Tips & AdviceHow to Prepare for a Power Outage

How to Prepare for a Power Outage

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A clap of thunder, followed by flickering lights, may prompt you to charge your devices and hunt for a flashlight. While the occasional electrical blip may serve as little more than a temporary annoyance, an extended loss of power can result in safety risks. Your home may suffer damage from a lack of heat and electricity. If sustained outages occur in your area, you may find that advanced preparation can limit disruptions to your normal routine.

How to prepare for a long-term power outage

If you live in one of the 26% of U.S. homes solely reliant on electrical power, a sustained power outage can place a crimp in your daily, or even weekly, schedule. Most people associate severe outages with extreme weather, such as powerful wind, heavy rain, or ice storms. But outages can occur for other reasons as well. Vehicle crashes, squirrels coming in contact with power lines, or even criminal activities like those that led to extended downtime in the recent days-long event in North Carolina can also cause a loss of power.

Preparing for these events can limit some upheaval associated with an outage and also help keep you safe until the power returns. If you lose power in your home frequently, you’ve probably already found some solutions to help manage an outage. If not, setting a plan and stocking items to assist with necessary activities when the grid goes down can help you prepare for the future.

Think safety first

When an outage occurs, you may not be able to leave your home and shop for supplies. Even if you can get out, there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you need at that moment. One lesson many of us learned during the pandemic applies to power outages: stock up on essentials. Make a list of emergency supplies to keep on hand that will help you remain safe and comfortable until the power returns.

Some items you might need include:

  • Flashlights,
  • Extra batteries,
  • Canned goods,
  • Drinking water,
  • Blankets,
  • Paper products,
  • And medications.

If you’ll need to use a secondary heat source to prevent the inside temperature from dropping during a power outage, try to run a test ahead of time. You don’t want to have to read the instruction manual for your new generator or space heater in the middle of a dark, cold night. Make sure you understand how to safely heat your home and how to properly operate whatever backup system you choose.

Consider using a chargeable portable power station to help you complete small but essential tasks around the home. A small-scale alternative to a gas generator, portable power stations allow you to charge electrical devices and small appliances to keep you connected and prepare small meals. They also safely operate indoors, unlike gas generators.

Preserving Food

A loss of electricity can shut down your appliances, rendering them useless during an extended outage. Without a refrigerator and freezer, you could lose your current supply of perishable foods. If you suspect an outage may occur, take steps to preserve the contents of your refrigerator. Freeze any and all reusable ice packs you have on hand. Purchase bagged ice or begin making ice before an anticipated event. If the power goes out, set up coolers with ice to keep food cold.

You’ll also want to stock up on nonperishable foods to consume while the power is out. Plan your meals around what you can safely prepare without power. If you own a grill, you can use it for cooking outside.

If you’re caught unaware and can’t maintain a cold temperature outside of your refrigerator, keep the doors to the appliance closed. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), food should last four hours in your refrigerator and 24 hours in a half-full freezer or 48 hours in a full freezer.

Protect Your Home from Financial Loss

Lost power not only threatens your safety but also can cause damage to your home. If a power outage coincides with a rain storm, your sump pump may stop working, leaving your basement prone to flooding. Assess the value of items in your basement. If you tend to experience extended outages during storms, consider installing a battery backup to your sump pump to keep it going for longer. The extended timeline could prevent water infiltration and damage to personal items.

Save Your Pipes

A lack of heat caused by a power outage may also freeze your pipes. You can try to avoid a burst or cracked pipe by turning on the tap and allowing a thin stream of water to move through the pipes. Pay special attention to pipes running along exterior walls. If you believe they could freeze, consider wrapping them or adding insulation.

Protect Electronics and Appliances

Consider using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for home computers to prevent data loss during a sudden outage. A UPS will give you added time to back up your data and shut down your computer safely.

You’ll also want to protect your home from power surges that you may experience in conjunction with outages. As electricity cycles on and off, appliances and home devices damage may occur. If possible, unplug appliances when the power goes out to avoid the effects of power surges when the electricity returns.

If you experience ongoing issues with power surges, you may want to think about added protection in your home. According to the National Electrical Manufacturers’ Association (NEMA), while lightning and utility grid instability can cause large power surges, 60-80% of power surges actually originate within a facility such as a commercial building or a residential home. These smaller surges can also cause damage to appliances and electrical devices. Basic power strips offer some protection, but newer homes may now have devices hard-wired into the electrical panel to provide whole-house surge protection. If you experience frequent power outages, you may want to consult a professional electrician and ask about the need for a whole-house surge protector.

Know Where To Go For Help

Unfortunately, some power outages last longer than a couple of minutes. Going hours, or even days without heat, air conditioning, or access to cooking appliances, may limit your ability to safely work, sleep, and carry out your normal schedule. If you lose power due to a widespread event, know where to go for help. Check your local government websites for community sites where you can get meals, safe drinking water, and access to electrical power to charge your devices.

Should I worry about the power outage near me?

Sometimes your lights stay on, but you’ll still feel the effects of power outages nearby. When a storm or other disaster hits, check a local power outage map and monitor ongoing events. Communication system breakdowns, downed wires on roads, or closed grocery stores and gas stations may still cause disruptions and delays. In the event of nearby outages, consider the following steps:

  • Backup and secure electronic devices in case your power also goes out,
  • Make a plan to store or use up perishable food items,
  • Map out alternate travel routes to avoid affected areas with non-working traffic signals or emergency road work activity.

Conclusion

Extended power outages risk our safety and ability to navigate through daily tasks. As a homeowner, you should take steps to assess your individual risk, depending on the frequency of disruptive weather events in the area, your ability to stay safe in your home during an outage, and the chance of losing valuable items in the event of a flood, power surge, or frozen pipe. Once you identify your risks, you can invest in home upgrades or improvements that offer added protection the next time the power goes out.

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