When The Lights Go Out

Generator Types

I had lunch today with one of my old prepper buddies and we started talking about generators.  We have very different ideas on the subject, and I'm not sure that either of us is completely right.  I've got a 8,500/12,500 watts Generac unit and he has two of those small, gas sipping, super quiet Honda units that push about 1,600 watts.

By my thoughts, I can run much of my house at one time... well pump, water heater, refrigerator, freezer, a few lights, TV set, and a couple of fans or a space heater depending on the weather.  That's very convenient, and easy to work with.  There are some downsides.  It uses a lot of gas - about 5 gallons in a 7-8 hour stretch.  It's noisy - it can be heard from the street.  It's overkill if we don't need that much stuff going at one time, such as when we are asleep.  Did I mention it uses a lot of gas?

Those units that my buddy has can run a few select things, like the refrigerator or a few lights and a fan or two.  He has city water, a gas water heater, and a wood stove, so those are not even in the equation.  They sip gas, about 4 hours on a gallon.  They are whisper quiet - we've had a conversation at normal voice levels while standing beside one running.  The cons are that he has to turn things off and on to run multiple items, and they are expensive, about $1,000 each.

I guess, based on our individual needs and expectations, what we have works, but wouldn't work as well for the other.  I would like to have a couple of those small units to supplement my large one.  I could use one to run the freezer out in the shop, and the other to run the refrigerator and my CPAP machine at night, then go to the big one during the day.  Long term, I'd like to put a small solar system on the shop with a couple of deep-cycle marine batteries hooked up to an inverter.  That might actually be more cost effective than buying the small gennies.


  1. It seems to depend on what all you need to run. I'm at the research phase for generators. I think I know how much capacity I need to run my essentials (with some power switching as an option). My big hitter is that I have a sump pump for the basement that will use 10 amps (just replaced it too).

    I also am debating whether to add in capacity to handle my furnace (I'm in Minnesota) or to get a ventless nat gas heater professionally installed.

    What I'm leaning towards currently is a fuel sipper for low power times but with a several KW gen for heavy load times (furnace and/or sump etc).


  2. My experience with generators is that small-ish ones work best, if you're feeding them gasoline.

    I have a DeWalt DG4300 that I connect via a "Connection Hub" installed by Dominion at my service entrance by the meter. It's big enough to power a fridge/freezer in the kitchen, a freezer in the garage, and assorted fans and a few lights. But it's small enough that after the November Nor'easter in 2009 it ran for over 15 hours on less than 5 gallons of gas. And it's built to run forever, although this also means it wasn't cheap.

    If you *need* more power for some reason, go propane or natural gas for your generator fuel source. I prefer propane because I don't have to worry about the system pressure in the natural gas pipelines being lost after a disaster. And for heat, a few years back I had a ventless propane gas log installed in my fireplace. We LOVE it. With it turned to its lowest setting, it still puts out enough heat to keep the whole house livable though not comfortable. The room with the fireplace, however, gets so toasty that only my wife can stay there after a while, so we generally only need to run the gas log for 1/2 hour or so at a time.

    I also thought about the two-generator approach, but for long-term outage power needs I went instead with some small solar panels and a charge controller feeding two deep-cycle marine batteries, with a 5500-watt inverter. Large loads take a while to recover from, but if they're infrequent this setup works okay.

    Sorry for the long rambling comment, but I hope this helps.

  3. hey,idea- you could use your big genny during the day to charge a bank of batts or a power supply to run your machine at night. from a safety standpoint, its not good to run a genny while asleep. i have a 3 pronged approach- 4k to run heavy loads intermittently, 1k for tv/lights and a backup solar system for night time, alarms n such. even w/ fridges there is no reason to run the genny 24/7. a couple hours morning and night will keep everything cold if you don't open the door often. i run the ventfree lp, tho i'm adding a wood stove as we speak. i have a 500 gallon water tank collecting h2o off the metal roof for backup water. hand pump and 12v pump off the solar provides pressure. my weak point is hot water. right now i use a camp shower water heater but its a pain to use. looking for a better fit. a bigger genny would work, but gas...hope this helps. take care.


Please feel free to comment on my posts. I do ask that you keep the language clean. I reserve the right to moderate comments and will delete any that violate the principles of respectful discourse or that are spam. I will not delete your comment for simply disagreeing with me.