My heart goes out to the millions of residents in the Eastern United States and Canada who have been hit with a massive, high wind, winter blizzard and extended power outages lasting more than a few hours.
Winter power outages are definitely more challenging because of the importance of staying warm. Having experienced a few extended power outages over the years, I have tested what works best to make the experience bearable until power is restored.
1. Get a landline telephone and write down your important phone numbers
Communication is vital during a power outage. You want to find out what is going on and be in contact with your loved ones. A landline works during a power outage.
With a landline you can receive and make calls, although the message screen is blank. The phone doesn’t “ring,” but sounds like a flat trumpet (you can try it out by unplugging the electric cord and calling your number); however, you will only hear it twice. When calling, it’s best to let it “ring” twice and call again if the receiver doesn’t pick up. Do not bother leaving a voice mail because it cannot be retrieved.
In addition, write down your electricity distribution phone number for power outage updates (assuming they have a landline, or battery back-up).
2. Remove your LED nightlight/flashlights from the wall
As soon as there is a power outage, remove your LED nightlights/flashlights to conserve their power. I’ve tested mine and they have more than 4 hours of capacity. Get your candles and matches out, too.
3. Turn off all lights and appliances
Turn off all lights and unplug all appliances except for an indicator light for when the power comes back on. It reduces the load on the grid when it starts up again.
4. Close all blinds and curtains to conserve heat
You may have natural gas heating, but without electricity the furnace doesn’t work. Within 24 hours the temperature in the house drops close to the outside temperature, so as soon as there is a power outage conserve the heat you have by closing the blinds and curtains. If you have a basement stay there, as it is the most insulated part of the house. Get out your blankets and sleeping bags, and if you have a wood burning fireplace in the basement, use it.
5. Find out what is happening in your area
Go to the nearest major intersections to find out the extent of the outage. The electricity infrastructure operates like a grid that is parallel to the roads infrastructure, so you can get a good idea of the situation if there are any pockets with electricity. If you drive, beware as the traffic lights won’t be working. The streetlights won’t work and at night there is no visibility unless there is moonlight.
Remember, during a power outage all stores shut down immediately to prevent looting, and food stores may give away food that would spoil without refrigeration. Bank machines and subways won’t work.
The city may set up a shelter for residents at the local community center and updates will be available there, too.
6. Prevent your water pipes from freezing
To prevent your water pipes from freezing and bursting, turn on 2 faucets with a pencil thin stream of water: one closest to the meter and the other farthest away.
7. You can cook if you have a gas cooktop
If you have a gas cooktop, you can still cook during a power outage; all you need are matches. Make lunch your main meal because there won’t be enough light to cook by in the evening.
8. Store water in the bathtub
The pumps that move water are electric so sooner or later you will run out of water. You can store some water in your bathtub (first make sure the water doesn’t leak) in case you need it for cooking, washing dishes or flushing the toilet.
To flush the toilet, add the water to the tank to refill. Water efficient toilets take less water and time.
9. Take precautions in high-rise buildings
Living in a high-rise building during a power outage is like living in isolation in a cave. The building may have a 24-hour diesel generator to keep the hallway and stairwell lights on. If you want to leave, do so within 24 hours of the outage because being in the stairwell is a nerve-racking experience when it is pitch-dark.
The elevators and security fobs may not work and you may not be able to get your car out of the garage.
The higher floors may run out of water within ten minutes of the outage, and then eventually the whole building might not have water. This means no drinking, cooking, flushing toilets or having showers.
10. Keep your pets warm
Wrap a towel around your aquarium tank so that the tropical fish don’t die from the cold, and keep your pets warm.
Sharolyn Mathieu Vettese
SMV Energy Solutions