January 18, 2012

Technology can Fail when you Need it Most

With another winter storm on the way, we discovered yet another way that technology can fail us. Two years ago we installed a very expensive automatic generator system that powers our furnace, fridge and sump pump. In the event of a power failure, it promised to prevent a flooded basement, not to mention freezing in winter. But as with most equipment, it will fail when you need it most. We decided this would solve the constant worry of another lengthy power failure (the power grid in eastern Ontario just hasn't been reliable since the 1998 Ice Storm).

So we were less than thrilled when the generator failed it's weekly test the very first time the temperatures dropped to -20C last winter. Apparently operating on propane instead of natural gas was the "cause". We installed a "heater" which was promised to solve the problem. A year later the weekly test landed on another -20C day. We hadn't heard it run its 10 minute test, so I waded through the snow and lifted the lid (who designs these things anyway!) to discover a red light labelled "overcrank". I immediately called the company and was instructed by phone to attempted a manual test. Half a crank and then nothing, not even a red light now.

The battery was suspected, but when the repair guy arrived the next morning he discovered a burned out starter. Of course the closest part was in Toronto. Although the gen is guaranteed for several years, the labour and overnight delivery still cost another few bills. So in addition to the initial cost (gen, installtion, inside electrical work and pony board, installing and filling a propane tank) you have to remember to add the annual costs (maintenance, propane fillups). Plus repairs and addons. Just another mechanical/electric beast to add to the list of "things" that end up complicating in our lives instead of making them easier.