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How to Prepare for and Stay Comfortable During a Power Outage [Short term and Long Term]

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
How to Prepare for and Stay Comfortable During a Power Outage [Short term and Long Term]

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Editor’s Note: This resource has been combined and updated!

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.

15 Tips to Start Prepping

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, 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 charger so 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.  Alternately, you can look into solar generator options which are becoming increasingly reliable. 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.

Other Recommended Preps for Power Outages

We have covered basic power needs but what are some of the other essentials that you will want to have on hand during a power outage?

The following items will help you to sail through a power outage:

  • Solar battery charger Very handy for charging batteries to power flashlights and other battery powered devices.
  • Stock supplies for bundling up. Blankets are good, but a nice toasty sleeping bag or down comforter is better.  A heavy jacket and socks are good, too. Plan to add layers for staying warm in a grid down scenario.  Long johns, covered by clothing and topped with a jacket will serve you well. Don’t forget hats, scarves, and fingerless gloves, so that you can stay warm and still function.
  • Store foods that require very little in terms of warming or cooking. These foods should be items that your family normally eats. Suggestions? Canned meats, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruits and veggies granola bars, and cold cereals. If you are a coffee drinker, include some instant coffee as well.
  • Chemical light sticks. They are more versatile than you might expect. (Here are 10 reasons you need them in your emergency kit.)
  • Amusements.  Books, games, and playing cards.  My favorite?  A couple of decks of Canasta cards.
  • The Spirit of Adventure.  Okay, I had to throw that in.  Let’s face it, a positive attitude plus your emergency preps will help you soldier through an extended power outage.

How to Survive a Long-Term Power Outage Grid Failure

Okay, so the short-term power outage is now a long-term – grid down – failure. What now?

Day One: Cities are Hit the Hardest

  • Thousands are trapped in elevators
  • All electrical appliances are shut down and inoperative, including refrigerators, freezers, heating units, air conditioners
  • Water faucets run dry
  • Because there is no water, toilets no longer flush
  • ATM machines are inoperative
  • Banks and other businesses are shuttered
  • Emergency generators provide pockets of power and light but, for the most part, there is profound darkness everywhere
  • Battery-powered radios and cell phones still operate but there is no word as to the cause or scale of the power outage
  • Gas stations without generators cannot pump fuel

Day Two:  Confusion Reigns

  • Drugstores and supermarkets have been stripped clean of all goods
  • Law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed by medical emergencies and scattered outbreaks of looting
  • Batteries on laptops and cell phones are dying
  • Radio updates offer conflicting descriptions of the outage and there is no credible news relative to the expected duration
  • Officials disagree as to whether residents should find shelter or evacuate (but to where?)
  • Bridges and tunnels are backed up for hours

Day Three:  No Gas, No Water, and No Food

  • All gas stations have run out of fuel
  • Water is at a premium
  • FEMA has provided emergency generators to pump water and keep sewage systems operational, but supplies are limited
  • Millions of “Meals Ready to Eat” have been distributed.
  • Backup food and water supplies do not exist

End of Week One:  You are On Your Own

  • Emergency rations have been depleted
  • Hundreds of the elderly and infirm have died
  • Hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated to areas where there still is power
  • Unequipped to house or feed them, some states have instituted plans to keep the refugees out
  • Only the military can maintain a semblance of order and there are not enough troops to go around
  • Millions of people are, essentially, on their own

Week Two and Beyond: Board Up the Windows and Protect Yourself from Looters and Thugs

  • With no end in sight, hiding and defending your goods is a full time job and a number one priority
  • Law enforcement personnel are abandoning their post in order to secure their own families
  • Like-minded neighbors band together to do inventory of resources and exchange goods via barter
  • Neighbors canvass each other for skills that can be put to good use for the collective good
  • Stockpiled food is rationed to the minimum amount needed to maintain necessary caloric levels
  • Hunting, fishing and foraging for food begins and stored goods begin to dwindle
  • FEMA is nowhere to be found

Electronic Armageddon?

A while back NatGeo put out a documentary that deals with both a natural and a nuclear EMP.

THE FINAL WORD

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, telephon, s 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.

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: 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.

~~~~~

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205 Responses to “How to Prepare for and Stay Comfortable During a Power Outage [Short term and Long Term]”

  1. I have not read the whole thing, but i plan on it [and saving it]. In the beginning paragraphs, you mentioned that many gas-powered appliances require electricity. Personally, I think they need to re-think the whole idea. One of the main benefits of having gas was that it would not go out during a storm. They they made them dependent on electricity! STUPID MOVE!!

  2. Even if it’s not the end of the world as we know it, there’s always a blackout somewhere. And it’s soo comfortng to be prepared. Please check out “The Non-Electric Lighting Series” (by yours truly). Gaye Levy (the lady who runs this site, Backdoor Survival) wrote the Foreword to most of them.There are eight books in the series, all priced low in a “pay it forward” manner. Homemade candles, improvised lamps that run on cooking oil, pressure lanaterns, Coleman and Petromax, etc., etc. Amazon sells all the titles in both Kindle and paperback format. Check ’em out. In my opinion, KNOWLEDGE is your best prep for just about any crises.

  3. Excellent article. One thing the writers are failing to emphasize, we can loss up to 40% of our body heat through out heads. Being nearly bald, on especially cold nights, I will wear a watch cap to bed. Hell, I’ll wear it around the house, I’m not proud. They are not just for outside!

  4. Filling empty space in your freezer with containers of water is a good idea for power outages. Remembering to leave space in the containers for the ice to expand is a great way to make sure they stay in good condition. I would imagine that you could probably buy ice for emergencies, whether it’s to avoid running out of for if your power goes out.

  5. Good article. I’ve been following the developments the state of Oregon has been making. It openly acknowledges now, a 72 hour kit just won’t do it in a major disaster. Looking at worse case events like the subduction fault off it’s coast, the state is encouraging it’s citizenry to at least have a 2 week supply and plan. It also speaks to relying on self or neighbors for those first few days because in most areas it will be search and recovery first; then searching for bodies. During all this time, minimal local services since it will take time for local authorities to reach people…hence 2 week supply. Mention of FEMA? Don’t plan on it.
    What I’m doing now is buying 40 gallon food grade, top opening barrels for storing. After looking at the amount of flooding which we’ve seen this past summer, while I can’t personally manage a 55 gal barrel, I can a 40 gallon.

    I understand wanting to be around ‘like-minded’ people, but I have to admit, I’d rather be around people who are capable of seeing more than what I have in common with them. For it is in the ability of each seeing and contributing their opinions which may save lives in the end. Having done interviews after disasters, this is something I’ve learned. It’s more about the event pulling people together more than how each thinks.

    With that in mind, we talk about sudden events or natural disasters—that’s the frog getting put into a boiling pot. What about if/when the frog is put in cold water and then the pot is put on the fire? At what point does the frog jump out? OR is it capable of knowing it’s danger? Here’s something to think about: //www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/more-confessions-of-an-economic-hit-man-this-time-theyre-coming-for-your-democracy-20160318 Sure would like to hear some ideas with this.

    • Remember the energy crisis of the mid-70s? What with the long lines for gas but even more important was what happened with the blackouts. Do a search about what happened in New York City and the rural areas. Then consider how reliant the modern world has become on technology. Thinking of driving? Unless you have a very old car, it won’t start due to that technology we all enjoy.
      Just an update. I’ve been rotating my supplies this spring and discovered a bucket which had been forgotten for awhile. Within this bucket I found my old copy (I originally paid $3.95 with a copyright of 1974) of The Mother Earth News Handbook of Homemade Power, The dedication reads: This book is dedicated to THE ENDURANCE OF THE PLANET, A GENTLER TECHNOLOGY AND THE SURVIVALISTS that Patrick Rivers writes about. (you’ll want to check this guy out too).

      This is another old Mother Earth News book. It’s handy to have around, interesting to study, and has some interesting methods for making do with what you’ve got! Some simple solutions to homemade power, some more complicated, but it educates you as to what options you might have. I have always believed one should know how to be as self-sufficient as possible, and educate yourself on how
      to do it, just in case it’s necessary. It’s a good source of information to keep in your self-sufficiency library.
      Since I like having backup, I’ll be paying for at least 2 more and I’m figuring at least $6 more for them too. 😉

    • oops forgot…..//www.amazon.com/Mother-Earth-Handbook-Homemade-Power/dp/0553123270

  6. Gaye I have a friend who lives about 25 miles from a nuclear plant, if there were an EMP or power outage for a number of weeks what should her family’s plan be? Thanks!

    • Long term? Get out of there. There is no survivability at that distance. Long term power outage they have about 3 days to get gone. EMP, so undetermined when power or even IF power will ever come back on, they need to move in the first 12 hours before the people around them figure out the power is never coming back on .
      The trick is telling the difference. And that is as easy as turning on your cell phone. If your cell phone powers on it’s a power outage. If your previously charged cell phone doesn’t work, it’s an EMP.
      Power outage, car still works. Load up and drive to a safe distance away until it has been determined that the Nuc plant is safe to live around. Take supplies, documents and pictures you can’t live without with you. It could be another Chernobyl and they may never be going back.
      EMP? Bikes and bike trailers. Pack like they are never going back because they aren’t. If they get to someplace safe and survive. There is a lot of information online about cacheing supplies along your retreat route so you don’t have to carry every single calorie needed to bike to your safe place from the first moment. But you have to have a plan and you have to implement it IMMEDIATELY or you (they) will not get out of the area before the threat of violence against them starts. If they are at all concerned about surviving they need to start prepping for retreat NOW. (the first thing to do might be to move 25 more miles from plant in question, thereby giving themselves more time to get out of dodge)

  7. If it’s this bad now, how bad will it be when there is a major power failure? There is a wealth of information at the top of the Backdoor Survival page. It wouldn’t hurt to look through it for a refresher.

    Dozens Shot Over Memorial Day Weekend As The Collapse Of Chicago Accelerates
    Chaos and violence threaten to spiral out of control in America’s third largest city, and nobody seems to have any idea how to solve the problem.
    //www.infowars.com/dozens-shot-over-memorial-day-weekend-as-the-collapse-of-chicago-accelerates/

  8. A pdf of a good short report by Lloyd’s Insurance called “Solar Storm Risk To The North American Electric Grid” is available here:

    //www.lloyds.com/~/media/lloyds/reports/emerging%20risk%20reports/solar%20storm%20risk%20to%20the%20north%20american%20electric%20grid.pdf

    Lloyd’s suggests that the aftermath of a CME is unlikely to be the worst case scenario of “One Second After”s EMP attack, but it would be plenty bad. especially along the Eastern seaboard and parts of the Midwest. Interestingly, they predict geographically spotty outages (there is a map), lasting anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years, depending on severity of the storm.

    At 18 pages long, I think it is an absolute MUST read.

    Another good one is the UK government’s “Space Weather Preparedness Strategy” report. Here: //www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/449593/BIS-15-457-space-weather-preparedness-strategy.pdf

    Among other things, it suggests that the UK would better weather a CME than would the US because, being a much smaller country, their long distance transmission lines are much shorter than ours. That means they would collect less power, and less likely to burn out.

    There is also the US EMP commission report: //www.empcommission.org/reports.php

    These are all important to read. They are also quite useful for demonstrating to doubters that EMP and CME are not products of the tinfoil thinking cap brigade: This is the real thing, and they are extremely dangerous.

    Lloyd’s point: A massive CME is 100% guaranteed to occur. 100%. The only question is when: Next year, 150 years from now? They don’t know, but they are clear that it is a 100% probability. One or more well-designed EMP devices might well be worse, but those are not guaranteed to happen. A CME is.

  9. The PLAGUE begins. Rotting carcasses in nursing homes MAY entice rats and then infectious diseases MAY spread like wildfire into the surrounding communities. Or, maybe not.

    Actually, the problem of disposing of the dead bodies (from any and all causes) will be overwhelming in the cities and WHO will feel safe doing this gruesome task? Consider, if you were in charge of the morgue, and you had no electricity to operate under…or if you were an embalmer and had no electricity for the pumps, or if you were an emergency responder and you had no electricity…how effective could you be?

    It’s bad enough if you live in the countryside and the power goes out for an extended period of time…you’ll have deaths from those relying on dialysis, or reliance upon refrigerated medications (insulin), and consider all that food stored in meat lockers and refrigerators will go bad in a hurry…think the flies are bad now? Just wait.

    If you’re in a city, consider bugging out IMMEDIATELY until the threat of disease and pandemic has diminished (probably 30-90 days). Sure, the city has lots of “cool” stuff you could use, but it will all be looted within days to a week and will become an extremely dangerous place to be (especially if you have a family to defend) within just a few days. A pretty realistic film “Blackout Britain” (currently available on U-Tube) is probably the most realistic indicator of the way things will roll once people realize the power isn’t coming back on any time soon.

    There MAY be martial law imposed in the cities, but don’t be too hopeful that things will improve. Once the National (or regional) Guard realizes that (just maybe) their own families may now be in some kind of danger, we might expect some desertions?. Don’t think so? Consider, “What would I do in their circumstances?” The novel (Going Home) by “A. American” sounded pretty realistic to me.

    PRACTICAL ADVICE:
    If you’re going to stay put, get (trade or buy) some plywood, MDF, particle board, or whatever to board up your windows to withstand the assaults of the “unprepared” on your abode. That includes fasteners. Plan for how you’ll defend your place…i.e., a camouflaged spider hole in the front yard manned with guns 24/7, or collaboration with prepared neighbors, or whatever works for you and yours.

    Stock up now on PLENTY of ammo to protect your food stash.

    DO NOT VENTURE forth any more than absolutely necessary…or you’ll be shot for “looting” very quickly.

  10. Life during such an event would essentially be like what living in Detroit is like today.(Well, maybe it wouldn’t be THAT bad….)

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