Disasters: Power outages

Last updated 09feb24
Copyright 2005-2024 Ken Young (http://www.DinoDudes.com). All rights reserved.
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Short power outages

The problem is when the power goes off and comes back on. Power surges and brownouts can damage your expensive electronics.

Long power outages

Your refrigerator will keep things cold for a day IF NOBODY OPENS THE DOOR. You lose all the code when someone opens it. Tape the door shut so nobody forgets.

Your freezer will keep things frozen for up to 3 days IF NOBODY OPENS THE DOOR. You lose all the code when someone opens it. Tape the door shut so nobody forgets.

A chest freezer keeps things frozen for longer, and opening the lid doesn't let all the cold out.

Frozen food can be safely refrozen if it has visible ice crystals.

Cooking food just before it goes bad saves it.

A refrigerator can be turned into an icebox by putting ice on the top shelf.

A freezer can continue to keep things cold enough by putting in dry ice. Close the door on an obstruction so that the expanding carbon dioxide can escape and not push the door open. A skinny straw is a good choice. Locate stores that sell it before the power goes out.

Don't take chances with spoiled food. Document it, most homeowner's policies cover the loss.

Power for recharging your phone is likely available at libraries, schools, storm shelters and hotels. Bring a power strip so the whole family can recharge at once.

If you can afford it, spend a night in a hotel periodically. They are the most likely place to have power and hot water.

Extend the life of your phones by using airplane mode, economy mode, or turning it off and establishing "on times".

Big (widespread) power outages

Many gas stations will not be able to pump gas without electricity. The ones that can will have long lines and can run out between deliveries.

The water taps will start to lose pressure and run dry on the second day. The water company uses electricity to operate wells and pump water up into the water towers.

Natural gas will start to lose pressure and fail quickly.

Propane will sell out quickly.

Cell phone towers have backup power to last a few days.

Phones and computers will have no power, and charging their batteries will be a problem.

By the 10th day, most of the food will have gone to waste, and water & fuel will only be available as it gets trucked in.

The moral is to keep food, water, gasoline, and propane according to your needs.


Generators are great to have in long power outages.

Generators need at least 2 gallons of gasoline per day if operated intermittently to keep the refrigerator cold and charge batteries. You may need more gas than that.

A smaller generator uses less fuel, and powering more stuff uses more fuel.

Set up the generator outdoors and run a heavy-duty extension cord from the generator to a power-strip inside the house. You can plug the refrigerator and battery chargers into the power strip.

Generators produce "dirty" power. Do not try to run expensive electronics on generator power. Instead, use the generator to charge a UPS, and run the electronics off of the unplugged UPS. Some UPS units beep incessantly when you use them, so purchase wisely.

Do not drag the generator into the garage and run it there. Poisonous carbon monoxide will build up, even with an open door. This kills 60-70 people per year.

Do not use a double-ended plug to try to power your house unless an electrician did the installation. The generator will try to power up the neighborhood. This will electrocute linemen trying to restore power and possibly burn out the generator. The generator will likely be destroyed when power comes back on.

Gasoline only keeps a year, or 3 years with stabilization additives. After that you can use it in your car and buy new gas. Metal 5-gallon gas cans cost twice as much as the gas you put in them. Plastic cans cost half as much as the gas you put into them, but they smell like gas and everything they touch will smell like gas. Gas cans cannot be kept in your house or garage. Small gas spills can be deodorized by bleach or peroxide.

Liquid propane produces less power than an equal volume of gasoline.

Some generators can run on either gas or propane, doubling your opportunities to buy fuel if that is an issue.

Chain your generator to something solid with a heavy chain and good lock. There is a certain class of individual that drives around in pickup trucks during power failures, listening for the sound of free generators.

Solar power

There are two types of systems.

One type reduces your power bill, but does not power your house when the grid is down.

The other charges batteries during the day, allowing off-grid operation. But it cannot be combined with grid power. Also, if a storm is the cause of the power outage, charging will be limited.

"Solar generators" are a UPS charged by a solar panel. The solar panel is the expensive part. Some unscrupulous sellers do not disclose that their solar panel may be so small it takes several days to recharge the UPS. Storms can blow over the solar panel and clouds reduce the charging rate.

Battery banks store power for use at night, but are expensive and have a limited lifespan. Divide the cost by the expected lifespan to compute the monthly cost of ownership. It is very rare, but they can burst into flame, so should not be located inside the house or garage. To keep the problem in perspective, they are safer than storing gasoline or propane (which should also not be stored inside).

Medical devices

Get a UPS for your medical device that can power it for 12 hours and does not beep incessantly when the power is off. This will get you through the night with a little margin.

Use your generator to charge the UPS morning, noon, and night. If you are just charging your UPS and running your refrigerator, a small generator will do. Keep enough fuel on hand to meet your needs.

Every UPS has a limited lifespan. Buy a new one when your existing UPS is more than halfway through it's life. The new one will not "age" much until you start to use it.

Preparations you can make

Write down important addresses, phone numbers, and so forth. You may not be able to get into your phone or computer in a prolonged outage.

UPS protect all of your expensive electronics.

Plug a bright LED nightlight into your UPS to provide light for walking around when there is no power. Be aware that most UPS devices will beep annoyingly while providing emergency power.

Keep a flashlight with good batteries in every room. A battery powered LED lantern can be helpful. Rechargeable flashlights have limited utility because they are difficult to recharge in an emergency.

Keep at least one fire extinguisher in the house, the kitchen is a good place.

Many modern gas-powered appliances will not work without electricity. Most have a simpler and less expensive equivalent that does. Take this into consideration when selecting an appliance.

See also

Disaster Readiness    Cleanup afterwards 
Evacuation Misc tips

This information was downloaded from http://www.FamilyReady.org