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Tips For Handling A Power Outage

July 7, 2010 · 96 comments

in Home & Garden

This past weekend we experienced a power outage.  It wasn’t real warm outside to justify a ‘brown out’, and there were not any storms, so this power outage was a bit unexpected.  Fortunately, it was midnight, so it wasn’t like I was in the middle of cooking a roast or entertaining.

What was unfortunate is we did not have a flashlight nearby when the lights went out, which meant bumping shins stumbling around the house to find some light.  It was then that I decided to come up with an action plan so we would be prepared for our next power loss.  My tips for handling a power outage are as follows.

  1. Put some ice cubes in a ziploc bag in the freezer today.  When you come home from vacation, check that bag of ice cubes.  If it appears they have melted somewhat and refroze, then consider getting rid of the food in the refrigerator/freezer, as it would appear that the power must have been out for a significant time while you were out of town.
  2. Put a thermometer in the refrigerator so you know the temperature in the fridge when the power resumes.  This will help you determine what to toss out.
  3. This is a no-brainer, but do not open a refrigerator or freezer after you lose power.  A well stocked chest frezer should keep food cold enough for 48 hours without power, and the freezer adjacent to the refrigerator should stay cold enough for 24 hours without power.  (As long as the door was never opened.)  Also, do not open the door to the freezer right when the power comes on, let the freezer run for awhile before opening that door.  The refrigerator has much less time to stay cold.  4-6 hours is about the max a refrigerator can keep things cold without power.  If the power comes back on and the temperature in the fridge is 42 degrees or above, you will want to toss a lot of that food.  (Dairy, cut up melon, meats, eggs, leftovers.)
  4. Keep a flashlight in every room.  May seem extreme, but little flashlights are pretty cheap, and who wants to be trapped in a suddenly dark bathroom??  Also make sure you have a couple battery-operated lanterns.  Lanterns are great if you want to read, play cards, or make shadow puppets because you are so desperate to find something to do.
  5. Make sure there is a clear path to the sump pump if you have one in your basement.  You never know if you are going to end up bailing water out.
  6. Have access to a phone that does not require electricity.  We lost power for a week a couple years ago and I would have been lost without our ‘old fashioned’ phone.
  7. Make sure you have an AM/FM radio of some sort.  A lot of people have Ipods, but not all of them have AM radio.  Some people rely on a radio that is powered from a hand-crank, which is also a good idea.
  8. Have an ample supply of batteries.  Make sure this supply is stocked, and not pilfered for small electronics or toys.
  9. If you do use a generator, make sure it is outside, and not in the garage.  You don’t want to add carbon monoxide poisoning to your list of problems.

What tips do you have for being comfortable and safe during a power outage?  What is the longest amount of time you have lost power?

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{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Reasons July 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Good tips! My parent had there power go out for 3 days once. And it was in the middle of winter. So to keep things warm, they fired up the gas fireplace and hung out by that.

Brownouts are a temporary dip in the amount of power flowing through the wires. So the lights will dim, and sometimes a computer will flake out.

I wonder what the problem was on your street was (maybe someone hit a telephone pole)?


Kris July 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Hi Money Reasons! The problem was a transformer in the neighborhood behind us. All our power lines are underground, but where they all connect is above ground, and that transformer is really temperamental. We lose power here and there a few times a year.


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff July 7, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Hurricane Ike knocked out our power for 8 days two years ago. That sucked. I am a VERY crabby woman without the A/C…

I’d suggest owning a charcoal or propane grill so that you can cook your meats and veggies before they rot. We also invested in one of those LED flashlights that can take 3 different sizes of batteries…double A’s will only run it for 6 hours but D’s will keep it going for a couple of days.


Kris July 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm

BFS – you probably don’t have a basement to go to when you need a break from the heat, do you?

The grill is a good idea. I believe I have cooked spaghettios on the grill in a pinch if I remember correctly. I have not heard of the flashlights that take different sized batteries. I must investigate!


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff July 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Nope, basements in Houston would be called “swimming pools” after the first rain of the year, lol. 🙂

I’m not positive of our brand, but the Brunton Lamplight 360 looks and seems to work the same way as whatever flashlight we bought 2 years ago. We spent around $20-$25…I’ll look for it when I get home. It has a battery compartment that is flexible, so it can shrink down to fit AA’s or enlarge to fit D’s.


Kris July 8, 2010 at 1:33 pm

BFS – I am going to check out that flashlight for sure!


Suba @ Wealth Informatics July 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Wow! We have not taken any of the precautions you have mentioned. I just have a few long candles with match sticks in an easily accessible place, other than that nothing… looks like I got really lucky for not having an outage so far. A good checklist for me to work with.


Kris July 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Hi Suba, I would really stay away from candles if you can. A battery powered lantern is much better. Plus, I can never, ever find matches in my house.

We get outings somewhat frequently, so I have had plenty of time to think about these things!


Greg July 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the ice cube in the bag tip! I was gone over the weekend and came home to find the microwave clock blinking. Not sure how long the power was out but that would have been helpful to be able to check that bag.


Kris July 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm

So Greg, what did you do with the food??


Andrew August 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm


Nothing extreme about keeping flashlights in every room. Candles, oil lamps, and camping lanters, all are useful. Lots of them in our household. Here in Oklahoma, there is the potential to lose power for extended periods due to ice storms. It’s happened a couple times in recent years. That, and the yearly threat of tornados every year. Crank powered radios and emergency food stocks seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

Like the blog, just found it this evening.


David January 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Thanks! These are great tips – I particularly like the thermometer-in-the-fridge trick. I have recently blogged quite a bit about power outages at http://allhazards.blogspot.com, particularly things like how to plan for an extended power outage (more than a few days), and how to do some practical preparation steps like keeping an effective rolling food store


Maggie@SquarePennies July 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Very good list! We have so many power outages that we keep the phone number of the power company on speed dial! We are fortunate to have a gas range to cook with & use the outdoor grill sometimes too. Flashlights, candles, & oil lamps are handy. We read books & sometimes I knit when the power is out. Board games are good too!


Kris July 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Hopefully that phone is plugged into the wall and not cordless (and needing electricity). I unfortunately know how electric company phone number too.

How does knitting with minimal light work out? I would probably hurt myself. I love the board game idea too.


Maggie@SquarePennies July 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Nope, it’s a cell phone, but we can recharge it in our vehicles if need be. Knitting actually works pretty well with minimal light & is pretty calming.


Kris July 14, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Got it. I was picturing a landline that required electricity (like we have, although I have an ‘old fashioned phone’ as backup).


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