|

The Prepper’s Complete Guide to Buying a Generator

preppers guide to buying a generator

Having a generator allows you to prevent food spoilage, stay comfortable, and perform many other tasks. However, there are some things a prepper needs to know before buying a generator. 

Before buying a generator, a prepper should know about the different types of generators and understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. Preppers should also understand what other items they will need to buy to keep their generator running.

I will start by covering the different types of generators, including their strengths and weaknesses. Later in the article, I’ll go over some ideas to keep your generator running and safe from theft.

Portable Generators

Champion Dual Fuel Generator Review

The first type of generator that many preppers consider buying is a portable generator. These usually run on gasoline and are common in homes, campgrounds, and job sites. As the name suggests, they are designed to be small enough to move around with little difficulty.

Portable generators come in many different types and sizes. The first way that they differ from one another is their watt ratings. For example, a 1000-Watt generator can power one or more devices that have a total power requirement of 1000 watts or less. A generator such as this would work well to power some lights and a fan but would be unable to power larger devices such as refrigerators and air conditioners.

Larger generators, such as those with 10,000 watts or higher, can be used to power an entire home. They can run multiple large appliances but are loud and use a ton of fuel. Large generators can also be quite heavy, making them a challenge to move and transport.

Another way that portable generators can differ from one another is their fuel source. Most portable generators run on gasoline, but they can run on other types of fuel as well, the most common being propane. Some generators can even run on multiple types of fuel, such as mine which is a “dual-fuel” model that can run on either gasoline or propane. 

You can find my review of the generator that I own, the Champion 3800-Watt Dual Fuel Generator, by clicking here.

Why Dual Fuel Generators are Great for Preppers

Dual-fuel generators are excellent options for preppers. One reason is that they give users a better chance of finding fuel during an emergency. Dual-fuel generators also give users a way around problems that plague small gas engines. If the generator won’t start on gasoline mode it may still be able to start using propane.

Drawbacks of Portable Gas Generators

Although they are versatile and can meet a variety of needs, portable generators aren’t perfect. Their main drawback is that they require fuel in order to run. Once you run out of stored fuel and can’t get any more, your generator will cease to function.

Portable generators also tend to be very loud. This can draw unwanted attention to your home, especially during prolonged outages. Even inverter generators, which are much quieter than other portable generators, can seem very loud when there is no traffic on the streets. Being portable, they are also easier to steal.

Inverter Generators

One type of portable generator that is popular with preppers and campers is the inverter generator. They are much more quiet and fuel-efficient than other types of generators. Inverter generators also tend to be smaller and more portable than traditional portable generators.

Like other portable generators, inverters run most commonly on gasoline, however, dual-fuel models that run on gasoline and propane are available as well. They are a better option if you plan on using your generator to power sensitive electronics. Generator power is considered “dirty power” that can have voltage fluctuations and surges. These can damage things like computers and TVs. Inverter generators produce cleaner AC power which is generally safe for such devices. You can find a good inverter generator by clicking here.

The main drawback to inverter generators is that they are more expensive than other generators. They also tend to have lower wattage ratings. There are some hybrid inverter generators, such as this one, that can produce more watts. However, they are louder than other inverter generators, which takes away the most attractive aspect of owning one.

Transfer Switches for Portable Generators

If you have a large portable generator, I strongly recommend purchasing a transfer switch and having it installed by a qualified electrician. Transfer switches allow you to safely hook a generator up to your home’s electrical system. Using other means, such as a suicide cord, can be extremely dangerous.

Suicide cords are homemade devices that allow electricity to enter a home by plugging it into a large outlet, such as that used by a clothes dryer. In addition to being hazardous to the user, the generator, and any connected devices, they also pose a significant threat to utility workers. Power from the generator can flow through power lines and electrocute them. 

Transfer switches allow you to run power to preselected circuits to power your most important devices and rooms. They allow you to connect the generator to your home’s electrical system safely. Interlock devices are a cheaper option, however, they should also be installed by a qualified electrician and meet local codes.

Advantages of Portable Generators for Preppers

  • Can be transported if you needed to bug out
  • Available in many sizes to suit needs and preferences
  • Available in dual-fuel models that can run on either gas or propane
  • Can be used to power your home when using a transfer switch

Disadvantages of Portable Generators for Preppers

  • Reliant on fuel availability and storage
  • Can be loud and attract unwanted attention
  • Easy to steal

Standby Generators

Another type of generator that a prepper may consider buying is a standby generator. Standby generators are wired directly into your home’s electrical system. They are designed to immediately kick on when your home experiences a power outage. 

Standby generators usually run on natural gas or propane. This is supplied by a natural gas line from a local utility company or a large propane storage tank on your property. Using these allows you to use fuel sources that you already use. It also prevents you from having to store several gas cans or smaller propane tanks at your home

Standby generators are also safe to use as long as they are installed by a qualified technician. They use special transfer switches that prevent power from surging down the electrical lines connected to your home. This helps keep utility workers safe as they work to restore power. 

On automatic standby generators, transfer switches work without you having to do anything. This is very useful for older people or those with physical impairments. Having an automatic generator can also prevent food spoilage if you are away from home when an outage occurs. While deep freezers may preserve food for up to 48 hours, a fridge may only stay cool for 6 hours. If an outage were to happen when you were at work, an automatic standby generator could save the food in your fridge. 

Like other generators, standby generators come in many sizes. Smaller ones provide plenty of power to run some lights and a few appliances. Larger standby generators can power your entire house, although maybe not all appliances at the same time. What you can run will depend on the generator’s watt ratings and your appliances’ power requirements. 

Drawbacks of Standby Generators for Preppers

Standby generators do have their drawbacks though. The first is that they can pretty expensive. Prices start at around $3000, but that doesn’t include installation costs. 

Your standby generator will need to be wired into your home’s electrical system as well as your natural gas line or propane tank. Depending on the size of the generator and the installation’s complexity, that cost can range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. 

Another disadvantage of owning a standby generator is that they are susceptible to power grid failures. The power grid is the lynchpin of our society. Widespread and/or long-term outages will eventually cause other utilities to fail, including water and natural gas. 

Because of this, standby generators should only be seen as a solution during short-term emergencies. They are great during small-scale outages, such as when a transformer blows, or a limb falls on a power line. A standby generator will keep you comfortable with very little, if any, disruption to your normal activities. 

However, during widespread or long-term outages, standby generators will eventually go offline due to the secondary effects of a power grid failure. Natural gas processing and distribution facilities will eventually go offline. They may even fail because of the same issues affecting the power grid. Many Texans were without power and natural gas during the 2021 Texas Ice Storm. 

Related: Lessons Learned from the 2021 Texas Ice Storm

Advantages of Standby Generators for Preppers

  • Seamless automatic operation
  • Use fuel sources already present at your home
  • Safe for you and utility workers
  • Can power your entire home

Disadvantages of Standby Generators for Preppers

  • Expensive
  • Susceptible to fuel shortages and delivery problems caused by a power grid failure
  • Must be installed by a professional

Solar Generators

Solar power for preppers

Another type of generator that many preppers consider buying is a solar generator. These are available in many different sizes and types. Some small solar generators are designed to keep small electronics charged. Larger systems consisting of arrays of solar panels and batteries can power entire homes.

Solar generators have many qualities that make them attractive options for preppers. The first is that solar power is a renewable energy source. You don’t have to store large quantities of fuel in order to keep things running. If you have enough batteries, you can keep essential devices powered for several days, even if the sun isn’t shining. 

Solar generators also have very few moving parts, which allows them to operate with very little maintenance. A solar generator can last for years as long as you protect the panels and batteries from harm. For most people, a solar generator is the best way to keep small devices running for an extended period of time.

Solar generators are a good choice for preppers who live in an apartment. They are quiet and safer to use in confined areas than portable generators. If your apartment has large windows, you may not even have to place your panels outside to charge up your generator.

Solar generators do have some drawbacks, however. The first is that they cost more per watt than other types of generators. Even large 1000-watt solar generators cannot run larger appliances, such as refrigerators. The reason why is that such appliances require more watts to start than they do to run. For example, my box freezer only requires 575 watts to run but could need up to 1725 additional watts on startup.

The second disadvantage that solar generators have is that they don’t generate power if there is no sunlight. During times of prolonged rainfall or cloudiness, its power generating capabilities will be greatly reduced. It should be noted that the most common reason you may need a generator is that a storm knocked out power. In situations such as this, days of rainfall and clouds are common. The only way to offset this is to have enough power stored in batteries to last through such events. 

Another disadvantage of solar generators is that they are dependent on batteries. Batteries will eventually go dead and must be replaced. If you can’t replace them, then your solar generator will no longer function.

Portable Solar Generators

Portable solar generators are what most preppers choose to buy. These can be thin foldable panels that charge a USB battery bank, such as this one by Anker.  The panels gather solar energy and use it to charge the battery bank. You then plug your device into the battery bank to charge it. These are popular among hikers and campers since they can attach to a backpack, tent, or branch. 

Larger portable solar generators can power larger devices, such as computers but not larger appliances such as full-size refrigerators. Like gas-powered generators, this type of generator is limited by how many watts it can produce. However, some portable solar generators can be linked together. This allows them to run larger devices and last longer.

Larger portable solar generators usually consist of a power station and solar panels. The power station contains a large rechargeable battery and a few outlets for plugging in devices. Power stations can usually be charged in a variety of ways, including solar panels, AC power from your home, and DC power from your car. Many power stations don’t include solar panels, so those may need to be purchased separately. Jackery’s portable power stations are a popular option and can be found here.

Homemade Solar Generators

If you are tech-savvy and have a good understanding of wiring and electricity, you may be able to make a homemade solar generator. If you plan on building a homemade solar generator you will need the items listed below.

A Sturdy Case: You will need some sort of container to hold the different components of your solar generator. It should be durable and easy to move. Good options for a case such as this are a rolling toolbox or a rolling Pelican case.

Batteries: You will need one or more batteries to store electricity that is gathered by your solar panels. You want to make sure to get what is called “deep cycle” batteries. Deep cycle batteries can be drained and recharged without suffering damage. Other batteries, such as the ones in your car, can suffer damage if they are drained too far. 

Solar Panels: How many solar panels you will need depends on how much power you want them to provide and the type of solar panels that you have. Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient, but they are also the most expensive. Polycrystalline panels are cheaper but not as efficient. 

AC Power Inverter: Power inverters convert the DC power stored in your solar generator’s batteries into AC power. This allows you to use the power with common household devices, such as lights and computers. 

Charge Controller: A charge controller is a device that prevents batteries from overcharging. It manages the current being transferred from the solar panels to the batteries so that they aren’t damaged. 

Whole-House Systems

The Cadillac of solar generators is a whole-house photovoltaic system. It should be capable of providing most, if not all, of your home’s power needs. Some people even have enough energy left over that they are able to sell some of it to their utility company. Another benefit of having your house set up to use solar energy is tax breaks. Before installing one, talk with a CPA about possible tax breaks in your state. 

A home solar install will likely need to be done by a professional. They will be able to help you determine how many panels you will need along with all of the additional equipment as well. Solar installations cost, on average, between $15,000 and $25,000. Once they are installed, solar panels can last around 25 years before they begin to produce noticeably less electricity. The system’s batteries, on the other hand, may only last between 5 and 15 years. 

In addition to the cost of the solar electric system itself, you will also need to purchase a backup generator. This will be used when the system’s output isn’t enough to meet energy needs. Several days of cloudy weather is one thing that could cause that.

Advantages of Solar Generators for Preppers

  • Produce clean energy
  • Do not require you to store fuel
  • Little maintenance
  • Good for people who live in an apartment or other densely populated areas
  • Can provide power for an extended period of time.

Disadvantages of Solar Generators for Preppers

  • Expensive
  • Reliant on sunny weather to generate electricity

What Size Generator Do You Need?

A prepper should balance the size of their generator with their budget and how much fuel they are willing to store. Large generators provide more power but require more fuel. Small generators require little fuel but may not be able to power the devices that you need most. 

For this reason, a mid-size generator is going to be the best choice for most preppers. A generator with around 4500 to 5000 starting watts will power at least one refrigerator or freezer along with a window AC unit or space heater. This will help you preserve your food and protect yourself and your loved ones from extreme temperatures.

My Champion 3800 Dual-Fuel Generator has 4750 starting watts and 3800 running watts with gasoline and 4275 starting watts and 3420 running watts with propane. This is plenty of power to keep my most important devices running. You can see my wattage chart below.

DeviceRunning WattsStarting Watts
Window Air Conditioner5151500
Box Freezer5751725*
Lamp (4 at 60 Watts Each)2400
Modem60
Router80
Laptop Charger400
Tool Battery Charger3000
Subtotals16841725
Total Wattage Needed1684 Running3409 at Startup
*Unless you are attempting to start multiple large devices at the same time, only add the largest starting wattage to your running wattage.

How Much Will You Run the Generator?

Another thing that a prepper should ask themselves before buying a generator is how much do they plan on running it. Running a generator nonstop will guzzle any stored fuel in a very short amount of time. This is mainly a concern with portable generators that run on gasoline or propane. Standby generators and whole-house solar systems can be run in accordance with your normal daily routines. 

If you have a limited amount of fuel storage, only run the generator as much as you need to. I, for example, plan to use my gas/propane generator at night. This will allow my family to sleep comfortably and preserve the meat in our box freezer. If you plan to run your generator while you are sleeping, it will need to be secured. I’ll discuss how to protect yourself and your generator at the end of this article.

Fuel Storage

Gas and propane for generator

Another thing that a prepper should think about before buying a generator is fuel storage. This includes how much you need to store, the type of fuel, and whether or not you need to rotate your storage. Once again, this is mainly a concern if you have a portable generator.

My generator can last for 9 hours on one 3.4 gallon tank of gasoline and 10.5 hours on one 20-pound propane tank. Both of those numbers assume that the generator is running at half load, which I intend for it to be most of the time. This means that I can run my generator for two weeks at night with just (10) 5-gallon gas cans or (14) 20-pound propane tanks.

Store Ethanol-Free Gas

If you have a gasoline generator, I strongly recommend using ethanol-free fuel unless your generator’s manual states not to. It is more stable and is better for small engines. 

The main problem with ethanol gasoline is that it is hydrophilic. This means that it bonds with water, including water vapor in the air. When that occurs, the ethanol will separate from the gasoline and bond with the water.

Here’s how it works:

  • E10 gasoline contains 10% ethanol, so 100 ml of E10 will have 90 ml of gasoline and 10ml of ethanol. 
  • If I add 20ml of water, the ethanol will separate from the gasoline. You will have 90ml of gasoline and 30ml total of water/ethanol.

Project Farm made an excellent video showing how ethanol bonds to water. You can see it in the video below:

Water is denser than gasoline, so it settles at the bottom of the gas tank. A generator’s fuel system relies on gravity, so that can be a huge problem. In addition to causing problems with starting the engine, it can also cause corrosion. That is why many generator manufacturers recommend draining your fuel tank and running the engine until fuel starvation occurs.

Store Propane if Possible

If you have a dual-fuel generator, I strongly recommend storing propane instead of gasoline. Propane has many advantages over gasoline, especially if you are a prepper concerned with long-term storage.

The first advantage that propane has over gasoline is that it has a much longer shelf life. Gasoline with ethanol can go bad in as little as three months. Gas without ethanol can usually last around 6 months without a fuel stabilizer. Propane, on the other hand, can easily last 10 to 30 years, possibly more.

Propane as a chemical does not break down. This means that as long as it is stored in a well-maintained container, that it can store indefinitely. The shelf life of your propane storage will depend on how well you take care of your tanks. Keeping them free of rust and protected from dirt will help them last for many years.

Keeping your propane tanks off the ground and protecting them from water is essential. Sitting them on wooden or concrete blocks will help protect the bottom of the tank. Purchasing tank covers, such as these, will help protect them from rainwater.

Another advantage of storing propane instead of gasoline is that propane burns much cleaner. Although it will produce a little less power, propane is easier on small engines. 

Batteries

If your generator comes with a battery, you need to do your best to maintain it. Like cars, most generators use a lead-acid-type battery. These drain quickly if the generator isn’t used regularly. For this reason, I recommend getting a good-quality battery maintainer and connecting it to your battery when the generator is being stored long-term.

Generator batteries are also susceptible to extreme temperatures. Because of this, it is a good idea to remove the battery and store it indoors. If you purchased an electric start generator because you have physical impairments, having the means to jump start the generator is a must.

Security Concerns

Another thing that preppers need to think about when buying a generator is security. Generators are high-value items that could make you a target during an emergency.

Sound

Generators can be very loud. In addition to being a nuisance in cramped neighborhoods, they can draw unwanted attention to you and your family. If you live in a safe area, short outages may not present too much of a problem. However, during extended outages, even neighbors may become a problem.

Aside from the possibility of theft, people may want to “borrow” your generator. This could be something simple such as asking if they could charge their cell phone. Others may want to use it to power a CPAP machine for a loved one. As time goes on, people will become less nice about taking no for an answer. They will be frustrated about how long they have been without power. People also may become desperate if not having power is endangering a loved one. 

Doing things like placing the generator inside of a generator box or surrounding it with cinder blocks will reduce the sound’s volume and how far it will travel. They will also make the generator less of a nuisance to those around you. 

Theft

In addition to people wanting to use your generator, preppers should also take steps to prevent it from being stolen. They are valuable from a monetary perspective and because of the function that they serve, making them attractive to thieves. 

The first way to reduce the chance of your generator being stolen is to reduce the amount of sound that it makes. A thief has to know that you have a generator before they can steal it. Taking the steps mentioned above such as placing it in a generator box or surrounding it with cinder blocks will reduce the distance that its sound can travel.

It is also best to operate your generator in a section of your property that you can secure, such as a fenced-in backyard. Lock any gates that lead into your yard with cut-resistant padlocks. You can also remove the wheels and chain your generator to a tree or post.

Driveway motion sensors are another good way to secure your generator. These sensors made by Guardline run on batteries and the control station that you keep in the house has a battery backup. Having sensors can let you know when someone enters the area around your generator so that you can, hopefully, prevent it from being stolen. Motion-activated lights can also be a good theft deterrent. 

Similar Posts