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.
Karen the Newbie Homesteader is a novice gardener, homesteader, and permaculturist. She and her husband recently purchased four acres in central Florida to create their homestead and grow their own food. She will be sharing their adventures: successes, failures, and everything in between – here at The Grow Network.