What to Do When the Power Goes Out - Backyard Boss
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What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Every year, it seems like there are more power outages that affect larger portions of the population at once. Most of the time, they’re not a big deal – they just last for an hour or less – but some of the ones we’ve seen lately have been concerning. What would you do if you got caught in a multi-day power outage?

We can’t prevent outages but we can do some things to prepare in advance. Our guide will help you and your family deal with the next power outage.

How Long Do Typical Power Outages Last?

Most power-outs are over as quickly as they begin. Many of us have brownouts and short blackouts several times a year – and we don’t even notice them. However, when something goes wrong at the energy plant, a transformer bursts, or severe weather hits, power outages can last anywhere from several hours to a few weeks.

The cause of the outage is the primary determiner for the length of time your family will be without electricity.

Determine the Cause of Your Blackout

Open breaker in a workshop.

When the power goes out, discovering the cause of the outage can be helpful for bettering your situation.

Figure out if the power has gone out only in your home or if it’s wider spread. After dark, you can usually do this by just looking outside at the neighbors’ houses. If others have lights on, it could well be your own breakers or an electrical system issue in your house. It’s also possible there may be an issue directly related to your power service.

If you check your breakers and none of them are turned off, you’ll likely need to call the power company. If you have phone service, call them to report the outage. It’s best not to assume they already know about it.

How Long Will the Food in the Fridge Last?

In any emergency situation, sustenance becomes a concern. When we’ve got a fridge full of fresh groceries, this becomes even more so.

According to the CDC, if the door of the fridge stays shut, foods are usually safe for four hours in the fridge and 48 hours in a full freezer or 24 hours in a half-full freezer.

  • Don’t taste food to see if it’s “safe” after the timeline has run out.
  • Toss anything you’re not sure about – it’s not worth the risk.
  • Throw out any food that has an odd smell, unusual texture, or has changed colors.

What Should I Do in an Outage?

No matter when an outage happens, there are a few key things to do that can help your situation.

Stay in Communication with Others Outside Your Area

No matter your living situation, it’s a good idea to keep someone outside of your area informed of your power status. Ideally, call someone within an hour or so’s drive, in case you need help.

Conserve Phone Battery

While it’s tempting to use your mobile phone to keep yourself entertained during a power outage, it’s probably a better idea to reserve the battery for emergency needs and communications.

If you are running low on battery, you may be able to charge your phone in the car, as well, assuming gas reserves in your area aren’t also being affected.

Unplug Your Appliances – Especially Expensive Electronics

It’s a good idea to unplug your appliances during a power outage for a number of reasons, though you’ll want to leave some lights turned on for when the power does return.

  1. When the power comes back, there will be an energy surge that could damage more sensitive electronics like computers, game consoles, and televisions.
  2. If the power went out during activities like ironing your clothes or cooking, you’ll want them unplugged when the power comes back on since you’ll likely otherwise forget to turn those appliances off when the electricity returns.
  3. Restarting appliances requires more electricity briefly than running the appliances. Unplugging them can prevent the slow start-up for power if the whole block isn’t powering all appliances on at once.

Focus on Safety and Comfort

We’re so used to using electricity for most of our normal daily functions that things can get pretty rough without power. There are some simple things you can do to help your family stay safe and comfortable, though.

  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
  • If safe and possible, consider spending time away from the house to conserve energy, recharge phones, add some variety, etc.
  • Play games by lantern light, read books by daylight, and engage in physical activities like low-impact workouts.
  • Do some exercise to relieve stress and improve moods.

What Should I Do in a Winter Outage?

For those cold-month outages, there are a few specific things you might want to consider to help make the time less problematic for you and your family.

Dog snout and one eye peaking out of a cozy red blanket.

Fill Up the Gas Tank

When you learn that a winter storm is headed your way, be sure to fill up your car’s gas tank sooner than later. Gas station pumps are powered by electricity, so once those lights go out, you won’t have the chance.

Keep the House Warm

There are several things you can do to keep that house warmer during a power outage, though many require some preparations ahead of time.

  • Pull the extra blankets out of the linen closet and pad down windows and doors to keep warmth in and cold out.
  • Hunker down together in one room to retain heat as much as possible. Aim for rooms with carpeting to help keep feet warmer.
  • Dress in weather-appropriate clothing and slippers or shoes with thick soles.
  • Use towels, blankets, pillows, and other soft materials to pad a room against the cold.
  • Bake your food, if the oven is gas-powered. Leave the door open after the source is turned off and let the heat escape into the room.

What Should I Do in a Summer Outage?

For many of us, the heat of summer is an inconvenience, but for infants, toddlers, medically vulnerable, and the elderly, severe heat can be dangerous, even deadly. So, having a plan in place, specifically for summer outages may be critical for your family members.

Know of Climate-Controlled Spaces

If a family member is prone to heat-related medical risks, it’s a good idea to find some local climate-controlled spaces where cool air is available. This may be a favorite coffee shop, a friend’s home within an hour’s drive, or a community center where visitors are welcome to spend the hottest parts of the day in the air conditioning.

Keep Extra Water on Hand

The general recommendation for emergencies is to keep one gallon of water per person, per day on hand. In a heatwave without power, extra water will likely go to other uses, like cooling cloths, as well as keeping hydration at bay.

Use Aluminum Foil to Reflect Away the Heat

You can use aluminum foil around windows to reflect away sunlight to keep the house cooler during the day. Use heavy-duty strength foil at standard length for best results.

Stock Some Battery-Powered Fans

Consider buying some battery-powered fans from your favorite camping supplies store. These can come in handy for keeping the heat away without needing to flee to a climate-controlled space, assuming the heat isn’t too horrid.

How to Prepare for a Power Outage Ahead of Time

Ideally, you’ll prepare far ahead of time for an outage by creating an emergency kit and doing a monthly checklist.

Emergency medical first aid kit with gloves, gauzes, and lots more.

Create Your Emergency Kit

Consider keeping these items on hand for your emergency kit.

  • Two sets of batteries for all your critical appliances – generator, medical devices, etc.
  • Car or solar-powered charger for your phone(s)
  • An indoor-safe gas cookstove
  • One gallon of water per person, per day
  • Emergency supply food
  • Manual can opener
  • Matches and lighters
  • Pet food
  • Extra water for pets and plants
  • Solar or battery-powered flashlights and lanterns
  • Heat source supply – be that wood or a generator
  • Battery-operated or hand-crank radio
  • First aid kit
  • Medication
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Personal documents, including birth certificates, insurance information, medication lists, deed/lease
  • Emergency contact information
  • Extra cash

Other Tips to Help You Prepare

There are a few things you can do immediately before a storm, as well as on a regular basis, to make sure your emergency plan is all set.

  • Verify your water supply and non-perishable foods are viable.
  • Rotate your emergency kit medications.
  • Check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors.
  • Update emergency contact information, as needed.
  • Test batteries to make sure they still work.
  • Test flashlights, generators, and other devices to ensure they work.
  • Turn the temperature in the fridge and freezer down – get them as cold as possible to keep the food fresher longer.
  • Turn off the main water valve and open all the faucets to let them run empty to prevent the pipes from freezing.
  • Make sure your water supply is still viable.
  • Discuss medications and medical appliance concerns with your doctor several days ahead of time.

Above all, when you’re stuck in nasty weather, stay calm and remember that even the worst weather will pass. If you can, stay on top of the local news, so you’ll know what to expect, or check in with your neighbors to see if they have any information or need help.

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