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Categorized | Disasters, Gear

Selecting a Generator for Short-term Emergencies


 Is it just me or does everyone get a little bit excited when the power goes off?

During a severe winter storm last winter we lost power late one evening, andmMy initial reaction was “Cool!” I got out our candles and all of our flashlights and began planning our evening of family fun. After playing a few games under the candlelight we stoked the fire and bundled every one up for bed, little did we know that our power outage was in its infancy.

After three days we began losing some refrigerated and frozen food that we couldn’t keep cold enough. We had to pack snow into bags and stuff them into our freezer in effort to salvage as much as possible. We also had to melt snow for water to flush the toilets. The loss of power was no longer as fun as it started out, and to brighten things up the power company said that we should have our power back within 6 to 12 days.

It was around this time that I decided that we really should have bought a generator last summer. Knowing that during an extended power loss that I would not be able to purchase a generator without mortgaging my home and selling a child or two we just had to suck it up and deal with it. Eventually the power came back up and life went on, but I made it a priority to get my family a generator for future use.

When selecting a generator there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration.


1)      Know how much electricity you will need to power the essential appliances in your house. Remember you may have to turn off and unplug items that you don’t consider necessary for s short time period. This is crucial for selecting your generator, also only use the generators rated “continuous” wattage. If you base your generator selection on the “startup” or surge wattage its likely you will burn your gen set up. See the below chart of average wattage for house hold appliances. Total up all appliances that you want to have powered and use that number as your continuous rating.


2)      Have additional fuel and oil available. The only thing worse than nothing having a generator is having one that is empty of fuel. Check the average run time with load for your generator and base your calculations from that. I would recommend at least 72 hours of fuel. You can shut down your generator when you don’t need it to stretch fuel supplies.


3)      Have a proper transfer switch installed. This is much safer than the sometimes illegal practice of using a double male cord to back feed power. Back feeding power is very dangerous and has resulted in fires and electrocution of home owners and power company employees. If you absolutely have to back feed turn on the main breaker to our house prior to powering up your generator. This will prevent electricity from feeding into the main power lines.


4)      Place your generator away from the house. Generators produce carbon monoxide which will kill you if you sniff enough of it. Pick a location that has good ventilation away from where you will be sleeping.


5)      Secure your generator! Generators are funny things; they can get up and disappear in the flash of an eye. It is highly recommended that you secure your generator by locking it to something that is not very likely to be moved. A chain and padlock is often enough of a deterrent to prevent sticky fingers from taking your power source.

 Hopefully these few tips will assist you in selecting and using a portable generator during an emergency. Generators are priceless when you need them and make a wonderful addition to any self preparedness plan.

Average power requirements chart

  • Aquarium = 50–1210 Watts
  • Clock radio = 10
  • Coffee maker = 900–1200
  • Clothes washer = 350–500
  • Clothes dryer = 1800–5000
  • Dishwasher = 1200–2400 (using the drying feature greatly increases energy consumption)
  • Dehumidifier = 785
  • Electric blanket- Single/Double = 60 / 100
  • Fans
    • Ceiling = 65–175
    • Window = 55–250
    • Furnace = 750
    • Whole house = 240–750
  • Hair dryer = 1200–1875
  • Heater (portable) = 750–1500
  • Clothes iron = 1000–1800
  • Microwave oven = 750–1100
  • Personal computer
    • CPU – awake / asleep = 120 / 30 or less
    • Monitor – awake / asleep = 150 / 30 or less
    • Laptop = 50
  • Radio (stereo) = 70–400
  • Refrigerator (frost-free, 16 cubic feet) = 725
  • Televisions (color)
    • 19″ = 65–110
    • 27″ = 113
    • 36″ = 133
    • 53″-61″ Projection = 170
    • Flat screen = 120
  • Toaster = 800–1400
  • Toaster oven = 1225
  • VCR/DVD = 17–21 / 20–25
  • Vacuum cleaner = 1000–1440
  • Water heater (40 gallon) = 4500–5500
  • Water pump (deep well) = 250–1100
  • Water bed (with heater, no cover) = 120–380

One Response to “Selecting a Generator for Short-term Emergencies”


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