How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

How To Choose The Right Generator

generatorA reader recently emailed me and asked about choosing a generator. She in particular wanted to understand the differences in fuel types. So I thought instead of just sending her a reply directly I’d post my response here so everyone benefits!

The broad answer is that there are two main things to consider when choosing a generator. What type of fuel does it use and how much power does it generate.

How much power does my generator need to provide?

I touched on this a bit in my emergency power post but I’ll go over it here briefly. The basic thing you need to do is figure out what you want to provide power for in an emergency, do the math on the overall wattage needed, add a buffer, and there’s your number.

Realistically, if you go get a a7-8kW generator you’re going to be just fine for almost all of your needs. But by all means do the math!

Rudy’s Tip: Generators have two power ratings … peak and sustained. You need to buy based on sustained load. Peak load is basically power that the generator can deliver for a short period of time as needed. Generally speaking this happens if you turn on a major appliance, etc. Be a careful shopper!

You can ballpark the burst load for most appliances by simply doubling the wattage of the appliance.

What about fuel?

There are three major types of fuel for generators: Gasoline, Diesel, and Propane.


Gasoline has some advantages. It’s easier to come by than diesel or propane. It’s cheaper than both in many places, though that’s not always the case. Gas powered generators are usually cheaper as well.

On the flip side, gas powered generators operate at a higher RPM speed, which decreases the usable life of the generator. Gasoline is rather volitile and is pretty darn flammable. And it has a pretty limited shelf life. Think six months to a year untreated, though you can get two years if you use an additive.


Diesel has some advantages as well! It’s relatively common. For generator use you can get farm diesel which is usually much cheaper. Diesel engines run at a lower RPM speed and last a long time. Diesel is also far less flammable than gasoline and it stores for years, even longer when treated with an additive.

On the down side, diesel generators are more expensive, sometimes significantly so. They can be harder to find as well.


Propane is often easy to come by since lots of people use it for their grills. The major downside to propane is that it is highly flammable. On the flip side, it stores forever. Price wise, propane generators are about on par with diesel generators, but can be a bit harder to find.

Rudy, what would you do?

It’s a very personal choice and depends on your circumstances. Here are my personal thought processes on it:

I see no reason to NOT have a gasoline generator or two around. They’re inexpensive (you can get a high output generator for a few hundred dollars) and very versatile. Throw one in the back of the truck and you’ve got a great mobile power source.

I like both propane and diesel. For me, we have diesel available already and use it for heavy equipment as well as other vehicles. We don’t intend to use propane for heating our home when we build it. So as a result, diesel is the obvious choice for us.

If we had propane heat, I’d seriously consider buying a propane generator. It’s very viable, and I don’t have anything really bad to say about it!

If you want advice on your specific situation, please feel free to email me at and I’ll be happy to give you some one on one advice!

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5 Responses to How To Choose The Right Generator

  1. I think it should be pointed out that there are dual fuel generators out there that are worth looking at. Ours will be plumbed in with natural gas, but we plan on having a propane tank [yes, a big one] so that we can change out the necessary part and throw the handle and have ourselves a propane-powered generator. Ours is a Generac…

    • You’re absolutely right.

      You can even get conversion kits that let you run three different fuels on the same generator. They’re super useful.

      As you point out, switching between natural gas and propane is pretty much just a parts swap and that’s it. I only wish we were able to have both fuel sources on our property!

  2. In survival mode you need three things, food (including water), shelter and clothing.

    I have participated in survival meetings where a lot of time has been spent on discussing electricity generation in times of crises, the best generator and fuel storage.

    I have yet to find a good enough reason why anyone without a generator would spend a sizable lump of cash on a generator and a supply of fuel when in no way shape or form is one required to supply any of the three basics as listed in my opening sentence.

    If a crisis were pending most people would be hard pressed to find available cash to purchase enough food to last for an indeterminate period of time without considering a generator.

    Bottled gas for cooking and heating water would be a better purchase as it can be used as part of your daily life. It is safe to presume that if you used bottled gas as part of your daily life you would have the necessary appliances to go with it and the storage of bottles gas would not bet a problem. Gas is one item that cannot be heard outside of the room/area where it is being used which is an added bonus.

    We live totally off the grid and run power tools and battery operated radios that are charged via solar panels. This is the way to go if you are serious about surviving for any length of time without outside help.

    In the main, electricity is a convenience, and a costly one, to run a lot of unnecessary items that would not help us survive if the going got tough.

    • Food for thought … appreciate the contribution!

      My feeling on this is that I’m not preparing just for the end of the world, but for anything that could remove our systems of support (like the electrical grid)

      For example, one of the reasons I have a generator is because as part of daily life there are things I use that depend on electricity. A freezer, for example. We have a fair amount of frozen beef in the freezer because we buy it buy the cow. Now while it doesn’t take us too long to plow through one with a family our size, there’s still quite a bit of cash tied up in that meat.

      And the last thing I want is to have a wind storm cause a power outage and for us to lose that meat. It’s not uncommon to have a week long power outage in this area. Having a generator is basically mandatory at that point.

      In your off grid situation, you’re set up to live differently, and a generator probably doesn’t make sense. But for those of us who do have a grid tie, it is a good backup plan to have just in case.

      • A good point about the freezer and the amount of meat you store.

        About 85 percent of the grain grown in the world is used to feed livestock of one form or another. In other words we feed about 15 kilograms of grain (protein) to an animal to get about one kilogram of protein in return. As well as the grain there is a great amount of water and energy used, particularly in transportation.

        Being just the two of us we grow poultry for eggs as well as the table which eliminates the need to store so much meat.

        A point often overlooked. We need about two pieces of red meat about the size of the palm of our hands per week to give us the necessary vitamins and minerals. Any more than this is overkill in relation to our needs in most cases.

        We live in a situation where we can grow beans for drying and these supply is with protein throughout the year and can be stored in glass jars without the use of energy. Beans can be added to soups, stews, casseroles etc. and in some cases can be ground for flour.

        As I said earlier I understand the point about the freezer as we once lived on the grid where electricity was there for the taking but once off the grid ideas change. There are also some very good gas refrigerators and freezers on the market, a few more dollars but gas bottles can be stored until they rust out, petrol for a relatively short period and diesel about five years at the most with due care and attention.

        Just a thought about alternatives.