Power outages are widespread and, surprisingly, are getting worse in the USA.
This is due to aging infrastructure, frequent storms, and problems sustaining the electric grid as populations grow.
Despite how common power outages are, few people are prepared for them, and even fewer people know what to do if the power goes out.
If you are one of these people, please don’t feel guilty or bad. Just take action so you are prepared if the power goes out.
Read here for how to prepare for a power outage.
Be Prepared: What You Need for a Power Outage
- Emergency lighting
- Spare batteries (See how to store batteries)
- Battery charger (Amazon Link) with solar or vehicle adapter
- Phone charger (Amazon Link) with solar or vehicle adapter
- Emergency radio
- Off-grid method of heating (See indoor propane heater and indoor kerosene heater, and DIY heaters)
- Off-grid method of cooking (See how to cook without electricity)
- Storing water long term
- Water treatment method
- Solar power kit (Amazon Link)
- Generator – see our generators category
- Contact info for utility providers
Steps to Take Immediately After the Power Goes Out
Step 1: Turn On Your Emergency Lights
Make sure your emergency lights are accessible in case you have to find them in the dark. Ideally, keep a flashlight in each room of your home.
It is generally better to use battery-operated lights instead of candles because of the fire risk.
Step 2: See If Your Neighbors Have Power
If your neighbors still have electricity, the problem is likely inside your home. Start by checking the main fuses or circuit breakers to see if they have blown.
Step 3: Check the Extent of the Problem
If your neighbors also don’t have electricity, you’ll want to see how widespread the problem is. You can do this by calling your power supplier. It might take a while to get through to them if many people are trying to call.
You can also try calling friends who live nearby to see if they have power or not.
If your phone is not working, then turn on your emergency radio. If you don’t already have one, read this post on how to choose an emergency radio.
Note that a major disaster or event, such as an EMP attack, could take out the grid and cause electronic devices to fail.
Read this post on the first steps to take after EMP.
Step 4: Contact Family Members
During significant power outages, stoplights and streetlights can go out, too, making driving unsafe.
If your family members aren’t at home, contact them. It might be best for them to remain at their current location until it is safer for them to come home.
Note that your family should have a contact plan in place.
Read about how to make a family emergency contact plan here.
Step 5: Unplug Appliances
When the power comes back on, it can cause a massive power spike which may damage electronics.
Hopefully, all of your sensitive electronics are on surge protectors. (Amazon Link)
Even if they are, it is wise to unplug all your sensitive (read: expensive) electronics from the wall, so they don’t get damaged when the power comes back on.
Step 6: See if Water is Safe to Drink
When the power goes out, water treatment centers might not work. You could still have clean-looking water from the tap, but it might not be safe to drink!
Call your local authorities to see if the water is safe to drink. Or, you can listen to your emergency radio to see if there is a “boil alert” in place.
*If you are unsure whether the water is safe to drink, always play it safe! Treat water before drinking it, or use bottled water.
Read this post on ways to treat water in emergencies and using water when the power is out.
Step 7: Keep Fridge and Freezer Closed
According to Ready.gov, food in an unopened refrigerator will stay cold for about 4 hours.
A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours. You can learn more about this on their food safety page.
Step 8: Save YourPhone’ss Battery
Turn off any power-consuming apps on your phone to save its battery. Do this even if you have a solar charger because you might not always be able to charge it.
Step 9: Stay Cool (Summer Power Outages)
If the power outage occurs during a heatwave and you have health conditions, you might need to evacuate your home to a cooler location, such as a shopping mall or church.
Step 10: Stay Warm (Winter Power Outages)
If a power outage occurs during winter, you should start using your emergency heating method. A wood stove is my personal favorite off-grid heating method.
Be cautious about using generators, camp stoves, or grills for heating, as they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
You can get some passive solar heating during the daytime by keeping all curtains closed except those on south-facing windows. Close all drapes at night to trap heat, and line windows and doorways with towels to prevent heat from escaping.
Step 11: Prevent Pipes from Freezing (Winter Power Outages)
Hopefully, your pipes are well insulated so they don’t freeze. The easiest way to prevent pipes from freezing during power outages is to let a small stream of water flow through the faucets.
For long-term power outages during extreme weather, you’ll want to drain your electric water heater. You will also need to winterize the drainage system by putting antifreeze into the drain traps below toilets, sinks, washing machines, etc.
*Note that most gas water heaters will still work during power outages, though some may have electric ignitions or components which won’t work if the power is out. Check the appliance instructions to see whether it will work. If you drain a gas water tank, the pilot needs to be off, and you may need to call your local gas company to re-light it.
12. Stay Sane!
Play games, make shadow puppets, hang out with the neighbors in the dark… You might even enjoy the power outage and the digital detox it gives you! What’s the Likelihood of a Long-Term Power Outage Happening?
Most power outages only last a few hours. Even without any supplies, you’ll probably be able to survive these using your cell phone light or just by sitting it out in the dark.
But what if a long-term power outage occurs?
The likelihood of this is much higher than you might think. Though it doesn’t get discussed much in the mainstream media, agencies like NASA warn that a solar flare could take out the grid.
Is it going to happen? I hope not.
Should we be prepared just in case? I would rather be safe than sorry!
Leave a comment
Thank you so much. Now I have a sane guide to the most important things to do. I feel much more prepared, and that’s a relief!
Thanks for the feedback. This is exactly what we are trying to achieve.
This is great information. PG&E in California will be shutting off power for up to a week during windy fire prone days. It pays to be prepared. I would add make sure you have a full tank of gas and cash on hand. Pumps and atms might not work. Also make sure you have propane and a cooking method as restraunts will be closed. I have a propane camp stove to make coffee and can cook on. Also a charcoal grill. Battery powered lanterns will help too.
I remember one night In the dead of winter, here in Eastern Pa, the power went out around 02:00 am. I immediately woke up because everything got so quiet.
Weird feeling, the Quiet, total blackness no night lights worked, one of my Red Cross Emergency flashlights plugged into the wall failed, thankfully I had plenty of flashlights in each room. Although it only lasted several hours it did allow for a shakedown of my emergency power outage plan which actually had more gaps in it then I thought it would. My small butane canister stove worked fine for making coffee but the fuel went quick. Even 1 pound canisters of propane for a Buddy heater emptied after a few hours of use. If it would have lasted for more than several days I would have been in trouble. I’ve restocked and increased my fuel as my original calculations were way off on consumption! Thanks for the article, great info and motivates me with Winter coming to recheck my supplies again!
Thanks for the tips , thats the reason why I suscribed to your site. Keep the excellent work.
Many water heaters work entirely on gas, natural or propane. So turning off the heater is counter productive. Know the difference between gas and electric hot water heaters. Stay safe, stay alive!
Good point. I’m going to clarify in the article to turn off an electric heater – though some gas heaters have electric ignitions or components so they might not work during power outages.
When we lost power for 2 weeks because of a ice storm in a all electric house.We kept our food in the trunk of the car outside.We had a camp stove for cooking only and heated water for bathing.Using propane for heating will not last long. only heat 1 room and only for a few hours at a time I like kerosene heaters.(make sure your pipes are insulated)