Thank you for your generator advice!

Would this do the trick? A 3,250-watt portable generator, $499 from Rona (

Readers, thank you so much for some very helpful suggestions and information in response to my question yesterday: Do we need a generator for the Manse?

The question was prompted by Superstorm Sandy passing through the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, leaving millions of people without power. (Though I am pleased to say it’s all been very mild indeed – a bit of wind last night and some typical autumn rainfall today – in Montreal, and I hope the Queensborough area was spared too.)

Anyway, if you check the comments on yesterday’s post you’ll see some words of wisdom. I was interested to hear from Graham that we don’t necessarily need a great big generator, that a smaller portable one may be just fine. And Dave had some good advice on using propane, lower-maintenance and cleaner than gasoline. And my brother John reminded us all to Buy Canadian!

The Sedgwick Bridge linking Maine’s Deer Isle, where Stonington is located, with the mainland. The fact that the bridge bears my family name is just one of the many reasons why I love the area.

In late November Raymond and I will be in the small town of Stonington, a lovely little lobster-fishing town (which I have written about before, saying that it, like Queensborough, is one of the Good Places in the world) on the Maine coast – actually, off the coast, since it’s on an island. (An island connected to the mainland by none other than the Sedgwick Bridge!) Because of the high sea winds that knock out power with great regularity, pretty much every house and business in Stonington has a generator. If you’re out and about on a power-knocked-out night, the air is full of their humming sound. We will ask some questions of people there during our visit. Field research!

Meantime, I am interested in something Graham said, in that it sounds like a no-muss, no-fuss (if rather costly) solution: “Heavy-duty units are typically plugged directly into the household electrical system via a special adapter to your SmartMeter. This would require installation by an electrician. In such situations, there are generators available that will start automatically in the event of a power failure but these units do have a price premium.”

Starting automatically with no effort from us? Sounds great, especially given that we could be four and a half hours away at the time of the outage. But yes, they do seem to be expensive. Here’s one I found from all-Canadian Rona (are you happy, John?) that looks nice and sleek, runs on propane, but costs (gasp) $3,268:

The deluxe solution, also at Rona: “The unit [10,000 watts] has convenient, hands-free operation which means no fuelling, no manual starting and no extension cords. It is powered by natural gas or propane.” But the price, yikes!

What do you think, folks? Worth it?

8 thoughts on “Thank you for your generator advice!

  1. My only suggestion is to learn how to use the generator before the crisis hits — during the ice storm, lots of people we knew tried to figure it out in the cold while holding a flashlight…not the best conditions!

    • That strikes me as singularly good advice, Nancy! I will put my female reading-the-instructions skills to good use, well ahead of time. (As we know, men have no reading-the-instructions skills.)

  2. my sister-in-law has one of those and she loves it because it’s a lot less maintenance (and no gasoline smell) than the big old ones of days gone by – she says the price is well worth it ;o)) – good luck with your purchase, and have a great trip – was there (in Ogunquit) at the end of October and will be there again at New Year’s – it’s like my home-away-from-home… where I’ve been going every year since 1975!

  3. I’d opt for Bruce’s plan myself. In both Gelert and Port Hope we’ve always had at least one generator at our disposal during every power outage for the last 3 – 4 years and we’ve never had any reason to fire any of them up, even for a multi-day outage. If you do want to buy one there are a few things I’d consider:

    i) Any generator under $3000 produces a very noisy AC sinusoidal signal. In plain English that means you can’t (or rather shouldn’t) run any fancy electronics off them. Your IPad, laptop and LCD TV can be easily wrecked by a generator. People run these things all the time off small generators but they really shouldn’t. None of these fancy electric gizmos are requisite for survival of course, but realize you’re really only buying a generator to keep the fridge cool and the house warm, both of which you can do with a wood stove and putting the food in the back porch.

    ii) I’d opt for a gas generator myself. Propane is generally quieter, burns cleaner and is easier on the top end of an engine but you can’t just get more from a jerry can in the garage or siphon it out of the Kapusta’s car when they’re not looking. Having a spare fuel around also gives you the much more appealing option of dumping the gas in your car and powering back to Montreal. It’s also quite hard to come by small propane generators (though they do exist).

    iii) If you do buy a generator (again, something I’d urge you to re-consider) stick a new breaker in that fancy box you have and rig a 220 Volt outlet to it. The easiest way to hook a generator is to make a cord with a double male end and rig it between the generator and this outlet. Make sure you kick off all the breakers before hand and turn on only the ones you need – let’s you direct power anywhere in the house. You’re essentially doing the same thing as a generator rigged up to your meter.

    I’d heed Bruce’s suggestion of putting a few well placed drains around to drain the plumbing system. Running the risk of bursting a pipe is only fun ’til the moment when Aunt Marion is standing beside you watching you bust apart all the soggy drywall on the kitchen ceiling. Putting the freezer in the back porch is also a good idea. You don’t even have to unplug it; it only runs when it needs to keep the heat down and you won’t have that problem in winter.

    • Hahahahahahaha!
      You lost me at ‘hello’, Dan. The only part I got was the bit about siphoning gas out of the Kapusta’s car. Brilliant. In fact, I can picture Raymond in a balaclava and dark clothing, having lost power right at the critical chili-pepper stage of spaghetti sauce-making, hunkering down by Elaine’s car. Desperate times require desperate measures. What’s a mouthful of gas in the line of duty? – that is, getting Katherine fed in a timely manner.
      Plus, how’s she supposed to listen to Terry Jacks on the ol’ hi-fi if the generator is out of gas? Not very easily, that’s how! “We had joy, we had fun/ We had seasons in the sun/ But the wine and the song like the power has all gone”.

    • Daniel, there is only one word to describe this comment: Awesome.

      Okay, maybe a second: Comprehensive!

      Thank you so much for all that useful generator information! And perhaps even more for joining the chorus of “You don’t really need one.” What with all the other expenses we have incurred over the Manse, the idea of not spending several thousand dollars is very appealing indeed. The only fly in the ointment is that we don’t yet have a wood-burning stove, and probably won’t anytime soon. I am fairly sure there are some things that would need to be done to bring the place up to code to have it installed, plus we haven’t decided where it would go or what kind we want – sleekly modern or cozily old-fashioned.

      Perhaps for now the “gassing up the car and heading for Montreal” option is the best one if we happen to be at the Manse for a big power outage. Or maybe Port Hope!

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