Tag: portable generator

The Best Generator for Emergencies

Emergency generator
What should I be looking for???

More on electricity?

Emphatically, Yes!  Why do we dwell so much on electrical power? It’s simple.  We depend so much on electricity for just about everything we do that it becomes a major concern in an emergency. And the news about power outages is ominous. But is a generator the solution? If so, what’s the best generator for emergencies? Let’s take a closer look.

First question: what’s your neighborhood like?  

If you live in a single family home with a lot of space around it, having a generator may make sense for emergency power. If you live in a multi-family unit (an apartment, for example, or in a mobile home park), it’s unlikely that a generator will work for you.

Why not?  Mostly, it has to do with logistics.

Second question: What different kinds of generators are there to choose from?

A home stand-by generator is about as big as a stove, and weighs twice as much.  It will be permanently installed outside, probably on its own pad. It’s hooked up to a permanent source of fuel (probably natural gas) and switches on automatically when power goes off. Depending on the size of your home, you are looking at at least a 10,000 Watt generator, and more likely 20,000 to run nearly every appliance and system. These are big, heavy (like 600 lbs.), and are relatively noisy. (Like your A/C.) As you can imagine, a whole-house stand-by generator is also a big investment – typically in the thousands of dollars.

Even the more efficient portable emergency generators for sale today — meant to power a few essential appliances — are about as big as a filing cabinet, and weigh close to 100 pounds. You plug your appliances or equipment into the portable generator using extension cords. Most run on gasoline; some are dual-fuel, which adds a propane option. Costs range from around $500 (which would be a real bargain) to as much as $2,500. Portable models are just as loud as the stand-by generators, too — so you’ll be bothering the neighbors if they are at all close to you! Even if you could stand the noise, you can’t run these inside the building due to emissions and perhaps fire danger.  Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run a generator in the garage!

A third type of emergency power supply is the inverter-generator. If your major concern is keeping your computers and telephones running, you’ll want an inverter style in order to be sure the power going into your devices is “clean.” Inverter-generators are generally smaller in size, weigh less, and are a lot quieter. This makes them a favorite for week-end camping and tail-gating! Prices for inverter-generators start at below $400 and go up.

Still interested? Here are a few other issues to consider.

Can you handle the weight?

First off, how much does the generator weigh? As mentioned, even the “small” generators are heavy, often over 100 pounds. (That’s why most portable generators come with wheels.) This is one hefty piece of machinery to move around. Can other family members move it without your help?  Can you move it even with everyone helping?

How much fuel can you store, and where?

The real issue here is how long will you be without power and how much gasoline or propane can you store safely? Even the most efficient portable generators, run at 25 or 50%, will empty their gas tank in a day or two. To refill the tank during an extended outage you’ll need to be able to safely (and, we hope legally) store several gas cans or propane tanks.

What size generator do you really need?

By now, you should have realized that there’s a great variety in generators — in size, weight and price. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet — and maybe should have started off with — is the amount of power you require.

Generators’ capacity is measured in Watts. Look at the appliances you want to run and pull the wattage requirement from the labels. Note: appliances or tools with a motor take about TWICE as much power to get started up (surge capacity) as they do to keep running (continuous capacity)! That’s why you’ll see generators advertised with two different wattages.

For example, I recently checked on our house, taking a look at keeping just the refrigerator and freezer and some lights going in an emergency. We need about 2,400 Watts to get everything started — but less than 1,000 to keep everything running! So I was searching in the 2500-2000 Watt range.

The only way you can figure out what size you need is to add up all the appliances/equipment you intend to run. Here’s a wattage chart to get you started. As you’re making your list, consider how many appliances you’ll need to plug in at the same time. (Judicious scheduling can give you better efficiency.) And note what sort of plug each appliance requires. Every generator will have a variety of plugs but it’s limited.

How much generator can you afford?

A stand-by generator will be a custom install, so I can’t anticipate what it might cost. As mentioned above, it will be in the thousands of dollars.

The cost for the dual-fuel generator shown below is around $600. Other similar units won’t cost much less but may cost as much as $2,000, depending on where you live. (We’re having a hot summer here in California, and are anticipating power outages, so prices are higher than usual.)

Prices for the inverter-generator start low, but also go up sharply. It all depends on how much power you need.

Finally, don’t overlook the fact that different states have different emission requirements – notably California. This can also change the prices.

As you consider price, compare to what you might lose if you don’t have a generator. A freezer full of food? Days worth of work?

What to look for in the advertising?

Good advertising is helpful. Look for the wattage output, size of the gas tank, noise in decibels, and safety features like overload and oil sensors, CO sensors, and surge protectors.

Example of a dual-fuel portable generator

This generator could easily serve to get you through a temporary power outage. I’d certainly consider this one for myself.

It’s one of the mid-size models from Champion. If you click the image or link and head to Amazon, you’ll find smaller and larger versions on that same page. Read everything, including reviews, and compare! It’s worth learning all you can before making a buying decision!

Champion Power Equipment 76533 4750/3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator with Electric Start

Example of an inverter-generator

In our household we spend hours everyday at our computers, and we have an office full of printers, lights, fans, etc. For us, a power outage is above all a business disaster! So we’ve also been looking at generators that will provide high-quality power for devices. The model below looks as though it would fit our needs well. And I could lug it around!

WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator w/Fuel Shut Off, CARB Compliant, Ultra Lightweight

The real solution to whether you need a generator for emergencies will be a personal one.

You final decision will require some advance planning. You’ll need to figure out what size you need (based on what appliances or equipment you want to run, and how often), where you’ll store the generator and fuel when you don’t need it, and how you’ll start, refill, and maintain the machine. The best generator for you might be very different from mine.

Full disclosure, we haven’t yet made our final decision!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Please share your personal experiences with home generators! We need more information to make a decision about the best generators for emergencies.


New Power Outage Affects Thousands


Power Outage from stormHundreds of thousands in the dark – again?

I just heard the local newscaster say, “ . . . as many as 260,000 will be without power.”

That should give you the clue as to where we are. There are 7 wildfires burning here in California, with all but one at 0% containment. And that one is only 5% contained.

I hope by the time you read this, those numbers will have changed.

Last week we talked about severe winter weather and the dangers the cold it can bring. This week, it’s heat.

Whether from heat or snow, winds or flooding, overburdened electric cables, transformers, and other electrical equipment can fail.

This year will  explode the power outage statistics, given the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands that left hundreds of thousands without power.

Will you be next?

Up until this year, the average American could have expected at least one power outage a year, and it would have averaged 200 minutes. Unfortunately, given the way things are going, you may need to expect a whole lot more minutes of outage. And maybe even days.

The good news?  We assume you have a sensible approach to outages and are preparing for them.

Ready.gov offers these basic suggestions for coping with power outage.

  • Have flashlight, batteries, cash and first aid supplies. No candles.
  • Have alternative charging methods for your phone or any device that requires power.
  • Know how to open your garage door when power is off.
  • Keep your car full of gas. Gas pumps require electricity.

This should all sound familiar, but . . .

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of these.

It goes without saying that you should have flashlights in every kit and in every room!

Emergency temporary lighting options

About 6 weeks ago, just after Hurricane Harvey hit, we revisited the topic of emergency lights and lanterns. If you haven’t seen that Advisory, or can’t remember the details, it goes into some detail about different types of flashlights, batteries, what a difference lumens make, the value of adjustable focus, etc.

You may want to take another quick look at that lantern Advisory and see if you need to replenish or add to your emergency supplies. While you’re at it, add Inflatable solar powered lamps to the options.

Shown at left, these are affordable at about $10 each, and are water and snow resistant, small, lightweight, perfect for emergencies or for any evening activity or party. Click on the image to get current pricing.

Alternative charging methods for devices

The technology that allows you to charge or recharge your various devices just keeps changing!

Not long ago we spent time examining the so-called “power banks” that store enough power to recharge your devices several times.  They range from what are termed “lipstick size” (1-2 charges) to considerably larger. Here’s that original Advisory that covers batteries and chargers.

As you might expect, the more charging capacity you ask for, the larger the banks are and the more they cost. The one shown here, for example, is about the size of a wallet, has two USB ports for charging devices, and actually will charge your phone as many as 6 times. Click on the image for full details on this power bank.

Charging methods for bigger stuff

If you’ve ever been faced with a car that won’t start, you’ll be interested in this!

I seem to attract cars whose batteries just can’t keep up . . . so we have added one more piece of emergency equipment to what’s stored in the trunk.

12 V Car Jump Starter

power for starting your carAfter years of backing a second car up to mine, fighting with jumper cables, etc., I was happy to get a portable battery charger. You can see it in the photo, labeled “old.”

This week, though, I was even more thrilled to get my hands on the portable power pack labeled “new.”

It pops right into the trunk (or into the glove compartment) since it’s not much bigger than Joe’s cell phone (shown) and can provide enough power for 20 jump starts!

The charger also powers phones, tablets, etc, and has a built-in S.O.S. LED light.

Lots of safety features, too, to prevent over-charging, over-heating, etc. And a row of blue lights indicates just how much charge you have left.

Below is a similar model, same size, same price, better picture!, from Amazon. It comes complete with clamps, plugs and cords plus carrying case.

The model shown here has 600 Amps, suitable for jump starting cars or smaller diesel engines, ATVs, boats, etc.  If you have bigger engines, look for a more robust device. The more energy you need, the bigger the item and, of course, the more expensive.

Still, for somewhere around $60 you can get a LOT OF SECURITY for yourself or family members! (Small enough to stuff in a stocking, too.) Click on the image for exact pricing.

Energy to keep equipment running

We’ve heard over and over again the challenges Puerto Rico has in keeping hospitals running for weeks using generators designed for short-term usage. Their maintenance people must be very skilled!

For most of us, a generator is purely a back-up device to carry us through a temporary power outage.

Precisely because it’s not used regularly, a generator requires extra attention as to placement and usage. Some quick safety reminders:

  • Generators can produce carbon monoxide, so they need to be placed OUTSIDE where there is plenty of air circulation.
  • Keep your generator dry.
  • Store the right fuel for your generator in a safe, secure place where it doesn’t become a fire hazard.
  • A portable generator typically can run one or two pieces of equipment. Plug them directly into the generator. Do NOT plug the generator into the home electrical system!
  • Size your generator to meet high start-up electrical requirements as well as requirements for running the equipment. (“Starting watts” vs “running watts”)

I’ve written before about the generators we bought for our neighborhood emergency response group. You may find those stories informational. Here’s a link to one of them.

A generator like the one shown below is a typical, mid-range household emergency generator. This type of generator is rated at between 500 and 15,000 watts. This one (at 7,500 watts, about $1,000) is shown with wheels, but be aware that it is not exactly portable because it weighs over 200 pounds!

This generator has an electric starter and runs on gas or propane. In the yellow triangular space on the front you can see that it has several outlets, both 120 and 240 volts, all protected from power surges. The manufacturer also offers a number of guarantees.

Click the image for full details and to use this model as a start for shopping. (You’ll see that a lot of people buy a cover and extra heavy-duty cords along with the generator itself.)

Whole-house standby generators

Did you notice the sentence hidden above that says a is designed to power “just one or two pieces of equipment.”?

If that’s not enough for you (!), you’ll want to consider a standby generator. This is a different level of equipment, permanently installed and sized to turn on automatically when the power fails. Standby generators generate anywhere from 5,000 to 150,000 watts. To find the right sized generator, you’ll need to examine exactly what you want to power in the way of essential equipment (A/C, heater, sump pump, etc.), appliances (stove, microwave, dishwasher, dryer, etc.) and extras (computers, hot tub, security, etc.).

Prices on standby generators start as low as $2,000, but realistic prices probably start around $5,000.

Get help from a qualified electrician to establish the size you need and to be sure it gets properly installed.

Whew. That’s a fair amount of info about emergency lighting and power. But I can assure you, when an extended outage hits, you’ll be pleased to have some back-up capability.

You can be SURE that after the power outage hits, none of these items will be available in stores — either they’ll be sold out, or the stores too will be closed because they have no power!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Portable Generator Safety Update!


The recent blizzard in the Northeast may not have been as bad for New Yorkers as anticipated, but it was bad enough to cause power outages to thousands.

When we hear power outage, we naturally think “generator.”

Generator safety Emergency Plan GuideHere at Emergency Plan Guide, we have looked several times at the pros and cons of generators while we considered purchasing one for our own neighborhood. And we have told the story of what happened AFTER we purchased it, too!

Today, as we head into National Severe Weather Preparedness Week (February 3 – 7), it seems a good time to add one more piece of information to the discussion.

Generators can be dangerous!

Here are three things to keep in mind as you consider the purchase of a new generator and/or get ready to turn yours on.

1. Location. The most important safety alert has to do with where you place your generator. You know that the off-the-shelf, standard generator kicks out significant quantities of carbon monoxide (resulting from the burning of fuel). Too much CO in the air can render you unconscious and kill you. In fact, According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), unintentional CO poisoning claims more than 400 lives a year, and about half of those are due to generators.

To protect yourself from the dangers of CO, run your generator outside and place it at least 20 ft. from the building, further if there are any doors, windows or vents. In particular, never run your generator in the garage, even if you keep the door open.

2. Connection. When the generator is running, it can power a number of appliances (as long as its fuel lasts). Use a heavy-duty outdoor electrical cord (10 gauge or better) with grounded plug (the three-prong one) to run from the generator outside to the appliances inside. Adding a heavy-duty power strip at the end in the house will make it easier to plug in the appliances.

Do the math!  Add up the wattage of the appliances you intend to plug in to make sure the generator can support that load.

3. Protection. NEVER NEVER NEVER plug the generator into a wall socket in the house! First, a generator cannot power your whole house so from a power standpoint, that’s useless. Second, and more important, the power from the generator flows through the house and into the power grid. Workers working on repairs to the grid could be electrocuted because of YOUR generator!

For more about generators,

check out these Emergency Plan Guide posts:

And if you are thinking “generator” you also need to be thinking “carbon monoxide alarm.”

Read our review questions before you purchase anything.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors

You may not be anticipating any severe weather, but please forward this information to friends who are right in the path of these winter storms. Thanks.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team