Generators for your home
Climate is a topic on many people’s minds these days, especially with the extensive reporting from the COP26 Conference in Scotland. In Ottawa, we have also experienced our share of severe weather in recent years. Memories of the Ice Storm in 1998, the August blackout in 2003, and the tornado which struck the city in 2018 are still fairly fresh.
The power disruptions caused by severe weather, combined with improvements in whole home generators, mean more people are considering whether to add generators to their homes. We depend on a great many appliances and electronic devices in our lives and homes – perhaps more so since our homes have also become the workplace for many of us.
So what is a generator?
A generator is a portable or fixed-in-place system that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. While using fossil fuel to power our lives is something we need to move away from, a generator is only intended as a temporary measure to get us through periods of harsh weather (especially in winter) when the power grid is temporarily down.
Most generators are fueled by gasoline, propane or natural gas, and not all types of home ownership can make use of them. Condominium properties, and homes in communities with common elements agreements, may not permit generators or have an infrastructure that would support their use.
The two most common kinds of generators are Portable and Whole Home.
These generators run on gasoline or propane, are noisy, emit carbon monoxide and must be run from outside your home or garage. Extension cords attached to the generator outside are run into the home to power whatever appliances or devices you need to maintain during an outage.
Whole Home Generators
Typically connected to a fuel source such as natural gas or propane, whole home generators are also set up outside your home, but as permanent installations inside a housing that buffers and mutes their operation, similar to a central air conditioning system. They feature a switch/sensor component that detects the disruption to normal power and triggers the generator to turn on automatically.
Whole home generators are more expensive than their portable relations, and there is an initial additional cost for the services of a licensed electrician and gas fitter to set up the unit for your home.
Portable & Whole Home Generators Compared
- More affordable
- Requires manually refilling of fuel
- Power a limited number of appliances
- Manual start
- Requires storage when not in use
- Simple to purchase and use
Whole Home Generator
- More expensive
- Permanently hooked up to a fuel source
- Potentially power the entire house
- Automatic cutover from grid power and back
- Sound muted by housing
- Permanent installation (like an air conditioner)
- Requires professional (licensed) installation
To determine whether a generator would make sense for you, consider the risks in your personal situation if your home lost power for part of a day, a full day or for several days. Factors to weigh might include whether you could cook, store your food safely, stay warm and keep your work, health and leisure devices operating. Do you have family members with medical or physical needs requiring continuous power? Do you have pets that would be hard to place with others in a prolonged power outage? With two small warmth-loving parrots, and both my husband and I working from our home offices, it’s a question I am now considering myself.
If you’d like to learn more, this US-based Consumer Reports article from August 2021 might be a good starting point.