Do I need this solar power generator?

Updated Oct 12 2015
meggyfin

I live in Southern California, so I'm basically just waiting for the next large earthquake that's going to really fuck shit up. Ever since Hurricane Sandy, I've been worrying about losing power for long periods of time. What will I do without my iPhone and laptop!? I have nightmares about that red battery indicator.

That's why I've been lusting after this solar power generator from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog (gawd, I love that rag). And then I watched this video and realized all the ways this puppy could be useful even when it's NOT an emergency situation…

Charge my cell phone while I cut wooden beams outside? Yes please. Now, here's my dilemma. Is its $2000 price tag worth it? I mean, I bet, once "the big one" hits again, I'll be like "SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!" But while I'm basking in all this easily-available power, I'm like "this generator could bankrupt my ass."

Which brings me to my general questions for the Homies: Do you have a generator of some type? Have you had to use it before? And can I borrow $2000?

  1. My parents have a gas powered generator. They bought it because we were in immediate need of it—we were in the middle of what ended up being a week-long power outage because of an ice storm.

    Luckily, we're in the Midwest so there's no worries about hurricanes!

  2. We were without power for 12 days because of superstore Sandy and on day 6 we managed to finally find a generator in stock in a store 2 hrs away.
    Having heat was wonderful and tv/ Internet really helped our mental state too.

    How powerful is that generator, solar power could be very useful as we were spending almost $100 a day on gas for the generator (during a gas shortage too!!!!!)

    • $100 A DAY??!? holy Hannah that's a lot of gas.

      order yourselves an RV generator and pick up 2-3 gas cans (if you've got a good location to store it – a shed would be ideal), then sell the one you've got during the next OMFGSTORM.

  3. we have a gasoline generator, and it's part of my "will never go without again" list. the brand is Champion, and it's specifically made for powering homes and RVs – not like all the contractor ones people tend to panic buy. it's quieter, runs longer on a tank of gas, and has a longer lifespan than one you would find at a hardware store.

    i'm a bit of a prepper, but that was our one huge weak spot in the last few major storms (weak spot number two: heat. will be addressing this next). we opted to use it after Sandy, and it really changed our perspective on things.

    for a little background: i live in Baltimore. i'm in a single family detached home. before Sandy we hadn't attempted to use our generator because we had no real reliable way of securing it, and thieves have been known to walk off with generators if they're not closely watched. this year, we put in a fence, so it was all systems go for running the genny.

    in previous storms, we lost power for anywhere from 5-7 days. even if the storm wasn't a ridiculous one, we'd still lose power for at least 5 days. we hunkered down and expected the worst from Sandy. the storm itself wasn't so bad, but the power outage started early – well before she even came close to Baltimore. we started running the genny that evening, and ran it at least 10 hours every day until the power came back on. we went through a grand total of 8 gallons of gas in the four days we had no power, BUT we plugged in the fridge so we didn't lose any food and we were able to plug in a few small devices to charge as well as some lamps, our TV and Roku, and the sump pump.

    basically, to decide your need versus your usage, make this list:
    must have
    would be nice to have
    don't need

    if you include things like the refrigerator, the sump pump, and similar items on the "must have" list, then it's absolutely worth it to have a generator.

    i dig the idea of that solar one, but it takes a LONG TIME to charge…and in a situation like Sandy, where we didn't actually have sun for 3 days after she left, it wouldn't be useful to us at all. besides, it would die FAST if we were running a sump off it. if you're in a single family home, it might be worth it to invest in a solar power system for your house, instead.

    • forgot to mention: the max load on our unit is 3500-4000W. pay close attention to wattage when considering a generator, as a lot of things will kill it quickly. you don't want to put more than half load on it to extend the life of the battery/gas.

    • I don't know what it is about Maryland (raised there, but now in the Midwest), but whenever a big storm hit, we were ALWAYS without power 2-5 days! Generators are a must!

  4. We totally had this conversation in our house a few weeks ago! We saw one in person and they're pretty nifty. We were thinking about getting one when we move to Kansas, but were hoping to wait till they get a bit higher wattage & improve the technology a bit. My parents have multiple gas generators for when they get hurricanes. Since they're on well water, if they loose power they're in big trouble (because they have a lot of livestock to take care of as well). They're pretty useful to keep around, BUT if you get one make sure you can properly hook it up to your electrical system. My parents had just bought their second generator a month or so before they got hit with their last big hurricane & hadn't had a chance to hook it up yet. Turns out they needed an electrician to come out & tweak with the electrical system a bit before they could hook it in so it caused a bit of a mess for a few days there…

  5. I get that this is for big appliances, like heaters and fridges, but I bought a mini solar/hand crank thing for my phone (and maybe laptop?) for like $30. Because I really don't have $2000. Maybe it'll hold off anxiety until you save two grand? So you can at least call the police or google shelters if the power goes out and you're semi okay

    • I have a solar powered phone charger (or anything else you can charge via usb) and it's the best $20 I've spent. I charge it up via mains power, and then leave it in a sunny window so it stays topped up. When I omg-have-to-leave-now and my phone is in the red, I grab it on my way out the door and my phone recharges in my purse.

  6. A friend of mine sells a similar solar generator, it's called the Sunshine Simple. I've been lusting after it for a while. Of course, I'm also one of those crazy people who thinks that widespread nastiness might be in our future, so I'm lusting after many things that would make our home more self-sufficient in the future including a wood stove and some livestock. It seems like a lot of money, but you have to seriously think about its potential future payoff in usefulness.

    • Sorry, but if things get "nasty" anything/everything you have will be gone the split second after the marauding band of thugs w/their semi-automatics raid the neighborhood.

      • Unless you're prepped for that sort of thing… being known as the person most likely to SHOOT said marauding band of thugs can be helpful. Although during the power outage in 2003, it was apparently a bunch of grandmothers making their kids carry old people down high-riser stairs that kept the looting in Detroit to a minimum. Kinda hard to be a semi-auto thug when your arms are full of a sweet little old lady having heat stroke. But my dad's solution was mostly to threaten people with a musket. They figured he was kinda crazy and left us alone when the power went out.

  7. If what you're basically worried about is your phone and your laptop, you can buy a power inverter for the car and power those smaller things (my husband has figured out how to charge things in the truck without needing to have the truck on. I'm not sure what he did, but I'm thankful for it).

    During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we mainly ran the generators at night to cool us off. We decided that it wasn't worth it to do it for things like the fridge.

    If you're willing to spend $2,000 on a generator, you may want to look into what it would cost to hardwire a back-up generator into your home. Lots of people down here have done it, and depending on how fancy you want to get, prices can go from $3,000 – 10,000.

    • "(my husband has figured out how to charge things in the truck without needing to have the truck on. I'm not sure what he did, but I'm thankful for it)."

      you turn the key so that the radio and stuff is on (but not the dashboard lights!), and it will power things by drawing off the alternator (I think). it's very important that you turn the key to the right position so you're not draining the battery. This is how we charged our phones during the black out–just parked the car in the garage, or behind a completely shut off car and left the phones in there.

    • We had some friends who got an older generator from a nursing home right before Katrina and wired it up to their small 'party house'. It came in VERY handy when Rita roared through the other corner of the state three weeks later — they opened it up to their friends (including us) who were out of power in our area for two months while we cleaned up. My father had to go to Tennessee to find a generator for our house, and they only use it for the deep freezer when the power goes out.

  8. I live in Northern Australia. We have had 2 x Cat 5 cyclones in the last few years plus a number of smaller ones in the years preceeding that. We don't have a generaator. It's just a matter of being prepared. We have an old school radio and candles in the cupboard. An axe, a shovel, a rake and a machete in the garage for tree removal plus a tarp for roof repair. Before the wet season we make sure to renew our long life food supply (cans, pasta etc). We get out our single burner gas camp stove and fill the tub with water. Get yourself an old style phone that does not need electicity and you've got contact to family afar. We also got this nifty little portable phone charger that charges phones off battiers (AA etc) for $20, you just replace the batteries and it's good to go. Leave the laptop on to charge right up until the power goes out. I see a generator as unnessasary expense and a way to really upset your neighbours (at least with big noisy petrol fueled gennies) who are trying to sleep while you have the supid thing on so you can run the dishwasher/aircon. An earthquake is a bit different due to the lack of notice but if you keep essential supplies at hand then a gennie should not be needed.

  9. I live in southern California too, and I have a coworker that was without power for 5 days after that wicked wind storm last December (it hit Pasadena the hardest as many trees fell and cut power lines). I think others have it right: you need to decide what you'd use it for. For us, we have enough blankets to keep us warm, we have water and canned goods stored up, and we have a landline so we'd be fine. Not to freak you out more, but infrastructure is such that losing power for days at a time can happen without a major hurricane/superstorm.

    • I was hit by that same storm right before my finals and graduation. We borrowed a generator from a friend who still had power, and used it for a lamp, the computers (necessary for finals week) and the microwave. We're now on the lookout for a good gas generator on sale…I know I live in California and the weather really isn't an issue for the most part, but, it's just not worth it to my husband and I being without…for us, it's always the wrong moment, it's always an emergency, and it's just better not to have to worry…

  10. We live in western NY, in one of the highest snowfall areas in our region (we are in the same snowband as a local ski resort- 320" of snow average) needless to say, we are NOT on the priority list for restoring power. We have a military surplus MEP-002a on a M116a2 trailer. It's a diesel that can run our whole house, including the well pump and electric stove. It's official rating is 5000 watts, but can do 7000 continuously if needed. It is connected through our main house panel through a transfer switch that is rated for the load we are running (this keeps line workers from accidentally getting electrocuted if something isn't hooked up right). Something to remember is that the wattage ratings on most consumer generators are "surge watts", which means that they can only put out that wattage for a few seconds.

    The reason we went with a mil surplus unit is due to my experience running large commercial units (think what runs the grocery store during a power failure.. I maintain those), and the ability to burn fuel oil, which we heat with and have in a bulk tank. They are NOT user friendly machines, but are built to get shot at and keep going.

    Would I get the one the op is looking at? Nope. For that money, a Honda EU trpe would be the best. They are somewhat expensive (a 2000 watt unit is about $1k in the northern tool catalog), but are quiet, sip gas, and run forever (I have seen two with 15,000 hrs on them- that is similar to industrial machines lifespan).

    Sorry for such a long post from a usual lurker, but for once something came up that I know a little bit about!

  11. So I live in Toronto, and many moons ago, in 2003 or something like that, we got hit with that big eastern seabord blackout and the power was completely out for a few days, and intermittent for a week or so. Now I'm not sure if things have changed since then, but at the time, basically no one's cell phone worked even if it did have power, because the cell towers were down. I think one company still worked, and also people who had old non digital phones that plugged directly into the phone jack. So if there is a massive power outage, it might not matter if *you* have power, because your phone and internet provider might not. Check how things work locally.

    If your main concern is communication, consider getting a ham radio of some kind to go with your generator, that's far more likely to work in the zombie apocalypse. Also, when we had out blackout, hardly any of the gas stations worked because they were mostly all digitized, and you couldn't get any cash out, so that's stuff to consider too.

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