For most of the year, a power outage is usually a minor inconvenience, or even a welcome break from the relentless intrusion of technology into our lives. However, in the winter, when we rely on electricity for warmth, a power outage can become a serious problem.
It’s important to prepare in advance for the possibility of a winter power loss and to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and your home. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:
The best time to prepare is before winter weather sets in. Use the fall to check your supplies. Do you have a have a well-stocked supply of flashlights, candles, matches, spare batteries, a battery-powered radio, food, a camping stove with fuel, a manual can opener, bottled water, ample warm and dry clothing, blankets, a backup heating source, and sufficient heating fuel. Additionally, consider having puzzles, games, books, and other low-tech entertainment on hand for a welcome distraction, particularly if there are children or teenagers in the household.
If the power outage is brief, you might manage with your home’s residual heat, blankets, and several layers of warm, dry, loose-fitting clothing. Remember to wear a hat and, if temperatures plummet, mittens and a scarf for extra protection.
After a few hours, though, things may start to get uncomfortable, especially if the temperatures outside are exceptionally low. If your home is sufficiently weatherized, with adequate insulation, weather stripping around door, and good, energy-saving windows, it will take longer to reach this point. Eventually, though, even the hardiest will need to warm up with a fire or space heater. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, ensure that it is in safe working order. If you do not have a fireplace or woodstove, purchase a non-electric space heater and keep it in an accessible location. There are many varieties available, and most run on propane or kerosene. No matter what your emergency heating source is, be sure that you have enough fuel on hand to use it for several days if need be.
While they can be a lifesaver, these forms of heating are also risky. Be sure to keep flammable materials well away from your heater or fireplace, and to properly ventilate the area so you don’t succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The most efficient plan of action during an outage is to choose one room to heat, then seal off the rest of the house.
Preventing Burst Pipes
When a home loses heat, the most significant threat is to the plumbing system. Exposed pipes can easily freeze and burst, especially in rural areas that rely on well water. While city residents can leave a trickle of water running to prevent frozen pipes, homes with electric wells lack running water during an outage. The most effective and crucial step in protecting your pipes is to insulate them or wrap them in layers of newspaper covered with plastic wrap. If pipes freeze, remove the insulation, turn on all faucets, and pour hot water over the pipes, starting at the coldest areas. A camp stove can be used to heat the water if necessary. Alternatively, you can use melted snow if your home lacks running water. If you find frozen pipes once the power is restored, a hairdryer is an excellent tool for thawing them out.
If you know a bad storm is on the way, set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. If you do not open the doors during a power outage, the food inside of a full refrigerator will stay cold for up to 24 hours. Items in a packed freezer will stay frozen for 48 hours, or 24 hours if it is only half-full.
If the power outage lasts for more than a day, you can preserve perishable food by placing it in a cooler or burying it in the snow outside, as long as the temperature remains consistently below 40°F. In the absence of bagged ice, you can use snow to fill the cooler, but make sure it is protected from wildlife.
- If you suspect you’ll lose power, be sure you keep your phone charged. Keep the power cord in while using it.
- If you know your water doesn’t work without electricity, it’s a good practice to fill your (clean) bathtub with water before every big storm. That way, you’ll have water for washing and other necessities available throughout any outages. If you need to flush the toilet, but the well isn’t working, just pour a pail of water (bottled water, melted snow, or water from the bathtub) into the bowl to make it flush.
- If you have an electric garage door opener, make sure you know how to disable it so you can get in or out, if need be.
- It’s also a good idea to unplug appliances, such as computers, microwaves, TVs, DVD players, stereos, etc., to protect them against potential power surges once the electricity returns.
Power outages are both a nuisance and dangerous if you’re not prepared. Hopefully these tips will help keep you safe if you experience power loss.
Join The Discussion
After reading our article, do you feel prepared for winter power loss?
We hope so! Let us know what questions you may have in the comments section below!
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.