How to Prepare Your Home for a Short-Term Power Outage
Power outages happen in just about every region of the United States. Some outages last briefly, others last a few hours, but sometimes, they can last several days. You might get a warning of a possible power outage, like if the forecast calls for strong winds, torrential rains, snow, or ice. But you might have no warning at all. Even a playful squirrel or a fallen tree can take out your power lines. Regardless of the cause, you should be ready for a power outage at your home. Here's what you need to do to prepare.
Assemble an Emergency Preparedness Kit
No one wants to run around a dark house looking for essentials during a power outage. Make life easier by stocking a big, waterproof tub with these items:
- basic first-aid kit
- battery-operated fans
- car charger for charging cell phones
- flashlights (one for each family member)
- garbage bags for sanitation
- hand-crank or battery-powered radio and an NOAA Weather Radio
- hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and dry shampoo
- tool kit
- whistle (to signal for help)
When assembling your kit, include an ample supply of backup batteries, in a range of sizes, for your flashlights, radios, clocks, camping lantern, and any other key tools or appliances that run on battery backup. Make sure you store any batteries in a dry place at normal room temperature without the contacts touching.
And don’t forget to label your kit and store it where it’s easy to find. Make sure every family member knows where it is. Check it every six months to stay on top of replacing expired items and updating your supplies as your family’s needs change.
Stock Up on Water
Although it is unlikely your municipal water supply will quit functioning, it has been known to happen. For example, Des Moines, Iowa, a city of about 400,000 residents, went without running water for 12 days in July 1993 when its water treatment facility was inundated by floodwater. And if you have a well that relies upon electricity to pump water, well, you’re out of luck when the power goes off.
The National Safety Council suggests that you stockpile enough water to get you through at least three days. You’ll need one gallon of water per person per day to function. If you’re preparing for a three-day emergency, you’ll need 12 gallons of water for a family of four. Also, stow additional water for cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, and pets.
Wondering how you should store potable water (safe for drinking or cooking) for an emergency? You can buy bottled water at a store, of course. But if you want to save money, fill clean soda bottles or milk jugs with tap water. Make sure you disinfect the containers first, though. Wash them in warm, soapy water, then sanitize them with a solution of one teaspoon liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Leave the solution in the container for two minutes, then pour it out. Rinse the container with clean water before filling it with tap water. Screw the lid on tightly; date the container; and store it in a cool, dry place.
Stockpile Nonperishable Foods
Store shelves might be emptied as soon as the weather forecast is announced. Instead of fighting the crowds, keep your pantry stocked with shelf-stable foods that don’t require cooking. Good options include peanut butter (or any nut butter); nuts, seeds, and peanuts; powdered and evaporated milk; packaged tuna; canned and dried meat; crackers, cereal, and granola bars; canned and dried fruit; canned fruit or vegetable juice; canned vegetables; beef or chicken bouillon; instant coffee, tea, and powdered drink mixes; and comfort foods such as cookies and chocolate. Include pet food for four-legged, feathered, and scaled friends. And don’t forget to put a manual can opener and scissors where you can find them!
You might be tempted to buy in bulk, which is a great way to save money. But pay attention to expiration dates since discount stores sometimes sell food that is about to expire. You’re buying food that may need to be stored for days, weeks, and possibly months.
Fuel Up and Charge in Advance
Because gas stations power their pumps with electricity, it’s important to fill your car’s gas tank before the storm hits. No power means no fuel. You may want to get gas for your backup generator at the same time. (Portable generators emit carbon monoxide, so never use one inside your home or garage.) Fully charge all your electronic devices, as well as any plug-in hybrid cars, to maximize the amount of time you’ll be able to use them.
Want to be able to cook with a propane stove or a gas or charcoal grill? Stow an extra container of propane or additional bags of charcoal in the garage. And if your home includes a fireplace or wood-burning stove, keep the woodpile stocked when temperatures dip.
Prep for Cold Temperatures
Blankets are a must in preparing for power outages. But if your region of the country comes with severe winter weather, you should also include quality sleeping bags (one for every family member) as part of the emergency supplies. They’re great for trapping body heat, especially the pricier down-filled versions that keep you toasty warm at below-freezing temps. Look for models that unzip so they can also be used as blankets.
Emergency thermal blankets (also known as space blankets) made of thin aluminized polyester film are an effective yet extremely inexpensive option if storage space is limited. They’re windproof and waterproof and reflect heat back to the body to help you stay warm. Tuck a few of these compact warmers in the car for emergencies when away from home base. And finally, keep plenty of firewood on hand if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace or wood stove to heat your home.