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Getting plunged back into the dark ages is never a welcome surprise. However, what we can control is how minimal of an inconvenience a blackout is on your day to day life.
Being prepared for an outage – especially one that occurs at night or in roasting/freezing conditions – can give you major peace of mind. A simple action plan with a few essential items is all you need.
While we’ve gone into a lot of depth to cover everything you need to know, you don’t need to worry about ticking every last thing off from this list. Instead, use it as a guide to give you a general idea of any major plans or backup resources you may want to add to our arsenal.
Are you reading this on your phone because the power’s just gone out? Here’s what you should do right after the power goes out!
1. Check your breaker switches
An obvious tip, but one people sometimes overlook. What appears to be a power outage may just be a breaker switch innocently going off. Unsure how to check for a bad breaker switch? Check out this guide.
2. Unplug all appliances
When there’s a power outage, there’s also a risk of a power surge. It’s wise to unplug every electric appliance that isn’t protected by a surge protector.
3. Ration phone use
During a modern power outage, your phone becomes your most valuable resource. During a blackout, phone charge is almost as valuable as food and water! Try to only ever have one mobile phone in the household on at any one time, and prioritise using it to check for updates and information – rather than entertainment.
4. Check food stock
For food in the fridge and freezer, do this as quickly as possible – or even from memory. Consider what food you’ll need to eat first, and whether you’re going to have to plan a trip to pickup more supplies.
5. Keep fridge & freezer closed
Once you know what’s inside them, keep the doors to your fridge and freezer closed as much as possible. Make sure everyone knows not to be checking for snacks every 10 minutes! If you do this, the fridge coolness can last up to 4 hours, and the freezer up to 48 hours.
6. Close all windows and doors
If either your air conditioning or heating system has gone off (depending on the weather), make sure to get all doors and windows closed. This will make sure you’re not leaking out head or precious cool air. Make sure everyone in the house knows to keep them closed – unless your home does end up hotter than outside.
7. Check toiletry/essentials supplies
Check if you’re going to be needing any vital supplies that may be worth venturing out to the store for. Anything from medical creams to sunscreen, think about what you typically use throughout the week and double check you’ve got enough.
8. Make a plan
For any kids as well as yourself, it’s important to have a plan of action and get everyone to band together to make it. Cover things like what foods you’ll be eating and when, any small jobs that will need doing (will pets be okay?), and whether or not you’ll need to venture out to the store for anything.
9. See this as a challenge
It’s always easy to see something like a power outage as a big nuisance which is just here to ruin your day. Instead, try to look at it as a bit of a challenge, and tackle it accordingly. What’s the plan? How are you going to cope? Were you prepared enough? If not, what could you do to prepare in the future to ease the disruption? Again, while this is good for you, it’s also great for any children that are going to be without their electronics for a day. Depending on how you treat it – this can be a day of boredom and moaning, or a spontaneous challenge and family bonding.
These next tips are general things that you can do or buy in order to best prepare yourself for a future blackout.
10. Medical Devices – Backup plans
Health should always be top priority. If you or any loved ones rely on medical equipment, make sure you’ve got a back-up plan for when the power goes out. A great way to make sure you’re prepared is simply to contact the manufacturer, who will likely have some great recommendations or even backup systems they could provide you.
11. First Aid & Emergency Supplies
As with medical devices, it’s important to have a standard first aid kit available somewhere. It’s never nice to think about needing one, but there’s a great peace of mind that comes with having one ready. Here’s a great official guide on building and maintaining an emergency supply kit.
12. Backup Generators
Back-up generators are an irreplacable lifeline when the power goes out. While a bit on the extreme side, they can really be worthwhile if you live in a region that gets frequent power outages, or if you have vital appliances – like medical equipment – that need to remain functioning at all times. If power outages cause interruption to the crucial things in your life, a backup generator may just be worth it.
13. Water stocks
During a power outage, the local water systems may be compromised. Keeping a minimum of about half a gallon per person per day is recommended. Base the number of days on previous power outages in your area. This is also vital if you live in a hot climate, since you’ll likely be sweating out on a ton of water without standard cooling systems being available.
14. Long term food
A staple for anyone who likes to be prepared – it’s always handy to have a stockpile of canned and non-perishable foods. Make sure you’ve got some variety, and especially a few options that you wouldn’t mind eating cold. Don’t forget a manual can opener, too!
15. Back up heater
You don’t want to get caught out without heat in the winter! Solve two problems in one by getting a propane heater for your garage – doubling up as one of the best back-up heating systems in the event of a power outage. Just make sure to have some ventilation available. Check out our guide to the best propane heaters , where we also cover important buying factors to keep in mind.
16. Back up cooker
Got a gas stove? Then you’re covered! You can still light the hob with matches, just be careful while doing so.
Otherwise, a camping stove – or even a BBQ grill – can serve as great backup cooking options.
17. Travel chargers
Another great appliance with dual-function. Not only are travel chargers fantastic for long distance trips, they also give you vital amounts of additional charge when your phone is all you’ve got left to work with.
During a power outage, flashlights are much more preferable to candles. Particularly since they are much less likely to set things on fire. However, you can go one better and pick-up some..
19. Battery Powered Lanterns
One step up from flashlights are battery powered lanterns, which are much more suited to lighting up whole rooms. But for both flashlights and lanterns, don’t forget..
Try to always keep a good supply of AA and AAA batteries, and get out of the habit of just buying one box at a time as you need them. If they’re ever on sale at the store, buy a couple boxes! You never know when you may thank yourself.
21. Toiletries & Essentials
Another example of products you should always have a small stockpile of. Don’t be living on the edge with just one roll of toilet paper left, people! Have a think about what products you use weekly, and make sure you’ve always got a good supply of them. Toilet paper, deodorants, sun cream, creams/moisturisers, toothpaste, and ladies you know what else…
You really, really don’t want to be stuck because the local store’s card systems are also down. Make sure to always keep a small ’emergency’ stash. Smaller bills are best, and even traveller’s cheques can work.
23. Back up radio
Even a hand-crank one will work! Unless you’re happy to use up valuable phone charge, a radio is probably the only way you’re going to be able to get news about what’s happened and how long you’ll need to endure caveman-style conditions.
24. Playing cards / board games / toys
Or any other sources of entertainment to stay sane. Anything visible in low lighting is best – relying on trivial pursuit to be played by candlelight may not be the best idea!
25. Garage door release
If you’re lucky enough to have an electric garage door, make sure you know how to open it manually. This is typically done via a release cord that just needs pulled down, but do make sure you know where it is!
26. Sleeping Bags
For really cold climates, it can be worthwhile to have a sleeping bag spare for everyone in the house. When the power’s out, these are much more efficient and keeping you warm than a standard bed duvet.
27. Safety Lights
Safety lighting are simple small chargeable lights that plug in to your power sockets. When the power’s out, they turn on. Place them in vital areas – especially near stairs – but make sure you can time them to switch off during the day to save power.
28. Pet supplies
Similar to other essentials, make sure Fido’s not going to be going hungry! As with batteries and essentials, always try to pick up a small stockpile of them when they’re on sale, for situations like these.
29. Alternative cooling options
Cooling can be very difficult to harness without mains electricity, so make sure you’ve got some good back-up options. A good battery operated fan, like the one in our Vornado fan guide, can make a world of difference. Similarly, these great products called ‘cooling towels’ are an incredibly simple way to provide a way to cool down. Make sure to apply them to the most effective areas: neck, wrists, head, and especially feet.
30. Have a wood burning fireplace? Keep your chimney functioning.
If you’ve got a wood burning fireplace, have the chimney cleaned in the autumn to make sure there won’t be an issue with creosite build up (fire hazard) or smoke flow issues.
31. Look out for elderly relatives
Finally, have a think about any elderly relatives that might need a bit of help when it comes to preparations like these. Just checking that they’ve considered what they’ll do in the event of a power outage, and if you can be of any help in making sure they’re prepared.
What to do in a Power Outage
Once you’ve got our initial checklist at the top covered, here’s some great guidelines to follow if you’re without mains power.
32. Check if the whole grid is out
Have a look around to see if it the whole community’s without power, too. Can’t if your neighbours have lost power because it’s day time? Go and ask them!
33. Do phone lines still work?
A power outage doesn’t necessarily mean that phone lines are down – check and see if you’ve still got a dialtone.
34. Report the outage to your power company
Once you know the above two points, it’s important to report the outage to the power company. Both in case they don’t know about it, but also to get yourself an update on the estimated time to repair. Try to have your utility number ready, too – it can be a big help to them.
35. Plan out immediate food use
Once you’ve got a good idea of what food supplies you have available, create a rough plan of what you’ll be eating first. Remember that a (closed) fridge will typically keep a cool temperature for up to 4 hours, and a freezer for up to 48 hours. Turn it into a challenge! What’s the best recipe you can make? Just don’t risk anything.. getting ill in power outage is NOT fun.
Check out this guide by TheOrganicPrepper on how long different food items last.
36. Call those closest to you
Not just elder relatives, but anyone you know in the neighbourhood and any close friends you have. Check if it’s just your neighbourhood, and make sure they’re going to be alright if the temperature is looking to be very hot or cold.
37. Prioritise lantern and flashlights
Try to get everyone in one room, so that you need to use a minimal amount of battery powered lighting. Candles can be great for ambience, but it’s best not to turn your living room into what looks like a strange religious ceremony.
38. Gas stove, carefully use matches
We touched on this previously, but if you’re using a gas stove – be extra careful when lighting it with a match.
39. Check on neighbours
As well as checking to see if the neighbours look like they have power, it’s worthwhile giving them a quick neighbourly hello. Especially for any seniors that you know in the area, this can be great for sharing tips and laughing about the situation, and you never know if someone may really need your help.
40. Get out of the house!
Power outages have this miraculous effect of making time go extremely slowly. Especially if you’re stuck at home all day. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block, it’s a great idea to just get outdoors and distract yourself for a while. Walking to a local store or community, a bike ride, an adventure to the local park with the kids – anything works.
41. Is it cold outside?
If it’s freezing outside, keep everyone in one room. Grab all of the blankets and covers that you can, and keep the doors closed. You’ll be surprised how effective shared body heat can be!
42. Is it freezing cold outside?
If it’s absolutely freezing, don’t feel like you need to stick around. Plan your route carefully and expect a bit of chaos on the roads, but booking into a hotel or staying with relatives could save you from a long night of discomfort.
43. Roasting hot outside?
Alternatively, if it’s roasting outside, try to use natural cooling methods to your advantage. Open the windows in the morning to recycle your air, then close them as the afternoon heat rises. Since hot air rises, stay downstairs as much as possible. Plan to take a nap in the heat of the afternoon, and head out to air conditioned community buildings if possible.
44. Only drive when necessary (stores may have backup power, try calling first)
As we’ve already alluded to, situations like these can cause road traffic to break down. Not just because of failed traffic lights, but drivers acting erratically just due to the situation. If you really need to make it to a store, try calling before hand to make sure they’ve got back-up power and are still open. If you do need to drive, try to take quieter roads, and plan for extra journey time.
45. If possible, purchase bagged ice
If you do venture out to a store, bagged ice can be an absolute luxury when you don’t have electric cooling. Place a bags inside your fridge/freezer to extend the lifespan of foods inside, and place a bucket of ice under a battery-operated fan for a D-I-Y air conditioner.
46. Take the time to reflect
A sudden bout of free time can be put to some great uses. Try sitting down with pen and paper, and reflecting over how your day was going, what your plans are once the power comes back on, and just generally check-up on you and your family’s well-being
47. Stay active
The last you want is to be laying awake at night full of energy because you’ve been stuck doing nothing all day. Take the opportunity to go out for a walk or run, which will help you feel tired once the sun goes down. An outage is 10x worse at night when there’s nothing to do.
What NOT to do in a Power Outage
Common mistakes that people make which hinder more than help!
48. Rely on candles
Candles can cause fires; don’t light the whole house up! The odd one or two for ambience can be great, but using a lot means there’s a high chance that something happens. This could be anything from an excited dog or curious child knocking one over, to just forgetting to blow them out at night.
49. Constantly opening fridge/freezer
Write down what supplies you have, and make a plan about what you’ll eat and when. Constantly checking what you have means that everything will get rapidly warmer – while this is obvious to most, make sure everyone in the house knows to stay out!
50. Recharge in car in garage
Using the car to recharge any portable devices can be a lifesaver, but do make sure that you’re not leaving the engine running while the car’s in an enclosed space. Ideally, get it out onto the driveway to prevent fuming up your garage.
51. Driving unless necessary
If the power outage has affected the whole neighbourhood, it probably means all of the traffic lights are down, too. We really don’t recommend driving anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary, and if you do, expect chaos at any major intersections. Especially since scenarios like these can tend to make certain people act a bit.. weird.
52. Stay cooped up indoors
Waiting out a power outage can become mind numbingly boring, so for sanity’s sake, try to avoid just being couped up all day! Take the opportunity to go for a walk around the neighbourhood, stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
53. Use oven as source of heat
Oven’s aren’t built to act as heating appliances, and the hot air that comes out of them may not be overly healthy to breathe in.
54. Go near any working crews
If you see crews working on the street, don’t rush up to start asking them questions! Not so much because it slows down their work to answer everyone’s questions, but they also have to stop what they’re doing when a bystander gets too close.
Once Power is Back
Now that you’ve got your power back on, double check these final tips to make sure you’re ready for the next one, or in-case the power goes out again.
55. DON’T plug appliances straight back in.
Wait 10 to 15 minutes, in order to avoid getting caught by any surges as everything comes back online.
56. Clear out perished food.
Get rid of any food that was unfortunate enough to not survive the power outage. You can save anything in the freezer that’s lower than 40 degrees fahrenheit and still has ice crystals on it – however, when it doubt throw it out!
57. Reset clocks, timers, alarms
Especially important for any timed appliances, like cooling/heating/lighting systems.
58. Restock food, toiletries, emergency kit items
Go through anything that you’ve used and make sure you’ve got plenty of that item leftover for next time. For the emergency kit, double check the list of must-haves here.
59. Do not enter a flooded basement, or use flooded appliances
If the power outage was due to flooding, be very careful around electric appliances and a flooded basement. If in doubt, call a qualified electrician.
And that’s it! Our 59 top tips for preparing for and managing power outages.
By following this guide, a power outage should be nothing more than a minor inconvenience to you. Or even a challenging adventure with the kids.
We research plenty of sources to try and cover absolutely everything, but if you’ve got any ideas for a tip we might have missed, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below – or via our contact page.
Thanks for reading!