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I promised a few months ago to write about home generators, so let me give you my thoughts.

Have you considered the need for a home backup generator? They can be very handy in the event of power outages but also require a lot of knowledge and work to be practical. 

What I am writing is just my opinion from years of experience (At present, I own 2 generators, a 2000 and a 4000-watt) and some thoughts may be controversial. Always be careful with electricity and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Without getting into all the rules of electricity, I will explain as best I can. A small 2000 to 8000-watt generator can power your refrigerator, freezer, furnace, or other small appliances when used with an extension cord. The smaller 2000-watt units are about the equivalent of a standard household outlet. They are easy to move, usually weighing less than 50 pounds. They are very economical, as far as fuel consumption compared to larger generators.  They are also easier to start in colder weather.

Remember, it takes fuel, commonly gasoline, to run. The bigger the generator, the more fuel it takes. For example, a 4000-watt generator may use one to two quarts of fuel per hour whereas a smaller unit with an eco or idle setting would use less than half that amount.

Let’s put that another way. A small generator may operate on less than 5 gallons a day whereas a larger generator would require 10 gallons. How much fuel are you willing to store on a long-term basis? Remember, if there is a local power outage, your corner gas station or convenience store may not have power to run the pumps. You either need to store enough fuel to get you running for at least a day or be willing to drive to another town or area to purchase fuel. You would probably not have to run your generator all the time, day and night, during a power outage. But we always recommend a 3-day supply of food and water during an emergency. You be the judge.

Storing fuel brings up another issue. I recommend non-oxygenated gasoline, or non-ethanol gasoline. I know this will upset some of my farmer friends, but generators and other small engines sit for long periods of time without being used and without fuel being rotated in and out. Ethanol does not seem to store as well and may result in small engines not starting or running properly after long periods of storage. I also highly recommend using a fuel stabilizer in your small engines and stored fuel. Fuel stabilizer is available at most stores that sell automotive supplies. It will help your fuel to maintain its quality for a year or more and cause fewer engine problems during storage.

Generators need to be used in an open environment. All engines create carbon monoxide and we need to avoid letting that get into any areas occupied by humans or animals. Never run a generator inside your house or basement. It is also recommended not to run it in an attached garage. Always allow for proper ventilation of fumes.

So how do we power our appliances in an emergency? You have two choices. Have your house wired with a generator disconnect or use heavy duty extension cords. Never back feed your house by plugging your generator into an outlet in your house. Back feeding can result in your electricity leaving your home and powering up lines that utility workers are trying to fix, which obviously can result in serious injuries or death. 

For small generators I suggest just running a heavy extension cord to the appliance you want to use, most commonly your refrigerator or freezer. I consider a heavy extension cord to be 12-gauge wires for lengths up to 50 feet. Your 16-gauge household cords will not handle the continuous heavy loads and may result in overheating and possibly a fire.

I am barely scratching the surface of generator usage. By using a small generator during an emergency, you can provide lighting and preserve your food supply in your refrigerator, freezer and possibly operate your furnace during power outages. Most generators will not power an electric stove so you may need an alternative for preparing food.

That’s it for this month.  Remember to be prepared and stay safe.

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