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Portable Power: Gas Generator vs. Propane Generator

Portable generators can be used almost anywhere you need power. Campers use them to power conveniences like TV so that they can enjoy the great outdoors without roughing it. Contractors use them to power tools on construction sites not yet hooked up to the city's power grid. Families and businesses use them as part of emergency preparedness kits, allowing them to continue using appliances when the power goes out.

Regardless of their purpose, power generators are combustion engines that require fuel. Most portable generators use either gasoline or propane. Both fuel types have advantages and disadvantages.

Gas Generators

Gas generators are the most common type of generator because gasoline is the most common and easily obtainable fuel. All you have to do is pop off to one of the many gas stations in your town and fill up one of those red rubber gas containers. This makes portable generators even more portable, because you'll never be very far from a gas station. However, the downsides of a gas generator are many.

The first downside to gas is one we're all familiar with   price. Gasoline is expensive. Fuel costs will only increase during an emergency. If you're using the most expensive fuel, be prepared to pay for it.

The next downside is its toxicity. Not only does gasoline pollute the air when burned, but it's also easy to spill, the fumes are toxic to breathe, and it's extremely flammable. It's not difficult to have an accident with gasoline. All it takes is an errant spark.

If the main purpose of your generator is to be a power source during an emergency, then consider this: Gas stations require electricity to pump gas. You need electricity to get the fuel that allows your generator to produce electricity. To remedy this concern, many people add gasoline to their emergency preparedness kits. They fill up a barrel and store it in a shed away from their home, which is inherently dangerous. In addition, gasoline has a short shelf life, which means that you have to use it within a year before it degrades.

Propane Generators

Propane is mostly famous for grilling your summer steaks and hamburgers, but it's becoming more popular for generators because of the many advantages over gasoline generators. It comes in cylinders that make it virtually impossible to spill   and if it is spilled, propane immediately evaporates. It's clean burning. It costs about half as much as gasoline per gallon. And propane engines are generally quieter.

For an emergency preparedness kit, propane is valuable because you can still acquire it when there's a major power outage. It doesn't require electricity to fill a tank of propane. It also has a long shelf life. You can only store gas for about 12 months, but you can store propane indefinitely. It will literally outlast the container holding it. So the only long-term concern is maintaining the tank. This allows you to stock up on it without worrying that it's going to degrade and be useless when you need it.

One of the flaws of a propane generator is the fuel system. It's a lot more complicated than a gas generator, which means that it has a greater chance of failure and is more difficult to fix when it does fail. Propane is also not as efficient as gasoline and is almost useless in cold weather below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The best portable generators allow you to use both fuels, giving you the accessibility of gasoline for everyday uses with the availability of propane during a crisis.