Like many people, John Donaldson was on the fence about buying backup power for his home. After all, a backup generator is a significant investment, and he had lived in his house for years with the longest power outage lasting just five hours. Until October 29, 2011 …
It was the worst of times.
That’s when the so-called “Halloween nor’easter” roared through the mid-Atlantic states, dumping up to ten inches of wet, heavy snow on the Donaldson home in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, just across Interstate 78 from Bethlehem, home to legendary Bethlehem Steel.
“We didn’t know how important it was to have backup power until the storm brought snow that weighed down the trees, and they were snapping and going down all over the place — that knocked out our power for four days!” says Donaldson. “Without a power outage plan, we were scared and unsure of what to do or how to react. We just sat in front of the fireplace in the living room with our winter coats trying our best to stay warm, burned all the wood we had and worried about our safety and whether the pipes would freeze. Since our well pump and furnace blower run on electricity, we knew we had some serious problems! And when I realized that the pressure-assist toilets also need power and so does the garage door and of course we don’t have lights, well, there aren’t a lot of options. It was difficult not to panic, and for the next four days we had a taste of how people lived in the 1700s — with no electricity, no lights, no central heat. How good modern life can be!”
What was the first thing that Donaldson and his wife needed? “Water!” says Donaldson. “We had filled up the bathtubs, but it turns out bathtub drains aren’t designed to hold a seal for days. We were very, very fortunate that the local hardware store was open on generator power, and they still had five-gallon water jugs we could buy, but they were going fast.”
Since refrigerators and freezers can only keep food safe for a very limited amount of time during an outage, the Donaldsons ate their food as fast as they could but still ended up losing a lot of it in the long run. The storm also brought low temperatures, so they slept under extra blankets and felt lucky that winter cold hadn’t set in. “If we had January temperatures, we would have had to find a motel or a spare bedroom with a relative for our own safety.”
It was the best of times.
On the heels of that experience, John had a Kohler 20 RESA home generator installed in early 2012. As time progressed, he wondered if they’d ever use it. Then Superstorm Sandy battered the Lehigh Valley with heavy rain and 60mph wind gusts that downed trees, damaged homes and started transformer fires.
“When the grid went down, we were afraid of having to experience another outage. We crossed our fingers that the Kohler was going to work as advertised,” says Donaldson. “That whole 18th Century scenario flashed through my mind, but within seconds we heard the Kohler generator kick in — what a relief!”
For the Donaldsons, everything they had assigned to be powered by the generator worked fine — the well pump, the furnace blower, lights and power in the key rooms, the fridge and freezer, the garage doors, the television and computers. “We were one of the few houses in the area that had lights,” says Donaldson. “You feel a little guilty in a way but also a little smart.”
To help keep the rest of the family safe and comfortable, the Donaldsons invited their daughter and her children down from Westchester County north of New York City to stay with them until power was restored at their home nine days later. “She and her husband had been thinking of buying a generator but dithered on it,” adds Donaldson. “So we shared our power with them and ended up having a family get-together.”
Donaldson says he and his wife dithered before buying a Kohler generator themselves, but “we’ve never regretted it for a second. It’s already worth every penny. I’m a big fan of living in this century!”