image of generator

Good planning or hubris? Some time after our move to Toronto (2006), and in consultation with my better half on the half-price sale of a gas-powered 3kW generator at CTC ($250 - woo hoo!), I picked it up for proof of concept - it was prior to me moving to a Toronto-based job in 2012, so probably in the 2010-2011 range. It was a bare bones generator, and after using it to keep the refrigerator, freezer and lights going following a heavy summer rain/thunderstorm power failure event, it proved itself in the late December 2013 ice storm power failure, when we lost electrical service for a day or so in very cold conditions. We ran the generator successfully with a pretty ad hoc arrangement of extension cords from the generator outside, through the inactive mail slot in the side door to the usual refrigerator, freezer and lights, plus the fan for the fireplace insert to keep the house warm, and the modem/router/computer and other essential comm services like the phone. Proof of concept confirmed, but it was available as backup, so no big rush.

Regardless, after some discussions, the advantage of an alternative power supply was clear, but the convenienceor lack thereof a basic generator like the one we had was clear: it relied on me to pull it our from storage, connect the power cords from the generator to the appliances and lights on the inside, and pull-start it up. Being a discount generator, I'd had to replace the pull-cord, and later the recoil mechanism itself, and the carb (if you buy a gas generator, fill it with premium fuel, and add stabilizer to extend the carb life). So, alternative power rating  high,  implementation rating low.

On the basis of that analysis, we decided to go for an integrated backup generator system late last year (2019). In early 2020 (pre-Covid-19) we booked a March installation, which was deferrd until early June due to the circumstances. That workedout well for the plants in Dawn's back-yard garden. So, the installation went ahead, and aside from a few locational tweaks, it's seamless.

Fast forward to today. Bear in mind, since June I've been second-guessing our investment. Not exactly hoping that proof of need has been overdue,but I'll admit a certain pathological hope for my risk-exposure acknowledgements to be confirmed: in short, I'd like to see the power out, to support my investment in alternative power supplies.

Today, it hit home. The storm hit, the power dropped. Being the ultimate techie, I'd already installed UPS devices on our internet modem and router, along with the computers, to ensure they had power to bridge when Toronto Hydro dropped out and our generator kicked in (15-30 seconds).So,in a nutshell, there was no impact: our computers and the interweb stayed up and active. I was able to keep working over the entire 6-hour power blackout. That was a relief in this COVID-19 environment, where we're working from home, and I'm glad/relieved that I can stay connected, despite infrastructure failures like these, and get my job done. It's also nice to know that we can keep the home warm,or cool, under the circumstances and as evidenced today keep my son participating in his virtual summer camp. And that I could cook dinner at the end of the day.

I'm hoping that we don't need to demonstrate this adaptive response any time soon, but am relieved that we were able to maintain full functionality under the circumstances, and we're ready to do so again. Meanwhile, having had the integrated back up power system installed, we sold the old generator (for better than our purchase price),and cleared out a bit of garge space, so win-win.

2019-05-15 Now that winter is over, I've provided a summary on winter biking approaches and strategies. 

A minor update on the new comib system: things are working well, though there are occasional characteristics to figure out, like the hot water tap can't be used for the hot water trickle effect. Hot water is on, or not, and the flow-rate has to be high enough too trigger the heat. So, I had to take out the aerator from the basement washroom and put a lighter one in, to permit the flow. Likewise, I replaced our two shower heads, as the waterflow was on the cusp, and led to tepid-hot cycles. I con't complain much about long, hot showers.

As far as the economics go, we got our first natural gas bill: previously, it averaged ~$52-$55 monthly, albeit with a hot water tank rental of $22 or so. First month, minus the tank, plus the combi, was $100. It was a cold month, and would have been in the $300 range for the oil . So far, so good.

Redux on the statistical analysis of our heating consumption for the winter of 2018-2019, this time. Once again, the reiterative query on why, aside from the narrative below? As of early February, we swapped out the 1946 coal-converted-to-fuel-oil furnace for a combi, of the Veissman 100-W variety, which provides on-demand hot water for the radiators and taps. It will take time to work on the stats, and will likely involve some convoluted conversion of energy values to compare natural gas with fuel oil consumption, but that will wait for another season or two of heating stats (given that we did a mid-season switch). However, we did drain the tank with heating consumption just before the installation (to the point where  I was enthusiastically using the fireplace insert to heat the house once the cold weather hit after I cancelled the refills and the tanks was going below10% capacity). Ahem.

Anyhoo, the draining of the tank (didn't quite run out!) probably demonstrates something close to the final performance test of the insulated house versus original fuel consumption with the un-modified baseline of 2006-2008. There is no doubt some fudge factor as there was some oil consumption in the 2018-2019 season leaking over from the last 2017-2018 refill, but that is likely a pretty minor factor, given the light end-of-season load on consumption in the late spring. Anyhoo, the net numbers from this last heating season indicate at minimum a 50% reduction of consumption on oil consumption, and likely more (60% by my reading, but I'm an amateur).

Final heating fuel stats

2018-06-25 I finally caught up to finishing the statistical analysis of our heating consumption for the winter of 2017-2018. Why, do you ask? Well, I've tracked these data in a table just to keep up with what we're using since we bought the house in 2006.

Last summer we did a big reno and, at my urging
I got the inside of the exterior walls done on the 1st and most of the 2nd floor (the rest having been covered by earlier renos), replacing the strapping with early gypsum board (2'x2' panels), having absolutely no insulation, with drywall on 2"x"3s on the strapping (resulting in 2"x4" depth), in exchange for new floors, ceiling, French pocket doors, main drain, and unleaded plumbing. Give and take.

So, my prior year-over-year fuel consumption numbers were unprocessed. I wanted to compare numbers as normalized by the type of winter it was (cold, warm, etc).

I did this by calculating the degree-days as measured at Pearson airport by Environment Canada, and measuring fuel consumption against that.

It worked out pretty well - even taking out the first few years here, before we did any real insulation, fuel consumption was  down by 41%: for all years , 45%, and 52% from before we started insulating some parts of the place .

I could normalize that a bit further by taking into account the maintenance of a higher interior temperature (ca. 2C): another compromise, but manageable given the overall increase in efficiency, clemency, and my sloth in not wanting to go through another round of calculations.

I'll use these data to determine our needs when we replace the original furnace (coal, converted to fuel oil) in the next few years, probably with a combi boiler/on-demand water heater. We'll see.

Being also too lazy to label, y-axis is litres of fuel oil per degree day averaged over the winter season of the respective years (x-axis).

fuel consumption vs. degree days, 2006-2018

Well, tonight I received acknowledgement for my 200th (now 202nd, next one is on Saturday) blood or platelet donations to Canadian Blood Services.

While I was hoping to make this double century on my personal half-century of life year, that didn't happen (being 52 for much of last year). What can you do?

However, it does seem poignant that I received this recognition on the 40th year after I first (probably) needed blood, following a multiple-fatality car crash I was involved in as a passenger.

Did I receive blood then? Probably, as in my critical medical condition I wasn't aware of much for the first few days, and progressing from there to serious then stable, didn't really come to ground for the first few weeks/months/years.

Regardless, over the course of time, by my late teens, I started donating whole blood for a decade or two, then made the grade to platelets and haven't looked back.

It doesn't cost anything but a bit of time, the staff are most excellent at not making you feel those needles, and it's a bit of forced rest on a comfortable chair, where I can read and wile away an hour or so to my heart's content. I'd highly recommend it, as would those who are recipients.

A few weeks ago, and this Tuesday (the 19th), I'm making a donation for a specific recipient, which makes it all the more personal.

Think about it. Next time, it could be you.
archaeology - biking - planning - c.v. and résumé - scuba - work
Joseph Muller
Phone: 416-766-6704, mobile 647-761-2863
37 Saint Marks Road, Toronto, ON M6S 2H5

last modified 2020-07-08