Photo of house covered in snow during winter

Ontario Ice Storm leads to baby boom – are you prepared!

Last winter alone saw 2 major crisis affecting Ontario homeowners ability to heat their homes:

The Ice Storm – hundreds of thousands of Ontarian’s  without electricity, December 2013

The Propane shortage – Ontario homes without propane, February 2014

It is impossible to predict what will happen this winter but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better prepared for some of the more likely scenarios.

Now is a great time to take a look at how your home is heated and put in place a contingency plan for the eventuality that your main heat source is not available for an extended period.

Natural Gas Furnace

A large number of homes in Eastern Ontario are heated by natural gas furnaces, quite rightly, because natural gas is a reliable, cheap source of energy.

What you need to know:

Natural gas is well regulated and there has never, to my knowledge, been an incidence where natural gas is not available, however your gas furnace is unable to operate without electricity. If you don’t already have one you may want to consider installing a fireplace or stove to supply heat in the event of a power failure. See back up heat sources section below for options.

Electric Heating

If your main source of heat is electricity you are no doubt acutely aware of the effects of loss of power. Brown outs and blackouts are common in our region. Most people have candles and flashlights to provide light, but what about heat?

What you need to know:

Electricity is not always available and losing electricity supply for extended periods in winter is more common than you think.  An alternative heat source is a wise choice. See the alternative heat source options below:

Propane Heating

Last winter saw a propane shortage that wasn’t isolated to Ontario, but also saw a state of emergency declared in 30 US States.  Prices rocketed and propane was in short supply for most of the winter.

What you need to know:

We all hope that the propane industry has learned it’s lesson, but just in case we have seen many homeowners installing pellet stoves or fireplaces as an alternative or back-up heat source. Those concerned about the reliability of their electricity supply are also installing simple battery back-up on their pellet stoves so they have a heat source even without power. See below for options for heat sources without electricity.

Best options for backup heat sources in the event of power failure (in order of priority):

1.     Natural Gas fireplaces or stoves – reliable, cheap to operate but requires a natural gas supply to your home and suitable venting.

2.     Propane fireplaces – reliable, cheap to operate, requires propane tanks to operate and suitable venting.

3.     Wood Fireplaces and Stoves – More efficient than your parents old fireplace but still require some work, a source and storage for dry logs and suitable venting.

4.     Pellet fireplaces and stoves – Cleaner, greener and less work than wood fireplaces you will need a simple backup electricity source to operate but this is cheap and easy to install.

If you subscribe to the view that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” you may want to consider talking to an expert about alternative heat sources for your home.

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