Home Generator Comes in Handy After Superstorm Sandy Power Outages

Faith in a higher power: one homeowner’s adventures with the newest suburban status symbol



Illustration by Jessica Giles

Want to buy a generator? Click here to find the one that fits your needs

An indoor squash court? A staffed massage suite or climate-controlled wine cellar? All quite lovely amenities, to be sure, but, as I write this post-Superstorm Sandy, oh so passé. Because, thanks to our increasingly wacky weather, the hottest home feature here in Westchester is now most decidedly the generator.

Don’t hate me. We have one.

I don’t live in a tricked-out new McMansion or a stately old gated estate, just a regular house in Rye. Yet, thanks to a husband who I will never, ever complain about as long as I live—or until he wears his sneakers with the neon-yellow soles in public again—our abode is equipped with a full-sized home generator that powers the whole shebang. So when the power went out in our neighborhood during the height of the storm, our generator clicked on seconds later and hummed away for the next six days until Con Ed was able to do its thing. And it’s no puny little model that you fill from containers of—as it turned out, impossible to find—gasoline, either; it’s a heavy-duty outdoor model with a gazillion BTUs—okay, 30,000—that’s actually hooked directly into our gas line.

Are we suburban survivalists? Hardly. Sure, we have a supply of bottled water—assuming Pellegrino counts—flashlights, and batteries. So why, then, the generator? With scores of huge old trees that Con Ed and the telephone company have strung with wires and cables like so many twisted games of cat’s cradle, our neighborhood loses power—a lot. We first caved in 2005, the year my husband’s tank full of magnificent, iridescent saltwater fish went to the great watery graveyard beyond during one of our far-too-frequent blackouts. The thought of his piscine pals gasping for their last breaths propelled him to install a 10,000-BTU outdoor model to keep the fish tank up and running during future outages. “Um, honey,” I recall asking politely, “do you think we can add some lights and heat and maybe the refrigerator and a freezer to the generator, too?” Permission granted. Coverage in the house would be spotty other than the tank, but, hey, it was better than nothing.

The first time we lost power post-generator, the loud roar when it automatically switched on was, indeed, like music to our ears. But the second time? A 50-foot maple came crashing down and landed—but of course—smack dab on our swell new machine. No roar for us until it was fixed two days later. We were uncomfortable, but, not to worry, the fish were just fine.

Flash forward to last spring. Tired of enduring ever more frequent power outages, my husband purchased our current super-heavy-duty, Mini-Cooper-sized model. Months of filing permits and long days of installation followed and—voilà!—it was fully operational two weeks before Sandy came to town. The Monday evening of the storm, our lights flickered, then died—and a second later, we heard the reassuring hum of the generator kicking in. Less-equipped family members moved in, friends came to shower, and neighbors carved out space in our freezer, until crews from Quebec (merci, beaucoup!) and elsewhere reconnected all those dangling wires.

My heart goes out to those who continue to suffer from the devastating effects of Sandy. A few days inconvenienced by no heat or light pales next to the tragic loss of life, homes, and whole neighborhoods that they’ve endured. My humble suggestion? Make a donation of time or money to the continuing relief effort. Then, get thee to the generator store and order one of these big, hulking beauties. Otherwise, it’s gonna be hard to see the squash ball in the dark and, besides, who wants to drink lukewarm Chardonnay après one’s Swedish massage?