10 Questions To Ask Before Buying A Generator

Many Americans have to deal with the lack of electricity and various restrictions that come along.

In fact, when faced with a disaster, some folks will wait until the last minute to buy one for their household.

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As we have seen in recent weeks, most of them think that power will not go out for extended periods of time, and boy they wrong! Even those that changed their mind and bought a generator made the mistake of assuming that everything will do for their needs.

Since the market is flooded with all sorts of generators, it seems that these are nowhere to be found when disaster strikes. How you ever wondered why is that happening? According to retail stores, most folks buy a generator for their home when a disaster is forecasted, not because they don’t have one already, but because they have the wrong type for their needs.

Choosing the proper generator for your home is not as easy as it may seem, and it requires a little bit of research and knowledge. I will share the questions I’ve asked and the info I gathered when buying my first generator, and I hope these suggestions will help you make the right choice.

To make sure you pick the proper generator for your home, figure out the answer to the following questions:

What size generator do you require?

To provide the proper answer to this question, you first need to figure out what appliances you will need to operate during a crisis. The problem here is making a clear distinction between need and want since these two categories can be confusing for some. There are those that would rather power all their devices to pass the time and cope with the effects of a crisis. The point here is that you can live without all the devices you own, and you need to concentrate your efforts on the basics such as heating.

Once you make a list with all the devices you NEED to power, you have to calculate how many watts it takes to run each piece of equipment. By adding up the wattage requirements for every device you will figure out what size your generator should be.

This can be done easily, and you need to pay attention to the requirements of each appliance. All of them have a silver tag on the back. Some labels will list the amp, such as 15A or 15 Amps. If that is the case you need to multiply that number by the voltage.

In the US, the voltage can vary between 110 and 120. A quick example, if you have a 110-volt service and an appliance that uses 11 amp, multiply 110 Volts by 11A. It will give you 1201 watts.

Keep in mind that if your appliance has a motor, you will need to multiply the watts by 3 to get the power needed to start and run that appliance. This brings us to the classification of appliances by loads:

  • Reactive loads, such as AC, Blender, Circular saw, etc. These require three times the wattage to start
  • Restive loads, such as light bulbs, TVs, electric burners, etc.

Do you need an inverter or a generator?

If you settled on what type of appliances you need (and maybe want) to run and if you calculated successfully how many ways of power you will need, it is time to decide if you should pick an inverter or a generator.

In case you need to power devices to keep your kids entertained, or you want to play music on the stereo system for 2 or 3 hours, it is better if you go with an inverter/deep cycle battery system.

However, if your power needs are much bigger and you may require more than 1,000 watts to operate your appliances for more than 3 to 4 hours, you should definitely choose a generator.

What type of generator should I use for my computer?

This is a common question for most folks, and you should know that a computer requires a generator with a low harmonic distortion rating. Brushless generators are better suited for computers than brush generators.

Also, to be on the safe side, you should definitely buy a good surge protector. This should be installed in the line somewhere between the generator and your computer.

Do I need a portable or standby generator?

My answer to this question may vary from yours, and it all depends on the long-term survival plan you have. You may decide to bug-out, or you may decide to hunker down.

If you pick a standby generator, you should be aware that these are usually permanently or semi-permanently mounted on a pad. A standby generator is designed to turn on automatically when the utility power goes off, and it supports the entire load.

If you pick a portable generator, you will need to start it manually every time the power goes down. On the other hand, you can move it from one location to another without problems.

What are the differences between gas and diesel generators?

To keep it simple, a diesel generator is much more expensive than gas generators due to having better fuel efficiency and longer engine life. One thing you may not like about diesel generators I that they smell, they make quite the noise, and they produce smoke. All these may not work in your favor if you’re trying to keep a low profile.

Gasoline generators are the most commonly used ones, due to their size and cost-efficiency. In fact, most households in the US have one or two of these. Some people have a gasoline generator and propane one to make sure they don’t run out of fuel.

How much fuel will my generator use?

This is a common-sense question, and the bigger the generator, the more fuel it will use. Even so, most manufacturers advertise the use of one gallon of fuel per hour (more or less). You will figure out if this is true or just marketing only after you’ve used the generator a couple of times.

How much will a new generator set me back?

The cost of a generator is influenced by many factors, but the size is usually the main criteria for setting the price, and of course, the type of fuel it uses (gasoline, diesel, or propane). I can tell you from experience that there are low-end models on the market that will produce the same amount of power as the high-end models. However, these low-end brands won’t last as long, and they make a lot of noise.

A good generator will cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. I recommend you don’t cheap out here and pick a brand generator. The last thing you want is for your generator to fail you when you need it the most, just because you saved a couple of bucks. Consider this an investment and be wise about it.

When should I buy a generator?

The smart thing would be to buy one before SHTF if you don’t want to buy it at a higher price. When a blizzard hits your town, people will rush to get one, and you will end up empty-handed or you may have to pay double the price to get one.

If you want to buy a generator for your home, you should make it an emergency preparedness task and treat it as such. You should check out various models and get the one that fits your budget. Also, you can take advantage of sales and make a wish list with the model you want.

What should I look for in a generator?

Here are some features that you should consider when buying a generator for your household:

  • An overhead valve engine for longer life and quieter operation
  • An auto-idle control to reduce noise level and fuel consumption
  • A low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage.
  • A large fuel tank. The larger the tank, the longer the power will last.
  • A wheel kit. There are generators larger than 3,000 Watts that can weigh more than 100 pounds. If you need to move it around without breaking your back, a wheel kit is a must.

What other options do I have?

For some folks, fuel may become a concern in a time of crisis, and they will probably need to look into what alternatives are available.

Here are the main alternatives for the long run:

  • Solar Generators – In the past, solar generators were used for small loads such as lights, small power tools, and computers. However, there are now companies manufacturing solar generators that can provide power for an entire household and even small army camps.
  • Biogas Generators – These ingenious generators work by utilizing the waste from your home. They were initially designed to solve the garbage dump problems of third world countries. They become popular when certain countries from northern Europe scaled them to impressive sizes aiming to become zero-waste nations. You can even build a smaller scale one for your home, and there is a lot of information online about such DIY projects.
  • Wind Generators — These generators are usually more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts. However, they don’t require any fuel, and you can even build them yourself if you have the right knowledge. There are all sorts of DIY projects and books available on the internet, teaching you how to make your own.
  • Hydro Generators – Just like the wind generators, the costs for these types of generators can rise pretty high if you want to power your entire home. However, as long as you have a running water source, you will be able to build one, and you won’t have to worry about needing fuel ever again.

A last word

Selecting a good generator for your home may seem tricky at first, but with all the right info, it will become just another shopping trip that you need to make. If you settled on buying one don’t wait until there’s a pressing reason to do so. Make sure to get one in advance since it will save you the headache of the last minute shopping spree and competition.

Written by

Bob Rodgers is an experienced prepper and he strives to teach people about emergency preparedness. He quit the corporate world and the rat race 6 years ago and now he dedicates all his time and effort to provide a self-sufficient life for his family. He loves the great outdoors and never misses a chance to go camping. For more preparedness related articles, you can visit him at Prepper’s Will

Latest comments
  • Great article, thank you for your work and research. Couple of things I would like to mention. I have lived in areas for much of my life prone to electrical outages and have owned generators for years. I would like to offer a couple of things that have saved me aggravation when I have been diligent, and caused me much aggravation when I wasn’t so diligent. Todays gasoline is not your friend when left in gasoline engines,,,,yes,,,,,even with Seafoam etc. I have tried to make it a strict habit to shut the fuel valve off on all of my gasoline powered tools and let them continue to run until they quit. When I do this, they can sit for months and months and will readily start when the fuel is turned back on. When I don’t shut it off,,,,,,,,,,,it may or may not work when you need it to,,,,most times not……. On line trimmers, chain saws, equipment that doesn’t have a shut off valve, I remove the fuel cap, pour out as much of the remaining gas as I can, replace the cap and restart until it runs out of fuel. I do the same with ATV/s, boat motors etc and it just saves sooooo much butt ache. I also start my generators on the first of every month, just to make sure they run properly. Invest in a spare spark plug and have oil on hand, because of the low oil protection on many generators. Secondly, I keep a tote that has my extension cords, surge box, and a cable with padlock to secure my generator so it doesn’t get wheeled off when it is in use outside. IT HAPPENS! Good luck and remember the exhaust fumes KILL,,,,,don’t use inside or near windows or intake for fans. Thanks for listening to my rants…..Razman

  • Back in 2003 Toronto & cities on all sides of Lake Ontario experienced a total blackout of 5 hours and then rolling burnouts for at least a week afterwards. Fortunately I had recently purchased a small generator , about 850 Watts & requiring that I mix oil in the gas. It proved sufficient to power our refrigerator and with limited fuel about 25 litres I ran it about 4 hours each time the hydro went out. The major problem with 2-stroke motors is the mixed gas + oil has a limited storage life. Most sources say 30 days.
    I sold that generator for more than the $88 I had paid for it. My next generator was about 1500 Watts, same as a standard household outlet. It could run the fridge, and when we needed the microwave I just unplugged the fridge & plugged in the microwave. In 2010 we bought our remote bug out location and I took this generator up there just in time to deal with a major power outage in cottage country. The power utility had cut back on tree trimming and that was a rough summer, with power failures almost every weekend we were up there. I bought another 1500 Watt generator for the home location in the city and one for my in-laws. They were on sale at HOME DEPOT for $200. I kept 5 gas cans at each location, about 60 to 80 litres, and put fuel stabilizer in the gas. Every 6 months I emptied the jerry cans into my car tank & refilled them with fresh gas.

  • You can use cooking oil to power a generator or blend it with diesel. You can buy cooking oil a lot cheaper than diesel and you can pour it straight in the tank to subsidise your diesel. Or you can re-cycle cooking oil which is a lot more trouble but will work out a lot cheaper. A word of warning. Cooking oil may give problems at low temperatures unless mods are made to the fuel system. I have been using a blend in my road vehicles for years without any mods without any problems except at one time when moisture in the cooking oil froze during very cold weather.


  • In general, if natural gas is available for you home then convert as many devices to natural gas such as ranges, dryers, water heaters, furnaces, etc.

    I continue to see articles about sizing one’s home generator based upon adding up all the watts used by various electrical devices. This is grossly over what is really necessary because not all your devices are running at the same time. It is best to just record how much power is being used by your home by writing down the kw-hrs used that shows on your home’s electrical meter. If you can have a device installed on your meter which will record total usage every hour for a week during each of the seasons then you’ll have a much better idea for sizing a home generator.

    Get a generator that outputs 240 volts and not just 120v outlets because some of your home devices require 240v. If you have natural gas to your home then get a generator that can run on natural gas. Seldom is natural gas service interrupted. If not natural gas then get one that will run on propane. Propane can be stored virtually forever without any fuel degradation. Virtually any gasoline generator can be converted to use natural gas/propane. If planning on doing this then make sure that a conversion kit is available and that you are capable of modifying it or have someone who can.

    • …until the supply of natural gas is interrupted. Yes, it doesn’t happen often, but it sure can happen.

      In February of 2008, that happened in Florida. One of the pipelines feeding the state was shut down for repairs, and at the same time, a worker at a switchyard made a mistake that tripped Turkey Point nuclear power plant offline. Unfortunately, since so many simple cycle and combined cycle natural gas fired power plants had been built, they started/ramped up too many of them to make up for it (as nuclear plants have a HUGE output), causing line pressure to drop, causing natural gas fired power plants to shut down. As a result, the chain reaction caused 2 million people to lose power. At the time, I worked at Tampa Electric’s coal fired Big Bend power plant. I don’t know how many natural gas customers lost natural gas, but a very significant number of them did lose natural gas.

      Something similar happened in New Mexico (where I’ve lived since April 2011) during the very winter of February 2011, and so many customers lost natural gas on a cold night that a few died. The power grid, although stressed, managed okay for the most part. But the natural gas producers preferred to send gas to the power plants, rather than residential customers.

      You really shouldn’t depend on natural gas, unless you figure out a way to store enough of it on your property, as a backup. Since natural gas has a higher pressure than propane, that may not be easy or cost effective, IF the natural gas company will even allow it.

  • I’m new to all of this, so forgive my ignorance. If I use deep cell batteries, and an inverter, don’t I still need a means of recharging the battery bank? So don’t I still need a generator and battery charger, or are implying the use of solar, wind, hydro, etc.?

    • Yes, you would still need a way to charge the batteries. Keep in mind that solar and wind don’t put out steady power, and hydroelectric output can be affected by drought or a freeze, so it’s a good idea to plan accordingly.

  • Just ask yourself – How much power will my “Solar” cell bank (photo-voltaic cells) Produce at 0300 LST (3:00 a.m.). – Or on a dark overcast day. My 12 foot wind generator does just fine, averaging around 750 watts. My gas generator is just for the freezer and fridge.

    • If you Really want to store gasoline – Buy a generator ( Rated 5000 to 10,000 Watts continuous), 2 or 4 Grp. 27 “Deep Cycle” 12 V. batteries, and a Power Inverter (Rated 1000 watts or higher) which outputs pure sine wave or “step-wave” 60 cycle AC. Then you are set up. Works fine for me.

  • Need to check out Quantum Harvest EMP protected backup generators. Have one for some time. They work, power range available is large. Plus you can renew with solar power.

  • In the Northeast, we heat our homes with HOME HEATING OIL. In my basement is 550 gallons of OIL in steel tanks that are usually half to three quarters full. For the record, HOME HEATING OIL IS DIESEL FUEL,, minus the red dye. That’s why I recommend a diesel generator for use in areas where natural gas isn’t available, like my part of Long Island.

    When Hurricaine Sandy destroyed our electric power for 13 days, and all my friends were spending hours on gasoline lines so they could bring home flammable gasoline to store in their garages, I was running my diesel generator off of HOME HEATING OIL It was safely stored in my steel tanks in the basement, and with a simple hand pump from Lowes and two yellow jerry cans, I kept my system running great. The generator has a 5 gallon tank, and runs about 10 hours on a fillup. That’s a lot better than gasoline, and safer too. DIESEL RULES!

    • Nope, Rich. “Home Heating Oil” is roughly half-way between No.2 Diesel and Bunker Oil “C” (Bunker Charlie) as used in Large Industrial Steam Boilers. Do NOT use HHO in your Diesel engine. Your injectors will quit working in a day or 2.

  • A suggestion for those who can afford it . . . buy more than one generator. I own three: a 650-watt, a 1200-watt, and a 7500-watt. I have used them extensively. The advantage to owning a small, as well as a large generator is that you can use the small generator when only small amounts of power are needed, such as a computer or a few lights. Smaller generators are quieter and use less fuel. It would be senseless to run a large 7500-watt generator simply to power a computer and a 60-watt light bulb. My big generator is for the refrigerator and freezers, and I only run it for a few hours per day because refrigerators and freezers will keep your food cold and frozen for long periods of time as long as you keep the doors closed and open them for only a few seconds when you need to get something out. Powering them up for an hour or two per day is sufficient to keep your food safe. Another advantage to owning more than one generator is redundancy. If one breaks down, you have another as a backup. I hesitate to suggest brands, because I don’t want to be accused of advertising for a specific company. That said, the quietest generators on the market are made by Honda. They aren’t cheap, but in a SHTF situation, you want to keep as low a profile as possible. That means not letting others know that you have a generator (i.e. power). And, that means that you need the quietest generator you can get.

    • I second your comment on how quiet the Honda generators are relative to most portables.

      In case you need to run a UPS off generator successfully, here are a couple of tips:

      – Choose a “double-conversion” type UPS (if you’re unfamiliar, see Wikipedia). The other types generally just discharge their batteries and die.

      – On the larger Honda generators (6-7 kW) that have an eco-mode (where the engine speeds up and slows based on load), turn it OFF

    • Just a comment on pros and cons of gas vs propane for portable generators:

      If you’re planning to run it for an extended utility power outage, check how often you need to refill with gas when running at normal load.
      If that’s shorter than a good night’s sleep, consider a propane conversion.

  • ” There are now solar generators that can provide power for an entire household and even a small army camp.” Ok. I’m waiting. Please provide a name or website. The folks at Patriot Power Generator told me you could not daisy chain their generators to get more power, so I am still looking. Can you provide some helpful hints?

  • Bill, I also spoke to Patriot Power Generators. While you can’t daisy chain the generators, themselves, you CAN add additional batteries to add more power capacity. HOWEVER, you will not be able to draw more than the maximum 1800 watts from the unit. You will need to create your own power cables to attach to the battery terminals via alligator clips or some other connector like those on your car battery. The other end of the cable needs to have an Anderson Power Plant Connector on it. You will plug that into the DC inlet on the Patriot Power Generator (the same port that you plug the solar panels into). You won’t be able to use the solar panels at the same time that you are using the batteries. It’s one or the other. But, since you will be charging the Patriot from its solar panels during the day, that shouldne’t present a problem. IMPORTANT!! You cannot CHARGE the extra battery from the Patriot Power Generator!! You will need to charge any extra batteries, beforehand, by using a standard battery charger and AC house current. In a SHTF situation, you will need a solar battery charger, with its own solar panels that are separate from the solar panels for the Patriot Power Generator. You CAN daisy chain the solar panels, and the more panels you have, the more batteries you can charge, and the faster you can charge them. I would charge one battery at a time, bring it to full charge, remove it from the charger, and hook up another battery, and so on . . . When using the batteries in conjunction with the Patriot Power Generator remember to connect the batteries IN PARALLEL!! That means you connect positive terminal to positive terminal (red-to-red); and negative terminal to negative terminal (black-to-black). That creates one, huge 12 V battery and will give you hours and hours of power from the Patriot BUT, NEVER MORE THAN 1800 WATTS. If you screw up and connect the batteries in SERIES — black-to-red-to-black-to-red (etc.) — you will be creating a monster that will burn out your Patriot, probably cause it to burst into flame, and may set your house on fire, because wiring the batteries in series, MULTIPLIES their voltage. So, two 12 V batteries, in series equals one 24 V battery. Three batteries in series equals one 36 V battery, and so on. You increase the voltage by 12 volts for every battery that you add. DO NOT DO THIS!! Wire the batteries IN PARALLEL — black-to-black and red-to-red. You can connect the batteries, in parallel, using jumper cables or, (to reduce the amount of wire you have strung out) make your own, shorter cables, by buying a roll of heavy-gauge wire and a bunch of alligator clips. REMEMBER, you will need one cable that has alligator clips on one end and an Anderson Power Plant Connector on the other end that will plug into the DC inlet on the Patriot Power generator. That cable will go on the very last battery. Hopefully, that explains everything. If you have any questions, I’ll post another reply.

  • This is my second comment: First, fuel based backup generators suck. Hurricane Ivan, my 5Kw Honda generator was in its little shed with gas cans etc. Backup wire went thru dryer vent to inside dryer outlet to back drive breaker box for distribution control. Thought I had a handle on it, NOT. When wind is blowing and raining in the middle of the night and you find yourself out in it with a flash light in your mouth trying to refuel gasoline and restart you very hot generator at 4 in the morning. Ya, you got a handle on it alright. Or later in the long line at the gas station to refuel those gas cans in time to get back before the tank runs dry again. Lesson learned, I now have two houses with Generac 12 Kw backup generators fueled by natural gas and propane. They work automatically for multiple power outages. The only way to go, with only bi annual maintenance. Now to backup these backups I have the little patriot solar batteries units for prep per stuff little handheld radios, phone, laptops, etc. protected by Tech Protect EMP bags. For the houses I have the Quantum Harvest EMP protected solar generators. And EMP protected soldering iron with a supply of bi-pass diodes for the solar panels it needed. There are 5 things you must never do: 1) Never think you know it all. 2) Never be disarmed. 3) Never get on the bus. 4) Never stop improving your situation. 5) Never quit. Oh yes, and most important number six, have an active relationship with the creator of the universe, in the end that is the only important thing to never give up.

  • Two things not mentioned in the otherwise good article is the noise and exhaust from the generator. The noise tells everyone within earshot that you have power. This could be problematic with desperate neighbors. Many higher end home generators can be bought with a “hospital package” that includes sound deadening. Some are so good you can literally stand next to them without knowing they are running.

    The exhaust is another issue. It can give away your power status if others smell it. Worse, if it leaks into your house, it can be lethal.

  • If your line voltage is only 110, there’s a problem! 120V is the standard and has been for the past 50 years. Don’t forget for whole-house systems you’ll also have to install a transfer switch. One other thing many don’t know is if you’re running off natural gas you have to derate the genset by 15%, meaning a 3kW unit will only be good for 2550W.

    • How would the line voltage being 11o be a problem? The nominal voltage is 120, and although it can vary, 10% lower or higher than 120 typically is fine. It varies according to different factors, but I’ve even seen labels for equipment that was rated at 110, but it ran fine off the 119.8 volts that my house in Florida had. To get the same amount of work (aka the same amount of watts) out of the equipment at 110 versus 120 would require slightly more amps, but even then, it’s not going to be a problem as long as the amps doesn’t exceed what the circuit is rated for.

      And by the way, the standard for a house is actually 240 volts (again, within 10% usually being fine), not 120. It’s only 120 for most circuits, which is derived by using one of the two hots in the box, and the neutral. But the house is fed by two hot wires that total approximately 240 volts.

  • How can i protect my 14k generator from a emp. If i buy another controller and put it in a faraday box will that work. After emp is over i can install new controller. Will this work or will the emp take out my battery’s also. Greg

  • Propane. It’s currently the best generator fuel out there. Cheap, readily available, easy to transport in multiple size tanks, not malodorous like gas or diesel. Best deal is the Firman dual fuel generator at Costco, get the bigger 120/240 v model. And with your propane gas grill, you can also cook and heat water water with the same fuel source.

  • When looking to buy a generator, be careful and pay attention to what they advertise the wattage as. Some will advertise the SURGE wattage as the output of the generator, but you need to base the purchase on the maximum RUNNING wattage. And it’s a good idea to have one with a SURGE wattage that’s well above the RUNNING wattage, which helps when inductive loads (like an air conditioner compressor) starts, as loads like that can have a big surge. Years ago, I had a backup generator in Florida that was rated at 5500 RUNNING watts, and 8500 SURGE watts. The RUNNING watts was fine for most things, as long as I managed the load properly (water heater and oven off when the A/C was on, etc.). And the surge watts was way above the running watts, so that worked well when the A/C started. However, it would have been nice to have an extra 2000 watts of both running and surge watts.

  • generator is ok for short term, but if shtf, sooner or later yer gonna run out of fuel. you’d have to store thousands of gallons and it won’t last as long as you think. better off looking at something like solar, maybe with wind supplemental.

  • An important consideration for using backup generators is the transfer switch, which prevents an accidental cross connect between the generator or other backup power and the grid. Automatic transfer switches are one option for permanently installed backup generators. A manual transfer switch or a main panel, circuit breaker interlock are other options for portable generators. I just discovered another option from American Power Conversion, which I found intriguing, because it automatically, manages two power inputs, including generator start and an Uninterruptible Power System, supports intelligent load management (so you can prioritize which circuits to turn on or shed) and controls up to eight 120 vac circuits and one 240 vac circuit. It is powered by standard residential, (in the US) 120/240 split phase power input. The published ratings are 7200 watts maximum load, 30 amps total maximum load (both phases).
    If you would like to review the information on this unit you can visit the APC website and search for the Universal Transfer Switch, Model UTS10BI.
    I hope it does not sound like I am advocating APC equipment, exclusively, but I have used their UPSs for many years and can attest to their good design and reliability.

  • What about a good hydro generator? anyone have experience with them? I hear a lot of solar, wind, and liquid fuel generator talk.

  • All good comments. Another thing to consider is how loud the generator is while running. Not only might it keep you awake but it also advertises to the nearby neighborhood that you have power – when they don’t. The genny owner has to decide whether/when/if/who they will allow to use some of their power and that knowledge tends to spread quickly after a few days with no power for cell phones,, food preservation, etc. I have read about owners being attacked for refusing to allow strangers to share some of their power, refrigerator, etc.

    Some manufacturers have what is often called a “hospital package” that include noise damping panels in the case surrounding the engine and a special noise dampening muffler that directs the majority of the engine noise upward.. A good hospital package will allow a person to be within a few feet of the generator and not know its running. It may be worth the cost depending on the location.