Generator Ethics (and costs) Following Hurricane Sandy

by Darwin on November 5, 2012

What is your moral obligation to lend out your generator when others lose power and how far out of your way do you go to do so?  That’s a topic I’ve been thinking about now that we’ve had a series of really bad storms over the years where we’ve lost power for a day or more.  In the case of Sandy, most houses around us in PA had power back within a few days, but one state over in NJ, many of my friends and colleagues are still without power a week later.  I have some mixed thoughts on the fact that we have a generator and most of our friends and neighbors don’t.  Let’s start at the beginning:

  •  We have had finished basements in both our first home and our current home, each of which ended up with water on the carpet during major storms when we lost power.  I learned my lesson and went out and bought a generator (on top of installing back-up battery powered sump systems).  Generators can go from anywhere from the $200s through $900s depending on how much stuff you want to power.  Or you could go full-hog and buy a whole-house generator that kicks on automatically, etc.  People in areas that are much more prone to prolonged ice storms and are more remote often have these.  They can run upwards of a few grand to buy, install and maintain.  Anyway, last Spring, after the storm season, I got a 40% off deal at Lowes, so if I recall, it was like $300 for a $500 generator.
  • This time around, once we got our power back, we did lend it out to our friends who were only a few blocks away but didn’t have power yet.  They were concerned about their sump pump keeping up with the water and the food in their fridge.  To just sit there and let them incur significant losses in damages or spoiled food just wouldn’t sit well with me, plus they’re friends!  But how far do you take this?
  • While our friends were using our generator, we saw other pleas for help in our local social networking streams asking to borrow anyone’s generator.  Now with Facebook and email chains, you can see different people frantic about water in the basement or food spoiling.  You feel for them.  If it’s someone you don’t really know well, (say, a friend of a friend commenting on Facebook or whatever), should you feel obligated to loan out your generator?  Fortunately for us, we didn’t really have to contend with any moral obligation because we DID lend it out to friends and when we got it back power was finally restored in most areas near us and when we offered it to our other friends in another town and they declined since they weren’t worried about their unfinished basement.
  • On one hand, you have to wonder why people that know their basements  are prone to flooding and know we’ve lost power at least 1-2 times each year over the past few years would not have purchased a generator.  It’s not a financial issue given the area we live in and the material possessions in each example (it’s a priority thing).  And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of our friends and friends-of-friends will not go out and purchase one in the near future either, even after Hurricane Sandy.
  • I don’t mind helping out a friend and I’d hope they’d do the same for us, but it does carry some cost to us.  I mean, I lend it out with gas in it which gets consumed (~$8-$12), I help load it into their truck, drive to their house and unload it since it’s so damn heavy (my time).  Then there’s the use/depreciation (~$10+ per use?).  I didn’t initially appreciate how much maintenance goes into proper use and storage of a generator.  A generator has a rough lifespan and the more you use it, the sooner something’s going to go on it.  You also have to constantly drain/re-add oil, use stabilizer or run the gas out, etc.  So, if we’re always lending ours out left and right when the power goes and people run it into the ground, will it cease to work when we really need it a few years down the road?  It just makes you wonder why people don’t go buy one themselves.

A Few Questions:

  • Did you experience hardship during Hurricane Sandy?  
  • Did you have or borrow a generator?
  • If you don’t have a generator now, are you planning to buy one once they’re re-stocked?  Why or Why Not.
  • Where do you draw the line in how much effort you expend to lend out a generator during storms in your experience?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely November 6, 2012 at 1:04 am

We were lucky to be north enough to avoid most issues. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong answer, and helping out friends is great. Hopefully they can reciprocate in their own way.


Kathleen Winfrey November 6, 2012 at 1:33 am

This is very good of you letting your friends lend your generators. In times when there are calamaties all you can think is your safety, you relatives safety and your friends safety.I believe that it is nice when everyone is helping one another because it will be lighter to face your ordeals.


Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin November 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I wrestle with the same thoughts you do. They could have easily gone out and gotten a generator just like you did and planned for a rainy day, but they didn’t. At the same time though why would you drive your point home when other people are potentially freezing or running low on food. I think a middle ground for me would be to let people come stay with us for a couple days and bring whatever food could spoil to our house. Obviously everyone’s situation is different and at the end of the day it’s up to you to decide what your principles are.


Joe @ Retire By 40 November 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Maybe you should advise your friend to buy a generator. Better yet – tell them the condition of borrowing the generator is for them to buy one. In a few years, all your friends will have a generator and you’ll have a network to borrow from in case something goes wrong. I don’t know if I would lend to facebook friends. I guess it depends on who it is.


101 Centavos November 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Hard to say, I’m also one of those “lenders”. Chainsaw, truck, garden tools. I’ve lent stuff out, and thankfully not having come to regret it. Haven’t lent the generator out yet, but I have run an extension cord out to the neighbor when their section went out.

I don’t know why people wouldn’t want to be well prepared for the next storm outage, but maybe it’s the same reason there are runs on food at the local grocery stores. People just don’t generally plan ahead especially well.


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