Winter is Coming: 15 Tips to Keep you Comfortable During a Power Outage

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Yes, winter is coming.  And with winter comes the wind, the snow, the ice and the extreme cold.  And, more likely than not, winter will also bring the occasional power outage.

Have you asked yourself what you would do if the power went out for a day or two or for even a week?  What would you do? Could you fend for yourself?  Could you keep yourself warm in the winter and cool in the summer?  What about food?  Would your refrigerated and frozen items spoil?  And yikes!  What would you do about money if credit cards and ATMs no longer worked?  Did I mention that in all likelihood you would not have internet access either?

power-outage

Today I would like to provide 15 tips for getting through short-term power outages.  These are the power outages that occur during winter storms or when a vehicle hits a power pole.  (Longer term, apocalypse type outages are a subject for another time.)  Now if you have a good memory, you will recall we discussed this subject back in July. That was summer. And now, with the cold months ahead of us, it would not hurt to have a refresher course.

We count on electricity for heat, food, medical, communication and financial needs. Our appliances and work-saving devices rely upon a source of electricity for operation and even many gas powered appliances such as furnaces and hot water heaters need electricity to run.   The worst thing about it is that when the power goes out, it is likely to be the result of some other emergency such as a hurricane, tornado, or winter storm. This means that the folks that are supposed to fix the problem may be spread wide and spread thin and it may be days before the lights are back on.

A power outage is not something that just might happen.  I can pretty much guarantee that it will happen.  The more you can do to prepare, the greater the likelihood that you will be comfortable and that will only suffer an inconvenience when the lights go out.

Shall we start?

1.  Have flashlights ready in multiple, easily accessible locations around your home.  Be sure to also have plenty of fresh, spare batteries.  You need one really great flashlight but it is also nice to have a bunch of small, handheld LED handheld flashlights.

2.  Have emergency candles plus matches available as well a candle lantern Survival Gear Checklist   15 Items to Get You Started, oil lamp, or propane lantern.  Be sure to include some longer, fireplace type matches or a butane wand for lighting fires in your fireplace or outdoors in a fire pit,

3.  Have either a battery-operated radio, solar radio or hand crank radio so that you can stay in touch with the world.  Make sure your radio is in working condition by testing it at least once a year.

4.  Learn how to cook over an open fire, using charcoal or wood or even biomass.

5  Make sure you have a manual can opener for opening cans of food.  If you are a coffee drinker, also have a French press available as well as pre-ground coffee,

6.  Fill the empty space in your freezer with containers of water. Frozen water will displace air and keep food cold longer if the power goes out. Remember to leave space in containers for ice to expand. Empty milk cartons can be repurposed in this manner.

7.  If you use a landline, have at least one phone with a handset cord in your home. Many cordless phones will not work in a power outage.  Cell phone users should keep their cell phones charged and at the very least, pick up a cell phone car chargerso you can charge the cell in your car if it runs down.

8.  If you have an automatic garage door opener, learn how to use the manual release to open your garage door manually.  Keep the instructions handy – perhaps taped to the inside of a closet door – so you don’t have to search for them when the time comes.

9.  Keep your automobile’s fuel tank at least half full. Many gas stations will not be in operation during a power outage. And please – fill up your tank if a major storm is predicted.

10.  Once the power goes out, unplug sensitive electrical equipment such as computers, printers, televisions, and audio equipment.  When the power comes back on, there may be power spikes that can damage delicate electronics.  I know, it has happened to me.  Keeping these items plugged in to surge protector helps but it is still best to unplug these items from the wall completely.

11.  Do not open refrigerators or freezers any more than necessary. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for approximately 4 hours, an unopened freezer will keep food frozen for approximately 24 hours and even longer if it is located in a cold garage.  You will need to throw away any food items that become warmer than 41 degrees.   No testing, no tasting.  To the garbage it goes.  Sorry, that is just the way it is.

12.  Keep a supply of books, board games, playing cards and other items available to keep you entertained and amused during a power outage.  A bit of chocolate and a bottle or two of wine or whiskey would also help in the amusement area.

13.  Be wary of the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is caused from exposure to odorless fumes created by charcoal grills, camping stoves or generators that are operated inside a home or garage. Never, ever burn charcoal or use gasoline or propane-powered equipment inside your home. Don’t even do it in your garage or on your porch. Use such equipment only when you’re completely outdoors.

14. Notify your power company in advance if you use special healthcare equipment like oxygen generators or dialysis equipment that require power. Most power companies have the ability to note this in their records and will prioritize the response to your home.

15.  If your budget allows, acquire a portable generator.   Learn to safely use your generator and test it monthly.  And don’t forget to store enough fuel to run the generator for up to a week.  Remember, your portable generator does not have to run full time.  Your refrigerator will be just fine without power over night when it is not being opened and closed repeatedly.

A word about generators:  Using a properly connected whole house generator of adequate size during a power outage will reduce or almost eliminate the impact a power outage has on your life. Before you buy such a generator, talk to an electrician about the size and type you need as well as the installation costs.

Think about what you want your generator to run. For the basics, a generator can be used to keep food cool, provide lights and electricity for stovetops, computers, telephones and television, and to power furnace blowers and pumps.  Less important is power for washing machines, dishwashers and ovens.

The best way to use a generator is to connect it to your home using a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician. This will keep the power from overloading the wiring in your home. It will also keep the power from your generator from traveling back into the power lines, which could seriously injure or kill people working on power lines.  Alternately, you can connect equipment directly to the outlets on the generator.  If that is your method of choice, be sure that any extension cords are of the proper length and gauge to handle the power requirements of the connected equipment.

Just remember, Mark Twain said “Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.”  A power outage is inevitable.  There is really no excuse not be prepared.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Facebook which is updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or link to a free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon.  You can also follow Backdoor Survival on Pinterest.

In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

Bargain Bin:  Here are some useful items to have on hand when the power is out.

Ambient Weather Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio: This is becoming a popular choice with Backdoor Survival readers. This unit is a Digital AM/FM NOAA Weather Alert Radio and a powerful 3 LED flashlight, with smart charger, all in one portable package.

Coleman Candle Lantern: When the lights go out, there is nothing like a Coleman. They last forever because spare parts are always available. A candle lantern will not give out the bright light of say, a propane or kerosene lantern. On the other hand, candles are likely to be available when other fuels are not.

Coleman Rugged Battery Powered Lantern: This sturdy Coleman has a runtime of up to 28 hours on the low setting and 18 hours on the high setting but does require D cell batteries. Personally, I have both a battery operated and propane lantern. Of course by now you know that I like redundancy with my preps.

Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite The Sunday Survival Buzz   Volume 22: Don’t let the $20 price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these (so far) and feel that these lights are worth double the price.

AA and AAA Solar Battery Charger: Another popular item. This unit will charge up to 2 pairs of AA or 1 pair of AAA batteries via USB or solar power.

Chemical Lighting aka Light Sticks: These are inexpensive, portable and easy to use. These come in a number of colors so take your pick.

EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove: Burning twigs and pinecones, this stove will cook a big pot of rice in under 20 minutes. The stove is solidly built and will burn charcoal as well. There is also a version that only burns biomass for slightly less money.

Bicycle Canasta Games Playing Cards:  Heck, you need something to keep yourself entertained!

100 Hour Plus Emergency Candle Clear Mist: My number one choice for emergency candles. This liquid paraffin candle will burn for over 100 hours. t is also odorless and smokeless, making it a great emergency light source that can be extinguished and re-lit as often as needed. Very safe to use.


Emergency Essential Corn Bread 013Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

I really love the Provident Pantry Corn Muffin Mix which I cooked up as corn bread in my cast iron skillet.  Oh my gosh – it was better than anything boxed that I have ever purchased and as good as home made.  The best part is that all I had to add was water!  Same with the Buttermilk Biscuit Mix.

These are just two of the food storage items that you can purchase at Emergency Essentials.  And if you need some recipes?  Go to the Food Storage Recipes page of Emergency Essentials for lots of creative (and free) ideas for using the good you have on hand.


 

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Comments

Winter is Coming: 15 Tips to Keep you Comfortable During a Power Outage — 20 Comments

  1. Gaye:
    Great tips for short term power outages. I would like to mention that in case of longer term outages which may last for several weeks or more, that you should ensure – for security reasons – that your home does not look “lived in”, especially at night. There should be no lights on in the house, nor any cooking odors emitting to the outside, nor any sounds of radios or loud talking. Reason being, there WILL be hungry people looking for food, looting, etc. Some will have no scruples about taking your stuff from you by force. Play it safe and make your home as inconspicuous as possible. Do not flaunt your cosiness….

  2. I’m not sure how a radiant heater works, but if you have a Big Buddy Catalytic heater which uses propane, it burns the dangerous fumes produced by fire or gas. I used one for a week last year in my home with no undue affects. Make sure whatever type of heater you purchase for a confined space, like your home it is a Catalytic heater.

    The Big Buddy is the largest of the Buddy line and kept the heat constant in my home even though it was cooler in the more distant rooms. If you buy the 12′ hose and adapter you can hook it to you propane tank on you barbeque grill. Running full time it will last about 2.5 – 3 days. Fortunately we had purchased several tanks and they lasted the week.

    When you purchase the adapter, take it home and make sure it will screw on and work. They changed over the threads on propane tanks a few years ago, and if you get the wrong adapter you definitely don’t want to find out in an emergency.

    If you get any type of heater, practice hooking it up and turning it on to insure you know how to make it work when an emergency occurs. I started off using the little bottles of propane, which the Big Buddy will hold two, but they don’t last very long. There is an adjustment control on the Big Buddy that will let you control the heat. The lower it is turned on the longer it will last.

    Also, stock up on a supply of Strike Anywhere stick matches. If you buy the regular kind you find in most stores, they only work as long as the box stiker is in good condition. Also practice stiking a match, which sounds so simple, but you do not want to ruin a good match or think it will last longer than it does. You can find Strike Anywhere matches in most Farm Supply stores or non-chain hardware stores, and some Sporting Good Stores. It seems like most cities have banned Strike Anywhere matches for the kind you can only strike on a box.

    Also if you are new to having a fireplace, practice starting a fire without using newspaper and only kindling or small pieces of wood. A really easy way is to use cottonballs rubbed in vasoline or even cooking oil. Practice using them also, because they will burst into flame and might surprise you with how fast they burn and how hot they get. Buy a package of cottonballs, and after rubbing them with vasoline or cooking oil, store them in a plastic bottle, ie., pill bottles.

  3. Hi Gaye,
    All good information. Does anyone have any thoughts for extended power outages in desert areas? I could use suggestions on how to keep cool when the air conditioning is out with the power. Thanks.

    • Hello Marti:
      I am an old (70yrs) desert rat from Mesa, Arizona. Back in the day when I was a kid, the ice man delivered a block of ice to our house using large tongs and a leather shoulder pad to carry it from his wagon to our “Ice Box”. My dad made the “Ice Box” out of 1-1/2″ thick pine, carved it with round corners and painted white to look like a refrigerator, since we couldn’t afford one at the time… I don’t think electric ones existed in 1947… But the Ice Man came every week. The block of ice was put in the top of the Ice Box in a tray with a drain through a tube to the bottom, where a dish pan was used to catch the melted water… The pan had to be dumped on a regular basis or the water ran over. The Ice block lasted at least a week… Suggestion: Several one gallon (or quart) sized Plastic milk cartons, with a one inch air space could be frozen and left in your freezer to have the same effect by placing them one at a time in the refrigerator space and would last at least a week. If you have a freezer in the cold garage, with (lets say 10 gallons of ice). that could last 2 weeks, with care.
      40 degrees is the limit, and a battery operated thermometer can be used with a remote sensor inserted in the refrigerator to monitor the temperature.. Made in china for about $5 bucks.

      Note: while you may be stuck in the cold for an extended time, be sure to have your photo album available to review as a detraction. And get out your old photos and make a scrap book, while you wait out the storm (emergency). Nothing like good memories to make the time go by.

      In the desert, before A/C, we had swamp coolers… before that were wet burlap bags or feed bags that may still be available at your farm stores (hay, tack, etc). Or get burlap from a cloth store, or army surplus… wet it down and hang over open windows… the evaporation from the air will cool the inside of the home – – just like it did before electricity… Also, a canvas water bag evaporates and cools the water… We use to hang it in front of the old cars on the crank, so the air would pass over it, and it had a distinctive taste that I still miss from the old days… Ohhh to have a canvas water bag.

      Google some of the old fashioned items, and see how the older generation coped with heat in the desert… You will be very satisfied… Hope this helps everyone from the desert… Apache Bob

  4. ” and a bottle or two of wine or whiskey would also help in the amusement area.” As you have said, “practice makes perfect”, and I try to keep experienced in this survival tool.

  5. If you aren’t going to be using battery powered equipment like radios, lanterns, etc., it helps to take the batteries out until they are needed. Otherwise the batteries will eventually corrode and make a mess inside the device. It may be possible to clean it out or the device may be ruined.

  6. It rarely gets to freezing here, and when it does, the cold blast is usually gone within a couple of days. But I know I am in a fool’s paradise to count on that. Besides the small equipment we have to cook and heat water out on the deck, I am thinking that chemical hand/foot/body warmers will be handy to have on a cold, dark night.

  7. I nice sized solar generator solves many many problems. No fuel issues, no fumes, silent power. check out solarforcheap.com for some sensible priced models. I was out 17 days last year. My brand new 15kwatt whole house generator was defective and went kaput after 3 hours. Once you go solar you never look back.

    Joe

    Disclaimer: I now sell solar generators. You should look around, ask lots of questions and compare before such a large.

  8. There is one problem with generators, NOISE they can be heard for miles around by the wrong people. This is not from the exhaust but engine noise. If possible run indoors with good ventilation and outside exhaust pipe extension or as I have done 4 powerful fans from rear plate of server cabinet which fits over fireplace duct tape to seal with generator exhaust directly in front and powering it, in well ventilated room. You should not be able to smell fumes or fuel when running if air flow is correct. A battery powered carbon dioxide alarm in room is a good idea . never refuel while running and have foam,co2 or dry powder fire extinguisher between generator and escape route. I have inverters and large battery bank which charges from mains or generator to give 3-4 hours power before having to start to charge which is silent.

    • Ron, your post reminded me of an article I read in Mother Earth News years ago. A man had built a cabin, off grid, and used an old 6 cylinder ford engine hooked up to multiple 12 volts automobile generators. It sat outside with the radiator hose ran to a large (500 gal ?) tank in his basement. When he ran the engine to charge a large battery bank, it would heat the water in the tank. This supplied hot water for his wife to use on laundry day and hot water to shower with. His house was wired with 12 volt lights, and a 12 volt refrigerator. They make 12 volt TV’s so you could enjoy “doomsday bunkers”, so what more could you want or need. I think the water tank supplied some of the heat for his house. I don’t remember how often he had to run his engine, but I remember it wasn’t often. His electrical use was minimal. Of course he had no air conditioning. And of course, that was before $3.50 a gallon gasoline. I suppose you could install a propane carburetor on the engine and get a 500 gallon propane tank. That should keep you in electricity for quite awhile. I think this man was way ahead of the times.

      I had a neighbor that ran the exhaust from his generator into about a 15 gallon water can, and there was very little exhaust noise.

      • I was talking about 2.2kv portable generator with about 100cc engine air cooled like motorbike engine the mechanical noise from it is very high, not exhaust noise.
        I like mans system though,but I am in built up area.

  9. Having been through a MASSIVE ice storm here in the Ozarks a few years ago (some areas without power for over 2 wks): If you go to camping stores you can find 12v light sockets and 12v light bulbs. These can be hooked yo a charged battery. We save our “defunct” batteries that will no longer start a car but still hold enough charge to run a few light bulbs. 🙂
    Have plenty of paper plates and plasticware for eating. You’re not going to want to constantly heat water for dishwashing. Hand sanitizer for the same reasons.
    We have a ventless propane heater we hook up when our electricity goes out. We keep several 30lb prpane bottles fulll at all times. It’s really hard to cook outdoors on a grill when the weatheris freezing…it takes longer to get to temp and cools quickly once it does…unless you can find a sheltered area. We live in the country and a 3 sided horse shed (loafing shed) works well, so long as the wind isn’t coming in the wrong direction. 🙂
    We also have a small generator that can power one major appliance at a time…most likely the fridge and alternately the freezer.
    We have a few extra car batteries we can charge to use indoors for lighting or charging a laptop. Let’s not forget power inverters that you can hook up to car batteries and power other devices or appliances. Hooked to the charged batteries or hooked to a vehicle you’ve parked close to the house.
    The biggest problem during OUR ice storm was branches (or whole trees) breaking or falling over onto power lines (and fences) so remember to keep your trees trimmed so they will NOT be a problem for you or your neighbors. Also to keep your animals on your property. I would NOT want to be chasing my horses down the road in -30 weather!!!

  10. we have 2 mr.buddy heaters, one small, the other
    is the largest they make. we have several little green
    bottles, and hubby refills them from a portable propane tank,
    which he refills from the big main tank. we have several small
    and large generators, last year we bought a propane 110/220 generator that
    will charge batteries, and run the well pump. we have propane refers, and
    deepfreeze. we just bought 6 more batteries, and are working on a better solar
    panel system. Hopefully next year we can get a bigger propane tank. I have
    stressed the need for a 2 year supply. In my cleaning adventures over the last
    2 months, I have been finding all kinds of goodies that I stashed and forgot about.
    Being that we live in a tiny house, I’ve have to stash things wherever I could find a
    place. though we live in colder climes, and on an isolated island, we have lots of readily available sea food, and venison. I have been collecting natural remedy items, vitamins, and am getting ready
    to order a field surgical kit, and a guide book. I have a friend who has been a paramedic for nearly 30 years, so I will be picking his brain next month when he comes for a visit. a tip I ran across in my cleaning is making your own cold pack using 2 parts water to 1 part rubbing alcohol. Place in ziplock bag and freeze. I would recommend double bagging with zipper in bottom of outer bag.

  11. IF POWER IS OUT, WHAT TO DO??
    1. iF you have a hotwater heater there is generally a valve at the bottom you can drain the water heater. This water is drinkable.

    2. if you use chemicals in the water tank to your toilet this water is not drinkable in most cases.

    3. If you are out of water in your toilet, put a plastic trash bag in the toilet and do your thing in the plastic bag, everyone, in the house, and then change daily. Otherwise you will only be able to fill up the toilet until it is overflowing and then what are you going to do.

    4. If you have beef in the freezer, and there is no power, take out the beef and as it thaws, cut it up into thin strips and hang it to dry. This is a basic way to jerky meat.

    5. If you have a grill, take your pork and chicken and grill it as it thaws.

    6. If the power is out in your refrigerator, take out everything and put it in a cooler. If it is winter, set it out in the garage to keep it cool if you are in a cold weather area. If not, take out the ice in your refrigerator, put it in a plastic bag, tie it off, and stick it in the cooler with your food.

    7. If winter, and you have a Big Buddy catalytic propane heater you can use it in your house without being asphyxiated. This will keep your pipes from freezing, and if you close off rooms will keep everyone warm to a certain extent.

    8. If you have a couple of five gallon water containers, you can buy at a sporting goods store, you should be able to last three or more days without additional help.

  12. We lived for about 8 months in northern Canada without electricity when the wife and I first got married. The one thing you miss, above all, is refrigeration. Second is running water. We had an old fashioned well you pumped with the wooden handle. Everything else is minor. Kerosene lanterns for light, wood stove for heat, propane stove for cooking and a regular old fashioned outhouse for the bathroom.

    Sometimes I actually miss the early years. When the sun set it was bed time. It was so quiet in the house, due to the absolute absence of appliances, you could actually hear snow flakes falling at night.

    Now we have a back up gas generator, newer and fancier wood stove ect. ect. and enough food to last a couple of months before we have to start butchering livestock.

  13. 1. Have some deep cycle batteries and an inverter…. use it with an electric blanket and you can stay warm for a long time (even below freezing) and you can even charge the batteries with an alternator and bicycle that you can peddle.. or normal automobile as long as you have fuel.

    2. Have water!!!!!! A $50 water bed will hold 500 gallons which will save you from poor sanitation from toilets and dirty dishes. Have drinking water! You have to add bleach to a water bed to preven algy.

    3. Have 12v light bulbs (about $3 each) TURN OFF YOUR MAIN BREAKER …and you replace regular bulbs and use jumper cables and a battery and run your lights through normal switches and electrical system. Probably should unplug appliancesnces and electronics… buy you don’t want them plugged in when power is coming back online… surges will damage them.

    4. Work with your neighbors… you can share a generator for a few hours to preserve frozen food.

    5. Have canned food, cereal and other food that does not need cooking.
    misquito repellent…. if it’s hot and you have to open windows .. they may have a feast.

    7. Remember … it power is off for a long time a chain will develope like this…
    No fuel… even if some tanks are full, pumps won’t work…. transportation will break down rapidly. People will become hungry and desperate. Security will then become your NUMBER ONE most serious problem.

    8. Lay low and hide your stash in more than one place. If looters come and see you are alive they will know you have food. You don’t have to give it all away. Remember they will inspect your garbage and know what you have to eat.

    9. Know what will happen from people who survived Bosnia and other SHTF situations… read here:
    http://millrysurvival.com

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