Don't get caught in the dark
While it may be tempting to power the whole house
while your neighbours are bumbling around in the dark, the Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corp., or CMHC, suggests you think again.
"Pare your backup power requirements down to the minimum.
Figure out what you can't live without, then figure out how to supply
power to it," says senior policy researcher Don Fugler. "The smaller
the generator, the lower the cost, maintenance expense and requirement
for storage. It makes sense to optimize what you really need, especially
if you never use it," says Fugler.
Sizing your system
Start by calculating the critical loads for the equipment you really need such as your fridge, well pump or furnace. You may decide that
this is a good time install to alternatives such as a wood stove that won't require electricity during a blackout and can do a bang-up job
of heating a few rooms, cooking a meal and roasting a marshmallow or two during a dark spell.
Then, total up the wattage of the lights and appliances you want to power (check the identification plate or the owner's
manual), and double that number to account for the start-up or surge requirements.
For example, if you're looking to power a relatively efficient fridge (500 watts), a furnace (800 watts), plus some compact
fluorescent light bulbs (18 watts each), you could get away with a 3.5 kW (1 kW equals 1,000 watts) backup power system.
Batteries versus generators
Put simply, a battery/inverter system uses energy stored in batteries to provide electrical energy to your home during a blackout. Batteries
can be charged by the grid, a renewable energy source such as the sun or wind, a generator or your vehicle. A battery backup system can be
located anywhere and doesn't require fuel or much maintenance. It's good for smaller essential power requirements, such as appliances and
lights, but is generally not capable of handling heating loads.
A generator is essentially a combustion engine that uses a fuel, such as gasoline, natural gas, propane, diesel or biodiesel
to produce electricity. (That's why a generator must be run outdoors -- to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.)