Generators are not only vital for providing your own off-grid electricity in long and short-term survival situations, but also for keeping the lights on and your usual appliances and tools running during common power outages.
Be it bad weather, a natural disaster, or a society-toppling event, having a generator on hand will be comforting indeed.
However, like all machines, with enough use a generator will eventually wear out into uselessness. Knowing this, how long can you expect your generator to last?
The lifespan of your generator is anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 hours on average, but varies depending on its type, how well-maintained it is, and its overall quality.
Frequently running your generator at or near its maximum output will also wear out quicker than if you’re using it infrequently for light duty.
Not only are generators an expensive item upfront, but you should factor in paying for replacement costs as well if you use yours routinely.
Better understanding the factors that affect your generator’s working lifespan will save you money and help you gauge when a new unit is in order.
Regular Maintenance is Essential for a Long Life
Like every tool, and complex machines in particular, regular and proper maintenance is essential if you want to assure a long working life.
Depending on what kind of generator you have, and what sort of fuel it uses, it will require its own specific maintenance protocols and we’ll need periodic inspection and preemptive parts replacement at various intervals.
All generators, no matter what kind they are, will work better longer when they are well maintained, and they do the opposite if they are poorly maintained.
One should also keep in mind that a poorly maintained generator will have to work harder to put out the same amount of power than one that is carefully and correctly maintained.
The cumulative effects of deferred maintenance over time can dramatically shorten the working lifespan of your generator no matter what kind it is.
Generators that regularly run hard and put up wet, to borrow an expression, may only have a working lifespan measured in the mid to low triple digits.
My advice to you is to learn how to maintain and repair every element of your generator.
Not only will this increase your independence and self-reliance but it will save you a ton of money on professional maintenance throughout the year.
Don’t ignore that where you live and what sort of weather you regularly experience will have a big effect on your generator.
Let’s face it; some environments are just damn hard on machines unless they are specially designed and equipped for environmental resistance.
If you live in a place that is extremely hot or very cold, gets a lot of precipitation in the form of rain or snow, or even experiences a lot of windblown sand or dust, your generator will probably have a reduced lifespan.
Depending on your usage criteria, you may or may not be able to reduce or even eliminate the effects of weather conditions and climate on your generator.
A massive standby generator that is installed in a building annex will be basically entirely protected from outside conditions.
A portable generator that you are forced to leave outside your small cabin in the pouring rain when it is operating will be exposed continually- at least whenever it is running. There are lots of other examples I can make, but I trust you get the point.
If at all possible, install your generator, even a portable generator, under a canopy or a small, purpose-built generator shed to help protect it.
Always make it a point to perform preventative maintenance on any generator exposed to precipitation and double your inspection schedule in harsh climates.
Different Generators Have Different Lifespans
One of the most fundamental considerations for the lifespan of your generator is it what kind it is.
As alluded to above, generators come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they can run on all kinds of fuels or even multiple fuel types.
One of the most common, and most popular, are your typical portable generator.
For generating electricity at a remote campsite or bug-out location, or just keeping the tools running on a job site, these are the ones that you probably have already and will reach for immediately in a time of trouble.
Assuming you control for other variables most portable generators have a useful lifespan of between 1,000 and 2,500 hours, with significant variation depending on quality and other factors listed here.
At the other end of the scale, you have a whole-house or (larger) standby generators.
Generators of this type are rarely man-portable in the true sense, with only smaller ones being capable of being moved by people at all, typically with the use of a dolly or hand truck.
Many require cranes to hoist! Most gennys of this type are true heavy-duty machines, capable of running for a very long time.
Again, depending on the type, you can expect to get between 2,000 and 4,000 hours from a standby or whole-house generator.
One of the simplest factors concerning how long your generator will last is how often it is used, and for how long at a stretch.
Generators that get used routinely accrue more operational hours than ones that are used infrequently.
The more you use something, no matter how well you take care of it, the faster it will wear out, and generators are no exception.
If you take a look at the average operational hour lifespan figures mentioned in the previous section and compare them with the typical usage hours of the average person in an average setting by year, you’ll see that most generators could easily last a person’s entire life if they are running them for the typical 50 to 75 hours per year on average.
However, the reverse is also true. If you are running a generator every day to supply electricity or to keep work underway on a job site it is entirely possible to completely use up a generator in a year, or perhaps less, and that is assuming you’re staying on top of maintenance.
Speaking of maintenance, don’t forget that the more you use it, the more you’ll need to perform maintenance, and omitting this crucial chore will only further accelerate the death of your generator as described previously.
Light Duty or Hard Use?
One of the most important factors concerning the lifespan of a generator, and the one most commonly overlooked by new owners and those inexperienced with these machines, is its operative capacity.
Simply stated, running your generator at or near its maximum output more often puts more strain, wear and tear on all of its components. This, as you know by now, will reduce its lifespan from baseline.
Inversely, running a generator well below its stated maximum capacity is light duty, and generally will extend the service life somewhat beyond the baseline, assuming the manufacturer has not softballed its figures in the first place!
This might be an important consideration for long-term preparation with your generator.
Buying only the bare minimum generator you need to meet your objectives and then running it wide open at the red line continuously is going to burn it up a lot quicker and wind up costing you more money than it would if you bought a bigger generator that had power to spare even when you are meeting all of your electrical demands.
This is a factor that is sure to ruffle some feathers, but generally speaking higher-quality generators have longer lifespans than cheaper ones in the same category with the same features.
Now, I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people who have had a bargain basement closeout generator that has lasted their entire life with hardly anything done to it running the thing wide open. Sure. I believe you.
But, concerning the averages, higher-quality generators benefit from higher-quality parts assembled by better technicians in better settings with superior quality assurance and quality control.
All of these little things add up to a superior machine that will, statistically, enjoy a longer lifespan than an inferior one.
Now, whether or not this is false economy to you depends on your objectives. Spending an extra $200 on a generator that can go another 1,000 hours is a steal.
Spending a boatload more for a generator that will only last another hundred hours compared to its competitor might not sound like a good deal at all.
On the other hand, even that might sound like a wise investment indeed if you are depending on that very generator during an SHTF event that has no end in sight…
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.