What to do when the power goes out
Don't get caught without supplies when the power goes out.
Even with clear, calm weather it's always possible to lose electrical power in your home due to repairs or a system overload. When the weather is stormy, losing power seems more logical but no less inconvenient. Here are some tips designed to tell you what to do when the power goes out.
Before the Power Even Goes Out
The best thing to do of course is to have emergency supplies on hand before you need them. In this case, you need:
-- a working flashlight for each family member and fresh batteries (storing in the refrigerator or freezer in a waterproof container is said to extend battery shelf-life);
-- candles for further illumination and safe containers for them. Tea lights, and small clear containers for them, are safer than candlesticks and long tapers;
-- a battery-operated radio is good to have;
-- matches for the candles;
-- a wind-up alarm clock will get you up for work, power or no power
Store flashlights, matches and candles where you can find them easily.
When the Power Goes Out
First, try to determine how far the power outage extends. Especially in stormy weather, do not go outside to look. Downed power lines can mean live wires on the ground. As best you can from indoors, figure out whether it's just your house, your side of the street or a larger area that is affected by the outage.
Call Your Utility Company to Report
Surprisingly your call may be the first and truly helpful to your utility company. Almost everyone debates whether to call or not. Surely someone in the area has already called and you don't want to look like a 'me too.' Call anyway.
Power companies have become increasingly conscious of how much outages worry and inconvenience their customers. By the time you call they may already know about the problem but they may also know how long you should expect to wait until power is restored. Some companies may even call you back to confirm that you have power again.
What to do Next
Your next tasks will depend on how long power might be out. If it's only going to be for a couple of hours keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Unplug appliances like computers or television sets that might be affected by a power surge when power returns.
If the utility company estimates your wait at six hours or more, there are several things you can do. Quickly pack freezer contents close together to keep frozen as long as possible and shut the door. Do the same in the refrigerator to keep items cold as long as possible, but work as quickly as you can. Until the power comes back on, no more cold air will be coming into your refrigerator.
Check to see whether you can bypass electrical ignition on your stove and light the burners by match. This will help you plan what you eat while waiting. No matter how good hot food might taste, do not bring outdoor cooking equipment, like a charcoal grill, inside. Open flames and the possibility of carbon monoxide fumes make it too dangerous.
Candle Safety and Strategies
Especially in houses with young children, candles should be used as little as possible during a power outage for safety reasons. Tea lights in small containers are less likely to be knocked over than tall tapers in candlesticks. Remember that candles, even in large numbers, will not replace electric light. Use candles for navigation only to prevent tripping or falling.
Two historical tips for using candles. First, a light placed high on a shelf or a mantel will illuminate a larger area than a candle placed on a low table. Second, for which we may have Benjamin Franklin to thank, is that a candle gives more light if placed in front of a mirror or other reflective surface (one candle plus one mirror equals two candles).
If you want a night light and plan to go to sleep, place a tea light candle on a wet washcloth in the bathroom or kitchen sink. Should the candle flame shift from a draft there is nothing it can catch on fire. Do not leave any other candles burning when you go to sleep.
Waiting it Out
There may be nothing more you can do but bundle up, sleep and wait for morning. If the power is still off when the utility company estimated it would be back on, call the company again for an update. Most often though, just as you drift off, the lights flash back on. Once you've turned them off you can sleep soundly, glad that you know what to do when the power goes out.