Welcome to xurbia

Blackout in Toronto. Floods in the Fraser River Valley. Storms in New Brunswick. Arctic weather over the rest.

As if we didn’t have enough troubles with Nortel going bankrupt, rampant unemployment, falling markets and governments about to spend more borrowed money than God has. Ever feel like regaining control? You just started.

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Condo conundrum

Denys lives in a condo in the heart of one of our largest cities. No car – strictly public transit, and a bike in the good weather.  She loves the high-rise life, she says, close to job, friends and the happenings down the street. Care-free, too, without grass, snow or a garden to worry about.

But, actually, that concerns her a little – because the flip side of freedom is dependency. She has no real control in her unit over water, electricity or even heat. There’s no gas fireplace, not even a balcony. The only windows that open and ventilators about 12 inches high.

So she wonders what would happen in a power outage, or any kind of emergency. How would she keep the refrigerator running, stay online, have lights, cook in a microwave?

For the past week or so Denys and I have been exchanging emails, after she visited xurbia. She realized quickly a gasoline-powered generator was out of the question, no matter how compact. But then she discovered powerpacks and, after that, solar.

“I was intrigued by the solar panels that I saw on your site,” she writes. “I have nearly unobstructed southern exposure on my deck and in my loft windows (more of those than I need).  It occurs to me that a continuous trickle charge from one of the larger solar panels may be a partial substitute for a regular generator.  I’m new to all of this and quite ignorant.

“Basically, I’m wondering if a pairing of a panel/Xpower 1500 could get me through the days and the nights of very modest power use, in a 72 hour emergency (assuming my heating is being generated via propane).  By modest I mean some television, stereo/radio, two computers (desktop and laptop), and a few incandescent lights of 60-100W per unit.   I’m not thinking of running a washer, dryer, air conditioner, stove or refrigerator, or putting the power into the mains during such an emergency.”

In the end, Denys bought a Xpower 1500 powerpack – an amazing unit which sits in a closet plugged into an AC outlet until needed. Then it provides a steady, reliable stream of household current in any kind of emergency with enough juice to run an entire condo, including fridge and microwave, lights and laptop. Just plug and play. No noise. No fumes. No fuel.

And unlike other powerpacks, this one will recharge from a solar panel stuck up in a window. Denys ended up buying a 12-watt folding solar panel which she plans on taking camping with her (it fits into a backpack or the pocket of cargo pants) to charge up lanterns, her Blackberry and iPod. Oh yeah, and a case of meal kits.

“I may be an urban condo chick,” she wrote after placing the order, “but now I’m one who’s totally in control.”

Our kinda woman.

1500-powerpack To check out the Xpower 1500 go here. For the folding solar panel, go here. For meal kits, here.

24 hours

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24 hours of darkness and misery show Toronto unready for emergency

All it took was one bad valve in a utility substation last Friday to ruin the day for a quarter million Toronto residents, cripple the subway system, close schools, hobble businesses and endanger the lives of the young and elderly. Making it worse were freezing temperatures and the almost complete vulnerability of most city residents.

“With utility officials warning this will happen again, it’s a truly frightening scenario,” says Garth Turner,  financial author and owner of the preparedness company Xurbia.ca. “Situations like this may only become more common, with climate change, severe weather and a financial crisis which could erode essential government services. It’s time people realized they need to get ready.”

Xurbia.ca has compiled a list of Ten Key Actions that urban dwellers should take in the event of a power  emergency, as well as a List of ten “bad day’ items to have on hand at all times.

Ten Key Actions
in a power emergency


1. Turn off the water. Most homes have a simple valve in the basement which can be turned by hand. Failure to do this could result in pipes freezing and bursting within 24 hours in winter conditions.
2. Drain pipes as much as possible by opening taps and letting them run out of water once the main valve is shut.
3. Flush the toilet to empty the tank of water.
4. Pour antifreeze – plumber’s antifreeze or even winter windshield washer fluid – into the toilet bowl to prevent it freezing and cracking, destroying the unit.
5. Unplug all electric devices, turn off lamps and fixtures, switch off breakers to major appliances to prevent a surge when the power resumes.
6. Don’t use the gas stove for heat. Don’t barbecue indoors. Don’t light a fireplace with a chimney that hasn’t been cleaned in a year.
7. Leave the fridge and freezer closed to keep food cool or frozen.
8. Keep a go-bag packed for each person in the house, plus one for your pets, in case of forced evacuation. A list of suggested contents is free at xurbia.ca
9. Never, ever use candles as a source of light. Besides being dim and ineffective, they are the primary cause of fires in an emergency. Get battery-powered or closed kerosene lanterns.
10. Do not lose contact with authorities as the emergency could be protracted. Get your vehicle off the street. If you have a generator, look to take care of others who did not prepare.

Ten ‘Bad Day’ Items to keep handy

1. A flashlight – not the battery kind, but a wind-up light that never needs any external source of power (less than $20 at most hardware stores).
2. Plumber’s antifreeze to protect plumbing (about $5 a gallon at most hardware stores)
3. Bottled or stored water – one gallon per day per adult and per grown dog.
4. Kerosene ‘hurricane’ lanterns – they cost less than $10 each and will burn for hours for just pennies in  kerosene, plus they won’t blow out in wind or rain and emit many times the light of a candle. At Canadian Tire and other stores.
5. Thermal blankets of the kind used by hikers, campers and astronauts. They fit in a pocket and can unfold to keep two people warm. About $3 each at camping supply stores.
6. Cash. In a no-power emergency banks and ATMs will not function, so it makes sense to have enough cash on hand to buy what you need, wherever you can get it.
7. First aid kit in case of minor problems, since  hospitals will be busy places in a prolonged outage. A good kit can be had for under $30 at most drug stores.
8. Food – preferably enough to last a week or so, bearing in mind cooking or preparing food may not be possible, and that restaurants and grocery stores will be closed. One option are MREs (meals ready-to-eat) which come pre-packaged, can be stored for five years and are fully balanced. A case of 12 meals is about $130 online at xurbia.ca and other sites.
9. A wind-up, batteryless radio. About $40 will get one with a built-in flashlight, reading light, siren and alarm clock. Widely available.
10. Gasoline. Never go to bed without a full tank in the car.

Turner reports that since Friday his online business has seen a steady stream of enquiries for home generators – powered by gasoline or natural gas – as well as “powerpacks” which are capable of providing instant household electrical power in condos and apartments where generators are not practical.

“With the newest technology, it’s possible to have electrical appliances, including refrigerators, microwaves, lights and computers back up and running in moments, and with a one-time costs of just a few hundred dollars.”

To secure many of the items listed above, please see the Prepare pages of xurbia.

Lights out in T.O.

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The subway crippled, morning commuters wait in frigid temperatures for emergency buses

150,000 plunged into dark in Toronto bitter cold

In minus 20 degree weather on Friday more than 150,000 people in Toronto’s west end were without electricity, when an underground installation flooded. The utility worked feverishly to restore power but, said Police Sgt. Devin Kealey, “We’ve got all sorts of grief. Traffic lights, houses, everything.” A large section of the subway was closed, causing commuter chaos, as well as area schools.

Freezing residents were told to get to an emergency centre, since there would likely be no power for hours.

Of course, those dependent on the grid were seriously inconvenienced. Families with young children at home had to evacuate. Pipes were at threat of bursting as houses froze on the coldest day in a year, potentially causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

But those with a standby generator experienced less than 30 seconds of power interruption. Powered by the same natural gas which fuels existing home appliances, a backup generator is wired into a home’s panel box with a transfer switch which automatically detects when the grid fails, and seamlessly begins the flow of emergency power. Quiet, inobtrusive and barely larger than a central air conditioning unit, no wonder in  these days of extreme weather and aging electrical infrastructure that more and more people are opting for this affordable, effective insurance against inconvenience and danger.

generac Xurbia is an authorized dealer for the best standby generators offered in Canada. You will find more on the Generators page.

Powerless in the GTA (video):

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Emergency power outage tips for those stranded in Toronto

Emergency advice from the City of Toronto

Click on above links

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15.1.09

Snowed again today. Snows every day in Ontario this winter, it seems. And the cold is relentless, as it is across much of the country. Spoke with a client in Winnipeg, where it was minus thirty-eight, which is too frigid to think about.

Is this climate change? Maybe because last night I finished “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer, this is top of mind. There’s no doubt now we’re altering wind and ocean current patterns, which experts say will intensify as the carbon count goes up. It was 280 parts per million three hundred years ago, is about 390 now and will be 450 in twenty years. That, says Dyer, is when the central US is desert, water is gold and you can count on endless weather surprises.

More immediately, my neighbour’s truck died this morning, its battery frost-bitten to death. It cost him $128 to get a tow truck and a boost, he told me over shovelling. So I sent him here. Fifty bucks, I said, and that’ll be the last dead battery in your entire life.

The idea is simple: Let the sunlight, however weak the rays might be on a January day, recharge your battery for you. After all, it’s energy. It comes into your vehicle through the windshield all day, even when it’s cloudy. It’s free. Why not use it?

Told him about this device which suction-cups onto the inside of your windshield – it’s fairly small, weighs less than a pound, and you can just leave it there. It has a wire running into the cigarette lighter,  is loaded with solar cells and generates a current which flows directly into the electrical system, keeping the battery fully charged. Stick it on, plug it in, and forget about the tow truck guy. Forever.

Check it out in the Solar section. Maybe you can’t fix the climate.  But you can fix this.

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12.1.09

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xurbia is about control, not survival. Yeah, we know some urban media types have already painted this site as an extremist guns-and-ammo place. But, let’s face it. They think emergency preparedness is moving next door to a Loblaws.

Fact is, the world’s an increasingly uncertain and unreliable place, while most of us have become hopelessly addicted to bank machines, debit cards, fast food and the grid. This dependency – this lack of control over our own lives – has made us vulnerable. That doesn’t bother some people who have faith life will go on without any seriously bad days. So, they don’t belong here.

Neither do those who never worry about climate change, our insatiable appetite for oil or the fragility of our food supply. As individuals we can’t do much for society or the planet, but we can achieve incredible results for our own families, striving to ensure there are options if the lights go out, a big storm hits, the bank is ordered shut or that just-in-time grocery delivery to Loblaws doesn’t arrive.

xurbia is a work in progress. Over the coming weeks many more products will be offered here, giving you options to save energy, prepare for the unexpected, improve your financial life and achieve more control. If you buy something, great. If you want to discuss options with others, excellent. If you want to contact me directly to talk about your plans and hopes, just do it.

My own search for alternative and renewable energy, for security, for affordable products that actually work, for control over my own days led to the birth of this site. Join the citizenry of xurbia.

garth@xurbia.ca