). A relatively small part of combustion gas is undesirable noxious or toxic substances, such as carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion, hydrocarbons (properly indicated as CxHy, but typically shown simply as “HC” on emissions-test slips) from unburnt fuel, nitrogen oxides (NOx) from excessive combustion temperatures, Ozone (O3), and particulate matter (mostly soot).”

      I do believe that carbon monoxide is of paticular concern for the reason you mentioned.

  14. kelley says:

    this was a very sad article indeed to bad we have so many politically correct people here that give you back slaps and good jobs for a luke warm at best article. Gas goes bad after years if stabilized and small engines can and do run on bad gas all the time. 2) not all engines are noisy most are not and if they are PUT a box over it with holes for air will cut 50% > of the sounds. I could go on and on but this piece you wrote was given little thought

  15. Prep Lady says:

    I would add that a generator is a good transition tool. Which we have and do intend to use. We are converting ours to run on propane since that is a fuel we already use. We all need to remember that your preparedness needs are based on yours and your families needs and not the suggestions and feelings of others. We are preparing and making assessments of different scenarios but at the end of the day you need to make a personal choice. What fits your family doesn’t necessarily fit mine or the author of this article. Everyone will have to take a step down from their current use of gas but with planning you can decide when and how!

    • Oh dear, I meant to do a like, thumbs up, Prep Lady. I very much liked what you had to say and have nothing more to add to it. Please excuse my not taking the reading glasses off my head when I rated your comment. LIKE!

  16. TED ROSE says:

    WELL,I spend weeks in a 35 ft trailer,we also have a 20ftx20ft building along with a two 30 something foot trailers out in the desert of utah and when you are by yourself a genorator is a GOD SEND. I use solar lights with battery power.also a wind turbine with a but load of deep cycle batteries.but when i am away from my base camp and need to use power tools and with 100 acres thier are a lot of work to be done so my family and friends can move thier trailers here and so they can build thier what they need to survive.I take good care of the property because the others work and i am disabled from a back injurys. when you need to drill holes or use powertools for any reason thier is no replacement for a matter if its gas or diesel or propayne or horse shit powered the genorator is king.

    • Hi Ted,

      A generator in your situation sounds like the best set up. Even some home construction and remodelers use generators for that same reason. When used like that, a generator is another tool and very necessary.

      I am sure you looked at the 5 questions in the article and answered “yes” to each one.

      Thanks for commenting!

  17. rural1 says:

    Our well pump runs on electricity. The power goes out, our well goes out. Also have a freezer. So we have a generator.

  18. Lloyd Sutfin says:

    Most of us have automobiles/trucks these things generate electricity and charge batteries. Almost everybody has an emergency power plant if they acquire sufficient batteries, jumper cables and a little forethought and a large enough inverter and a auxiliary battery charger for flexibility and the fuel is usually fresh. Keep it in mind, no need to let refrigerated food spoil. etc. No need to spend really big bucks either. There is a basic electrical survival kit in your vehicle.