Backup generator: will I regret choosing gasoline?

It’s time to buy a backup generator. My house is all electric including well pump and heat, and fairly rural. We had an 11 day outage once, and 6 days another time, and a day or so is not rare. We have a 40 KW service and if I could get 10 or 20 KW for free I’d like that, but I think it’s about 6 or 7 KW that I really need to keep the house livable for emergencies.

Almost all of them use gasoline. Can I live with this? I think running on gasoline for 11 days could consume 50 or even 100 gallons depending on the season. Do I try to store this much, in ten or twenty 5 gallon cans that I probably shouldn’t be lifting with my bad back and shoulder? Do I carefully cycle these through my car so it doesn’t go bad, or brave the wealth of contradictory information about gasoline storage I find on the web? (Did you know that gasoline stabilizers are mostly alcohol and contain absolutely no alcohol???) I can get a well-regarded 6500 W gasoline generator with an electric starter for $1300, which is fine.

Or will I regret gasoline for all those reasons? I could get a 135 gallon propane tank installed, connected, and filled for about $1800. It would be another $2000 or so for a generator that runs propane, unless I get into machining my own carburetor to convert a gasoline one, which sounds like a can of worms. Jeez, that is a lot of effort, since I don’t already have propane.

Or I could get a diesel generator. It would’t be too hard to get a stationary diesel tank and have it filled by somebody that services the farms around me, and I already have a small diesel tractor. But it seems for some reason like nearly all the diesel generators are made by the same dubious Chinese maker (all the controls and minor details appear identical and only the paint and decals seem to vary), and reviews call them unreliable and shabby.

Other people solve this problem all the time - what do you do?


Gasoline goes bad with age. Does propane? If it doesn’t, then that would be the way to go…

When I was buying mine, I never researched gas-powered generators since I have a nat. gas line to the house.

I have a propane fired Generac 15kw unit with a 250 gallon propane tank that feeds it and my cook top. We have an automatic transfer switch so I don’t have to do anything to get back on line.

I don’t think you’ll run your electric heat on 7kw. We have a geothermal heatpump, so it doesn’t take much power to run heat or AC.

There are four kinds of generators listed in increasing price:
Air cooled 3600 rpm
Air cooled 1800 rpm
Water cooled 3600 rpm
Water cooled 1800 rpm

Air cooled are cheapest and loudest while water cooled are quieter but require a little more upkeep.

Propane keeps forever, but you can’t really stockpile without a much bigger tank.

Hard decision to make.

I’d take propane over gas under almost any conditions. Generac makes some relatively small portable generators that have a saddle for 5g propane cylinders now; I don’t think this was an option a few years ago.

If you’re going to use gas, you have to have a system to keep reasonable amounts of reasonably fresh gas around, safely. Tough to do. One 2-gallon can that goes stale pretty much undercuts your need and reliability. You should stockpile at least 24 hours of runtime, in some way that is not prone to fire and leakage, and cycle it through yard equipment and cars to keep it fresh. For instance, have two 5g jerry cans, which should be good for about 8-10 hours of runtime. Every few months, go fill one can, and pour the other one into your car’s tank. Repeat.

It’s all a lot of hassle compared to propane, no matter how you slice it. Our prop-fueled Generac needs nothing more than a maintenance run once a month or so and I never worry about it being ready and able when we need it.

Propane lasts forever, or at least thousands of times longer than humans.

I’ve seen the small portable propane generators but they have a similar disadvantage to gasoline - I’d have to keep many of the propane bottles on hand. Maybe 20? I think they cost around $80 because I wouldn’t be turning in an old empty bottle so I’m buying the hardware outright, but maybe only $50.

I have a barn that I can store things in and keep them dry but still safely away from the house. I can keep the generator out there and run it there if I get maybe 150’ of heavy wire to run to the house.

If I count on the gas station to keep gasoline in stock for me, I wonder if a big problem like a hurricane will leave them all dry and/or powerless. This happened in New Jersey and New York with Sandy.

GaryM, if you don’t mind me asking, what did it cost you to have what you have? I’m guessing maybe $5000 or $6000? I’m not that committed yet but perhaps I should be. I hope that we don’t have to use much electric heat to keep the house livable, if we just keep a couple bedrooms warm and keep the basement warm enough not to freeze pipes.

I think you’d be talking about some significant losses - either of juice over such long wires, or from your wallet for 150 feet of heavy-gauge cable. You could easily be talking about $1500-2000 for the wire alone, these days.

Put the generator next to the house and the propane tank as far away as you like, with a buried feed line.

Yes, hurricanes that cause widespread power failures will cause many gas stations to close; they can’t pump gas without power. So there will be long lines at the stations in service…

IIRC, the Generac ran about $4k installed. I bought it on line from these folks The fellow wiring the house did the installation.

This was back in 2003-4. I’ve had to replace the starting battery and a starter. It exercises itself once a week for about 15 minutes.

If you have a big propane tank & a buried feeder line (or even better, natural gas from a utility) you will avoid that nastiness. You’ll also avoid the same nastiness at all of the big-box stores and gas stations that sell small out-door-grill sized propane tanks when they run out.

Yeah, they will.

From Napier

Beg to differ there. I think Northern Lights generators (headquarters in Seattle) are made here in the USA. I know they are extensively used in the San Juan Islands, in fact I know personally of at least four installations. They come from 5Kw up to really big stuff. They are warranted for 12,000 hours, but some installations here in the San Juans are coming up on 17,000 hours. Everyone I know that has one are very satisfied. And they look like a piece of jewelry to boot.

Here is a link.

IIRC, the 5 Kw one uses about a pint of diesel per hour.

Use gas stabilizer. My Honda dealer recommended Star Tron for my generator. It’s an enzyme made special to battle the Ethanol problem. Nearly all gas we buy these days is a blend of gas and Ethanol. It goes bad a lot faster than pure gasoline.

There’s other stabilizers out there. This is just the one that was recommended to me. ymmv

I don’t have gas service to my farm, so LP is out for me.

I would never touch a gas generator. Gas engines don’t have much of a life span (especially if they sit unused for long periods of time).

I also have a diesel tractor, so I can set a fuel tank and the (off road) fuel will get used over time so that it stays fresh enough, while still allowing enough fuel to run the generator for a longer period of time. (You’d also want to have enough fuel on hand in case you need the tractor to help clear debris or in case that is your only good means of transportation given certain road conditions)

Diesel fuel is not any where near as explosive or dangerous as gasoline (or propane for that matter).

Look at welding generators. Around here, Miller is a respected brand. I don’t know if they’re made in China, but I do know that even a used Miller generator sells for pretty close to original prices.

Here is an interesting article about setting up your generator w/a battery bank so that small stuff (like lights) would run off an inverter, then when you needed big stuff, the generator would kick in to run heavy loads.

I have to agree with their statement that gas generators are hugely over rated. Last month, we tried to use a gas generator to run a winch. In theory, using the amps, etc… we should have had more than enough power to start and operate it. Nope. The gas generator choked and died from the load that it should have been rated for. So, if you go with a consumer product, you probably should go over kill by a bit. Otherwise, everytime your fridge starts up, your generator might die out.
Also, I couldn’t even begin to imagine running electric heat from a generator. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just have kerosine heaters?

One other quick note. When you’re storing fuel in large quantities (like 100 gal of gasoline) at some point the state regulates how you can store it. I know a 250gal fuel tank isn’t regulated. But I couldn’t imagine storing 100 gal of gasoline on my farm.

You mentioned a tractor. They make PTO driven generators. Some folks rig up a mount for the 3 point hitch and use that.

Downside is that if the tractor’s powering the house, it can’t plow snow or move debris. Of course if you had two tractor’s…

I’m not the OP, but I saw those and thought about them… then thought about my tractor idling outside my house all day when it could be tucked inside the garage with a dry seat for me to park my butt on when it’s time to plow the drive… plus, they are SO expensive and you’re not even getting an engine with them.

I know two folks with the pto powered units. But they both have two tractors. One uses his to power a well pump for irrigation. I’m not sure about the other. is a good forum to search for anything tractor related, including genders.

I think propane is the way to go. You can get large tanks fairly easily, and you don’t have the storage life issues that you do with regular gasoline. Propane also burns much cleaner than gas, the engine oil stays clean a lot longer.

Do gasoline generators (i.e. non-automobiles) handle gasohol mixtures well? Over here in Northern Virginia all or almost all pumps are marked as 10% ethanol or up to 10% ethanol (no, I don’t know if this is by weight or by volume).

Most small engines handle anything from E85 up just fine, although you might want to retune them for a steady diet of anything much over 5%. The biggest problem is that the alcohol can damage some rubber components - typically in older engines, but sometimes in new engines that use cheap gaskets - and etch away at the aluminum castings of the carb and intake.

My snow blower seller recommended running the carb dry any time I didn’t expect to run it for two weeks or more, to keep the erosion down. The same is probably a good practice with generator engines.

Does the gender of the tractor affect which generators you can use?