What I learned From Losing Power 4 Times in 6 Months: Power Outage Preparations

No matter where I have lived, I have always experienced a loss of power at least once a year, maybe twice. 

But this year has been quite a bit different in that I have lost power on four separate occasions within six months. The power has gone out more than that if you want to count the times it went out for ten to fifteen minutes. 

However, I am concentrating on the times that lasted hours or days. 

We all like to think we are prepared, and that may be the case with some, but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the mix and our preparations slid backward. 

A good plan may be in place, but it is difficult to know how prepared we are until an event tests that plan. 

I wanted to discuss how this many power outages in such a short time frame allowed me to see things a little differently. 

Now, some of what I will be bringing up might be “old news” to some of you, but I hope that overall, everyone will learn something just as I did. 

Power Outage Preparations

The shortest power outage this year lasted about ten hours while the longest lasted roughly three days. 

I will be breaking down a few categories of popular preparations and ways to be ready for them. 

Food 

Losing power is a great reason for having a healthy stockpile of non-perishable foods

When the electricity stops flowing, the contents of a freezer or refrigerator may be good for up to three days. 

Of course, this is dependent on a couple of factors. The first is that the door to the appliance must remain shut. And the second is how many items are stored inside. 

In the event of a power outage, you want your freezer or refrigerator as full as possible with food items. You can think of the food within as “improvised ice bags” that will help to keep the temperature cool longer than an empty refrigerator. 

Losing the entire contents of a freezer or refrigerator is not only an annoying inconvenience but it can be a big hit to the wallet. 

Hundreds of dollars of food can easily be lost when this one appliance goes out for too long. That amount of money can double if you consider that many people also have chest freezers full of more expensive food such as choice cuts of meats and large family dinners. 

There are a couple of ways to combat this. 

Generators 

Installing a large generator or other alternative power sources, like solar panels, that can power most of the home is one of the best options. 

There are two main downsides to the above choice. They require a decent amount of space but primarily they are awfully expensive to install.

A more affordable option for the average person would be to purchase a small, portable generator and some heavy-duty extension cords.  

Because these generators burn fuel, they must be placed outside, but extension cords can be run through doorways or windows to the desired appliance. 

Lastly, it is not enough to have a generator, but you must have enough fuel to last the duration of an outage. 

Every time the power went out this year, it also took out the power to every local gas station. This meant no fuel could be pumped. Do not wait until the power goes out to get fuel because you may not be able to get any.

Coolers 

Everyone should have a set of coolers. If it is going to be a while before the power comes back on, food can be transferred to the coolers and covered with ice. 

When using this method expect to make several runs to the store or gas station for ice during the duration of an outage. Place hard, water resistant containers on the bottom of the cooler that will not be ruined by water from the melting ice.

I recommend having a set of coolers because one usually is not going to cut it. I have a modern side by side refrigerator and freezer that has less space in it than its predecessors. 

I also have one large cooler and I would estimate that maybe half of my refrigerator contents fit in the one cooler. 

Having a smaller handheld cooler is a good idea to have for someone who needs to keep medications refrigerated. By keeping the medications separated, it is easier to keep track of them, monitor/regulate temperatures, and keep them from becoming waterlogged from melting ice.

What I found out from this year was that the two coolers I own did not provide enough space to save all my perishable food. I will be looking into purchasing more. 

Use Nature

As the seasons change and become colder, we can use that change to help preserve food

It is generally recommended to set the temperature of a refrigerator to 37 degrees Fahrenheit and a freezer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You can take advantage of cold weather by placing food outdoors. This will help to preserve food that would otherwise spoil in the rising temperatures of an out of commission refrigerator. 

However, the food needs to be placed into containers that can be tightly secure, which will keep them safe from unwanted critters. 

If you are unsure when the power will be restored it may be to your benefit to move perishable food items outdoors and use mother nature’s refrigerator. 

Lighting

During this year of power loss, I ran into a few observations as it pertains to lighting in and around a home. 

Flashlights 

Almost everyone has at least one flashlight in their home not counting the light on their phone. 

While I do use the flashlight function on my phone it is by no means my go-to light source. If I am using the flashlight on my phone it is usually because I am looking for a regular flashlight

The reason for this is that a smartphone is a delicate and important piece of equipment. I do not want to risk losing my main source of communication because it broke while I was using it as a flashlight. 

Because of this, every member of a home should have their own handheld flashlight and each flashlight should have enough extra batteries to last several change-outs.

A few other options for flashlights are crank style, solar powered, or rechargeable. I enjoy the crank style lights but they do require regular effort to keep them going. The upside is that the only power source they are dependent on is you.

Having a portable light source such as a flashlight is also a security measure. We tend to forget how dark it gets outside when there are zero lights in use on other houses or buildings.

This darkness is compounded when going from indoors where an emergency light is being used, to the outdoors where there is no light.

For example, my wife took our dog outside to use “the bathroom” and she forgot her flashlight inside. At the same time, our son was walking around the outside of the house and she was completely startled because she did not see him until he was standing a few feet away. 

While this was a completely harmless act on his part there are those that would take advantage of such conditions. 

Candles

While more and more people are against using them, I still believe having a few candles available is a good thing.

I get it, candles can be messy, and they also pose a safety risk. But both are easily dealt with. 

In terms of the mess, have a designated container that the candle can sit in. So those decorative candles on the little metal stands are not going to cut it. 

An easy, homemade remedy for this is to place the candle in an aluminum can, like a soup or tuna can. This will help to contain the melted wax and keep the are less messy. 

In terms of safety, do not light so many candles you cannot keep track of them. Also, keep burning candles on a table in the center of the room. This will help to distribute light throughout the room and keep flames away from walls or other flammable material. 

The main reason I do not like having candles as a primary light source has to do with going to bed. I do not recommend, nor do I leave candles burning while everyone is sleeping, that is a disaster waiting to happen. 

As I write this, I can hear some people out there saying, “Why do you need a light source when you are sleeping? Just go to bed!”

The thing is that I do not need a light source while I am sleeping but for when I am woken up by various things in the dead of the night. Maybe the dog barked, or I need to go to the bathroom, or I am just restless. I find fumbling with matches in the dark to light a candle to be frustrating. 

However, it may not be just you that this affects. You could have small children or others in the home that are truly afraid of the dark or need to move around after being woke up. 

Candles are nice to have but they are not meant for bedtime.  Again, keeping candles lit while sleeping is not a good idea.  

Lanterns

There are two basic types of lanterns that I have used. Oil lanterns and battery/solar-powered lanterns

Oil lanterns have a large wick that draws from a reservoir of flammable liquid. I do like these types of lanterns because the size of the flame is easily controlled, and they can give off more light than a typical candle.

But like candles, they can be messy and pose a safety risk.

Many times, when the power goes out, most of the people in a home tend to gather in one location. Several flashlight beams bouncing around in a single room is annoying and does not light up the room very well. 

When an entire room needs to be lit up to serve multiple people for an extended period, a battery or solar-powered lantern is one of the best choices.  

Camp lights 

These are one of my favorite types of lights to have. While they come in different designs, my choice is the LED lights that are shaped like a regular lightbulb. 

The bulb that I have is connected to a cord with a USB connection on the end of it and is powered by my SunJack Power Pack

The last time the power went we started lighting a few candles and placing them on the coffee table in the middle of the living room. 

Once everyone was settled, I decided to pull out the camp light and hung it from the light fixture just above the coffee table. 

This was so much better than the several burning candles we had out. Not only was the light brighter but by allowing it to hang down from the fixture, it distributed light evenly throughout the room so that everyone could use it. Needless to say, after hanging this light up I blew out the candles. 

Temperature 

Luckily, regulating body temperature was not a huge problem during these outages. While the earlier outages happened towards the end of summer and it did get warm in my home, it was not unbearable. 

But it helped to highlight this issue should I lose power during an extreme part of the year. 

During the hotter months, I would like to invest in a few small fans that could run on a small power source. These fans could be placed in various rooms around the home that would help in keeping the temperature comfortable by circulating the air. 

During the cold months, a wood-burning or pellet stove does extremely well in keeping a home warm. But in situations where these cannot be had, extra layers of winter clothing and wool blankets should be stored. 

Backup Power 

I already mentioned generators, which are great options, earlier in the article so for this section I am concentrating on a much smaller power source. 

Most of us now depend on small handheld electronics like a tablet, smartphone, or computer and we certainly do not need a generator to power them. 

There are a lot of portable solar power packs available that are great for keeping our devices charged. 

I currently use a 14W Solar Charger and Power Pack by SunJack

This little product is great, and I have used it a lot this year. One night I used it to charge two smartphones, and when paired with a LED camp light it lit up the whole living room for an entire night. 

The initial cost of these solar power packs might seem a bit steep to some but given they can charge up a variety of devices I believe they are well worth owning. 

Even if the only device you use is a smartphone, I think it is wise to have a backup power source for it. Most people do not have landlines anymore and if that smartphone dies, then how are you going to call for help if you need it?

Communication

There is an interesting aspect to smartphones that I think many people do not consider. If the phone has power people think that it should work in terms of having service. But that is not always the case. 

During the worst storm this year, tens of thousands of homes lost power and other structures were affected as well. In this case, the local cell tower was damaged.

amateur ham radio
Amateur HAM Radio

My home modem was not operational which meant no Wi-Fi. When this happens, the solution is to turn on mobile data. But the data is dependent on a cell tower and ours was out. 

This pretty much brought the usability of our phones down to zero. 

Cell towers becoming inoperable does not happen all the time, but it is a possibility. Having alternative sources of communication is a must.

Alternative forms of communication can include sat phones, two-way radios, HAM radios, and an AM/FM radio for collecting information.

Entertainment

What I am about to recommend to you will stay true for the rest of time. 

Stock items in your home to entertain yourself and others that are NON-DIGITAL!

Kids, as well as adults, have become so dependent on their devices for daily entertainment that when that source is gone, they kind of do not know what to do. 

I have had a few discussions in the past with individuals that were completely converting their lifestyle over to a digital one.

They were cleaning out their homes and getting rid of all physical copies of books, music, board games, and movies.

On the surface I get it, why have all of that stuff when one device now serves as a one-stop place for books, movies, music, and games. 

And while some content can be downloaded onto a device, often, this content is stored in an online database or it requires an internet connection to work.

 So by in large, the device is only useful for those applications if internet access is available. 

Now, I am not standing up on a soapbox telling you that digital entertainment is evil. I have electronic devices just like anyone else. 

However, I am recommending to not replace everything in your home based on the tech that you have because the digital versions are far more susceptible to failure than a physical book sitting on a shelf. 

Keep a few physical, or analog if you will, items in the house for entertainment that do not require a power source or internet connection. A few items that I have found useful are:

  • Board games. This is a great option because several people can play.
  • A deck of playing cards. A simple deck offers a variety of games to play and many people can participate.
  • Stationary and writing utensils. Useful for making to-do lists, keeping a journal, write a letter to a friend, or simply doodle to pass the time.
  • Arts and crafts supplies. Offers a range of projects for all ages. 
  • Painting supplies. You never know, you just may be the next Van Gough.  
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils, and coloring books for the little ones.
  • Books. I love to read, and a couple of books have gotten me through many power outages.
  • Toys. A great distraction and they can keep the little ones busy for hours.
  • Puzzles. Losing little pieces in the dark is a very real frustrating possibility but puzzles can keep several people busy for quite some time. 

Wrapping It Up

Power outages, especially ones that can last for days, is a situation that people need to take the time to thoroughly think through. 

This is because their effects can be felt through almost everything that we do. Whether that be connecting with friends and family, getting work done, preserving food, cooking, safely regulating our body temperatures, calling for help, or simply keeping ourselves entertained. 

If you have never been through a power outage and are unsure of what is affected or how to prepare for it there is an easy exercise that may help open your eyes. 

Turn the main electrical breaker to your home off for half of a day or a full day. If you are uncomfortable with doing that, contact a professional that knows how. 

Once the power is off, use a notebook to keep track of everything that is affected that you do not have preparations for and how you can solve that problem. 

By doing this, it will throw you into a practice run and give you a particularly good idea of what to expect when the real thing happens. 

Thanks for reading and stay prepared!

What are some important lessons you have learned by going through a power outage? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.