McLean resident Mike Smoyer bought a portable generator three years ago after the last big storm knocked out his power for a lengthy stretch.
The morning after the outage on June 29 that blanketed McLean and Northern
Virginia, Smoyer went to his garage where the generator was stored in its original box. He bought it at Costco in 2009 for $900.
When he set it up, he realized he didn’t have gasoline to put in the unit, and drove around town until he found an open gas station to buy five gallons.
“Anyone who lives in Northern Virginia, especially near Tysons Corner like I do, knows the most power is going out is once or twice a year,” said Smoyer, president of the Digital Government Institute, a conference and training organization that specializes in government IT solutions.
Smoyer and his wife occasionally work from home and needed the generator for continuity of operations. His unit operates at 7,000 watts, and can run the refrigerator, computers and lights for about six hours.
What it can’t run is the air conditioning. A strong enough generator to power the a/c would cost far more.
“Not having air conditioning was tough,” Smoyer said.
Far more expensive generators are on the market, including those sold by Generec, that can heat and cool the entire house and run all of the electricity.
Their "Cadillac" models cost $9,000 or more, depending on the size of the house and your needs. They’re hooked up to the natural gas line at the home, and Washington Gas has to upgrade the meter at an additional cost to the home owner.
Smoyer’s advice to his neighbors: “If you live in highly unstable areas when it comes to electric power or if you have health issues, you should have a generator. “
The outage gave other McLean residents the idea that a generator is a necessity, too.
There was a run on generators at McLean Hardware, according to manager Michael Cannon. In the week after the outage began, the store sold a dozen portable generators. In the previous year, only five were sold, he said.
“If we keep having power outages like these, people are going to buy a Generac for the whole house like you buy an air conditioning or a heating unit,” Cannon said.
Bruce McFarlane, Inclusive Emergency Planner with the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management cautioned: “We cannot stress enough that generators should not be used indoors — they should only be used outdoors as the fumes can cause harm to the occupants."