How to Prepare for a Power Outage

Written By: MJ Logan

A Single Home with Power from a Whole House Generator Running on Natural Gas Stands Alone in a Dark Neighborhood Power OutageThe only home in a neighborhood with a standby generator has power during an outage.

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In today's world, we take many everyday necessities for granted. Electricity powers communications, pumps water, and regulates transportation. The addition of all-electric cars further increases our reliance on national and local power grids.

Severe weather, accidents, equipment failure, and sometimes blackouts planned by the utility company can leave our families and homes vulnerable in ways most people don’t think about.

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Power outages leave millions of utility customers without electricity every year. The problem is large enough that FEMA Recommends a Backup Power Source for every home and the Department of Energy has guidelines and recommendations for generator use. The Red Cross recommends a generator purchase and the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Businesses also rely on electricity and can’t operate without power. Banks close and ATMs won’t work without power, so we can’t access our cash to buy the things we need. Business that are open are likely to require cash as they can’t process electronic transactions for credit cards, debit cards, or checks. Many gas stations close because without power, they can’t pump fuel. Other retail operations close for similar reasons and so do businesses offering services that rely on electric power.

Homeowners have their own concerns about food and water spoilage, medicines that require refrigeration, and medical equipment that won’t work without electricity. Four hours into a power outage, temperature inside the best refrigerators reaches 40° Fahrenheit. Two more hours and all perishable food is considered spoiled and unsafe for eating. A good freezer, if full, may last up to 48 hours, but just 24 if it’s not full. Once the freezer temperature rises above 40° F, thawed food must be thrown out.

Medicines and medical devices are a big concern. Oxygen concentrators, CPAP machines, and small refrigerators to keep medicine at a specific temperature all require electricity.

How Long Does a Refrigerator Stay Cold Without Power?

Safety Measures to Protect Home and Family During Power Outages

Planning for a power outage with supplies and procedures to stay safe and comfortable during extended periods without electricity protects your home and family. The knowledge that you, your loved ones, and your property are safe provides peace of mind and eliminates worry.

A Home Standby Generator protects your family and home during an outage. Those who live in apartments or must abide by Homeowner Association rules that prohibit them may not have that option. Other safety measures will keep your family safe.

Keep refrigerators and freezers closed unless necessary. Use the extra space in your chest or upright freezer to make ice blocks. Frozen gallon bottles filled 3/4 full of water extend the time a freezer stays cold. If the freezer does thaw, it won’t add to the mess with more water. They can move to a refrigerator or cooler to help keep food cold.

Some local businesses sell dry ice. A 50-pound block of dry ice will keep the refrigerator cold much longer than no ice at all and can also extend the time it takes a freezer to thaw.

Portable electric generators can supply power for some appliances, but it takes a large generator to power an entire house. Portables primarily run on gasoline, with some dual-fuel models also using propane. If your plan includes a portable generator, you must also plan for enough fuel to last through the outage and have enough oil and other maintenance supplies on hand. You can avoid extension cord hassles and supply power to the most critical circuits with a Generator Manual Transfer Switch.

How to Use a Portable Generator for Emergency Backup Power

Position portable generators at least 20 feet away from the house. Never run a generator or any engine in a shed, a garage, or in a house. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly and kills people every year. Read all the portable generator safety rules in the owner manual and pay attention to the caution and warning tags on the machine. Follow the same rules for positioning the generator to ensure the exhaust won’t endanger neighbors.

In cold weather, the temperature indoors begins to drop the moment a furnace stops running. Never use a range to heat your home or supplement heaters. An alternative source of heat such as a ventless space heater designed to run indoors can keep your family warm. Plan to store fuel for the heater, use it near a window. Make a Winter Weather Emergency Checklist and incorporate it into your preparedness plan.

Power can surge, spike, sag, and come on intermittently, especially during a storm. All of these voltage variations can damage appliances, and especially electronics. Make a checklist of unprotected appliances to unplug when the power goes out. Include televisions, computers, microwaves, window air conditioners, and kitchen appliances.

Have a plan to refrigerate medicine and power medical devices. Small inverter generators are quiet and fuel efficient and can power a small refrigerator and run medical equipment like CPAP machines. Follow all the safety rules, protect the generator from the weather, and secure the generator from theft. Never run a generator indoors.

Have at least one carbon monoxide detector with battery backup on every floor of your home including the basement.

Best Home Standby Generators for Cold Climates

Only leave home if necessary and if safe. Sometimes safety is relative, and you must weigh the difference between danger at home and danger reaching safe shelter. For example, a home without heat becomes uninhabitable during sub-zero weather. Without heat, it is probably safer to bundle up and brave the freezing temperatures to reach shelter than to stay home. Make an evacuation plan in areas where hurricanes or fires may force you out of your home.

Make a list of family members who live away from home and neighbors who may need assistance. Check on them and arrange for help if they need it.

Always keep your vehicle tanks at least half full. Unexpected outages may leave you unable to buy fuel for your cars or other needs. Store fuel for generators in a safe place and keep extra cans available. Ahead of a planned blackout, buy enough fuel for your generator to last the duration of the blackout. Add stabilizer to gasoline you plan to store longer than 30 days.

Keep a minimum three-day supply of nonperishable food for everyone in the household, including pets. A five-day supply is better. This is true for homes with or without a generator because many retail operations will close and purchasing supplies becomes difficult. Freeze dried meals, canned and packaged goods including meats, vegetables, fruits, and cereals. Many options available include shelf-stable powdered milk products. Plan and put together an emergency preparedness kit to cover any disaster, emergency, or power outage.

For each person, include one gallon of drinking water and one gallon for personal hygiene—six gallons for a three-day outage and ten gallons for a five-day outage. Water poured from a bucket can flush a toilet. Depending on the toilet and individual needs, plan two to three gallons per flush. Five gallons buckets with water-tight lids from a home center work very well for this purpose.

How Big a Generator Should I Buy?

Plan and Prepare Ahead of a Power Outage or Blackout

Ideally, every home would have a whole house standby generator or other supply of backup power that worked automatically even when the homeowner is away. No one would come home to spoiled food in the refrigerator, or worse, get sick because they didn’t know the food was spoiled. It doesn’t always smell bad. Basements wouldn’t flood because sump pumps didn’t have electricity. Everyone could enjoy safe, comfortable homes in the winter and summer because their heating and air conditioning systems have power even when the utility shuts off power or some other event interrupts the flow of electricity.

Natural Gas Whole House Generators Never Need Refueling

Make a list of must-have items that need electricity. Include the electrical requirements found on the appliance tag. Look for watts or kilowatts or just multiply volts x amps to obtain watts. Use the power calculator to estimate items you’re not sure about. Remember that a central air conditioner also uses the furnace blower.

Plan an alternative source of power for the must-have items. Medical appliances, refrigeration, sump pumps, a few lights, and whatever else is essential. Portable Inverter Generators are the most fuel-efficient generators available today and can provide backup power minutes after you bring them home. Standby generators need require planning with professional installation, permits, and inspections.

Uninterruptible power supplies can protect some medical devices where generator power is not possible. Check with the medical equipment manufacturer about power requirements and compatible backup power supplies.

Consumer Reports Best Buy: Champion 8.5kW Home Standby Generator

Ask your pharmacist how long your medication will stay safe without refrigeration, and then plan accordingly. Propane powered refrigerators are one option. Plug in coolers run off a car battery and provide cooling to a certain number of degrees below the ambient temperature. They only work for as long as the battery lasts, and in hot weather, may not get cold enough.

Subscribe to local weather alerts and monitor changing weather conditions. An NOAA Weather Radio can keep you informed of severe weather that could cause an outage. Purchase a model that operates on batteries and on utility power. Some models include a hand crank for maximum flexibility through long outages. The FEMA App can also alert you to hazardous or severe weather. Subscribe to your electric utility text message alerts on your smart phone.

Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector with battery backup on every floor in a central location, even if they don’t have a generator.

Does your landline phone plug into the wall socket? If so, how long will it work without power? Ask the phone company, then plan accordingly.

Review available supplies. Flashlights with batteries for each family member. Non-perishable foods, water, fuel supplies, and everything else you need.

Surges can occur when the power goes on and off or when the utility lines are struck by lightning. Over time, Power surges slowly damage electronics and appliances until the fail suddenly without any obvious reason. Protect your electronics, including refrigerators and other major appliances with a whole house surge protector.

A thermometer will verify your refrigerator or freezer temperature. Buy one with a probe inside and the monitor outside. You won’t have to open the door to check the temperature. Were you away when the power went out and came out? Look inside the ice cream container. If it appears to have melted and refrozen, throw away the food in the freezer and refrigerator because the temperature rose too high.

Push a button, the garage door goes up or down. Do you know how to release it and raise the door manually during an outage? A rope release is the usual way. Pull the release and you can open or close the door. Reconnect it after the utility company restores power.

Remember that portable generators must be placed at least 20 feet from the home. Use gas grills, charcoal grills, camp stoves, and other heat sources away from the home except those specifically designed for indoor use.

Best Standby Generators for Hot Climates

Top 5 Home Standby Generator Brand Features

Generac Guardian Home Standby Generator

Briggs and Stratton Symphony II

Champion Home Standby Generators

Cummins Quiet Connect Generators

Kohler Standby Generators


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