Should You Own A Generator?

Winter is approaching and with it, blizzards, ice storms, and other extreme weather events for which we Canadians ought to be prepared. Even if you live in an urban area with lots of resources and amenities, your family should have an emergency plan in place and an emergency kit on hand that includes everything you would need in the event of a major storm or power interruption. Depending on a number of factors, you might also want to consider investing in a back-up generator.

A generator can provide back-up power in the event of a long-term power outage. If such interruptions in service are infrequent in your area, your home heating system is not reliant on electricity, or you have a condo manager who you can turn to in an emergency, a generator is probably overkill. Otherwise, there are numerous risks to consider if your home were to lose power for a day or more:
– How long could you comfortably and safely go without heat?
– How long before food stored in your refrigerator and freezer would spoil?
– Hoe would you cook meals?
– How would you keep pipes from freezing?
– Do you have a back-up heat source that is safe for indoor use?
– Do you have a sump pump or other emergency equipment that would fail in the case of an electrical outage?

Stand-by generators are permanently wired into your home’s power system and are designed to kick-in automatically in the case of a power failure. They are typically fueled with propane or natural gas. They are a good choice if you live in an area where outages are common or if you have medical or other appliances in your home that cannot fail. A stand-by generator requires a substantial initial investment and must be installed by a professional. More information is available here.

Portable generators are smaller, more affordable, and less powerful than a permanently installed model, but the smaller initial investment may make sense if you are in an area where the power grid is reliable and outages are less likely to be multiple-day affairs. While they can be permanently installed like a stand-by generator (thereby making them less portable), they can also be connected to individual appliances. Most run on gasoline and they only work if you’re home to start them up.

An important note: All generators produce carbon monoxide, a deadly gas. Stand-by generators will be installed to exhaust pointing away from buildings. (You can run a grounded extension cord to connect to indoor appliances.) An operational, battery-powered carbon monoxide detector should be part of your family’s emergency kit.

A generator can be useful part of your emergency preparedness plans, but whether you should invest in one will depend on the size and particular needs of your home and family. This chart can help you assess your needs. We wish you a safe and warm winter, with no big weather surprises!