May 29, 2017

Portable Generators

Portable Generators

To go with the last article Off grid fuels, here is a look at using portable generators for emergency power. I know I had some misconceptions about generators. Maybe this can clear up some you might have as well.

A portable generator is one of the most economical ways to provide electricity in a power outage. It’s true they can be expensive and the more you spend the more power you’ll have and the quieter it might be. If you’re selective about what you use it for, you can spend as little as a few hundred dollars. This would be great if you just want to run it for an hour in the morning and evening to keep the freezer cold.
Fuel Types

I mentioned in Off grid fuels that I chose propane as one of the fuels I store. There are generators that are available off the shelf that will use propane and there are companies that will make after-market modifications to permit its use as well. I have read that a generator will go through more propane than gasoline in an hour. If this is true, I can store a large propane tank that doesn’t need to be rotated as it doesn’t go bad; the same can’t be said for gas. I have also read that propane runs quieter. I don’t know if this is true. I was able to find a company that will take the new carburetor and modify it to use gasoline, propane or natural gas. There are kits to do this, but that’s a bit out of my depth.

Noise is a factor that many people don’t take into consideration and is often a later complaint. I have read how some people will take the generator to the edge of their property line and run extension cords back to the house, just to limit the noise. Honda generators boast some of the lowest decibel ratings on the market, but Honda’s can be expensive. Review Portable Generators reviews many different generators and they look at noise as one of the factors.

If your neighbors can hear your generator, you may be asked to help keep their food cold. If Joe Dirtbag can hear that you have a generator, he might try to make off with it. If you have it away from the house, chaining it down might be a good idea, if for no other reason than to slow Mr. Dirtbag down.
Wattage Calculator

Review Portable Generators has a decent Watt Calculatorbut here is a sample one. There are some items such as a refrigerator, freezer or washer that require more power at start up and require less as it runs.

You might not be able to power everything in your home at one time, but a generator of even 2000-3000 watts can simultaneously power multiple smaller electronics such as a TV, DVD player and microwave for popcorn. Or it could power one or two larger items such as a washer or dryer.

If your main goal is to keep food in the fridge or freezer from going bad, you don’t need to run the generator 24/7. A couple of hours in the morning and evening should suffice. Also, the fuller the fridge and freezer are, the longer they’ll take to thaw out. You can take up empty space with 2-liter bottles of water.
Connecting to Your Home

There are two ways to do this, either run extension cords from the generator to your appliances, or with a power transfer switch. To connect a generator directly to your home you’ll need to have an electrician install a power transfer switch (As can be seen below). This will allow you to connect the generator to the power transfer switch and then select which breakers you want powered. This will also prevent you sending power back down the line, which could harm a utility worker.
Final Thoughts

You’ll also want to store oil and filters so that you can do maintenance as needed. I was asked once about whether or not a person should start their generator or just leave it new in the box. My answer was that if you leave it in the box, you won’t know if it works and you won’t know how to use it. If you take it out of the box then you’ll need to run it once or twice a year to exercise it and make sure it runs and you’ll also need to do maintenance on it.

Generator Joe is one resource that you can use to delve deeper into the subject, there is a huge amount of information under the resource and Information tabs at the top.

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  1. Chris, thanks for the info. I have been prepared with a generator since 1999 (Y2K)Not! Storing fuel is difficult.I try to keep 50 to 60 gallons stored in my shed in several different containers with fuel saver. As far as noise, you are right on several counts. I have a Multiquip 6500 with a Honda engine. Very reliable and quiet. One way to keep quieter is that i have it inside my garage. I installed a metal dryer vent out the back wall. with an extension piece that can be placed right up to and around the muffler/exhaust of the generator. So when the unit is running the majority of the exhaust exits the vent. This guts down on noise…but not entirely. I also installed a louvered vent in the wall above the unit is outside air is drawn in. Can also crack garage door a bit also. Installed a carbon monoxide detector as well. I have an idea (plan) on how often to run the unit and extend fuel. 5 gallons of fuel will run through in 7-8 hours of continual use. So maybe an hour os so to run small appliances and a few lights in evening. To run tools necessary to finish up any prep work not done prior to. Run the well to replenish water etc. I like your approach to “biblical” reasons to store up! But in reality I think that we will be gone for most of the real bad times. The time we are here, though, may be longer than we think. My approach to being prepared is for what I call a solace. A temporary abode for family & friends to have a time of refuge, to have some time to gather their wits, hopefully turn to their faith and find some comfort even if for a short time. Being in the suburbs ( even with woods, garden, storage and some good neighbors) breakdown of society will probably overtake even the best prepared. Only God is in control and can save us. I have some other ideas on preparedness to share later if you would like. In Christ, Kurt

    • Hi Kurt,

      Thanks for the comments. Adding a vent in the garage is a clever idea, I think the only safe way to do it is with the carbon monoxide detector, good thinking.

      I’m always willing to hear others take on preparedness topics, that’s what keeps me learning, so share anything you like. If it’s a long topic write an article and I might post it as a guest article.
      Merry Christmas,


  2. Thanks for the article Chris. I just bought a generator and your article helped confirm my purchase. I appreciated your wattage calculator and table for reference. I also bought a AmpWatt load tester for determining watt usage on other devices. I also appreciate your Christian stance and how we need to be prudent to face the challenges ahead. God gives us wisdom to invest our resources in blessing our families, friends, and all who need it in all future circumstances. Bless you.

    • Hi Darren,
      I’m glad that I didn’t instill a sense of buyer’s remorse about the new generator. The load tester is a good idea, I might have to look into that. Thank you for the compliments.

      Merry Christmas,


  3. What about putting some padding or muffling type insulation around the generator would that help

    • Chris Ray says:

      It might work, but you would need some opening for exhaust and to limit the possibility of overheating. I have read where people will rig a car muffler to the exhaust and run it outside.

  4. I know I’m jumping in here quite late, but here goes anyway. There are several generator “quality factors” that manufacturers hide or do not disclose without some real digging. The quality of electrical output can vary significantly between brands and the quality of voltage regulation. Powering incandescent lights from a generator is easy, but powering sensitive electronics may be problematic if the generated power is dirty (harmonics, distorted waveform). It is unfortunate that manufacturers do not disclose this important information up front – so be cautious.

    • For Farmer:
      Which generator do you suggest vi purchase?

      • I just meant to caution folks. I cannot recommend a specific generator, but suggest that some of the better inverter generators with a sine wave output should be cleaner than a straight alternator type. Voltage conditioners are available to smooth out alternator waveform. I lived on a yacht for a number of years and survived on 12 volts …. it can be done. With the new LED lights, a battery bank and smallish solar panel. Check out RV and yacht setups … 12 or 24 volts DC can run lights, fans, pumps and radios …

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