With summer storms popping up all across North America, there’s an almost ever-present risk of temporary power outages. Even with storm prediction models improving all the time, it’s impossible to predict the specific events that can lead to outages, such as downed power lines and malfunctioning transformers.

To help keep your home running come what may, you might be thinking about buying a portable emergency generator. These can be a huge convenience for some homeowners, but they’re not ideal for every situation. If you’re considering a generator purchase, be sure to evaluate whether you’re able to use one in a safe and practical way.

What Runs on Electricity in Your Home?

Some homes are better equipped to withstand power outages than others. If your heating equipment, water heater, oven and stove all use natural gas, you may be able to keep all of those conveniences when the power goes out. But if they’re electric, having access to a generator may be more important, especially for winter weather outages.

Do You Have Space for a Generator?

Some portable generators are as small as a couple of car batteries, while others are as big as a 120-quart beverage cooler. You’ll need a covered, secure place to store your generator when not in use, plus a suitable place to operate it. Generators must be operated outdoors and at least 15 feet from your home to avoid carbon monoxide illness. But they must also be covered in the event of rain, so it’s best to erect a canopy tent or some other type of open-air covering over them. If you’re in a single occupancy home, you may have plenty of room for this setup. But if you’re in a multi-family building, this may be impossible.

Do You Have Space to Store Fuel?

In addition to generator space, you will also need a covered, secure area that is not a living space to store gasoline. Fuel should be stored in plastic fuel cans, and if you’re storing it for more than a few days, you should use a fuel stabilizing additive.

Do You Need a Transfer Switch?

With a smaller generator, you may be able to keep your refrigerator running and charge up a few digital devices. But if you want to power much more with a larger generator, the safe way to do it is by installing a transfer switch. This device is installed directly to your circuit panel and allows you to power whole circuits of your home -- that means you can keep using your normal outlets and won’t have extension cords running everywhere. Installation of a transfer switch can cost up to $800, though, which can be a budget-busting surprise if you haven’t planned for it.

Do You Have Essential Electrical Needs?

For some households, having a generator is less of a convenience and more of a lifeline. If you have electrical medical equipment that someone in your home is dependent on, a generator may be a necessity. You may even want to consult your electrician about installing a standby generator, which activates automatically to power your entire home.

Do You Have an Alternative?

If you carefully consider how you would weather a multi-day power outage, you might find that a generator isn’t so important. Handheld digital devices can be kept running with solar chargers and power banks, and you may be able to retreat to public spaces or even your car to keep cool. If you have the ability to quickly pack up and go, you could even check into a nearby hotel for a day or two. But if you’re running a home business, have a freezer full of steaks or have some other circumstances that make it more important to keep your home powered, a generator may be the only option for you.

Still not sure whether a generator is right for you? Call your local Mister Sparky for a no-obligation consultation.