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7 Preparedness Tips for Unexpected Power Outages

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You’ll enjoy winter more when prepared for unexpected power outages.

By James Brainard Posted Dec 15, 2015

Fallen Power line

Well, it is that time of year again. Thanksgiving is a heartbeat away and Christmas is right around the corner. Aside from being great holidays, they are markers that winter is a moment away. Sometimes it is hard to remember that with the holidays so close, the soon to be frigid temperatures will bring more than good cheer. In our family, right after Thanksgiving, we run down the winter checklist to make sure we are ready for what is sure to come.

#1. Secure stored food

Make sure that all food you’ve carefully canned and stored is in a place that will not freeze. It’s easy to forget that case of green beans you may have left in the garage (also known as the giant freezer during the winter) can turn into bean pudding when thawed, so it is best to move it to a spot where it won’t freeze. Stored fruits such as winter-keeper apples will spoil even in a brief freeze, and will also spoil if you move them to a heated room. Look for cool spots, such as an insulated pantry or unheated interior space in your home.

Canned goods are easy to overlook, but where there is moisture there is vulnerability to spoilage from freezing. Freeze-dried/dehydrated foods, such as the Nuvona line, can withstand periodic freeze-ups. These foods are commonly used in preparedness kits.

#2. Drain water spots vulnerable to freezing

Make sure that all hoses are drained of water and unhooked from the faucet. Freezing a hose itself isn’t a tragedy, but if the water in the hose is full up to the hose bib, it could cause even a freeze valve to pop! A mess you don’t want to have to deal with, especially in the winter.

Clear your eaves troughs of autumn leaves and debris that collects at the drain basket. When this material freezes it can crack or break the basket ribs. Check the ends of downspouts to ensure a clear drainage path, and look for obstructions which might cause puddling.

Do you have a drip-irrigation system in your garden? If your lines are not buried, consider pulling the lines up, draining them, and leaving them coiled at the ends of each bed. Detach the inlet hoses to ensure drainage.

#3. Keep a stock of spare fuses

Take a look at your fuse panel and write down the sizes and get a spare for each fuse. If you have a breaker panel, make sure you know where it is and that you have clear access to it. An adhesive, push-button light mounted just above the panel makes it easier to see what you’re doing without the hassle of locating a flashlight in the dark. If you have a separate panel light already in place, check the battery.

#4. Keep your freezer full

Surprisingly, a full freezer is more efficient than one that is not. The thermal mass of everything frozen inside will help keep the temperature down on its own if you have lost power. If you don’t have enough food to fill your freezer, use water bottles or jugs (only 3/4 full to allow room for expansion when frozen). Use clean drinking water – they can also be emergency water if a pipe bursts and the water supply has to be turned off. You can also transfer the frozen water jugs into the refrigerator to help it keep cool in the event of a power outage.

#5. Provide for temporary cooking and heating

If you have a gas stove, you might be able to use it for a heat and cooking source if you can ignite the gas burners manually. Check it out before you need it! Our gas cook stove is relatively new, so it is full of safeties and interlocks that will not let us turn the gas on unless we have power. In our home we get around that by using our Kodiak Solar generator. When the power is out, we just plug the stove into our generator and the stove has the power it needs to turn on. Heat and cooked food – both a good thing! We also use the solar generator to power our electronics and TV (satellite TV still works in a widespread power outage), powering the receiver will power the dish and voila! You have TV in the midst of the blackout.

Another option is a flameless cooking system, such as the Barocook. Using water as an agent to activate the heat packs, the steam produced from heating reaches up to 240°F without any toxic fumes. Include it in your emergency preparedness kit for extended power outage situations. All Barocook flameless cooking systems are safe to use indoors.

#6. Provide for phone charging

Don’t forget that if you can’t charge your phone, you can’t use it. It’s a good idea to keep a couple of power banks fully charged and in a place easy to get to. The right small solar panel can give you a longer term charging solution, something to consider. You can also charge your phone using a hand-crank generator (this works for brief calls, it takes a lot of cranking to bring your phone to a full charge.) A SunBell will also charge your phone if there is sufficient sunlight. Your phone is light, entertainment, information, and communication… so keeping it fed and full is a great way of taking care of yourself.

#7. Lighten up!

Don’t forget lights. Flashlights have their place in your home, but for more than an hour or two, you need lanterns. The SunBell is a solar-powered lantern that delivers light in a wider area than a flashlight, and can also be used to recharge your cell phone. On a single 3 -4 hour charge, the SunBell provides 150 lumens (bright) for 5 hours, 50 lumens (medium) for 14 hours, and 5 lumens (dim) for an amazing 130 hours. The more common battery powered lanterns are widely available, of course, and can be powered using rechargeable batteries as well. These lanterns are safer for indoor use than their propane counterparts or candles and still provide modest light. There are many emergency lighting solutions out there, choose what suits you and make sure they have fresh batteries or are fully charged.

These simple preparations are an annual check in my home. We are ready for winter and what it can be expected to bring. No secrets here. Think about it, think about living without power during winter, decide what you want to do when power is down and provide the means to do it before the lights go out! A little preparation now goes a long way when it’s needed!

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James Brainard is an electrical engineer and co-founder of Inergy Solar. He is a self described “Solar Evangelist” and popular public speaker who’s favorite topic is off grid living. He is currently featured on an Indieogo video for his company’s portable solar generator, the Kodiak.
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  • Mega Blanket LLC

    A couple of things to add to the list, especially in case of a long term emergency.

    1. More water. Most do not have enough.
    2. Cash on hand. In case of an electrical grid going down you wish you had some.
    3. If you have pets, also consider their needs as well.
    4. Warmth. If you have no friends or family or if the outage is widespread, ensure you have enough blankets, clothes, coats, etc. to stay warm.

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