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How to Prepare Your Home for A Major Power Outage

2003 power outage

Do you remember the major Northeast power outage of 2003? Several states were effected with a blackout lasting days, making it the second most widespread power outage in history! Much larger than the Northeast Blackout of 1965, in America alone, this blackout affected 45 million people in 8 states.

A software bug at FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio caused this power outage. When overloaded transmission lines hit untrimmed trees, the alarm did not sound to warn maintenance workers. It was a manageable issue that spiraled into a massive problem for the electric grid.

Today the chances of something like this happening unfortunately, are increasing instead of decreasing. The US electrical grid is ever ageing and just this year there multiple terrorists have recently been caught blowing up transformers in multiple states.

Did you know The US electric grid has 70% of power transformers being 25 years or older, 60% of circuit breakers being 30 years or older, and 70% of transmission lines being 25 years or older. The average age of the installed base is forty years old, with more than a quarter of the grid being fifty years old or older. Utilities are rushing to modernize to enable a new era of electric technology and maintain reliability. Renewable power sources have grown dramatically in recent years, but the aging electrical grid isn't capable of integrating them into our energy use, so much potential power is wasted. The climate agenda would add vastly more wind and solar power to the creaky U.S. grid, which would exacerbate the transmission network's challenges because of the inherent unreliability of these renewable sources. Luckily, you can prepare your home for a major power outage with this handy guide!

While there’s no tried-and-true way to prepare for a power outage in here are a few things you can do ahead of time to get ready. The first is to prepare for the preparation. That’s right. Prepare for the potential of being without power. This is the simplest—all it requires is for you to be looped into your local weather forecast. Watch the weather regularly and if there’s a hurricane, storm, polar vortex, freeze, etc., it’s time to kick in the power outage preparation plan.

Preparing Your Home For a Major Power Outage

1. Find Alternate Power Sources in Advance

Plan for batteries and alternative power sources to meet your needs when the power goes out, such as a portable charger or power bank. Have flashlights for every household member. Determine whether your home phone will work in a power outage and how long battery backup will last. Remember, a generator is a powerful tool to supply your energy needs, but never use a it indoors. A generator can basically make it seem like you aren’t even experiencing a blackout. Whether you get a portable generator to keep a few lights on, a standby generator that will automatically click on when it senses an outage or one that’s powerful enough to light the whole house, it’ll be one of the best purchases you’ve made.

Home generator

Most portable generators run on gasoline or propane, so you would need to stock up on that fuel, but make sure to store it in a safe, well-ventilated place away from your house. And because the exhaust from a gas generator is toxic, make sure only to run it at least 15 feet from any part of your home.

2. Prepare Food, Water and Essentials

Stock up on foods and daily household needs before disaster strikes. When there is a major outage credit card systems may not work to let you buy anything at the time of the incident. Also consider that everyone is going to be in the same boat as you the power outage occurs and many will rush out to try to secure what they need last minute. It’s paramount to stock up on food, water, and non-perishable items in case you can’t heat up or cool down anything. Plan on about a gallon of water per person, per day. When the power goes out on a grand scale water filtration plants won't be able to supply drinking water. One trick is to fill up your bathtub and any containers you can find with water while you can before it can no longer be supplied when you become aware of the power outage.

What To Do When the Power Goes Out

Appliances Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges. When the power does click back on, the power surge could damage things you love—like your TV, laptop, medical devices, oven, electrical system, and smart home devices.

Food Storage. Keep freezers and refrigerators closed. A refrigerator will keep food cold for four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours. If you are in doubt, monitor temperatures with a thermometer and throw out food if the temperature is 40 degrees or higher. Maintain a few days’ supply of nonperishable food and water at minimum.

Secure Water. If you have already prepared water or a water filter great! If you didn’t stock up ahead of time or everyone snatched the water already, make sure there isn’t a boil notice before drinking it from the tap if available.

Know Your Medical Needs. If you rely on electricity for any medical needs, make a power outage plan for medical devices or refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.

If you are without power during extreme temperatures, consider going to a community location to keep safe.

Conserve Your Phone Life For Emergency Communications. If you don’t have a battery charger at the ready, don’t scroll through Facebook for hours on end. Your cell phone is your lifeline to what’s going on. Another good tip is to charge your phone in your car if you can. You can also heat up or cool down in your car so long as it’s outside and not in a garage.

Monitor alerts. Check local weather reports and any notifications. by phone, television or radio. Utility officials may come to your door to alert you of a planned power outage. If available, sign up for local alerts and warning systems to notify you through a call or text to your phone.

Contact your support network. Let people in your network know that you are OK, check to see if they’re OK, and tell each other if you need help.

Prevent power overloads and fire hazards. Unplug appliances and electronics to avoid power overloads or damage from power surges. Use flashlights, not candles. Turn off the utilities only if you suspect damage or if local officials instruct you to do so. Your gas line can only be turned on by a qualified professional. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t use a gas stove to heat your home and do not use outdoor stoves indoors for heating or cooking. If using a generator, keep it outside in a well ventilated area away from windows.

Decide if you need to stay or go. Evacuate if your home is too hot or too cold, or if you have medical devices that need power. Communities often provide warming or cooling centers and power charging stations.

What to do After a Power Outage

Once the power outage has stopped and things are back to normal, a few items should be checked off to ensure a smooth transition to normalcy...

  • Check for damage. This could be from frozen pipes or wind or flooding or broken power lines or anything in between. Make sure your house remained unscathed.

  • One-by-one, turn on those appliances we told you to unplug earlier. It’s important to go individually, just to avoid a power surge.

  • Clean out the kitchen. If it was hot, the items in your powerless fridge and freezer may be spoiled.

  • Learn from it. What did you wish you had during the power outage? What could you have done better? Answering these will get you ready for next time. It’s Texas; it’ll happen again.

  • Keep a flashlight in each room of your house and in your office. Keep plenty of batteries on hand, too, or consider light sticks or a motion powered flashlight that does not need batteries.

  • Keep candles and/or oil lamps on hand for light. Don't forget matches! Also, do not light candles and/or oil lamps if there is a possibility of a gas leak in your home.

  • Keep the emergency number for your electric utility handy in case you need to call.

  • Keep an ice chest readily available to store medications that must remain cold. Store ice packs in your freezer and ready for the ice chest.

  • If you use electricity for your water, such as a well with an electric pump, have enough water available to last a couple of days. You should have at least a gallon of drinking water a day for each person in your house for drinking and cooking. Non-potable water uses, such as water for flushing toilets, can be met with water from rain catchment barrels.

  • Have sustainably sourced disposable utensils and dinnerware on hand so you do not need to use water to wash dishes.

  • Keep the pantry stocked with some easy-to-open, non-perishable foods that require no cooking.

  • If you want to have a backup generator, make sure it is installed by a licensed electrician. Check with your local building department to see if a permit is needed. Make sure the system has an automatic breaker that disconnects the house from the power company's regular electricity lines when it is running. This prevents electricity from leaking back into the grid and making it dangerous for utility workers. Conduct regular maintenance to make sure it is in working order.

  • If you have an outdoor gas grill keep the gas tank full, or if it is an open burning grill make sure to have plenty of charcoal or wood on hand. A grill can be a handy to cook while the power is down.

  • Keep a household first aid kit and a disaster preparedness backpack kit (the American Red Cross offers this kit for sale) in case something happens.

  • Have a household disaster plan that you and your family can follow if something occurs.

What To Prepare Before a Winter Power Outage

winter storm

Winter is the worst time for a power outage. The following are tips and actions you should take as well as winter storm necessities to gather ahead of time.

1. Winterize your home.

Without power, you’ll have limited options for heating your home. So, it’s important to make sure your house holds on to as much of its heat as possible. That’s why you should weatherize your home for winter before the cold weather hits.

Preparing for winter storm power outages by weatherizing your house can range from easy, affordable steps — like weatherstripping around doors and windows or adding draft guards — to bigger projects, like adding insulation to your attic and walls or upgrading your entryway with an energy-efficient door. These strategies, big and small, help your house retain heat and help you stay warm without heat or electricity.

2. Prevent Pipes From Freezing in a Winter Power Outage

When water freezes, it expands. If it’s in a pipe at the time, the ice can burst it, leading to major damage. Property damage from burst water pipes can cost thousands of dollars to fix. The pipes most at risk of freezing are those without insulation running through unheated spaces. Also, pay special attention to pipes in cabinets or in outside-facing walls.

Insulating pipes ahead of time is perhaps the best method to prevent them from freezing during a power outage. But if you haven’t done that, there are few other tricks that can help. Open up cabinet doors under sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms. Close your garage door (but make sure you can open it manually). And if you know a faucet is connected to a pipe in an exterior wall, let it run at a trickle. Even that much water running through it can keep the pipe from freezing.

2. Stock Up on Food & Water

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a readily available supply of food and drinkable water. This should rank at the top of your winter storm necessities.

To be safe, stock up on shelf-stable foods and bottled water (in case there’s a problem with the tap water or you have an electric water pump). What you have on hand to cook with during a winter power outage, such as an outdoor grill, will determine what you buy. But canned goods, cereals and rice, powdered milk and instant coffee, nuts and dried fruits are all good options. And if you have an infant, don’t forget baby food or formula.

If you suspect your tap water won’t be drinkable during a blackout, you’ll need bottled water, too. A person needs about a gallon a day, not including water for washing or cooking, so make sure you buy enough for you and your family.

3. Set aside warm clothing.

It’s natural to worry about how to heat your home when the power goes out in winter. But there are ways to stay warm other than starting a fire in your fireplace or wood stove. Wearing several layers of clothes, especially starting with insulated long underwear, is a great way to hold on to body heat.

If you know a winter storm is coming, set aside warm clothes where you and your family can easily get to them. Make sure to include hats and gloves, warm socks, sweaters, coats and boots.

What To Do During a Winter Power Outage to Stay Warm

how to prepare for a winter storm

Hopefully, you’ve prepared the above well before a winter power outage hits so you can stay as comfortable and safe as possible. Knowing how to keep your house warm without power in the wintertime is important, especially if you go without electricity for several days. Following some cold-weather emergency tips can see your family through until your power is restored.

Condense your living space.

It’s much easier to warm a smaller space than a bigger one. If you have a heat source like a fireplace or wood stove, try to close off the room where it is from the rest of the house to use fuel more efficiently. But even if you don’t have a way to burn fuel, the body heat from you and your family members could help keep you warmer in a small, insulated room than in a wide-open house.

Keep doors to the outside closed.

Generating heat is one part of what to do in a power outage in winter. Another part is holding on to that warmth. An open door is a big enough gap in your home to lose precious heat fast. If you need to go out, shut the door behind you as soon as you pass through. Don’t linger, and never leave it open.

Block any drafts from entering your home.

Aside from open doors, you can lose heat from gaps around and under windows and doors. You’ll want to seal those gaps as best you can, especially in the room you’re spending most of your time in. One temporary fix is to roll up towels or blankets and wedge them against the bases of doors and windows.

Drafty doors and windows can lead to higher energy costs. When things settle down, it can pay to search your home for air leaks and seal them more permanently.

Cover windows and close blinds at night.

Windows can be a major source of heat loss. When the sun goes down, cover them with heavy drapes and/or blinds to keep the room warmer.

What you do during the day depends on your windows. Although sunlight streaming in through the panes can warm a room in winter, if your windows are poorly insulated or drafty, you may be better off covering them. After the power comes back on, you may also want to add weatherstripping to your to-do list.

Dress in multiple layers.

One of your best defenses against the cold is layered clothing. Start with a warm base layer, like thermal underwear or long johns, and a pair or two of wool socks. Next add pants (insulated if you have them) and several layers of lighter, looser, warm shirts. Ideally, the outer layers should have a tight weave and be water-repellent.

And don’t forget that people lose a lot of heat through their hands, feet and head. You’ll want a warm hat and mittens, which hold heat better than gloves, as well as warm boots. Top with a coat.


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