How To Choose A Generator For Your Homestead

Why you need a generator

In 2011, when U.S. economy looked bleak, I stocked up on food that would keep long-term, and figured out ways to filter water, wash clothes, and cook food without electricity for an extended situation. I had to figure out how to choose a homestead generator as part of an overall emergency survival plan.

Better prepared, than sorry

We used the generator for intermittent power:  a few fans and the refrigerator. These were what I thought would be the minimum appliances needed to make life bearable in Florida.

Also, in a deed-restricted community, our HOA had rules about fuel storage, so we were limited to small tanks of propane to run our generator. Luckily, our worst fears of what the economy did not materialize.

If we had been hit with a hurricane or some other disaster…

…the generator would have been  put to use immediately.

Choosing our homestead generator

On the homestead, the generator was convenient for running power tools and charging battery packs. My husband made good use of it in building a tool shed.

Now that we are building our house, our generator needs have changed. We have a well that requires more power than our first generator. The little generator can’t produce as much as we need.

Generator needs change

Our new home will be much more energy-efficient, because of the materials used in the building. We plan to have mostly propane appliances, which can also be converted to run on natural gas. Most people aren’t aware that you can have a regular-sized refrigerator-freezer that uses propane, but they are available.

Take your electricity needs into account

With most of the major electric energy hogs handled, it will be interesting to see how much electricity we will use on a daily basis. Once the house is built, we will monitor our usage. Then, we’ll move a lot of our electricity needs to solar panels on our south-facing roof. Unfortunately, Florida won’t let you live completely off-grid, but that doesn’t mean that you have to use grid power. You just have to have a connection to it.

Have you seen this article on Off-grid AC and survival cooling?

8 types of generators

There are seven types of electric generators:

1. Gasoline generators are the most common and readily available. They come in small portable sizes to larger whole-house generators.


  • The fuel is highly flammable and cannot be stored for more than one year.
  • Produces high emissions.
  • Doesn’t start well in cold weather.

2. Diesel fuel generators has the least flammable fuel source, and are almost as available as gasoline-powered generators. The perform better and more efficiently, and starts better in cold climates.


  • Fuel can only be stored for 24 months.
  • Diesel emissions are high, some areas limit how long they can be used in a day.
  • Does not do well in wet conditions.
  • Requires regular maintenance by a qualified mechanic.
  • Less portable.

3. Bio diesel fuel generators are starting to come on the market. They use less non-renewable sources. It is more environmentally friendly.


  • The engines are noisy.
  • Fuel can only be stored for 24 months.
  • Sometimes not available during power outages.
  • More difficult to find in some regions.
  • Mixture must be kept at an 80:20 ratio, making it difficult to work with.

4. Emulsified diesel generators is a mix of diesel and water blended with a mixing agent. It has the same pros and cons of diesel and biodiesel.

5. Propane generators burn clean and can be stored a lot longer. It produces relativity low emissions. These types of generators are available and last a long time if properly maintained by a qualified technician. Propane generators start well in cold climates and are fairly quiet.


  • Propane is kept under pressure, which makes it highly flammable, even explosive.
  • The fuel systems are complex and subject to failure.
  • Installation is costly.
  • More expensive to buy and operate.

6. Natural gas generators are available just about everywhere. The fuel lines are run directly to where the generator will be kept, so it never runs out of fuel or need refilling. These generators burn clean with little waste. The fuel is available even if the power goes out. The units are affordable in comparison to other choices. The system is fairly quiet and starts in cold climates.


  • The installation cost is expensive.
  • The systems don’t last as long as diesel generators.
  • Dangerous leaks are possible with the gas lines.
  • Fracking is causing many unforeseen problems with water supplies and earthquakes.

7. Hydrogen generators are starting to become available. Hydrogen is everywhere. It is nontoxic, clean, cheap, and produces more energy than other fuel sources. These generators are portable and can be used just about anywhere.


  • Currently expensive compared to other generators.
  • Not available everywhere.

8. Biogas Generators are also coming to the market, which produces a biogas from food waste and manures. You can make it yourself. The fuel can replace diesel, natural gas, and propane for running your stove, lights, and refrigerator.


  • You have to know what you’re doing.
  • Gas is highly flammable, even explosive.

How to choose which generator is right for you?

Our second generator was purchased mainly to handle the well.  The well was pretty deep and has a one-horsepower pump that exclusively operates it. We are looking into a way to get the water out without electricity, but as a stopgap, the generator was quite a bit cheaper, especially since we got it on sale. I also like the fact that it will run on gasoline, propane, or natural gas; even though the last two don’t create as much power as gasoline.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Does it need to be portable or permanent?
  • What are your electrical needs? Appliances or equipment do you need to run on a generator?
  • Where do you live? Your climate may determine which is best for you.
  • What total watts do you need? This will determine the generator size.
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want a system that comes on automatically, even if you’re not home?
  • How to do feel about these fuel’s affects on the environment?

With everything we are doing to produce energy on-site and reduce our energy needs, this may be the last generator we buy. Time will tell. There are many available that will automatically start if the power goes out and can power an entire house. I don’t think we are ready for that just yet.

Do you have a generator for your home or homestead? Which one did you decide on? Tell us in the comments below.

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This post was written by Karen the Newbie Homesteader


  • KARL POINTER says:


    1. Tom Jackson says:

      That can be done probably. There was a very good article on a rancher converting a pickup to use wood in an issue of Mother Earth News. He set a speed record with it. Lot of work to cut the wood and split it into small enough pieces to use it. I think that the ultimate is probably to go to solar cells but provide a generator as backup. Cost-wise it is tough to bite off the overall cost of a solar system at once. My thoughts are to use a generator and then build a battery bank which will be charged with the generator so that the generator is not used all the time. After this is in place, solar cells can be phased in to charge the battery bank or even wind power with a generator still available to charge the battery bank. The battery bank can even initially have fewer batteries and then add to them in the future.

  • Tom Jackson says:

    I have gone through this selection process previously and purchased a portable gasoline generator and installed a conversion kit on it which allowed it to run on gasoline, propane or natural gas. Natural gas is my 1st choice because I assume that it will be available but the other fuels will run as well if needed. I think for a homestead that a large propane tank fueling a propane generator would be the best solution unless you have access to a natural gas well as I do. Even without solar power, a battery bank that is kept charged by a generator is probably the best solution. Of course local variables will dictate the final solution.

  • vocalpatriot says:

    you lost me with the “Fracking is causing many unforeseen problems..” B.S..
    Too bad you can’t see the forest for the trees.

  • Deborah Limon says:

    What about solar generators? I live in New Mexico where we have Sun 300 days of the year.

  • N kelsey says:

    I have a Generac Generator permanently mounted outside. Downside is costly maintenance but has kicked on in about 5 seconds when power outage. There has been no long term outage in the two years I have had it. Hoping it was a good decision.

  • Jeanne Gutridge says:

    Good article on the generators. I am not familiar with generators but have a question about what would be best for our situation. My daughter is on home dialysis every day. I was told we couldn’t run her medical equipment on a generator if we lose electricity. Can you explain why this is. What are the options we could look at when the electricity does go out.
    thank you

    1. Basically a very good article, however you have a few mistakes. Diesel fuel like olive oil lasts indefinitely. There has been olive oil found in caves that is over a thousand years old and still good. Once I was clearing the trees from an apple orchard and I was running out of fuel so just for grins and curiosity, I went to Costco and purchased 5 gallons of the cheapest salad oil they had and took it home and poured it into the tank of my diesel tractor. It mixed with the small amount of diesel in the tank and made the mixture over 95% salad oil. The engine started and ran with no difference other than it seemed to have about 10% less power which under most circumstances would not be noticeable. I also worked at the Monterey, CA airport for about a year and a half and was introduced to JetA fuel. The fuel that commercial airlines use in their engines. Commercial airlines are required to drain 5 gallons of fuel from the bottom of every tank every day to insure there is no water in their tanks. This fuel sits around airports as hazardous waste or is used in diesel engines. I used it in my 1955 Mack Truck, Scout International Diesel and my case tractor for the entire time I was there. The only difference I could tell using JetA fuel was my engines made no smoke and the Mack when idling made no noise. The man “Diesel” who invented the diesel engine in the late 1800’s ran his engines on peanut oil as hydrocarbon fuel from crude oil from the ground was not to be developed for another 20 or so years. Lastly, commercial biofuel is probably the most environmentally hazardous fuel as it is mostly palm oil and clearing rainforest for palm products is now outpacing clearing for cattle and corn. We need our rainforests. To store diesel fuel indefinably, go to your local fuel distributor and obtain 55 gallon drums, many distributors give them away. Don’t worry about the small amount of oil or fuel in the drum, just fill it to the top with no air space and this fuel will keep for more than 10 years. Store it in a cool place with as little temperature change as possible. Now I’m really done.

    2. The dialysis equipment like the old time computers probably need a very clean electricity. You can run them on any generator or any AC current source between 80 and 180 volts properly phased (I assume the dialysis equipment is single phase 110 volts) as long as you have a good line filter sized properly. You need to find a local electronics technician who understands this stuff and you should use this line filter all the time as it will protect you from bad power from your utility. It is also possible that the old dialysis equipment was unable to use dirty electricity and the new equipment won’t care. I would be happy to help, you may email me:

  • Ernest Aldridge says:

    Marjory, just read the article on how to chose a generator. I have had some experience with them. You must decide what the purpose is for the generator. Is it for primary power, back up power or stand by power? “The Grid” really is a very reliable source of electrical power. It can also be used as source to charge a battery bank as back up power. The battery bank can then be converted to AC with a converter. Converters are getting cheaper and cheaper. They have much fewer moving parts than a generator. Remember also that batteries require maintenance, and they emit hydrogen while charging.
    There really ain’t no free lunch. The grid could be replaced with solar panels as they become affordable. Progress is being made in batteries and solar panels. Generators are expensive, noisy, smelly and have too many moving parts for the average household. The converter also maintains the frequency medical equipment requires. Ernie

  • Suzanne says:

    Thank you so much for this information. It id much neefef as we have purhased some land in the country and want to be very low profile. I will share the info with my friends!

  • Robert says:

    We use a 15 kW Generac propane generator to backup grid power to our house. We’ve used this many times at our home in Michigan. It works GREAT and has been quite reliable–until Detroit Edison (DTE) experienced a brownout and the transfer switch didn’t work so we burned out the transfer switch to apply generator power to our home. I manually switched so we had power inside, but it was an expensive repair replacing the automatic transfer switch (ATS). DTE accepted NO responsibility for destroying our ATS leaving us to cover the $1200 repair bill. This does not detract from our happiness with the Generac generator. It works fine and is now back in action. When power goes out, my brother who lives next door goes to our house while grid power is out.

  • Just Aguy says:

    I’m a fan of multifuel generators. Gas/propane/natural gas. That way you aren’t reliant on any one source for fuel.

  • Ashley Turns says:

    My husband and I are planning on getting a new home generator in case some kind of natural disaster occurs and we are wondering what kind we should get. So I like how you mention that a propane one will give off low emissions and can last a long time. Since we aren’t going to want to replace our home generator for awhile, we will definitely have to get a propane one. http://www.shocking-difference.com/

    1. Karen the Newbie Homesteader says:

      Ashley, propane is an excellent choice if you have a large propane tank. Check with your local distributor to make sure you are getting the best size for your needs and running the generator.

  • John says:

    Following on from ‘Karen the Newbee’s’ article referencing generators: Our (commentator’s) homestead’s utilization of gen-sets over these 7 years as a back-up to our PV solar primary electric source, provides us ‘hands-on’ experience to speak to propane generators. After maybe 1300 run-time hours of familiarization with LPG units, perhaps indulge our humble contribution in assistance to this topic.

    As she wrote:

    • Propane is kept under pressure, which makes it highly flammable, even explosive.

    • The fuel systems are complex and subject to failure.

    • Installation is costly.

    • More expensive to buy and operate.

    OK now; ’Let’s Rock’: Here’s our ‘martial-arts combat’ experience regarding those aforementioned propane generator points:

    • Propane under pressure dangers: With normal AGA (American Gas Association) approved adapters installed, it’s never been a concern.

    • Fuel systems are complex and subject to failure: Actually, there isn’t any conventional carburation (gasoline/diesel/alcohol/turpentine, liquid to vapor phase change involved), rather it’s a simple air/fuel vapor ‘mixer’, because propane comes already ‘pre-vaporized’, which is the ‘fuel state’ that all ICE (internal combustion engines) necessarily require to ‘combust’, and hence achieve their explosive power effect, that we love. That aforementioned mixer device is akin to a common propane shop torch unit in which the fuel flows from the canister, mixes with air, and is designed to effect the correct ‘equal and >’ to 15:1 ‘air-to-fuel’ stoichiometric (chemistry) ratio for efficient combustion. Oh, and failure …? Not with any ‘hopefully’ available competent resources.

    • Installation is costly: All species of installations are gonna cost something, but the everyday occasion of being downstream from a normal source ( a 20 lb. or 250 gallon bulk tank, etc.) then connected to a 12 psig pressure reducer; a 5 foot rubber hose w/ a coupla 3/8” brass fittings, could expectedly simply be a double-digit expense.

    • More expensive to buy and operate: Hmmm …, our homestead’s three installations had up-front ‘bought & delivered’ outlays for $600-750 per gen-set, producing 6.5-9.5 K watts. Any hydrogen-based fuel is attenuated by 3%/1000 feet elevation, so our 8000 ft. locale was lowered to 72% of STP sea-level. Also, propane (Carbon-3) vs. natural gas, methane (Carbon-1) is noticeably more energetic; but gasoline (average Carbon-+8), trumps them both in heat energy output—which is the basis of how them things run.
    However, getting back to propane: although it provides about 65-70% ‘bang-for-the buck’ power than the ‘powerful-but-dirty’ petrol—yet on the positive side, ICE’s run 2-2.5 times longer on propane than their gasoline cousins … because… LPG (liquified petroleum gas) is the only and single constituent—that being compared to gasoline’s ‘Hungarian Goulash’ potpourri of chems, all those mainly being ‘higher-carbons’ that just add gunkola to the oil/engine internal components, et al. Uhhh … perhaps maybe doubting this post? OK then, just pull a gas-fueled engine’s spark plug and place such puppy next to a propane version after 100 hours run-time, and conduct a side-by-side visual. Uh-huh. And do make note; propane doesn’t deteriorate over time. It just doesn’t suffer from the 60 day ‘use-by’ date of ‘Regular’.

    OK; so let’s wrap: point being—specifics matter. Hard facts should be taken into account when involved in a ‘design decision’ regarding your homestead’s all-important ‘on-ground’ realities in the assemblage of appropriate engineering for your circumstance. Generalities and ‘broad-brush’ characterizations may not be your particular avenue to success. ‘Heart-Healthy💌 Fact’—in the end, do your own homework. Might review this poster’s recent ‘off-grid’ solar PV piece at a related internal forum for additional info covering this commentator’s ‘operations-share’.

    John, ‘Elder Statesman’

  • Karen the Newbie Homesteader says:

    John, you are correct about the points you bring out. The Editor at the time added the section to which you are taking exception. I personally use propane for my generators which were also purchased inexpensively, on-sale from the usual home improvement places. I am currently looking into a wood gas generator also, since we have lots of trees on our property. I just need to pick up some welding skills to get going with that! Thanks very much for adding your first-hand experience with this subject.

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