When the power goes out for the night, a lantern will carry you through. When the power goes out for several days, things start to get complicated. It's terrible to have a freezer full of steaks, ice cream, and other delicious foods, only to throw them all out because they defrosted.
More importantly, you may have medications in the refrigerator, or rely on electric assistive technology or medical devices. A long blackout means you’ll need to periodically recharge batteries for lamps, computers, and phones.
What type of generator you do you need?
There are two categories of generators, portable and standby. Standby generators are more expensive and must be installed by an electrician. Portable generators are smaller and produce less power. The real question is how much electricity do you need in a power outage.
In addition to the type of generator, you should consider the type of fuel your generator will run on. Typical options include natural gas, unleaded fuel, and propane. Duel fuel portable generators are worth serious consideration. This is because your generator will need to be stored after use. Fuel has a strong smell and needs to be replaced periodically. On the other hand, when using propane you simply connect and disconnect your propane tank. If you run out of propane, you can then switch to fuel.
How much power do you need?Electric appliances have two types of watt usage. Running watts are what they consume continuously, and starting watts are a higher watt level they’ll need at startup. Write down a list of all the items you’ll want running at one time, and each item’s running watts. Then add the startup watts. Add all numbers together to get the number of watts your generator needs to produce.
A refrigerator uses about 3,500 watts, a refrigerator uses about 1,200 watts, a sump pump uses about 1,000 watts, a portable heater about 1,500 watts, a laptop 250 watts, a 42” LED TV 85 watts, and lights use between 60 and 600 watts. You can find these numbers on the side of large appliances. For other items, like lights, you’ll find handy tables on the internet.
How much noise can you tolerate?I believe that you, like me, are not looking for solutions that are good enough. You want to be as prepared and comfortable as possible during a disaster. However, extra watts equal extra noise. The noise of a standby generator can be reduced by building an acoustic enclosure. Portable generators are generally wheeled out when needed, and set up to run somewhere 20 or more feet away from the house. The bigger your generator, the louder it will be.
Another type of portable generator to consider is an inverter generator. These types of generators power off and on as power is needed. They run more quietly, produce less CO, and use less fuel. The trade off is they cost more.
Look at the noise rating on any generator you want to buy. Your garbage disposal or a blender makes a noise about 80 dB. A garbage truck or a lawn mower makes a noise about 100 dB. Keep in mind that those noises often decrease as they move away or stop, but your generator will make this noise continuously as long as you need it to run.
Do you really need a generator?
The smallest portable generator may be more than enough if you don’t plan to power major appliances, if you don’t want to bother with fuel and maintenance, or if your neighbors are so close that noise is a concern. There are also power bank options. Power banks can be handheld or quite large. The larger versions need to be powered up in advance by plugging them into an outlet. The hand held versions do the same, or can even be charged by solar panels. On the other hand, power outages seem to be more frequent and longer. I consider the cost a small trade off for the convenience it brings.
Champion Power Equipment 4375/3500-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator
The dual fuel means it sits in my garage without a tank full of stinky gas. I just plug it into the same propane canisters I use for my BBQ. It can easily power our 10 cubic foot chest freezer, and charge a backup battery, simultaneously. Champion is highly regarded, has great support, and interesting accessories. Check it out on Amazon.com.
25 Feet Heavy Duty Flat Generator Extension Cord, Generator 30 amp Locking Cord
Since the generator is at least 20 feet away from your home you need a good extension cord to bring the power into your home. This flat cord design is great because it can slip under a door or window without letting in too much air. Check it out on Amazon.com.
Champion Power Equipment 2500-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Inverter Generator, Ultralight
Inverter generators cost more than the same powered standard generator, but they provide an incredible value; they are significantly quieter. This may not seem like a small inconvenience, until you run a generator for several hours. It also turns off and on regularly which saves on fuel. Check it out on Amazon.com.