Preparing For Power Outages
By Jim Cobb
As the weather starts to warm, we typically see an increase in stormy weather. Along with the thunder and lightning comes the threat of losing power. While an argument can be made that our society has become entirely too dependent upon electricity, few would argue that the sudden, unexpected loss of power can sometimes be more than merely inconvenient. Fortunately, most power outages last only a few hours at most. However, that’s not always the case. Just as an example, a friend of mine lost power during a bad storm a few years ago and it took over two full weeks for it to be restored.
One of the first things you’ll want to reach for when the power goes out is a flashlight. Sure, lighting might not be a big issue during the day but Mother Nature tends to not worry all that much about making things convenient for us. What I recommend is to stash one flashlight in every room of your home. These need not all be expensive, high-end lights either. For the children’s bedrooms, I’d encourage you to purchase dynamo (crank powered) flashlights. Let’s face it, kids are kids and they will play with any flashlights you put in their rooms. Using the dynamo ones, you don’t risk finding dead batteries just when you need the light the most.
In addition to flashlights, a headlamp or two may prove to be rather useful. They’ve come a long way over the years. The modern ones are LED and very lightweight and comfortable to wear. Headlamps come in very handy when washing dishes or performing other chores.
I also like to have a stash of candles on hand. They don’t require batteries and are incredibly cheap. You can often find great deals on them during holiday clearance sales. Does it really matter to anyone if the candle you’re burning in July has a picture of Santa on it? As with any open flame, though, use caution and common sense.
Of course, lanterns and oil lamps are beneficial, too, provided you have fuel for them as well as extra wicks, just in case. Personally, I’m rather fond of the UCO brand lanterns. The UCO Micro Candle Lantern uses small tea lights, which are very inexpensive, and puts out quite a bit of light.
Short-term power outages pose very few problems when it comes to feeding your family. Worst case scenario, you have a dinner consisting of crackers, peanut butter, cheese, and such. However, if the outage goes from hours to days, you might run into some issues, both with food prep as well as with refrigerated and frozen foods going bad.
Most people have a gas or charcoal grill sitting outside. These work even in the dead of winter, though admittedly cooking burgers when the temperature is below zero isn’t a lot of fun. You can cook more than just meat on them, too. Your normal pots and pans will work just fine, provided you keep the heat turned to medium or low and you keep any plastic handles away from the flames.
Camp stoves, even patio fire pits or plain old campfires, will give you the means to heat up a can of soup or water for coffee. If you’re not familiar with cooking over an open flame, though, I’d suggest doing a few practice runs ahead of time. Preparing a meal over a campfire is a bit different than using your normal stove top.
As for refrigerators and freezers, keep the doors closed as much as you can. This probably means keeping your teenagers out of the kitchen completely as they seem to be incapable of making a quick decision when looking in the fridge. Provided the food in the freezer doesn’t thaw completely before power is restored, it should be safe. Should the power outage show no signs of coming to a halt any time soon, you might consider cooking up as much of the food as you can before it goes bad.
Another thing I recommend is keeping a couple of coolers on a shelf in the garage and a few frozen water bottles in the freezer. If keeping food cold becomes a serious issue, you have a short-term solution at the ready. Even if you don’t have a cooler, keeping the frozen water bottles in the freezer will help keep things cool longer.
How To Determine If You Lost Power While On VacationTake a plastic water bottle out of your recycling bin and fill it about halfway, then stick in your freezer, right side up. Once the water is completely frozen, turn it upside down and leave it in the freezer. Any time you return from vacation, check that bottle. If power was lost long enough to melt the ice, you’ll know it. If that happens, toss the food in the freezer into the garbage.
Generators can be great to have on hand, provided you know how to hook them up properly and you have fuel to run them. There are two basic ways to use a generator. The simplest is to use a long extension cord and run your necessary appliances and such off of that. Not a bad idea, provided you’re not plugging every single gadget and doodad you own into one cord. If you have a fairly large list of things you want to keep running during a power outage, a better solution would be to have an electrician do some magic and install a dedicated circuit and a transfer switch. Basically, he or she will route your necessary outlets through a separate circuit. When the power is running, you’ll not see any changes. If the power goes out, though, all you’ll need to do is plug the generator into an outlet outside your home, start it up, then flip the transfer switch.
A distinct drawback to generators, though, is the noise. While you might not be bothered too much by it, if you have neighbors nearby, they’ll know rather quickly that you have power when they don’t. Expect knocks on the door from them, with pleas for help with charging phones and laptops, storing food in your refrigerator, that sort of stuff.
Another option worth considering is investing in a small portable solar panel system, such as those sold by Goal Zero or SunJack. These are great for charging phones and tablets. With the right accessories, you can also power up rechargeable batteries. What I do is keep one of these panels propped up in a window at home all day every day. It has a small battery pack attached to it, which is kept charged by the panels. Then, if the power goes out, I know I’ll have at least some amount of electricity available to charge my devices if need be.
I know it sounds frivolous but it pays to think ahead for ways to keep boredom at bay, especially if you have children. For many families, if the TV and Internet are no longer viable options, people don’t really know what to do with themselves. You can pick up a few board games for pennies on the dollar at rummage sales and thrift stores. Even a couple of decks of cards can help the time pass quickly. For the younger kids, craft supplies can prevent many a parent’s headache. In our home, we have a rather large collection of books, which is great for the readers in our family.
Power outages happen all the time. While most of them are perhaps just an annoyance at best, there are occasions when the lights won’t come back on for several hours, perhaps days or even weeks. Almost all of the preparations we’ve discussed require little investment, whether we’re talking time, money, or energy. Yet, they’ll all be very welcome when the power goes out.