Take steps now so generators work when big storms hit

STOUGHTON, Mass. — With severe weather impacting us like never before, many people are turning to generators to make sure they don’t lose power when the next big storm hits.

Generators are pricey, and from service plans to regular maintenance, there’s a lot to know to keep them running safely and in some cases, even keep loved ones alive.

For Nancy Nolan a generator isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

"I used to worry about the power going out a lot, you know, when you're laying in bed and can't move," Nolan said.

The 73-year-old Dedham woman has muscular dystrophy and has been on a respirator for thirty years. Nolan relies on a home generator to keep her alive in an outage.

"It's actually life or death for me. I can't be off the respirator for more than 90 seconds, or else I can't breathe. That means I go to God," she said.

Nolan relies on a service company to keep her unit in good condition. Experts tell us keeping a generator properly maintained is crucial.

Don Noll owns Mass Generators in Weymouth. He said he regularly makes maintenance checks. "I give customers a checklist of what to do during a power outage. How to maintain oil, what the maintain levels are for oil," Noll said.

He said the most important thing a homeowner can do before a storm hits is check the generator's oil level and make sure it's not too low. He also recommends getting a unit serviced once a year, and keeping it clear of leaves, bushes and snow, since it needs to ‘breathe’. Also, keep it at least five feet from windows so exhaust doesn't get inside and replace the generator's battery once every four years. That will ensure that when the power goes out, the home generators will start up automatically.

Professionals recommend a service maintenance contract for a home generator.

Installing a home generator can be pricey. Units run from about $7,500 up to around $14,000. Options are available that won’t cost that much however. Experts say you can buy a portable generator for less than $800.

Portable generators produce carbon monoxide, so it's imperative that you install CO detectors as well.

"If there's significant power outages for a couple of days they become very, very popular because it's hard to be cold for a few days in a row," said Chris Maynard. Maynard is the general manager at Stoughton True Value. He said the portable generators may not heat or light your entire house, but they'll get you by for a few days. "You can just plug-in individual things. I mean if you just need a couple of lights, you can run a power strip… or plug in your freezer or refrigerator and keep your food from going bad," Maynard said.

Spoiled food and having no lights during a power outage may be an inconvenience for some, but for Nancy Nolan reliable power is a lifeline. “To have a generator that goes on in thirty seconds so I can breathe is very comforting,” Nolan said.