Ice storm 2013: Toyota Prius powers Thornhill man’s home
Bob Osemlak lost power for nearly a full day on Dec. 21, but was prepared to go much longer using his car’s battery for electricity
By Kim Magi, Toronto Star staff reporter
One man’s transportation is another man’s generator.
Or at least it is for retired engineer Bob Osemlak. During the ice storm, he powered his furnace, lights, refrigerator and TV using only his Toyota Prius.
The Thornhill resident lost power for nearly a full day on Dec. 21 — a fraction of time compared to others affected by the storm — but he was prepared to go much longer with the idea of using his car’s battery for electricity.
“I’ve been an aircraft technician for over 50 years, and I’ve also worked on cars,” said Osemlak, who was in the Air Force for more than three decades. As such, he doesn’t recommend anyone try the technique themselves in the event of power loss, as it could be very dangerous.
He planned for a potential outage by installing an outlet on his furnace and ran the cord through the basement window to his hybrid electric car.
Power was conserved by rotating between heat and electricity.
“When the furnace comes on, and the house gets up to temperature, I go to the thermostat and shut the furnace off,” he said. “Now I can plug something else in: the TV, the fridge or the floor lamp.”
He said if you only power the lights and TV, the traction battery should allow it to run for a long time. Out of the nine hours he used the Prius during the outage, the car’s fuel gauge, measured in bars, went down by less than one bar — close to a gallon’s worth of gas.
His daughter Robyn had no idea her dad had planned for the outage in this way.
“The Prius supplied them with warmth, entertainment, and fresh food (while) they were off the grid,” she said.
Osemlak has always been a do-it-yourself kind of guy, Robyn said.
In the 1960s, while stationed in Winnipeg, he created his own automatic car starter.
“I used to be on shift work . . . I didn’t want to go out and have the car(not start),” he explained.
He created a starter that had the car run every hour for 10 minutes in the frigid winter temperatures.
“It wasn’t exactly warmed up, but it was warm enough that it didn’t make that grinding noise when it started,” he said.
As it happens, the power came back on for the Osemlaks shortly before midnight on the 21st. He went out the next day to refuel just in case it should go out again.
A diesel Volkswagen owner for a decade, he switched to a Prius a few years ago, hoping for similar mileage.
So far, he’s definitely getting his money’s worth.