A Beginning Farmer’s Guide To Generators

When power outages strike, a generator is an important machine to have on hand.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

What would we do without electricity? Although people throughout history survived just fine without it, modern day life relies a great deal on electricity thanks to the many benefits it offers. From electric lights and water pumps to refrigerators and electric stoves, electricity makes things simpler and helps keep hobby farms running smoothly. Working in the dark is easy when you have outdoor lights and delivering water is simple when electricity pumps it to convenient locations and ensures we have a steady supply.

Of course, we can’t always count on electricity to be there when we need it. Summer wind storms or winter ice storms can damage power lines and cause electric outages that can last from a few minutes to days on end. This can be a major inconvenience for anyone, but it’s particularly troublesome for hobby farmers who rely on electricity to help get their work done.

Fortunately, generators can come to the rescue. Generators, which come in many sizes, use a different source of fuel, such as gasoline, propane, or natural gas, to produce a temporary source of electricity—enough to keep your household running smoothly until regular electricity is restored. Needless to say, a generator is a great machine to have on hand. Let’s take a brief look at the different types of generators and the benefits that they offer.

Portable Generators

As their name implies, portable generators are small and can be moved around to different locations, which can be surprisingly useful. When they’re not needed for supplying electricity to your house, portable generators can be transported around the farm to supply electricity for all sorts of projects. Need to use power tools while building a new shed? A portable generator can supply you with a steady source of power!

But portable generators have disadvantages as well. For one thing, they must be manually started and hooked up before they can supply electricity, so if your power goes out at 2 a.m., you’ll have to get up in the night and get it started if you want electricity. Also, portable generators usually don’t supply as many watts of power as standby generators, which means that you won’t be able to power as many appliances and circuits. A portable generator is good for keeping critical devices active (such as water pumps, refrigerators, freezers and some electric lights), but they might not be able to power everything in your house.

A portable generator is also limited by the amount of fuel that it can hold in its tank; you might have to refill the tank frequently if the outage lasts for a significant amount of time. And of course, even though they are portable, portable generators should never be used indoors due to the danger of carbon monoxide.

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Standby Generators

Standby generators come with a significantly bigger price tag than portable generators but can offer significantly better performance. Whereas many portable generators provide less than 10,000 watts of power, some very large standby generators can provide more than 45,000 watts, which might be enough to power everything in your house.

Standby generators can also detect power outages and turn on automatically, restoring electricity almost immediately after an outage. They can also be connected to propane or natural-gas supplies, eliminating the need for frequent tank refills.

Of course, standby generators are not portable; they are a permanent part of your house and are an integrated part of the electrical circuits. For providing electricity to other areas of your farm, you might still need a portable generator, as well.

Generator Safety

If you’re going to connect a generator to your house, it’s essential that you have a transfer switch installed to prevent your generator from backfeeding power into power lines, which can be extremely dangerous. For standby generators, you’ll want an automatic transfer switch so that the power can be restored without any effort on your part; for portable generators, a manual transfer switch will be needed. Be sure to have an electrician install any needed transfer switches, and pay heed to any safety guidelines that are supplied with your generator.

Choosing the perfect generator for your farm will require some research, but it will reward you with emergency electricity any time an outage strikes!

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