Preparing for a Power Outage: The Ultimate Guide

Conrad Novak

Introduction

A power outage can be a stressful time. Stores get depleted extremely quickly and the modern conveniences of life are taken away. Luckily, with a little preparation and a solid action plan in place, a power outage can be dealt with stress-free and with minimal impact. This guide will give you everything you need to fully prepare for the next extended power outage. 

Create an Emergency Aid Kit

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It’s important to put together an emergency kit in preparation for a power outage. You’ll need to keep this somewhere accessible and stock it with essentials. Here is a list of recommendations you should include when creating your emergency kit:

  • A gallon of drinking water per person per day (also invest in water purification tablets to ensure water is safe to drink)
  • Non-perishable food and a tin opener
  • A fully stocked first aid kit
  • A supply of all needed medications including the dosages
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • Blankets

Essential First Aid Kit Items

Here is a complete list of first aid kit items recommended by the Red Cross organization:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • 1 3 in. gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 3 in. x 3 in. sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Emergency First Aid guide

If you require any medications or medical devices that need refrigeration or an electrical supply, make sure to speak to your doctor about back-up resources available to you. The CDC recommends disposing of any medications that require refrigeration after a power outage lasts 24 hours or longer.

It may seem over-precautious to stock up on all of these supplies, but in the event of an extended power outage, you’ll be glad you have them available.

Create a Family Emergency Plan

2.-emergency-exitIt’s important to have a family meeting and prepare a plan if a power outage should happen. Everyone should know where they should go and what they should in this scenario to avoid panic.

First of all, make sure you know how you will contact each other either at school or work. Also, it’s useful to have an out of state relative to contact in an emergency if phones go down in your area. Make sure the whole family has a list of emergency contacts as well as local emergency services and other important numbers in their phones.

It’s also advisable to have a plan in place. This should include where family members should meet if phone lines go down. This will usually be the house, but have another meeting location planned that’s further away in case of a flood or other event that would prevent members from getting home.

If possible, include your neighbors in the emergency plans. If you have any elderly or disabled neighbors that may need help, make sure they are part of your plan.

Lastly, don’t forget to factor in your pets when creating an emergency family plan of action.

Stocking Up on Food

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When the power goes out, many people don’t have a way to cook food. If the power outage is only going to last a few days, a supply of non-perishable food that is ready to eat will suffice. If you don’t have a supply of non-perishable food, now is the time to create a stock. This can include:

  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Beef jerky
  • Pudding
  • Apple sauce
  • Granola bars

Although dried goods like beans or pasta are non-perishable, they aren’t much use in a short-term power outage with no way of cooking them.

Cooking Options

4.-gas-stoveDuring an extended power outage, you’ll need to prepare a way to cook food to sustain you and your family for weeks. There is only so long your children will eat crackers and pudding cups before they need a proper meal. Here are several ways you can cook during a power outage.

Propane Stove

A simple, clean solution is to invest in a store of propane to power appliances and give you hot water. A propane stove will allow you to cook like normal during a power outage. You’ll also be able to power your refrigerator with propane, meaning you won’t need to throw away spoiled food. Overall, propane can be a real lifesaver during a power outage, so having a back-up store may be a good option.

Solar Oven

The green solution to a power outage is a solar oven. This gives abundant free fuel as long as the sun is shining. Of course, you’re limited to cooking during the daytime and you are reliant on good weather. If you do opt for a solar oven, it’s best to have a backup cooking plan in case the weather turns bad for an extended time.

Charcoal Grill

A charcoal grill is another option, however, this is limited to outdoor use and requires a hefty store of dry charcoal.

No matter which option you go for, it’s advised to use these cookers outside to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide in the home. If you don’t have access to any of these, building a fire in your backyard is a simple option to cook meals.

Make sure to invest in a high-quality knife to help with preparing food, starting a fire if necessary, and other tasks during a power outage. You’ll be glad you had it on hand.

Stop Food From Going Bad in a Power Outage

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A major concern during an unexpected power outage is how to stop food in the refrigerator from spoiling. There’s a limited time before food reaches an unsafe temperature so it’s important to be prepared ahead of time.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests keeping your refrigerator at or below 40°F and your freezer below 0°F. The problem is, many refrigerators don’t give an accurate temperature reading so it can be difficult to know when food is at an unsafe temperature.

To prepare for this, keep an appliance thermometer in your fridge to get accurate readings during a power outage.

To keep your food fresh for as long as possible, keep bags of ice in your freezer to help maintain a freezing temperature. Once the freezer begins to warm up, the ice can be transferred to a cool box and used to keep food frozen for longer.

You can also freeze bottles of water to help maintain the temperature of the freezer for longer. This water can then be used as drinking water once it thaws out. This will be useful if there is any concern about the water supply becoming contaminated.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends grouping frozen food together as tightly as possible to keep it frozen for as long as possible. They also suggest transferring items in your fridge into the freezer to help them stay at a safe temperature for as long as possible. This can be done with items such as milk, meat and poultry.

If food rises to temperatures of 40°F or more for more than two hours, throw it away to avoid unsafe food.

Do Not Keep Food Outside

If a power outage occurs during winter months, it can be tempting to put food outside in the frost or snow to keep it cold. However the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warns people against this. It can attract wild animals and once the sun comes out, food is at risk of quickly warming to unsafe temperatures.

The Importance of Hygiene in a Power Outage

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A question that is often asked is, will the water remain on during a power outage? If you are connected to the city water, the answer is yes, the water pressure will likely hold for a few days of a power outage. However, if you rely on a pump you will require a backup source of water.

The problem is, you won’t have access to hot water during a power outage, which can make maintaining hygiene difficult during an extended outage.

If you have a traditional tank water heater in your home, you will be able to shower during a power outage. However, the tank will need a reserve of hot water already in the tank and it will only remain hot for a few hours. After that, the water will be cold. This is because they require electricity to ignite the pilot, maintain hot temperatures, and detect when more hot water is required.

Alternative Ways to Keep Clean During a Power Outage

Hand Sanitizer

7.-house-cleaning-productsAlcohol-based hand sanitizers kill germs but won’t remove dirt. Use these to sanitize your hands having using the bathroom and before eating to remain germ-free. Stock up on this to ensure you have a supply ready for a power outage.

Baby Wipes

In the event you lose your hot water supply, a cold shower may not seem appealing. To keep clean, baby wipes are a good solution. These are often used by soldiers, festival-goers, and anyone else who doesn’t have ready access to shower facilities.

A good supply of baby wipes will be welcomed by the whole family when the hot water goes off. If possible, biodegradable baby wipes are the eco-friendly option. Remember, always dispose of these in the trash and never down the toilet to avoid blocking the pipes.

Toothpaste and Mouthwash

In the event that water becomes scarce, you can still brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash to save water. Make sure to have a supply of both in your emergency store. If you run out of toothpaste and the local stores are bare, baking soda can be used as a short-term substitute to keep mouths feeling fresh.

House Cleaning

When hot water is not an option, it’s more important than ever to keep surfaces clean in the house to avoid germs spreading. A good stock of bleach will ensure surfaces are clean without the need for hot water. Chlorine bleach is usually overkill, but during a power outage when hygiene is an issue, it will come in handy.

Diapers

During power outages, stores tend to run out of stock fast. The last thing you want to run out of is diapers for your little ones. Make sure to have an emergency stock in place just in case. Even if your child usually wears cloth diapers, you’ll be glad you had this back up when the power is out and water isn’t on.

What Happens When the Toilet Doesn’t Flush?

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If the water shuts off and you don’t have a flushing toilet, it can easily become stressful. However, by planning ahead and knowing what to expect, you can help your family adjust.

Rainwater Flush

If you have space in your garden, add a couple of 200L rainwater barrels for catching rainwater. IN an emergency, this can be bailed out and used to flush the toilet. It’s best to install the barrels as soon as possible to make sure they are full when an emergency arises.

If you do have running water but want to preserve it, using greywater is another option. Greywater is the run-off from showering, bathing, and doing dishes. This can be collected and used to flush the toilet in emergency situations.

5 Gallon Bucket

In the situation when water is scarce and you don’t have excess water for flushing, a bucket can suffice.

Double line the bucket with trash bags and add the toilet seat to make it easier to sit on. Once you’ve done your business, add a cup of cat litter or sawdust to mask the smells. Once the bag gets full, tie it up and bin it.

If you have a family member who will struggle to sit on a bucket, you can also tape the bin liner to the inside of the toilet for added comfort.

Composting Toilet

If you have a garden, a composting toilet is another option for you. A composting toilet uses no power or water so is a great option for a power outage. When using a compost toilet, solids and liquids are separated out. The solids are composted and used as fertilizer (although not for anything that will be consumed). The liquids can be put straight on the garden as a source of phosphorus.

This is an environmentally friendly option that can be an asset to have in your garden for a wide variety of emergency situations.

Keeping Warm When the Heat Goes Off

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During a power outage, hypothermia is a real risk for many people. Each year, 1,000 people lose their lives to hypothermia even with the power on. Temperatures can quickly drop when the power goes out so it’s vital to prepare to keep warm.

Here are some simple ways to keep warm in the event the power goes out:

Layer Up Clothing

Thermal underwear, layered socks and gloves are a must when you begin to feel cold. This will help keep your internal organs warm as well as stop your hands and feet from getting dangerously cold. If you still feel cold, layer up with jumpers and jackets to stop heat from escaping.

Close All Doors

Warm air quickly escapes when doors are left ajar. Make an effort to keep all rooms sealed to keep drafts out. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference this small change can make.

Stay Together in the Smallest Room

Pick a small bedroom with the smallest windows and get the whole family together in that room. Close the door and cover any vents to stop the warm air from escaping. The body heat of everyone will naturally warm the room.

Use Tape to Seal Windows

If your windows are a little worn, they are likely losing heat. Seal all edges with tape or plastic to give some extra insulation and stop drafts getting in.

Close Blinds and Curtains

In the daytime, open the curtains to allow natural sunlight to warm up the rooms. At night, close them throughout the house to give an extra barrier of draft exclusion. Of course, if the sun isn’t out during the day, keep the curtains drawn for maximum benefit.

Block Drafts with Excluders

Place draft excluders or rolled up towels at the base of doors to block out any drafts. These can also work well on window sills if the drafts are too much for tape.

Get a Solar Heater

A solar heater is a great way to heat your home if the climate allows. They are also much more effective when used to heat a single room since the output is less than a conventional electric heater. Unfortunately, solar heaters can be expensive, costing thousands of dollars. However, it is possible to buy a single solar panel to heat a single room as a more affordable option.

Invest in a Wood Stove or Fireplace

Not only is a wood stove or fireplace a beautiful feature to have in your home, it will be incredibly useful during a power outage. If you do have one or plan to invest, make sure to stock up on dry, seasoned wood to burn. Wood stoves quickly heat entire homes and can also be used to heat water should the water go off.

Stockpile Blankets

Although you may have some extra blankets already at home, having extras on hand will be welcomed when everyone in the family is cold. Wool blankets provide the most warmth. A useful tip is to keep your head covered when feeling a chill.

Sleep with a Sleeping Bag

Although blankets are great to keep warm during the day, when the temperature drops at night, you’ll want something far warmer. Sleeping bags offer much-needed heat during the night and will keep the family warm. Even if you have thick comforters, sleeping bags will offer a better level of warmth.

Keeping Cool When the Air Conditioning Goes Off

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During a power outage, it might not be keeping warm that’s the issue but instead fighting the heat. If your air conditioning turns off, it’s important to know some ways of keeping cool without power.

Close the Curtains in the Day

Heat-blocking curtains will help stop the heat from getting in during the day. Keep the curtains closed during the day and open them and windows up during the night. This will keep warm air out during the day and allow cool air to circulate while you sleep.

Plant Trees

Trees are nature’s air conditioning. Planting them around your home will give natural shade from the sun and help fresh air circulate. These do require upkeep, but the benefits are worth it.

Buy battery-powered fans

These fans are inexpensive and work surprisingly well. A single set of batteries will last around one week, so make sure you also stock up on replacement batteries.

Sleep Downstairs

If your bedrooms are upstairs, opt for camping out in the living room downstairs. Heat rises, so the upstairs rooms will be the warmest.

Should you Buy a Generator for Energy?

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Owning a generator in case of a power outage can be incredibly beneficial. The downside is a good generator will be extremely expensive to buy. Instead, think about hiring a generator when there’s a power outage.

This will allow you to keep the generator for as long as you need it for a fraction of the cost. Many companies will deliver a generator to you during a power outage and charge an ongoing fee for the time you use it.

However, if you like the security of owning your own, you can opt for second-hand to lower the cost.

If you are looking for an eco-friendly option, not all generators are powered on diesel. A liquid petroleum gas (LPG) model will give you the power you need during a power outage with less of an impact on the environment.

If you’re unsure which generator is right for you, talk to a specialist before buying. They will be able to inform you on the best model, size and fuel type for your needs.

The first step in determining which generator you need is taking stock of your home appliances. If you are a large family with many appliances to run, you will need a larger generator. However, during an extended power outage, you should do your best to limit your appliance usage to the necessary basics to conserve power.

How to Deal with Electrical Devices

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You’ll want to be able to use your phone for as long as possible during a power outage. This means having backup ways to charge it and keep it powered.

Invest in several power banks for your phone and keep them fully charged. These can be used when your battery runs out during a power outage. Although, these will only provide several days of power so are not a long-term solution.

To keep your phone on for as long as possible, turn all background apps off as well as GPS, notifications and streaming services. Also, turn your phone and other appliances off when not in use to conserve as much power as possible.

A portable solar charger may be a better option for an extended power outage. This can charge your phone on a long-term basis, providing the sun is shining.

Scan Important Documents

Do you have important documents stored on an electronic device you may need access to? Many people forget about these but it may be important to have documents to hand during an extended power outage.

Likewise, you may have important physical documents that could be lost if the power outage is caused by a flood or natural disaster. To be safe, keep a hard record of all documents in a folder and scan all important documents to keep on a portable, external hard drive. In the event of an emergency, you will be able to quickly grab this and take it with you.

Keeping the Lights On in a Power Outage

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Evenings and nights during a power outage can be tough when you have no power to turn the lights on. During short power outages, many people burn candles, however this can be an unsafe solution in the long term.

By preparing lighting options in advance, you’ll have access to light during an extended power outage.

1. Flashlights

Make sure you have several high-quality flashlights in your emergency store, as well as a supply of batteries. If your flashlights have been sat for some time without being used, check them to ensure they are still in good working order. You should have enough flashlights for each room of the house.

2. Headlamps

Headlamps are another good option to have on hand during a power outage. Some tasks require both hands, so a headlamp will come in handy. These are also a good option for children to use at night if they need the bathroom. Again, make sure to purchase high-quality headlamps and a supply of batteries to keep them running.

Alternatively, rechargeable headlamps offer just as much light and you can get a solar-powered charger for the batteries.

3. Kerosene Oil Lamps

Lanterns offer a more ambient, steady light that will be welcomed during the evenings. However, these must be used with caution. They have an open flame and are a heat source so children should be supervised at all times. What’s more, they give off carbon dioxide so only use these in well-ventilated rooms. You’ll need a supply of oil and wicks to make sure these stay lit throughout a power outage.

4. Propane Lamps

Propane lamps are often used by campers since they are a high-quality light source. Again, these need to be used with caution since they give out a lot of heat. These should ideally be used outside or if needed inside, a well-ventilated room. You will need to stock up on extra propane bottles to keep these lit.

5. Battery-Powered Lanterns

For a safer option, battery-powered lanterns are a good alternative. These give out a good amount of light but can run through batteries quickly. Keep a well-stocked store of batteries on hand to keep them charged. Alternatively, you could get rechargeable batteries and a solar battery charger, but the effectiveness of these will depend on your location. It may be best to have both just in case.

6. Indoor Solar Lamps

Indoor solar lamps are a good option if you don’t want to keep a large store of batteries on hand. Keep these near south-facing windows throughout the day to charge up the batteries. These should then give you enough light for the evenings and bathroom trips at night.

7. Outdoor Solar Lamps

These are often larger and brighter than indoor solar lamps so are good to have during a power outage. These can be brought indoors if more light is needed or can act as security lights. During warmer months, these lights usually last 6-8 hours and around 4 hours during the winter.

Staying Entertained During a Power Outage

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Power outages can be fun for the first couple of days. Kids love being home from school and it can feel like a slumber party. Of course, eventually, the novelty wears off and it’s important to find ways to keep the family entertained if the power outage is extended.

Here are some fun activities to pass the time during a power outage.

Read Books

Begin building up a library of books you can read if a power outage occurs. Get the whole family to choose a few books they would like to read and keep them for this event. When the power goes out and the TV no longer works, you’ll be glad you built up a mini library to pass the time.

Create Artwork

Another good idea is to create an art kit for your kids. Stock it with paints, pens, paper, canvases, stickers, and other materials to have a fun family craft session. You could also add a list of different project ideas or inspiration so you never get stuck on what to draw or create.

Play Board Games

Who doesn’t love a family night of board games? A power outage is the perfect opportunity to get everyone together to play and connect. Keep a stash of new board games hidden away in the event of a power outage. Your kids will be happy to see some new games to choose from and they can offer hours of fun.

Spring Clean

What better time is there to get your house in order than an extended power outage? Get the family involved by organizing each room, throwing away any unnecessary items, and giving the entire house a deep clean. Once the power comes back on, you’ll be happy you were productive and have a fresh clean house.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Power Outage

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Here are some of the most important do’s and don’ts of a power outage to help keep you and your family safe:

What To Do in a Power Outage

Eat Refrigerated Food

Even if you have a well-stocked pantry of non-perishable food, make an effort to eat everything in the fridge while it’s safe. The food should be safe for the first few hours and if you use some of the tips above, you should be able to make it last a little longer than this. Cook any perishable food if possible to make it last a few extra days. Remember, if you don’t know how long the power will be out, making all food stretch is vital.

Unplug Unnecessary Appliances

There may be power surges that could damage any plugged-in appliances. To be safe, go around the house and unplug everything that isn’t vital. Leave just a select light or two on to let you know when the power is back on.

Leave the Taps Trickling

If the power is out during winter, there is a risk of pipes freezing and cracking. To prevent this, keep a tap on a slow trickle for periods throughout the day.

Keep Your Phone Off

Your mobile phone may be the only communication you have with the outside world. Keep it off when possible to conserve power. Turn it on briefly to keep up to date but make sure it’s on power-saving mode.

Stay Away From Downed Power Lines

These may still be live and can be deadly. Stay as far away as possible and report them if you can.

What NOT To Do in a Power Outage

Use Outdoor Heat Sources Inside

Outdoor generators, barbecues, and stoves all produce carbon monoxide which is deadly. It’s an odorless gas which means you won’t be able to detect it building up inside. Do not bring any of these outdoor appliances inside to stay safe.

Leave Candles or Open Flames Unattended

If you use candles, lamps or other open flames inside, never leave them unattended and do not light them before going to sleep. These are a significant fire risk. A safer option is to use battery-powered light sources.

Open the Refrigerator to Check Food

Your food will stay fresh for longer if you keep the refrigerator door closed. Each time you open the door, cool air escapes and there is no way for the fridge to cool back down. Only open the fridge briefly to retrieve food and then keep it closed.

Useful Hacks to Remember in a Power Outage

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Put ice in the washing machine

When the freezer no longer has power, it’s vital to keep food fresh for as long as possible. In this event, you can turn your washing machine into a makeshift cooler by filling it with ice. This will keep the ice cold and the water will easily drain away once the ice melts.

Make a DIY Room Lamp

If you’re tired of the harsh light of flashlights, you can easily make a makeshift ambient light by strapping a headlamp to a gallon container of water. This will fill your room with a more gentle light that’s perfect for evenings. To do this, strap the headlamp facing into the container which will create an illumination effect. A Flashlight will also work with some tape if you don’t have a  headlamp.

Fill Bags with Water

If the weather is cold, fill zip-lock bags with water and place them outside to freeze. These can then be placed in coolers or your washing machine to help keep food cold.

Keep Valuables in the Dishwasher

If the power outage is caused by a flood, there’s a chance your house may become flooded. Store your valuable inside the dishwasher to keep them safe. This is watertight so no flood water will get in.

Make Your Own Batteries

If you run out of AA batteries but have AAA on hand, you can make these into AA by wrapping them in foil. These can then be used in flashlights, headlamps, or other battery-powered appliances as needed.

The Power Outage Checklist

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We covered a lot of information in this guide and it can all feel a little overwhelming. To help you get started preparing for a power outage, here is a checklist to follow to get started:

  1. Create an emergency aid kit including a fully stocked first aid kit and a family emergency plan.
  2. Stock up on non-perishable food
  3. Invest in an alternative cooking option – propane, solar and charcoal are all options
  4. Know the techniques to stop food spoiling and keep a copy of food safety standards on hand.
  5. Stock up on hygiene products including hand sanitizer, baby wipes, diapers and other products in the event the water shuts off.
  6. Prepare an alternative toilet option should you need it.
  7. Store extra blankets and sleeping bags for warmth.
  8. Buy battery-powered fans to keep cool.
  9. Consider buying a generator if necessary or contact a firm about hiring one out.
  10. Stock up on power banks for your mobile phone and keep them charged.
    Scan all important documents and keep them on an external hard drive in a safe place.
  11. Buy flashlights and alternative light sources – headlamps, solar lamps, propane and oil lamps are all options.
  12. Create an entertainment kit for kids including books, art supplies, and board games.

Get Prepared for a Power Outage Today

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Power outages can be a stressful time if you’re unprepared. But by stocking up on vital supplies and having a plan in place, life can go on with relatively small disruption. Follow the steps outlined in this guide to make sure you and your family are ready for a power outage. 

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