Share your power outage strategies, please

Install a generator - let’s get that one out of the way first. While I see the advantages it isn’t an option for me currently. I’d like to know tips and tricks for days without electricity.

I’m in the region affected by storms two nights ago and though I’m fortunate to have power restored now, it was out for 30 hours and I wish I’d been better prepared. It is still out at work, and word on the street is that it still will be for several days.

I have candles, and a Red Cross crank/solar radio. I had no inkling ahead of time that a storm this intense was coming so I hadn’t gotten batteries for the backup fish tank air pump. I’ll be better about that in the future. (They all survived without it, I’m relieved to report).

Beyond the basics that would get a household through a few hours, what other preparations would make a prolonged outage easier to endure?

If you have an electric cooker one of those mini gas cookers (the kind you take camping) can come in very handy. Having food you can eat without cooking is useful too. Have things to that don’t involve electricity (sport, going out etc in the morning, reading, playing board games etc at night). If you want things to do I’m pretty sure I could come up with a very long list.

Every time the power goes out I am reminded why I love my gas stove. Just be sure to have a lighter since the electric spark igniter won’t work. Te oven won’t work either so it is just stove top cooking.

I lived at a place that ended up out of power for 2 months after a monster hurricane. We found out that well water sitting stagnant in a hot water heater for that long is not a good thing! Unfortunately no electricity meant no running water for toilets, showers, or cooking either. The little camp showers were pretty awful. Better was using the gutters and downspouts to shower during a rain storm.

Ice chests really can keep food fresh as well as a refrigerator if you can keep replenishing the ice.

LED lanterns are much easier on batteries and provide enough light to maneuver around. You might need a brighter mag light if you really need to read something at night. I still keep a hurricane oil lamp - works without batteries.

Given the current weather conditions -90s and 100s across much of the nation - you need to stay cool. If you have no power, you’ll have to go to a shelter/cooling station set up by your local authorities.

The Red Cross has a PDF with a checklist if you stay home:

The obvious solution to long term power loss is a generator, but why is it not available to you at this time? Budget? You can find an 800 watt unit starting around $75 in your area. Check Craigslist! Here’s one new for $119, and they have sales all the time that bring them under a hundred bucks.

Apartment or don’t want a permanent hookup? Run a couple of extension cords and power strips.

A small portable generator is just about carry-on luggage sized, and will run more than you think. Please consider one if you are able.

Good luck!

Car chargers for your electronics so you can keep cell phones, etc., charged up while you’re going somewhere.

Battery-operated lanterns or other very bright light sources that make household activities easier to do - candles may not provide sufficient light for reading easily (depending on the candle), cooking, etc.

A large cooler and knowing where to go to get a lot of ice, if you want to save the contents of your fridge - I’ve read that many things will go off in your fridge after as little as 4 hours without power. Decide what you want to cook with/eat now, and pack stuff into the cooler in reverse order of what you might use. You might want to seal some items in ziplocs as the ice will slowly melt and some food will probably end up underwater.

Keep your freezer packed as full as possible ahead of time - fill it with bottles/jugs of water if need be - to let it stay cold for longer. Again, after some point you may have to do the cook/pack in cooler full of ice for “refrigeration” move with this.

Think about options for your alarm clock. If you have limited charging options for a cell phone, you might want a reliable wind-up or battery-operated travel alarm clock stashed with the emergency gear to make sure you wake up on time for work and save your phone battery.

Keep a few unread, paper books around for passing the time.

If it’s hot, you’ll need options to cool yourself down, and I’m assuming you won’t be driving to cool places/sitting in an air-conditioned car all the time. Try cooling your feet in a bathtub/basin of cool water, putting a cool, wet cloth over your head, or putting a cool, wet cloth on the back of your neck.

I have a little flashlight that you can plug into an outlet and use as a nightlight. When the power goes out, you can unplug it and use it as a flashlight. It’s come in handy the last couple of black-out events.

Wall sconces are also handy, if you’re like me and don’t keep an uncluttered house.

Besides my standard hurricane food, I have a few self-heating meals.

I have a camping grill, and some heady cast iron pots that I can put on the grill.

My French Press coffee maker will keep me caffeinated.

I keep several hundred dollars in small bulls hidden away - ATMs and credit card machines don’t work when the power is off.

I have a 5 day marine grade cooler, along with several others.

Keeping bottles of frozen water in the freezer serves two causes - it helps keep the freezer cold, and provides drinking water as it defrosts.

Lots of LED flashlights, and one hand-cranked flashlight/radio.

Bug spray - standing water leads to lots of insects.

Bleach based spray cleaner. No electricity can lead to backed up sewage lines. After Hurricane Wilma, there was sewage spilling out of some of the gutters. I kept the spray bottle near the front door, and sprayed my shoes before I walked in.

I keep an extra set of toiletries - shampoo, toothpaste, soap, etc. Same thing for paper towls and toilet paper. This makes sure I’m never almost out of something at a bad time. I also have a stack of paper plates and plastic forks/knives/spoons.

And a manual can opener.

I do have a generator, and a portable one room air conditioner. We were lucky to have a cold snap go through after Wilma, but I’m not going to risk that the next time!


Especially since all the gas pumps would be dead, as in the three-day Northeast Blackout of 2003.

I had a little less than a quarter tank of gas, so shank’s mare was the only option. Not that I cared to risk driving in no-traffic-lights Toronto the Gridlocked.

Those wind-up LED lanterns and Emergency radios. Get several of the lanterns- 2 wind up, a couple battery powered- and lost of batteries.

Buy a super 5-7 day cooler, and keep bottles of frozen water in the freezer.

From my time in the Peace Corps with unreliable power…

High heat shouldn’t be dangerous for a healthy person, but should be pro-active about it. My rule (115+ heat, no AC) was to drink a liter of water before noon, and try to drink at least another liter through the day. Between 10:30 and 4:00 PM, limit your movement and seek out ventilated, dark spaces. These are good hours for reading, napping, and playing with the shortwave radio. If you need more cooling, try a bucket of water and a wet sheet. Electrolyte mixes, or even homemade water solution with salt and sugar, can help if things get really bad. Make sure you know the warning signs of heat stroke, as it can become extremely serious extremely quickly.

I got a lot of utility out of a small, cheap solar powered flashlight. I kept it on my window ledge during the day, and used it to read at night. It’s much more convient than those cheap shake/wind-up flashlights, which seem to lose their staying power pretty quickly.

Store water- in buckets or in the bathtubs- at the first sign of trouble in case the water system goes out. A covered, unglazed clay pot placed in the shade will keep water refreshingly cool through slow evaporation. You can even chill drinks or keep food somewhat chilled in it. Sandwiching drinks or tupperware between two continually wet pieces of cloth in the shade can also have a pretty good cooling effect.

Oatmeal and even rice can be cooked by placing it in water and leaving it in the sun for a while. But really there are all kinds of no-cook foods in supermarkets here.

A good quality shortwave radio can provide round-the-clock entertainment as well as news.

If you have a land line phone, be sure to have an old fashioned non-cordless phone that you can plug directly into the jack. Cordless phones, of course, won’t work at all if the power is out, but phone jacks almost never lose power.
My parents lived in Cancun when hurricane Wilma parked over the city for about 3 days; they would call me in Oregon to look at the weather radar and tell them what was going on. They had no electricity for several weeks, but the land line phones never failed.

I think if you can afford it, getting at least a 5cuft CHEST freezer makes sense because freezers are kept much cooler than the freezer at the top of your fridge and when you open them (the chest freezer), the cool air remains trapped inside unlike the fridge-top freezer, where the cool air falls out the first time you open it.

With a chest freezer, it is easier to keep more water stored/frozen. That keeps the freezer cold longer, but also provides fresh drinking water over time.

We have a gas range and gas water heater, so I can eat and shower through power outages (although that’s not the kind of change you can retrofit, I’m just lucky they’re not electric). My workplace has a generator, so I can always charge my cell phone and Kindle there during the week. There’s also a shower room at work that pretty much nobody ever uses, so if I didn’t have a gas water heater I could shower there.

If the power goes out over a weekend, my Kindle Fire is good for a couple days at least. I have a flashlight app on my phone for emergencies, but I prefer to conserve my phone battery so I can check on the status of the outage for as long as possible (my 4g data will work during a power outage, but my Fire’s wifi obviously will not). I use the Fire to light my way when I have to walk through the house, and can read books/play games on it while my computer is out of commission.

During the day, I sometimes park my car in the shade and read a book with the air conditioner running. When the heat gets unbearable, I take a cool shower. I’ll also take one right before bed, it helps me stay asleep longer. I can’t sleep for more than a few hours without my fans and a/c (I need the white noise *and *the comfort), so I get progressively crankier the longer an outage goes on. Our local record since I moved in here was 4 days without power. That was truly trying.

Of the 10 or so downed major limbs on my parents’ street, at least 9 of them must have come from Silver Maples.

Luckily the house my wife and I bought last fall didn’t have any Silver Maples in the yard, because they would have been cut down and replaced by Red Oaks in the first week.

Prolonged outage? Make sure you have plenty of food and water on hand. In a prolonged outage, grocery stores may not be open for business, and your water supply may not be available. We have plenty of both stored in our basement. Lots of dry cereal (Wheaties, Special K) and cans of things like beans and corn. This isn’t particularly an emergency stash, it’s stuff we use on a regular basis, so there’s always fresh stock down there. Bottled water doesn’t get used very often (just on car trips out of town), but it also keeps for a long time. In a prolonged outage the things in the fridge and freezer will be lost; cereal with water on it isn’t the greatest thing, but it’ll keep you from going hungry.

If you have a gas stove or gas/charcoal outdoor grill, you’ll be able to cook. Cook and eat the stuff in the fridge until it runs out or spoils, then cook and eat the stuff in the freezer until it runs out or spoils. Then you can turn to your storeroom stock.

I don’t keep much gasoline on hand - just a gallon can for the lawn mower - but then I don’t expect to drive around much under such circumstances.

We do have some cash on hand, maybe $1K. If any stores are open for business during a prolonged outage, they’re likely to be conducting transactions in cash only. If you get word that the outage is likely to last a long time, you may want to visit a store and buy extra of anything you seem to be short on - food, water, batteries, whatever that happens to be.

The last time I went through this I instituted a couple of rules that paid off in spades this time.

  1. Put layers of ziplock bags half-filled with water at intervals throughout the chest freezer. This way I can open the top and get food out without releasing the cold from the whole freezer. My power was out Friday night - Monday wee hours, and I only had to tosss two bags of peas which got mushy on the top layer. everything else was still frozen solid.

  2. Use the top shelf of the fridge and standing freezer for cold pack storage. These two shelves are completely full of gel packs and water-filled ziplocks. After 48 hours (ish) The ice cubes were still in shape and the butter was still hard! Thank goodness.

  3. Do not open the fridge or standing freezer under any circumstances. The top layer of the chest freezer has the emergency food.

New rule for next time: If hot weather is expected, do not open up the house to let the fresh air in during the storm. :smack: Instead, turn the A/C as cold as you can stand it and make sure everything is shut up tight to keep the cool in for as long as possible.

Forgot to add: The surprise bonus of this storm was the solar landscaping torches I bought at Walmart last year for about $4 each. They each had four bright white LED lights, and were even strong enough to read by if you had two. They stayed on all night, and recharged outside during the day. Much better than any other emergency light I had!

Back before we got a generator we couldn’t pump water from our well for anything. We scrounged an 85 gallon overpack drum and any time a bad storm was in the offing we would roll it over to the bathroom window and fill it with water, and also fill a couple 5 gallon glass carboys with potable water for the house, and a 55gal drum of potable water for the animals. [sheep and chickens can go through a fair amount of water] The overpack was for flushing the loo, and doing a quick body rinse to get rid of sweat [now we have the hot tub for the nonpotable water stuff, gives us a good 350 gallons to mess with]

In the winter heating and cooking is accomplished with a wood stove, in the summer outside on the grill.

Right now, we run the cable box, modem, tv and desktop computer in the bedroom, a light and alarm clock/ipod dock in the bedroom, the fridge and a light in the kitchen and pump water with the generator. We add the bedroom AC if it is hot enough.

Gas generator that we can plug select appliances into, including the furnace if we need to.

I’m not installing a genny capable of shouldering the whole household burden. I can always haul water in from the hot tub or from Lake Michigan for flushing purposes. Our artesian well keeps flowing enough for drinking purposes.

Last significant power outage (about 6 years ago) lasted over 50 hours, in mid summer, so the genny came in handy.

We have a battery powered lanterns to keep us going. I can still cook on the grill outside and we have a gas stove so that may work as well with the power off.

So far, our main strategy has been to live in a neighborhood with buried power lines. In the seven years, I’ve lived here, we’ve only lost power twice and it was on clear days when they were doing work on something near by.

I have an inverter I connect to the pickup truck and generate enough power to keep the refrigerator, a couple of lights, and the rechargeable stuff running. When the fridge is good and cold, we disconnect that for a while and run other stuff. If I had a second battery in the truck it would power a lot more. I have a little generator also. It isn’t great, but it will run for a long time on very little gas and can power the sump pump if has to. I can cook outside, but mainly we’ll just eat out. We were out for 5 days last September. Using a Verizon HotSpot I could stay online and keep working, which was good, a lot of people couldn’t, so I was needed. We weren’t really worried about losing water, but we don’t have any serious preparation for that. I guess we could just fill a bunch of containers from water already in the pipes if we had to.