How to Handle a Power Outage at Home
Picture yourself in your house, getting ready for dinner or brushing your teeth — when suddenly everything goes dark.
Power outages can be caused by many things — from inclement weather to lightening strikes. Waiting until a power outage to occur is the worst possible way to prepare for one. Once the power is out, it could remain that way for hours or even days. This could leave you in a crisis in your home as you struggle to meet your everyday needs of food, water, and even adequate shelter if it occurs during the dead of winter. Luckily, you can take steps to prepare for a power outage and survive one easily if an outage does occur.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps of preparing for a power outage, what you need to do once an outage occurs, and what to do once the power comes back on.
Part 1: How to Prepare for a Power Outage
Preparation is the key to successfully surviving a power outage with as little inconvenience as possible. And while you can never fully prepare for everything that can happen during a power outage or for how long it might last, you can take steps to ensure that you are ready for when the power first goes out and through the day following such an incident. The following section details steps you can take to prepare for a power outage in your home.
Step 1: The emergency kit. Every home should have an emergency kit in case a disaster happens and you and your family must survive on your own without any outside contact.
A well-stocked emergency kit contains the following:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days)
- Food (a three-day supply of nonperishable food for each person)
- Flashlight (to conserve battery life, only use the flashlight when needed)
- First-aid kit (supplies to treat minor bumps, bruises, cuts, and burns)
- Extra batteries
- Manual can opener (because what good are canned items without some way to open them?)
- Battery-operated, solar, or hand-cranked radio to listen to local alerts
- Home toolkit
Step 2: Alternative charging methods. Purchase alternative ways to charge your cell phones, laptops, or mobile devices.
You can use a device called a Portable Power outlet to power all of your devices and even small appliances, such as fans and space heaters.
If your area suffers from frequent, long-lasting power outages, consider buying a generator. Keep in mind not to run a generator indoors, as the device produces dangerous carbon monoxide while running.
Step 3: Shutoffs and controls. Learn where important shutoff valves and controls are located in your home.
Some of the important valves and controls you might need to know, include:
- Gas shutoff
- Water shutoff (in case your pipes freeze in cold weather)
- Manual release on your garage door
Step 4: Ice or frozen water. You should also keep some ice or frozen water on hand to help keep food items cold if the power does go off.
Step 5: Emergency numbers: Make sure to write down any emergency numbers, such as for the local police or fire department.
Also write down the number for a local electrician for outages confined to just your home, as well as the number for your electric company for widespread outages.
You can also call 911 if you have a real emergency on your hands and need help.
Step 6: Local emergency plans. You also need to check with local authorities beforehand to see what, if any, contingency plans the local government has made if there is a long-term power outage.
This include finding out the location of shelters in case the power outage occurs in conjunction with another disaster, such as a flood or hurricane.
Part 2: What to Do During a Power Outage
Once the power does go out, you need to take certain steps to ensure you and your family remain safe. While a short outage might not create too many problems, consider what you need to do for more long-term outages. The section below describes what to do depending on the length of the power outage.
Short-term power outages
When an outage does occur, stop to take stock of the situation first. If you can, you should begin by checking with the neighbors to see if they are experiencing an outage as well. Next, check your fuse box if the neighbors still have power. If the problem is more widespread, contact your power company to notify them of the problem.
You should also unplug appliances, such as televisions and computers. The power surge that often accompanies the power being turned back on can damage electronic components. You should also turn off your HVAC system to prevent damage to the compressor and the buildup of carbon monoxide gas if you have a gas furnace.
Long-term power outages
For longer power outages, make plans to use a generator if needed. This should allow you to power your important devices and the lights while you wait for power to be restored. In the absence of a generator, make sure to eat perishable items first before moving on to non-perishable food items.
To increase the flow of air in your home during hotter months, open windows for increased circulation. If needed, connect a fan to the generator to help with air circulation. In the colder months, dress warmly, and make sure to properly vent rooms where you place a kerosene heater. You might also consider moving everyone in the household to a single room and close it off to conserve heat.
Part 3: What to Do Following a Power Outage
You need to take certain steps immediately following the restoration of power. The following details all that you need to do when power is restored to your home.
Step 1: Check perishable food for spoilage. Before eating any perishable food, check to make sure it has not spoiled.
Generally, any perishable food items exposed to temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more for two or more hours should be thrown away.
In addition, if food has an unusual odor, color, or texture, dispose of it.
Step 2: Check your medication. You should also check your medication to make sure it has not gone bad.
If in doubt, contact your doctor to see if you can still use the medication.
Step 3: Check your home. Once the power has come back on, perform a walkthrough of your home to look for any damage.
This includes making sure the pilot light on the furnace or water heater are properly relit, as well as to check if a tree has fallen on your home or if there is any other property damage if bad weather caused the outage.
Power outages can represent a big problem for an unprepared homeowner. Having your ducks in a row and knowing what to do when the power does go out can help you more easily deal with an emergency when this does happen. For longer outages, keep in mind that local authorities probably have contingency plans in place, and you should contact them if you need assistance.