How important is power? In 2013, Toronto was hit with a massive ice storm that covered power lines and trees bent over from the weight of ice. Luckly for our family, our house and the rest of my street was relatively untouched. While everyone was panicking from power loss, my house still had power and we could watch all the events unfold on the TV. Then around noon, when the sun had come up and the ice started to melt, our power went out. For two days.

It was not from any branches hitting the wires, or from water getting into the power box… or whatever ice storms do. It was because the power company had cut power to our street (without warning), to work on another street that was damaged. When it seemed like the worst of it was over, our “disaster” was just beginning.

Have you ever experienced a power outage in the winter? At first, it was just darker in the house. With daylight, everything seemed normal. By 10 pm the house started to cool inside and we had to bundle our infant daughter in her heavy pajamas plus a sleep sack – which is just a glorified sleeping bag for infants.

Usually we sleep fine in a cool bedroom, so we were not affected. By the time morning had arrived (around 7 am), our house had dropped drastically in temperature. So much so, that we could see our breath. Even the cat was cold. We don’t have a fire place in our house. I was a recent purchase, and it is an uncommon feature in our area. And I didn’t have access to the Black Cats / Big Buddy Heaters that we sometimes use on our winter excursions.

It was obvious that we would have to vacate. Our food was fine – the fridge acts like a giant cooler and it was cold enough that the chest freezer would be fine, but the house temperature was getting intolerable. So we packed up our stuff and headed over to my parents, who were untouched by the storm. It was helpful that the car had a full tank of gas, since many of the gas stations were also unable to pump gas or run the tills.

After a couple of days, the power came back on and everything returned to normal. But this was the last straw. Time to get a generator.

This was the third time the power went out to our house. The other two were during the summer, where food had spoiled in the fridge freezer (extremely inefficient) and thinks like milk had to be ditched.

I was reluctant to get a generator to solve our energy needs. They are expensive, noisy and take up a lot of room, for something that usually just sits there. But having had one for over a year, I can tell you that while it hasn’t been needed yet, it is only a matter of time. And there is a comfort in being ready.

Generating Power

In reality, power loss for more than a day can cripple your home. Electricity does a lot of different functions in your house including:

  • Powering an electric furnace
  • Running the blower on a gas furnace
  • Running the fridge and freezer
  • Heating your water, even with gas water heaters
  • Running your washing machines and dryers
  • If you have a home office, then all the electronics needed such as computers, routers and modems
  • Running air conditioning
  • Running fans if you don’t have air conditioning

Generac 5500 Generator

In the end, I settled with a Generac 5500 generator which has become an important addition to my house preps. It is middle of the road in terms of size, but it has enough juice that it can handle the heavy loads of a full size fridge and chest freezer along with other devices as long as peak loads are juggled properly. It can be directly hooked into the home’s power grid to supply power to specific utilities or run using a heavy duty extension line, depending on the task.

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Your Priorities

Generators and other power generating devices make up a significant part of your overall level of preparedness. Yes, you could go out into the yard and start a bow drill fire, but often that is way overboard for the situation. What you and your family might need more is a baseline level of normalcy that comes with generating power.  Generators supplement many of your survival priorities including the following:

First aid

  • Hot water for showering / washing – sanitation

Shelter

  • Normalizes internal temperatures of your home (furnaces and air conditioners)
  • Can run drills and saws used in home repair or construction out in the wilderness

Water

  • Powers pumps in a well
  • Keeps beverages from spoiling (like milk and juices)
  • Heats electric kettles

Fire

  • Powers furnaces
  • Powers internal heating systems like electric baseboards
  • Electric blankets
  • Saves you from needing to resort to burning wood – additional level of redundancy

Food

  • Keeps food cool in fridge or freezer making your food stuff “spoil proof”
  • Can be used to power cooking devices – microwaves, toasters, kettles, electric stoves and coffee makers

Navigation

  • Lighting
  • Keeps power to your computers
  • Can recharge cell phones and gps devices
  • Can keep you from needing to evacuate your home

Getting Others into Preparedness

A generator is a great way to get others on board with preparedness and survival. There is nothing weird about owning a generator, especially if you can explain that it is there in case the power goes out and you want to keep all those steaks or pork shoulders from spoiling. In fact, if you just talk about it in terms of saving you money, then why wouldn’t you want a generator?

A generator can be as simple as a purpose built home model, if you are not interested in any maintenance. Or if you are like me, maybe you dream of a cabin in the woods and go for the portable model, but until that day, you can help your neighbours out when their power goes out.

Generac 5500 Generator Rolling Setup

The Negatives

 While it is a short list, there are some disadvantages to owning a generator:

  •  They are expensive – think around the $1000 range for a house powering model
  • Portable ones could be stolen unless chained down
  • They are loud – an OPSEC nightmare
  • Requires additional fuel / oil storage
  • Requires space to store
  • Needs to be used outdoors when running and requires a long, heavy duty power cable if you want to have a non-grid tied model
  • Extremely heavy for one person to lift and awkward to move around
  • Requires a maintenance schedule – running it once every couple of months to keep engine clean
  • Requires an electrician if you want it to hook directly into your home’s electric grid.

In another article we will discuss choosing the model that is right for you. But for now I want to get you thinking about Generators and how they fit into your overall survival / preparedness strategy.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a generator, or are thinking of buying one?