Share your power outage strategies, please

We don’t have a generator yet. We discussed getting one after Irene left us powerless for a week last year, and never got around to it. But it’s a definite priority now. Given how many folks in our neighborhood have generators, I suspect the power outages are frequent enough and long enough to make them a wise investment. So, a generator, small a/c, and small heater are now on my shopping list. I also want to get a solar/battery/crank radio so I can stay up to date on emergency information. It’s amazing how much I rely on the internet to tell me what I need to know, and how disorienting it is to have that taken away.

I will be implementing some of these great ideas so I’m better prepared for the next time. Keeping frozen water bottles in the freezer is so easy and smart - I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. We’re lucky enough to have family close by who had power and freezer space to share, so we got most perishables transferred right away, but that might not always be an option. I also never considered the usefulness of having a wad of cash on hand - of course if the power’s out, people can’t use credit cards!

After Irene, I bought some of those flashlights that plug into a wall and come on when the power goes out. That way, I can find them and then use them to find my stash of candles, instead of groping in the dark. I also bought some thick glass votive holders - they’re transparent and let a lot of light out, but they’re thick enough that they stay cool to the touch, so I can carry them around.

Those of you who cook non-grill-y stuff on gas grills: what sort of cookware do I need to heat up water or soup or whatever?

Solar garden lamps I have found very useful. Not a lot of light, but better than nothing - safe and rechargeable.

The last serious power outage we had they flipped us off pretty quickly, no one had charged up their phones, so with my landline I was getting calls from friends for this and that. In the end I was calling the answers and/or questions in to the local radio station.

The biggest problems are losing your cold food, flushing toilets, and seeing at night.

Seeing at night is most efficiently done with candles or oil lamps. Battery powered LED lights are also fairly efficient.

And as mentioned elsewhere, if you aren’t on a reliable city water system, fill up your bathtubs with water to use for flushing toilets. It doesn’t take long for living in a house to seem like camping out when you can’t flush the toilets.

As far as keeping food cold, someone suggested to me if you get dry ice it will keep the food in your fridge/freezer cold longer than regular ice. Kroger is supposed to carry it. If it’s wintertime and below freezing outside, you can store your food outside. Choose a shaded area in a secure container.

In the summer, it doesn’t bother me at all. I grew up in Philly without air conditioning and it is cooler here. But the winter… a totally different thing. If it were up to me, I would install natural gas (our next door neighbor has it and it would cost very little to put in my house) and have a stove, hot water and heat. No pumps for the radiator but hot water is less dense and rises under gravity. At least the downstairs would be habitable.

During the ice storm of 97, it was brutal. Not only were we without heat, but at one point, there was no water for about an hour and a half. Also our phone was out. We were lucky. We got power almost exactly 7 days later. Some people were without for 5 or 6 weeks. In the middle of winter. They set up shelters with generators.

It also requires fuel to keep running, with all the associated hassles and hazards of keeping/obtaining fuel, refueling, fume hazards, etc.

Mind you - they ARE an excellent thing and one of many options but I’d caution against relying too much on one. If you do have one, though, you can keep a refrigerator going, or a well pump, or … well, as noted, a lot of things.

Powerless Options for Food
We have three, large foam coolers. Normally they live nested/stacked in a closet, but in case of power loss they can be deployed, filled with ice, and used to keep perishables cool/edible, especially if one can keep the ice replenished. My advice is to get ice as soon as possible. Get dry ice if you can for a freezer, but if you can’t keep the freezer closed, it will take awhile for it to warm up if you keep it closed but opening the door lets the cold out and the warm in.

Consider medications - while some such as insulin are well known to require cool temperatures, there are prescription tablets and such which should be kept under 80 or 85 degrees if possible and if they’re important medications you might prioritize them over some other items.

Of course, dry and canned goods last a long time. Eat after you get done with the perishables.

Powerless Options for Water
If you rely on a well like we do this is important. You’ll need fluids, especially in hot weather. Remember, though, that all fluids “count” outside of alcohol. Drink stuff like milk first, the stuff that will go off first, then juices, then sealed containers of things like pop. If you’re really prepared you’ll have water stored in advance. If you don’t do that at least have clean containers. There’s been much hoopla about the dangers of re-using plastic containers but that most applies to continual re-use. Wash out some plastic containers, rinse with bleach (instructions for dish sanitation is usually on the product label), allow to dry THOROUGHLY, cap, and store. If they’re dry inside they won’t grow bacteria. They’ll be safe enough to store water for a couple days if kept in a dark place. Even if your tap isn’t working it’s not unusual for places like local fire and police stations to have emergency water available, or to have it trucked in, and while more and more such reserves seem to be pre-bottled they aren’t always. Even if you don’t need them for drinking water, they might be useful for catching rainwater for bucket baths, or for the next category…

Powerless Options for Body Waste Disposal
We have the issue that we’re on well and septic and without electricity we have no working well pump. People with “city water” may not have that issue… except… with prolonged or widespread power outages city water pressure might fall and/or the water become unpotable. We keep a couple of 5 gallon buckets around to collect water for toilet flushing as there’s no reason you can’t use drainage ditch water, or rain gutter water for the purpose. Don’t flush for piss, just for poo, which limits needed water hauling.

For ultimate waste plumbing back up you need one of those 5 gallon buckets, a heavy-duty garbage bag, a bag of cheap kitty litter, and something to use as a seat, like a board or an old toilet seat. Use the garbage bag to line the bucket, which you use to catch the poo. The seat goes on top of the bucket so you don’t fall in. Sprinkle a layer of kitty litter on top to keep the odor down, tie bag shut securely until next bowel event or until you can put it outside.

Powerless Options for Cooking
As noted, gas stoves usually keep working. If not, charcoal grills, campfires (assuming you can light them safely in your area/conditions), various camp and “hobo” stoves can all be used in a pinch.

Powerless Options for Lighting
There are so many options these days! I suggest keeping multiple ones around. We still have an oil lamp and candles, but they are potential fire hazards so use them with caution. The last thing you want to do is add a house fire to the crisis! In addition to old battery power standbys there are both handcrank and solar-charged options. I hadn’t thought of the solar lawn lights but thanks for mentioning them, TruCelt! I’ll happily pull up the lights around the driveway and garden for lighting the house in an emergency.

Powerless Options for Cooling
A couple years ago my spouse found battery-powered LED lights that also incorporated a fan, with the option to run either fan or light or both. I highly recommend them, along with an ample supply of batteries.

The other options – cool cloth on the neck, feet in cool water, restricting activity during the hottest part of the day, lots of fluids, wiping off the sweat, etc. have all been covered already.

Basic Prep
Keep certain supplies on hand at all times:

  1. Lots of bags – garbage bags, all sizes of ziplock bags, etc. Look upthread for uses.
  2. Toilet paper and paper towels. You can never have too much toilet paper.
  3. Coolers for storing food.
  4. AMPLE first aid supplies – between darkness at night and the usual chaos of severe weather/natural disasters accidents will become more common.
  5. LOTS of batteries for anything battery-powered
  6. Unpowered entertainment
  7. Stash of cash – how much is debatable but a couple hundred dollars isn’t unreasonable.

I also suggest keeping at least a 1/2 tank of gas in vehicles at all times, and a PAPER map of your local area as with this sort of thing some streets may be impassible due to downed trees/debris and require detours. Keep car chargers for things like cellphones in the car so if you have a reason to drive somewhere you can recharge 'em at the same time.

One thing I don’t worry about is water. I have the whole fucking Lake Michigan in my back yard. All I need is a bucket and some huffing and puffing.

My newest gizmo for dealing with power outages is this GoalZero Power Pack. It lists at $200, and is available as cheap as $130 on eBay, but the reason why I’m bumping this thread now is that it’s available on Woot! today for $85 including shipping.

Woot’s one of those “one day, one deal” sites, so tomorrow that link will turn up an entirely different product, btw. I bought one of these the last time they offered this deal, and at this price, I’m considering buying another.

The manufacturer says you can run a laptop for an extra 2-4 hours off it. I haven’t tried that with my own yet, but it runs lights and fans just fine, and I figure I could hook up the modem to it for at least a few hours while I was running the laptops off their own batteries. (I can deal with the power being out if I can get to the Web from time to time!)

Disconnect from the grid and connect to the gasoline generator to run the electrical compontent of natural gas furnace and well pump, and run on a rotating basis the appliances and lights.

Backup: propane powered heaters, lights and cooking burners.
Extreme cold backup: white gas powered cooking burner and -40 sleeping bag.
Always enough food on hand for a couple of weeks, water filter that is cleanable, and skis and snowshoes for evacuation.

That has a 80 W inverter which may or may not be enough to power a laptop, Though it may be able to recharge one while off if it can’t run it outright.

I would suggest a 150W inverter for car cigarette lighter adapter if you can manage a extension cord from your car to your home, more power to run things and can run them for longer but just make sure that you don’t run your car battery flat. I think they go for about $30.

Our power outages usually come in winter. The oil furnace won’t work without electricity (pumps and combustion blower), so I bought a portable 23,000btu kerosene heater. Throws an amazing amount of heat, and is completely safe for indoor use, though I don’t run it at night or while I am away.

Good point D/a.

Keep them in the dark with the cash cows and see what happens…

If you live in an area outages are common consider installing a transfer switch and power inlet to make it easy for a portable generator to run the essentials like the fridge, furnace controls, and such. Don’t use a suicide cord, or if you absolutely must be sure to pull the main breaker so it’s not a danger to linesmen. One was electrocuted in North Carolina where a homeowner using a generator without a transfer switch put backfed electricity where he wasn’t expecting it.

Yeah - I have an outlet on the outside of my house, with a switch that controls if my house is being fed by Florida Power & Light or the outlet. The switch is in a locked box. Inside the box is an instruction sheet, in case I forget what order to do things in.

If I need to use the generator, I turn off a handful of circuits in the house, such as the air conditioners. I can’t power the rest of the house all at once, but I can turn on a light or a TV in whatever room I’m in.