Why I Advise Against Generators. And Why I’m Sometimes Wrong!

Normally, I do not advise the purchase of a generator for the simple reason that generators provide a false sense of security, among others. I’m always amazed at how people will run out and spend hundreds of dollars on a generator at the first major hiccup of their electrical grid or immediately prior to a huge blizzard.

In my opinion, most people who run out and purchase generators in such a fashion likely have little else in the way of actual preps. At least initially, this money is better spent on preps you know you’ll use general such as food, lanterns or flashlights, batteries, and so on. Most families could put together a very substantial home emergency kit that will see them through all of their expected needs for at least a week or two for the money they would otherwise spend on a descent generator.

So, exactly what are the reasons I’m against generators? Here’s my list:

  • Cost – Like I mentioned, you could start your preps off quite well with the money you would spend on this single piece of equipment. Several hundred dollars (the cost for most generators) is a lot of money to spend for potentially little in return.
  • Fuel – Depending on the unit you purchase, it likely uses gasoline or diesel fuel. The problem is that this fuel WILL run out at some point in time. What are you going to do when that happens? You’re in the same position you would have been in without a generator!
  • Safety – Generators aren’t inherently dangerous. It’s just that you need to know how to use them properly (that is, how to connect them to your appliances), how to refuel them without burning yourself silly, and—if desired–how to safely connect them to your home electrical system without endangering yourself or maintenance workers.
  • Regular Maintenance –Generators need to be run regularly; they are not meant to sit for years in a box. A neglected generator will very likely become a useless generator precisely when you need it the most.
  • Too Much / Not Enough Power – Generators need to be sized properly to fit your expected needs. Are you purchasing one just for your refrigerator, or will you include a chest freezer, lights, television, the microwave? You need to know the power consumption of these devices and how that relates to the generator you purchase. As such, going out and purchasing one on a whim is not the way to do it.
  • Noisy – Noise attracts attention. If the power is out for a day or two then running a generator during that time is no big deal. If it’s out for weeks on end and your generator is still humming along nicely when you may attract unwanted attention. Granted, there are generators that are fairly quiet, but none are silent; it’s when the surroundings are dead silent that even a little noise will travel a long distance.
  • False Sense of Security – As I said in the outset of this post, generators provide a false sense of security because people assume that so long as the lights are on then everything will be ok. That’s just not always the case.

Since I’ve just given several reasons why I feel generators are NOT a good purchase, there’s no way I could possible recommend one, can I? Well, in fact, I would eventually advise you purchase a generator ONLY after you have your preps squared away. Specifically, only after your family is prepared to live without one. A generator should be viewed as a convenience, not a necessity. It should be a “bonus” item, not a “reliance” item.

That said, there are reasons for including a generator in your preps…

For example, if you or a family member are insulin-dependent, then it would be a wise decision to include some ability to cool a small refrigerator for days or weeks on end. A generator could be a means of accomplishing that (there are others). There are other life-saving equipment that people might use, including respiratory failure ventilators, kidney dialysis machines, infant respiratory monitors, heart pumps, asthma nebulisers, and oxygen concentrators. If this includes you then, yes, generators may prove necessary.

The other major reason I’m OK with purchasing a generator is for the very specific reason of running a small window air conditioning unit to battle the relentless summer heat.

I couldn’t help but wonder what most people would do to cool themselves if their power went out right now. It’s ridiculously hot right now and, since our homes are not designed to be passively cooled, seeking shelter inside will bring little relief. This is particularly true for anyone who is less likely to tolerate the heat well, such as infants, pregnant women, and the elderly, to name a few. In these cases, it makes sense to have the ability to cool a small room.

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21 comments on “Why I Advise Against Generators. And Why I’m Sometimes Wrong!
  1. Wm says:

    I have two Generators a small 3.5 KW Portable and a 6.7KW Onan.. The smaller runs near silent.. I am housing it in a soundproofed Dog House on a Second Story Balcony where I have a power box built into the wall.. (I do not power up the whole house with the smaller unit) I use an automotive muffler and a baffled forced air cooling system (Large Electric Box Fan..which pushes more air than the unit can itself standing in the open. I perform a “Stand Too” every month cranking up all fuel powered systems, vehicles, generators (even the weed whacker). I use Stabil simply because it is relatively inexpensive insurance for regular fuels. (A few Extra Plugs,parts and a pull cord) My smaller Genset is multifuel.. Gas and Natural Gas.the latter I pipe directly from the house. After I broke it in I put the proper percentage of Synthetic Slick 50 and 5-30 Synthetic Oil.. smaller air cooled engines tend to heat their oil in places pretty high as they are usually a dipper system vs oil pump so there is an advantage to Sythetic oil as it is more heat resistant. Just be sure to let your GenSet Break in (again Loaded) first. (Change the oil as recommended).

    We used to lose power for 2-3 days routinely here and the rig I have works. 2-3 hours twice a day keeps battery backups charged Freezers Frozen and Fridges Cold..the kids and such can watch videos and use minimal lights. All Computer Peripherals (excluding Printers) including Modems, routers and such are on fairly large capacity battery backups (Just get a few of the bigger units at garage sales or such where the batteries are dead and use Golf Cart Batteries mounted outside of the original cases… Our Main Battery Backup System is good for a day without recharge keeping a Computer and Flat Screen Monitor running no problem so things stay up pretty well. I can print on Battery Backup but avoid it as the Laser Printer gobbles energy..

    I try to have defense in depth. We keep LED Flashlights in every drawer in every room and we first go to them. (Full Sized Fire Extinguishers in every room as well) Then we bring up our Kerosene Lamps more of a drill to put them in place, get them working and our heads in the game..After we are properly setup for no power.. I will turn on the appropriate Generator and we carry on with the evenings goings on.

    Something to keep in mind.. Power or Kerosene Lamp light of course tells everyone your there.. Inexpensive Russian NVGs work fine at close range and allow you to operate under near no light conditions..(Just don’t use any Infrared Illuminators because they shine like a spotlight to anyone else using NVG..)

    Then again when you go that far down the road.. your talking TEOTWAWKI and a whole nother game. Break out the Sandbags and Cold Rations.. LOL (sort of)..

    Wm

  2. tupelojo says:

    I mostly agree with this, except for the 400W hand/bike crank generator. No fuel, no fumes, you can use it inside, as needed and will run most small household appliances without too much effort, including a small refrigerator. It’s a good solution for short term energy needs, but not great for long term since it’s a pain to keep cranking it up. With the bike attachment, you can get about 250 watts of power and charge up the battery easily. I have folks in Florida that have bought this for hurricane preparedness and are very happy. However, I do totally agree that food preps, water, and other preps should come first!

    • This is definitely a neat idea and a very good solution for small DC systems, though I can’t think of many appliances that can really be run on 250 watts except maybe a small fridge like you mention. Thank you for sharing your idea.

  3. linden says:

    I bought a Honda generator in August of 1985 when a hurricane left us without electricity for 3 weeks. It was a life saver, we checked it lately and it started on the first pull. We will use if it is needed again. We are prepped for most events except we cannot have animals where we live. Generators can be handy when needed.

  4. seo services says:

    I’ll be bookmarking this site to read more, thanks for taking the time to write it

  5. Zoomer says:

    Like everything else, two is one and one is none. So here’s my levels of redundancy. A large generator and two days supply of fuel (or five running intermittent). Then I have an invertor plug for the car charger port. It will TV’s, radios, lights, and PC’s powered/charged in a pinch. Then I have a bank of backup batteries to solar (lights and small appliances only). Then for cell phones, PC’s, radios, etc. I have a small handheld solar charger (USB and micro USB). Then I have a hand crank generator for small items.

    The large generator is only really meant to powere the fridge and freezer long enough for us to eat all the perishables. Then we really don’t need it anymore. We have all the light and small appliance power we need otherwise.

    The solar-backed batteries are more than sufficient to keep a small crockpot going in addition to other power consumption, so if we’re not cooking on the grill or fireplace, we still have options. A small electric cooler works for keeping small perishables safe for a day or so more, but not forever.

    • I like that plan a lot. I really like that you’ve thought it out so far. Consider adding yet one additional layer of “power” such as solar cooking and you’re set for a long time.

  6. I’ve wanted a generator for a while but it’s not feasible for most apartment buildings, due to the noise, having to store extra gasoline, or because it’s not allowed under the lease. The heat would be unbearable, maybe even unhealthy, if power were to go out in the middle of summer here in Houston so I am always looking for low tech ways to keep cool. Good post!

  7. jodupurs says:

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  8. jayjay says:

    Our generator costs $300 and it is for temporary electricity disruption only.
    I have 35 gallons of gasoline stored.
    I start mine EVERY month.
    This generator is one of the quietest to be so cheap–go figure!
    The generator was one of the last things I purchased.
    We are prepped for….a…very…long…time.

  9. Billy Poole says:

    A generator is a good idea, but as stated, there are drawbacks; paramount being the fuel.Best if used in a rural setting and even as an “off the grid”system, they may be powered by biogas, steam, or even with a waterwheel if the situation allows. The latter two sources will allow the motor to be stripped off, eliminating much maint. and failure concerns; making it a very viable system for powering a lifestyle that is much more comfortable. I, in fact recommend having several around in case of failure or for pare parts.

    • Sadly, I’m not nearly handy enough to figure out how to convert a generator to run on biogas, steam, or a waterwheel. :( I do like the idea of eliminating the motor for long term use; that’s something I’ll have to investigate. Thank you.

  10. Bob says:

    The right size generator is important. I bought a huge generator and did not realize until it was too late that it used too much fuel ($30/day). I then bought a small 2.2kW with load sensing and it bought the cost down to about $7/day. The other shock was how many gas cans littered my yard and the difficulty of transporting so much fuel by car. All this experience was learned when I had to run our house for a few months by generator. Our solar is now up and I don’t miss the generators ;-)

  11. T.R. says:

    I wonder if a generator can be made to run on alcohol ? if so , all you need is a still ( many uses for a still ) and trash , most anything can make alcohol . But yeah , the noise thing is a legit issue if you want to remain relatively unnoticed .

    • I’ve seen people discuss running a generator on ethanol in the past. I would imagine if there is a will there is a way. That said, there are some multi-fuel generators that can run on gasoline, natural gas, and propane. A different strategy might be to direct connect a natural gas line (if you’re on natural gas) to the generator which might provide you with a rather lengthy source of fuel as natural gas service is fairly reliable in most cases.

  12. Martin says:

    Hey, at least you’re willing to admit mistakes. Learning is an life-long experience.

  13. Ben says:

    I wish EVERYONE I know would buy a genny! It seems like I have loaned ours out every time the power went down around here.

    You are right when you say that every household should be prepared to live without electricity, but I think also that every household should be able to maintain a comfortable standard of living for at least a couple of weeks.

    Our generator is only for running the fridge and freezer long enough for us to properly preserve the food that is inside them. Charging batteries is also a priority for us after a power outage. We keep just a limited amount of fuel on hand for it but more than enough to do what we need to do in the first several days of an outage.

    • Generators definitely have their place and are recommended… eventually. I see it as learning to walk before you can run. Get the basics of survival down (walking) and then add the advanced stuff (running). Not sure if that’s the best analogy but it’s all I’ve got today! Happy 4th!!

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