PREPARE YOUR HOME FOR A NATURAL DISASTER!
Most of us have seen movies or TV shows where civilization becomes challenged when the “grid goes down.” Household supplies become scarce, and priorities quickly shift from the mundane to basic survival. We’re not discussing anything as horrifying as a zombie apocalypse here, however with all the extreme weather events occurring around the world these days, it seems like wildfires, ice storms, tornadoes, floods and even earthquakes are certainly within the realm of possibility.
Here in Montreal, where the weather can be unpredictable, it's essential to be prepared for such events. Power outages can happen at any time, often without much warning, and can last for more than just a day. Those of us of a certain age still remember January of 1998, when an ice storm brought the entire Montreal region to a screeching halt and caused mayhem from Eastern Ontario to Southern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the North-eastern United States. We quickly learned what it felt like to be so dependent on the electrical grid, and how important it is to be prepared. Although not as severe as the one in ’98, the ice storm of April 2023 was a chilling reminder that we never know when disaster will strike.
Because of our unique climate and geography, homeowners in the West Island experienced some challenges and problems. Not only did we have cold temperatures to deal with, but basement flooding was another major concern.
Ice storms occur when temperatures are near freezing but just warm enough for rain, which can cause snow and ice to melt. Many homes in the West Island have sump-pumps, and during periods of thaw, those pumps are often working overtime!
But if the power goes out during a heavy rainfall or spring thaw, sump-pumps stop working and it doesn’t take long before your basement is in danger of flooding with groundwater. Battery backups are great, and may cover you for several hours, but as we’ve seen during past ice storms, Hydro-Québec might not have your power back on for several days, or possibly even weeks!
INVEST IN A GENERATOR
If you don’t already have a generator, we highly recommend you invest in one. The time to buy a portable generator or to have a permanent system, called a whole-home generator, installed is not during an emergency. If you wait for disaster to strike, chances are stores are all sold out of these items, and service providers are booked solid and unable to meet demand. If you stop to consider the potential cost of water damage from a flooded basement, or food spoilage due to your fridge and freezer not working, the cost of buying a generator and sufficient fuel reserves becomes a no-brainer.
A whole-home generator is connected to your electrical panel and kicks in automatically in the event of a power outage. These machines are often fed by a natural gas line or large propane tanks and can keep most of the electrical systems in your home running for days on end, as if nothing ever happened. Furnaces, fridges and freezers, ovens and stoves, sump-pumps, and light fixtures can all remain fully functional during power outages when connected to a whole-home generator.
Portable generators are more affordable but offer less power and require much more frequent refuelling. These machines run on gasoline, propane, or diesel, and sometimes a combination of fuels, and will only be able to keep essential appliances and equipment running for as long as you have fuel to supply them. The larger the portable generator, the more items you can run. Note that with some exceptions, even the most powerful portable generators cannot run an electric furnace and/or heat pump. Please read on.
ENSURE YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT FUEL RESERVES
During the April ice storm, Mark ran a gasoline-powered portable generator to keep his fridge, freezer, and sump-pumps running. He found that a full tank of gas could provide about 10-12 hours of run time before he needed to refill. Luckily, Mark keeps about 60 litres of gasoline reserves in his shed for precisely this reason! With the power out, many gas station pumps were inoperable, so finding gasoline in the West Island was very difficult during that time. The same concept applies for propane, diesel, or butane; be sure to have enough fuel to last you through an emergency.
BACKUP OPTIONS FOR HEATING AND COOKING
West Island homes have heating systems that consume different types of energy. Many homeowners have switched from oil heating to electricity only, and we still see quite a few homes heated with natural gas, and even propane. The advantage of fossil fuels is that they can still heat without electricity. The catch, however, is that many combustion furnaces, and fireplaces too, require electricity to start and keep their burner running, and a portable generator should easily be able to provide this. In most cases, there is a way to bypass the electric starter, or to simply rig a battery-powered backup in case of a blackout. If you’re not a MacGyver, you might want to inquire with your local HVAC service provider. Once again, don’t wait for the next ice storm before learning how to do this. Do it now!
If your heating system is entirely dependent on electricity, then your other backup heat source is a fireplace or wood stove. Wood stoves became very popular after the ’98 ice storm, but eventually lost some of that momentum as carbon emission standards and so-called “clean energy” took precedence. Nowadays you’ll probably find more propane gas fireplaces than wood stoves in the West Island, but these can be just as effective at keeping your home at a comfortable temperature while the furnace is down. Perhaps not the entire house, but certainly the room where the fireplace is located. Catherine had her gas fireplace running for four days straight during the April ice storm and kept her entire house at a cozy 21C. Again here, you’ll want to ensure your propane tank is full heading into the winter.
It's important to note that it’s perfectly safe to run a gas fireplace for as long as you need. Assuming you have it regularly checked and maintained, there is little to no risk to doing so. However, during the ice storm of ’98, many people made the mistake of using their outdoor camping stove in their kitchen to prepare meals. This is a great way to cook without electricity—outdoors only! Using one indoors is quite dangerous and can result in carbon monoxide poisoning. There are several affordable options these days that you can find on Amazon or at your local hardware retailer. Whether cooking with propane or butane, just remember to keep the unit outside and if you really need some protection due to the weather, you might consider cooking in the garage with the door wide open.
STOCK UP ON ESSENTIALS
During an extended power outage, you may not have easy access to stores or other services. Even if stores are still open, the shelves could be empty. We all remember the toilet paper crisis during COVID! It's important to stock up before an event on essentials, such as non-perishable food, bottled water, and medications. Aim to have enough supplies to last for at least a week. Don't forget to include pet food and baby supplies if required.
If you find yourself without a generator, there are other alternative power sources that can be extremely useful during a power outage. Having solar chargers or battery backups for essential electronics and appliances can be great. These days, simply losing the use of your cell phone or Internet connection can feel like a disaster!
Here's a short list of other key items you may want to consider having on hand:
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- A battery-powered radio
- A first aid kit
- Lighters and fire-starting equipment
- Walkie-talkies or ham radio
- Multi-purpose tools
- Warm clothing, blankets, and sleeping bags
- Sanitary and personal-hygiene items
- Copies of important documents, such as insurance policies and personal identification
- Cash and coins, as ATMs and credit card machines may not be operational.
Preparing your home for a potential crisis involves a combination of planning, stocking up on essentials, and investing in alternative power sources. By following these tips, you can ensure that you and your family will stay safe, warm, and comfortable during an extended power outage, an off-grid experience or even a more serious catastrophe.
At TEAM BROADY, we thrive on making sure our clients are well-prepared for any endeavour involving your home and love helping you protect your property and those closest to you. Please consider us for your next home purchase or sale! We can be reached at 514-613-2988 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.