Hurricanes. Ice storms. Lightning. Decaying infrastructure. Software bugs. Traffic accidents.
There are any number of reasons for a power outage, although nine of the ten worst power outages in US history were caused by hurricanes. But no matter where you live – city or country, coastline or landlocked, forest or desert – you are bound to experience them at least occasionally. Sometimes your power blips off for just a few seconds and the only hassle is resetting the clock on your microwave. Other times, thousands of people are stuck hunkering down in their cold, dark homes for days at a time, eating canned beans and playing endless rounds of Go Fish.
In many parts of the world, a power outage is, at worst, a serious headache. In others, it’s life-threatening. Regardless of where you are, there are a variety of steps you can take to make the situation easier and safer. Most power outages last for hours, not days, and very few will require you to evacuate your home. If you want an exhaustive list of ways to prepare, check the Red Cross website, but in the meantime, here are some realistic steps you can take to make riding out the next power outage easier.
Experts recommend you stockpile one gallon of water per person, per day, for every day you expect not to have power. That may seem like a lot, but remember you also need water to brush your teeth, wash your face, and rinse off your silverware. Although most municipalities continue to supply water during a power outage, that water might wind up contaminated. If you get your water from a well, it won’t work without electricity. That means you won’t have water for drinking or flushing toilets. If you want to flush your toilets, lay in extra water so you can make them flush by hand (which is not nearly as yucky as it might sound).
The food in your refrigerator will be good for about four hours after the power goes out and the food in your freezer will last for about 48 hours, assuming you keep the doors closed as much as possible. You’ll want to have food on hand that doesn’t require a refrigerator or a stove. Once you’ve eaten as much of the perishable food that you can, canned food, camping supplies, and freeze-dried meals will all offer you nutritious options. And although it might be fun to eat junk food out of a bag in the first hours of the outage, that might become unsatisfying after a few meals. Most of the cans you might already have in your pantry – corn, spaghetti-os, beans – contain food you can eat without cooking.
All that canned food won’t do you any good if you only have an electric can opener. And you’re likely to injure yourself if you try to stab it open with a screwdriver or some other tool. Grab a manual can opener the next time you’re at the grocery store.
If you have a lot of perishable food in the house when the power goes out, you might want to get some inexpensive styrofoam coolers and ice. If you can purchase a steady supply of ice, you can keep your food cold indefinitely. But if you can’t, this set up will still give you several extra hours of time to eat your way through it.
Candles may seem charming and romantic, but they pose a fire hazard flashlights do not. Get a few flashlights and several sets of batteries to stash around the house.
Cell phones are great in so many ways, but they can become paperweights in a power outage. You’ll want to keep your phone charged during the outage so you can get information about the situation and contact family members, but every time you do those things, you run down the battery. You might invest in a spare battery to have around or in a car charger (if you own a car). Solar cell phone chargers also exist, but they don’t work all that well and won’t help you in cloudy weather.
The most prepared among us never let the tank in the car drop below half full. If that’s not you, stop at the gas station to fill up before the storm hits. If the outage is large, the gas stations near you won’t be able to pump gas, and any gas station that does have power is going to have long lines. Stock up ahead of time.
Eventually, the power will come back on and when it does, it could create a power surge and destroy anything you have plugged in. Protect your appliances and devices by unplugging them until power has been restored. But leave one light on so that you know when the power has come back on.
You can’t watch cat videos on your phone, you can’t watch football on TV, you can’t play video games, you can’t upload photos of the family snowball fight – what are you going to do while sitting in the dark? You might want to stash a few books or magazines that you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t had time for. Especially if you have kids, be sure to have some games set aside just for power outages.
Do you have a garage door opener? It won’t work when the power is out, but it will keep the door down and locked. If you want to leave, you will have to pull a release so that you can open the door manually. If you don’t know how to do that, you should learn now, while the light bulb in the garage is on, rather than in the dark during a power outage.
Pets have to eat and drink during a power outage, too. They also are more likely to escape the home while it’s disrupted, so make sure they are wearing current ID collars and you have a clear and recent picture of them.
If you have someone in your home that relies on a medical device that uses electricity, you should discuss an emergency plan with their doctor. Should this person go to a hospital or other care facility? When? Where? How will they get there? Or can you buy battery back-ups? Think about these things before they happen so you don’t have to make important decisions while under stress.
If you can’t imagine living without electricity for even a few hours, invest in a generator. You can get small, portable ones that you fill manually with gasoline and use them to power a few select appliances (like your fridge, heat/AC, and/or hot water heater) and only cost a few hundred dollars. Or, if you want to spend thousands, you can get a professionally installed whole house generator that will kick in without you even noticing. Both will give you peace of mind that you won’t have to suffer through a power outage. Generators are quite popular with people who have endured a long-term outage and never want to again.
Doomsday prepping is an entire industry. You could spend infinite time and money getting ready for the end of the world scenarios that are not that likely to happen. But short power outages happen all the time and preparing for them is relatively painless. If you can make sure you will have food, water, and a few creature comforts, you might actually look forward to being trapped at home for a day or two.
Here’s also a great video on the topic from WaysToSave.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!