Ottawa

Residents seek generators as a 'necessity' after windstorm, business owner says

The May 21 storm has pushed more residents and businesses to purchase standby and portable generators in the Ottawa area, and one local business has reported a major surge in interest due to the potential for more similar storms.

May 21 windstorm knocked out power, and some residents worry more similar storms are coming

Dean Howell, president of D.R. Howell Electric in Kemptville, Ont., reports demand for standby generators has skyrocketed since the massive storm on May 21. (Submitted by Cynthia Howell)

The May 21 storm has pushed more residents and businesses to purchase standby and portable generators in the Ottawa area, and one local business has reported a major surge in interest due to the potential for more similar storms.

At the offices of D.R. Howell Electric in Kemptville, Ont., they've so far received more than 1,000 inquiries for standby generators — fixed devices, in this case powered by natural gas, which are directly connected to a home's electrical system and automatically turn on when there's a hydro failure.

"[Calls and emails] started pretty well immediately after the storm, and haven't stopped since," said company president Dean Howell. 

Howell said they usually receive a jump in inquiries and quotes after a lengthy power outage, but the longer duration of this past one caused by the derecho storm has served as a wake-up call for many.

"It feels a little bit different to us," said Howell. "They seem very exasperated and exhausted. It almost seems like it's a necessity to them, not a luxury."

Howell installs generators in various sizes, with some providing partial service to power essentials — such as a home's hot water tank, well pump and fridge and costing about $9,000 — to systems that power an entire home's needs, which retail for roughly $13,000. 

In some cases, Howell said people who requested a quote years ago have called back to pull the trigger.

"Their reaction seems to be that they feel there's going to be more of these events," he said. "They maybe thought the tornadoes in 2018 were a once in a lifetime situation, where now they're kind of realizing maybe it's not, maybe it's going to be something more frequent."

Regardless of the type of portable generator, it's important to ensure you use fuel that hasn't gone bad over time, and that you test run the generator every so often to ensure it starts and runs smoothly, according to one expert. (CBC)

Portable generators being resold

Many residents rushed out in the days following the May 21 storm to buy a portable generator. Almost two weeks later, a scan of local ads on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace ten days after the storm shows some of those same people are now selling their generators, saying they don't need them anymore.

That kind of thinking irks David Arama, founder and director of WSC Survival School in eastern Ontario.

"Any emergency or disaster is an unplanned event," said Arama. "You can't wait until it happens to prepare yourself. All I can say is 'good luck'."

Arama owns several portable generators himself, but he cautions they're not all built to the same quality and efficiency, which can be especially problematic in the event of a shortage of fuel.

He said he also keeps a stock of battery packs that can be recharged not just by a generator, but also by solar panels.

"It's one of those important tools, said Arama. "They're part of the mixture. I have a combination because you never know what can fail."

He also said buyers should do their homework, especially since inverter generators — those that are quieter and more efficient than traditional ones —are more readily available, albeit for a higher price.

Regardless of the type, Arama advises owners to always ensure they have fresh fuel on hand for generators, as fuel can go bad after three months. He also encourages residents to run their generator every now and then to make sure it works when it's actually needed.

Here's how long the May 21 storm has knocked out power

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Giacomo Panico

CBC Reporter and Host

You can reach Giacomo by email Giacomo.Panico@cbc.ca.

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