In part one of this two-part blackout kit series, A Basic Emergency Generator, I want to cover what I know about using a generator for the temporary but inevitable power outage.
The key phrase there is “What I know“. In other words, using a basic gas-operated emergency generator. Period. That’s what I have and use. Not a solar generator, whole house, or even an inverter generator.
While all of those sound like fantastic ideas, I want to stick to blogging about what I actually have experience with.
What you’ll get here is my story, what I learned, and how I think I can improve my own situation. Maybe that will help you. So here we go:
I understand that having a generator as a major part of your blackout kit might be a little out of reach for some but it plays such a huge role in our power outage preps that I want to start with it for the first part of this two-part series on building a blackout kit.
This weekend I’m cleaning up and updating our generator and blackout kit after a three-day power outage we just experienced. Now’s the perfect time to take photos. In my world, that means a blog post is coming.
Rather than explaining my story all over again, I edited a copy of something I shared with the Exclusive Prepper Website Email Group that I’m a member of. This is totally skippable if you’re in a hurry:
We lost our power last Sunday around 1 pm. It stayed off for three days, about 76 hrs.
My family thought I was crazy but I was excited about the training. I set up the generator to power a few lights, three refrigerators, and a deep freeze. We set up lanterns (battery-powered), a charging station, and even ran the wifi.
We cooked outside either on our grill, griddle, or two-burner outdoor stove. We also have a smoker but I didn’t use it. Coffee in the morning was made by heating a kettle on the propane stove and using a French press.
By the second day, I even hooked up the washer, dryer, and a small window air conditioner.
I learned that my generator while running that kind of load, needs about ten gallons of gas for 24 hours. That’s twice what I had planned so it was a useful lesson.
This is huge. My 60/10 turned into 30/5. I’ll explain that:
With the fifty gallons of gas I keep stored (As you’ll see in the Instagram photo below, I actually keep a little more than that as a buffer), I figured that I could run my generator for 60 days if I only ran it four hours a day (Just to keep the refrigerators and freezers going, charge all of our devices and whatever else we could get done in that time frame.) or ten days if I ran it twenty-four hours a day. Now I know I need to plan for half that time.
So to be clear, if it had been a serious issue I would have been running our emergency generator four hours a day while we worked to save the frozen and refrigerated food.
All in all, it was a cakewalk. I actually enjoyed the opportunity. We still went to work, washed our clothes, cooked every day, and lived life as normal.
Side note: We’ve been prepping so long I almost failed to realize others were struggling around us while we merely felt a minor inconvenience.
Once I heard that many of our neighbors lost all of their refrigerated and frozen food, after shrugging off a tinge of guilt, I realized this might make a nice topic for Next Step Survival – Building a blackout kit and how much our generator helped.
Why An Emergency Generator Is Probably A Good Idea.
I feel I need to address this prepping elephant in the room with their hands on their hips. Yes, elephants do that when they feel snarky. Trust me. LOL
Over the years I’ve heard many preppers explain away the need for a generator because,
In the event of a SHTF event, generators are going to attract the hoards to your ample cache of food and supplies and they’ll take everything you have.
Besides, everyone knows the power will be out for years and that generator will only last as long as your fuel holds out. Oh, and all the gas stations are going to be closed, along with all of the stores and roads.Fictional Doomsday Prepper
New To Prepping? Start Here – Becoming A Prepper
So I touched on it in the email I just shared but with a ton of money tied up in frozen food, in the event of a long-term (Over a week) power outage, a generator would give me up to a month to begin canning, smoking, dehydrating or curing everything I could.
How Can I Improve My Emergency Generator Preparations?
I phrased it like that to avoid talking about solar power, which I’d love to have but I’m not there yet. ( That, and I’m trying to rank for that particular keyword 😉 ) Here’s one of the better posts out there if you’re interested in setting up solar power.
Wired to the home and/or running on natural gas.
One of the things that make me very nervous about my current setup is all of the gas I have stored. Fifty+ gallons of gasoline would probably be an issue in a house fire. Even stored in a separate outside shed doesn’t feel safe.
It looks like, according to the U of G (University of Google), converting my gas-powered generator to a natural gas generator is fairly inexpensive and simple to do.
Another downside to my power outage plan is all of the extension cords. We had cords everywhere. This is actually one of the reasons I was looking forward to getting a live exercise. I learned two things;
- First, we have far too many extension cords that are too long (Up to a 100 foot) and we didn’t have enough multiple outlet extension cords to split off into different directions. I fixed that a couple of days later with a visit to our local Lowes.
- Second, it takes a lot of extension cords to stretch across our house and run everything we wanted to run. I’d love to just plug into our household wiring. The SAFE solution to this is very costly. I know, it can be plugged in directly without a transfer switch but I don’t want that kind of risk.
TIP: If you want to know what generators or extension cords work best, talk to a decent contractor that uses them on job sites every day.
Hooking an emergency generator to our home’s electrical box is far beyond my ability. I did have an electrician over on a different matter and he said I’d have to replace all of the wiring in my home first. Our home is Cir. 1950’s with screw-in fuses and two-wire electrical with no ground. That’s gonna hurt!
I’d love to have a whole-house generator someday but I highly doubt I’ll buy one. Even if I could afford it I’d have a hard time justifying that much money. My logic says I’m already going to save any future meat with one of my portable generators. So I can’t exactly justify a bigger one to do exactly the same thing.
So where’s the math in another $5K in a redundant albeit larger system? I ‘d rather put the five grand toward a decent solar setup.
Finishing Up – Was My Generator Free?
I just want to finish up on this note – the actual cost of our generator. I purchased this particular generator at least five years ago after my old one tried to give me a stroke. I wanted a generator with electric start.
I believe I paid a little under $800 at Costco when the generator went on sale.
In those five years, we’ve had a handful of power outages and we haven’t lost any food from any of them. That never really seemed that significant until last week.
Since the COVID, we decided to up our prepping game and began investing in meat. We bought a lot. We’re not the cause of the meat shortages last month but we were squeezing every ounce of meat we could into our freezers. We even bought a third refrigerator mostly for the freezer because new freezers were nowhere to be found.
My point is the generator easily saved us more money than it cost just in that single outage. That might not make the generator free but without it? I wouldn’t have a generator or all that meat. My win-win would have been a huge double loss. That’s math I can understand.
I’ll leave it there as far as an emergency generator and get to work on the other article on building a blackout kit. If you have anything you’d like me to address in that one, now’s the time to mention it. Leave it below in the comments.
Stay safe and prepared,
Bonus Tip: Add A How-To Guide To Your Emergency Binder
I live with my wife and just in case I’m out of town in a local SHTF situation, I want her to be able to start our generator.
So I added a quick little guide to starting our emergency generator to our emergency binder.
What? Still Hear? Fine, You Can Watch The Video. 😉
This Post Has 12 Comments
Thanks for sharing your outage lessons. Real-world experience is great. Yeah, I’ve heard those nay-sayers who fret that a generator will attract desperate/starving/criminals. As you mentioned, a generator is really a short term tool. Perfect for a three-day outage. The hordes won’t be desperate and starving in just three days. When we have an outage up here, you can hear generators puttering in the distance all around. Hardly the lone generator to attract attention.
You knew it was going to be a shorter-term event, so you didn’t go into rationing mode with your energy use. Interesting that the fuel consumption was that much higher. Really good to keep in mind. A lot of generators rate their consumption at 50% load. If you suspected the outage was going to last months, not days, I’m sure you would have focused on critical use.
You also mentioned solar. I did a post on that. Solar has its challenges and limitations, but it does have the advantage of being a long-term tool. Good to have both.
Thanks Mic, you’re right, had I suspected it more than the local storm that had just blown through I would have done things a little differently. For example, if it looked like fuel and other supplies would become scarce, I would have run a single fridge and freezer four hours a day. Anything we needed to get done that required electricity would need to be accomplished during those four hours.
BTW, I loved your article on solar power. I even edited this post to link to it for those looking to set up solar power.
Living on the East Coast of Florida, a generator is almost a no-brainer. About 10 years ago I bought a generator. I never used it until 2017 with Hurricane Irma. We lost power for 10 days. That generator worked like a champ. I brought my Mini-Frig from my office and a little microwave. I also had a 100 watt solar panel with a deep cycle battery and power converter.
I’ve added to my solar panels.
As I’m writing this we are in the middle of Tropical Storm Isaias. The storm is suppose to be the closest to us around 8pm tonight. Hoping for no power outages but we have Florida Power and Flicker.
Hi FLAPrepper1, It looks like Isaias is gliding along your coast heading for NC. I’ll be near Myrtle Beach on vacation in a few weeks.
A ten-day power outage is a serious challenge. It’s awesome you were able to run your generator that long.
I think solar is my next step. I’m actually looking at one of Mic Roland’s (Commented above) blog where he details how to get started. I hope you keep your power for this one.
The best solution is the one that fits your needs and circumstances. The Mrs. and I raise grass fed beef for ourselves. We also buy in bulk at a local restaurant supply. At any given moment I have 400+ pounds of meat in the freezer. I keep all this in a three door commercial unit. We also have a 2 door commercial refrigerator for the vegetables we grow.
In addition to that we are rural and our power goes out every time it rains. Several years ago I bought a 25KW PTO generator, enough to run the entire house. At the time I had to put it on the tractor every time it rained. This year I bought a new tractor and the generator stays on the old tractor now. My days of pulling cords through the house are over, now I crank the tractor, hit the transfer switch and go back to my dinner.
That’s a big generator. And a lot of freezer space. It’s nice that you have a backup tractor too, in case something goes wrong with the one connected to the PTO generator. I appreciate your sharing that. It’s all about the situation we’re in, I agree completely.
I got a whole house standby generator setup a few years back and it’s been nice to not worry about going away for a few days and whether the sump pump will work even if the power goes out. I’m lucky that I’m on utility gas lines so I didn’t have to bother with a propane tank.
I also bought two sets of filter replacements and have enough oil on hand to replace it completely twice. This will let me run for over 3 weeks without rationing power, assuming the natural gas mains still have pressure. It will certainly let me run long enough to can and preserve any frozen food I have if we run into a long term event. When the generator stops (for whatever reason), I will just fall back to non-electric preps, but having that time to save my frozen foods will be priceless.
You know what? I hadn’t even considered or factored in going away for a while. We’re spending a couple of weeks at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina (If the resort is still there. The hurricane rolled over them earlier today.) but we have people staying in our home while we’re gone. That’s certainly a big plus for a whole-house generator. Thankfully we don’t have a sump pump though.
thanks for sharing that.
If you get a gasoline-powered generator, for goodness sake be sure to do routine preventative maintenance. The carb gets fouled and/or the float gets stuck if you don’t drain it 100%, and if you do drain it the lines can get dry and crack. The last thing you want is to go to crank your generator in an emergency and find out it doesn’t work. I speak from experience–I’m replacing the carb on mine now! Thank goodness I found the problem before there was an emergency!
Great advice Tim. I had mine in the shop a few couple years ago because I kept old untreated gas in and everything had to be cleaned up. Now I keep a little in the tank, start it up every three months (along with other equip like snowblower, lawnmowers, etc) and run the fuel out The I replace that little bit of fuel.
I just changed my sparkplug and oil but didn’t clean anything out other than the air cleaner. I’m wondering if some STP fuel treatment will help keep things from gumming up?
Excellent info! I’m from PR and went without electricity for over 3 months after hurricanes Irma and Maria. I’m more prepared now after that experience. We managed to have plan A, B and C now. For that emergency we had batteries for fans(which didn’t last at all) and flashlights, but only a battery inverter for house essentials. Well, that definitely wasn’t enough cause suddenly our batteries failed (you couldn’t find more anywhere), and thanks God our nextdoor neighbor offered us a chord from his generator. Even though he didn’t want it we paid for the gas cs we didn’t want to be a burden. Generators even though are great, they became very dangerous to have cs people died trying to defend them from being stolen in many places. So we decided on plan B going with solar panel equipment and we take time practicing with the different things in case an earthquake happens (cause we have been getting lots of them since the beginning of the year). Practice is important because you can have the best equipment, but if you don’t know how to use them (during regular times), during an emergency is even harder to learn how to.
Wow, that was quite the ordeal. Experience is the best teacher but I’m sorry you had to go through that. Solar really is the next step beyond a generator so you just expedited things.