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Don't get caught in the dark

It took only nine seconds on a sticky afternoon in August 2003 to plunge 50 million people in Ontario and the north-eastern United States into darkness. When the entire electrical grid collapsed, lights stopped shining, air conditioners stopped whirring and televisions and radios fell silent, marking the start of the biggest blackout in North American history.

Few were prepared for hours of pioneer-like conditions, despite warnings of limited power supplies and risks of California-style rolling brown-outs. But inconvenient as these few days were, it was nothing compared to the weeks of freezing darkness experienced by millions caught in the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys during the ice storm of 1998. Thirty deaths were blamed on the storm.

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While these two scenarios may be extremes, they're a good reminder of why it's important to establish a backup power system before the lights go out. The risks are considerable -- a flooded basement if your sump stops pumping, a fridge full of spoiled food or a house so cold that you have to evacuate.

Whether you're considering a backup power system for a house in the city, country or even a cottage, you first need to consider what you want to operate during a power outage.

"When it comes to what you're doing with a generator, it comes to two choices," says Floris van Ooyen, manager sales and design for Enviroharvest Inc. in Parry Sound, Ont. "Are you powering a couple of select circuits -- a fridge, freezer, some lights -- or are you powering the whole house?"

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-- Posted: August 13, 2008
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