My folks recently came off a good five day stretch without power to their home in Durham, NH. The combination of heavy, wet snow and wind speeds well over 50 mph downed trees, limbs and powerlines all over their region. It wasn’t a hurricane or a Nor’easter; it was just a perfect combination of conditions that led to widespread and relatively long-term power outages.

It was also enough for my normally thrifty parents to begin seriously considering a generator.

It may have been having to throw away hundreds of dollars in spoiled food from the refrigerator. Or it may have been the fact that my bookish father (aka “Professor Hardy” to his UNH students) was robbed of quality nighttime reading light for five days in a row. I know my parents had flash backs to their flooded basement a few years ago — the prospect of a similar situation without power to run the shop vacuum is scary enough to have them looking into an emergency power source. Whatever the case, the tight-wads are ready to whip out the check book.

The question now is: which generator?

My mom is leaning towards splurging on a permanent standby generator, but she doesn’t think the old man is going to spring.

While I think portable generators are great and certainly affordable, I am pushing them towards the permanent option.

For starters, I don’t think they are going to want to deal with the portable generator during a rain or windstorm — in fact, most portable generator manufacturers will tell you NOT to operate the generator in rainy conditions. As everyone should know (but often forget), the portable generator has to be run outdoors and so many feet from open windows or doors due to CO hazards. Here’s a list of safety tips on portable generators that people like my folks ought to read before purchasing and/or using.

On the other hand, purchasing a permanent standby generator can seem a bit daunting. Where do you begin?

A better question: What do my folks need? I think a small generator will do. At this year’s International Builders’ Show I visited the Generac booth, where they were showing off their new 7kW “CorePower System,”, available later this spring. Customer Service couldn’t quote me an MSRP but they suggested that it would probably be less than their 8kW Guardian Series model, which retails around $1899 and includes an 8-circuit transfer switch. $2000 for power when you need it isn’t a bad investment. I asked my folks to consider the amount of money lost in spoiled food on this one power outage. As I said, it was well over $100, maybe even close to $200. Supposing their new permanent generator saves their hides from a similar situation 5 times over the next ten years they’re looking at a food savings around half the cost of the generator unit.

Not to mention my Dad won’t be losing out on his precious reading — or paper grading — time.

I suggest to them — and any others in their situation — that they begin by making a list of the things they want power to when the grid goes down. I know that “fridge” will be on top of their list. They are also on a well water system. Add “well pump” to the list. I’ll stop there. They can do the rest.

You get the idea.

I can understand those people who have a hard time parting with a couple thousands dollars for a machine that they might use three times a year, but when those three times come…

So this blog will basically be my “I told you so” when the next power outage hits little ‘ol Durham, NH before the ‘rents bite the bullet.

How about you? Own a generator? How did you choose yours?