Many do not consider power outages to be a major cause for concern. Getting to use candles is exciting, you might finally get to see the stars, and you can always spend less time on the internet, right? Most outages last only a few minutes, sometimes stretching to a few hours, and they don't cause much harm. However, last December, when hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Greater Toronto Area and most of Southern Ontario were without electricity for days, power outages were no longer a minor inconvenience.
Hydro employees worked tirelessly to restore power, but the sheer volume of those without, and the threats of more severe weather, made for a slow process. Many suffered feelings of uncertainty and frustration amidst chattering teeth. As hours turned into days and numerous homes remained in the dark, the proximity to the holidays and the extremely cold weather made what is normally a joyous time feel bleak.
It has been reported that during the height of the ice storm, 350,000 homes were without power in the Greater Toronto Area. In last month's January Poll, we asked who of our readers were affected by power loss in the wake of December's storm. Of the homeowners and real estate partners who participated in our poll, slightly more than half were affected.
Despite not having utility-supplied electricity due to downed wires and fallen trees, many households were virtually untouched because they had backup power sources to run their systems and appliances. Having access to woodstoves and generators kept families comfortable while they waited for their power to be restored. However, these are not items that come as standard equipment in most homes, and, as reported by several news outlets, many homeowners without backup power sources sought them out, compromising on convenience, efficiency, and safety.
Improperly installed, vented, and run generators can be inefficient, ineffective, and in extreme cases, life-threatening. Prolonged power outages usually result in several fatalities related to carbon monoxide inhalation from gas generators. These are avoidable deaths, caused by lack of resources and poor planning. It's important that homeowners buy their backup power sources well in advance of any outages, so they can select the model that works best for their type of dwelling and familiarize themselves with its functionality - know how your unit works before, not during, an emergency. With that sentiment in mind, we went through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's "Backup Power for Your Home" to develop a simple guide to generator safety
Essential Rules for Using Your Generator
- One of the most important things to note is that the majority of generators were not designed nor intended to work inside your home. If you are using a gas or propane fueled generator, run it outdoors, never indoors. The carbon monoxide gas from these devices could kill you.
- For additional security, make sure to purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector that you can use when you run your generator. It will alert you when there are high concentrations of carbon monoxide gas, so that you can adjust your generator as needed. During December's ice storm a family almost passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning, even though their generator was outside. Their carbon monoxide detector saved them.
- Never fuel your generator while it is running - this is a very serious fire safety issue.
- Never leave your generator unattended while it's running, it may overheat and start a fire. It is a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher near your generator while it's in use.
- If you are connecting your generator to your home's electrical system, you must use a transfer switch - a direct connection can result in fatal accidents for Hydro workers.
- After starting your generator, do not turn on all of your appliances at once. Instead, turn them on one at a time. Backup power sources are not meant to simulate utility-supplied electricity, but to help give you access to the appliances you can't live without - remember, you really can afford to spend less time on the internet.
- If you are experiencing a prolonged power outage, change your unit's oil approximately five hours into use and continue to check and change oil approximately every 50 hours. Use synthetic oil to help extend engine life and make starting easier in cold weather.
Annual Generator Maintenance
When not in use, generators require regular care. The tasks below should be performed on an annual basis. Fall is the best time to complete this maintenance to ensure you're prepared for prolonged power outages in the winter.
1. Start engine and run with an electrical load until the fuel is completely used up.
2. Refuel with fresh fuel.
3. Clean and lubricate battery terminals with a wire brush and petroleum jelly if there is any corrosion.
4. Inspect air and fuel filters, as well as fuel shutoff for cleanliness.
Sometimes preventative maintenance is not enough. Should you use your generator extensively, or if it begins to run poorly, schedule a tune up with a licensed professional.
We hope the above information will help to encourage homeowners to exercise caution when it comes to generator usage. For a more detailed guide on generator care as well as more information on alternative backup power sources, please check out the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's informative report.