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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Be Prepared: Winter Power Loss

Be Prepared: Winter Power Loss

For most of the year, power outages are a minor inconvenience at worst, or even, depending on how you look at it, a respite from the unrelenting incursion of technology into every aspect of our lives. A power outage in the summertime can provide a good excuse to cook outside or sit out and look at the stars.

In the winter, though, when you rely on your power to keep you warm, an outage can be much more serious. That’s why it’s vitally important to prepare in advance for the loss of electricity, and to know how to keep yourself, your family, and your home safe.

Stocking Up
Make sure that you are well supplied with flashlights, candles, matches, spare batteries, a battery-powered radio, food, a camp stove with bottled fuel, a manual can opener, bottled water, plenty of warm, dry clothing and blankets, a back-up heating source, and plenty of heating fuel. Puzzles, games, books, and other low-tech entertainment will also be a welcome distraction, especially if there are children or teens in the home.

Keeping Warm
If the power-outage is short-lived, you may be able to get by with just the heat stored up in your home, some blankets, and a few layers of warm, dry, loose-fitting clothes. Don’t forget a hat and, if the temperatures really drop, some mittens and a scarf for good measure.

After a few hours, though, things may start to get uncomfortable, especially if the temperatures outside are exceptionally low. If your home is sufficiently weatherized, with adequate insulation, weather stripping around door, and good, energy-saving windows, it will take longer to reach this point. Eventually, though, even the hardiest will need to warm up with a fire or space heater. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, ensure that it is in safe working order. If you do not have a fireplace or wood stove, purchase a non-electric space heater and keep it in an accessible location. There are many varieties available, and most run on propane or kerosene. No matter what your emergency heating source is, be sure that you have enough fuel on hand to use it for several days, if need be.

While they can be a lifesaver, these forms of heating are also risky. Be sure to keep flammable materials well away from your heater or fireplace, and to properly ventilate the area so you don’t succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The most efficient plan of action during an outage is to choose one room to heat, then seal off the rest of the house.

Preventing Blow-Outs
When a home loses heat, the biggest threat is to the plumbing. Exposed pipes can easily freeze up and burst. The problem is compounded in rural areas that are dependent on well water. City residents can easily leave a trickle of water running to safeguard against frozen pipes, but a home that’s dependent on an electric well will be without running water for the duration of the outage. The easiest and most important step you can take toward protecting your pipes is to wrap them in insulation or, barring that, layers of newspapers covered in plastic wrap. If pipes do freeze, remove the insulation, turn on all faucets, and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold. You can use a camp stove to heat the water. In the absence of running water in your home, use melted snow. If you discover frozen pipes after the power has returned, a hair dryer is a great way to get things moving again.

Food Safety
If you know a bad storm is on the way, set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. If you do not open the doors during a power outage, the food inside of a full refrigerator will stay cold for up to 24 hours. Items in a packed freezer will stay frozen for 48 hours, or 24 hours if it is only half-full.

If the outage goes on for more than a day, you can save some food by storing it in a cooler, or even burying it in the snow outside, if the temperatures are cold enough (consistently below 40° F). If bagged ice isn’t available, snow can also be used to fill a cooler.

Other Considerations
If you know your water doesn’t work without electricity, it’s a good practice to fill your bathtub with water before every big storm. That way, you’ll have water for washing and other necessities available throughout any outages. If you need to flush the toilet, but the well isn’t working, just pour a pail of water (bottled water, melted snow, or water from the bathtub) into the bowl to make it flush.

If you have an electric garage door opener, make sure you know how to disable it so you can get your car out, if need be.

It’s also a good idea to unplug appliances, such as computers, microwaves, TVs, DVD players, stereos, etc., to protect them against potential power surges once the electricity returns.

If you prepare, and follow these safety rules, losing power in the winter will seem no more difficult than a camping trip.

16 comments

1 Bob Boland { 02.20.14 at 9:08 am }

You must be certain to ground your generator frame. If not you are subject to being killed. I take two alligator clips and attached them to the ends of an extention cord. I suggest the best place to locate the generator is a the base of the incoming power to your home. You can clip the ground to the ground rod where your home electrical system is grounded .

2 John { 02.19.14 at 10:43 am }

Whether winter or summer outage, save up some large yogurt and Ricotta cheese containers. When a storm is on the way, fill them with water and freeze them. When power goes out, transfer most to ‘fridge and keep some in freezer. That will extend cooling time of each. Plus they could be used for a cooler to lessen opening of fridge and freezer. It works.

3 Paul Ruth { 02.19.14 at 10:01 am }

North central Ohio many days and nights well below zero I have had a portable 5000 watt gen. for many years, powers essentials via correct gage power cords.No problems this year “yet”. Toledo Edison does a super job in their maintaining lines and tree trimming.

4 Sandy { 01.27.14 at 7:28 pm }

During an ice storm -I had people tell me they used their outdoor solar lights at night inside for their lighting & put them outside during the day to rejuvenate. Another tip I read about was to use flower pots (2) smaller & large to fit over a metal loaf pan filled with 4 small tealights to make heat–2 -3 might make one room a little warmer–will last about 4 hrs..another helpful was to use a metal coffee container for cooking -use toilet paper w/o the cardboard middle & use the higher rubbing alcohol to soak the paper–put a metal rack on top to cook with–I’m not sure about cooking indoors with this-maybe outside but still it beats nothing..which we had during the ice storm..Thank goodness for my brother & his wife during this storm!

5 Neal { 01.27.14 at 4:25 pm }

I was recently in a Johnson’s hardware store in western Washington and noticed several indoor propane heaters for sale. Must be something new as i’ve never seen them before.

6 Jaime McLeod { 02.11.13 at 1:18 pm }

Illianna – no, it is not safe to use a gas oven as a heat source.

7 Illianna { 02.08.13 at 3:14 pm }

Can you use a match and leave a natural gas oven open and on low to provide heat if needed?

8 ami { 02.23.12 at 1:32 am }

Keep in mind there are gas heaters that are permanent fixtures to your gas line in the house. Mr Heater is a popular brand which we own one and placed on the wall in the basement under heat duct. Since heat rises it actually warms the house. Works without power! Most have electric blowers but not needed to run. They are ventless as well. Advice with them though while inexpensive its best to have a pro install it so its done correctly and safe.

9 Jaime McLeod { 02.22.12 at 4:08 pm }

Linda,
Yes, a gas range will work in a power outage, as long as you light it with a match. It’s probably not a good idea to use it as a heat source, though, at least not in the long term. Huddling around it while you cook up a nice pot of soup or boil some water for tea or cocoa isn’t such a bad idea, though.

10 Carmen { 02.22.12 at 3:55 pm }

Some of this is good information no matter what climate you are in. Summer outages here in AZ are as dangerous as the winter ones back home in VT. Food, Water, candles, good-old-fashioned lamp oil lamps-the glass kind (love ‘em). Except the summer hot is hard to resist in a different way without electricity. Tie your house up tight either way… insulate, close gaps in windows, hold in (or out) as much heat as possible. And I say 2 gallons clean drinking water in your emergency kit (or 1/person or pet).

11 Jenn { 02.22.12 at 1:37 pm }

Yes, we are always well prepared. I will even make easy, healthy, carb and protien filled foods ahead of time that do well being heated up on the wood stove. We have a wood stove inthe basement to help with cold pipes and to heat the home from the frame/ground up as well as a wood stove in our first level. We go without power so much out here that I have a way of doing things when we know a storm is on the way. All laundry is washed, dried and put away (the first few years living here I ended up having to do laundry in big pots on my wood stove and hanging it). All my dishes are cleaned,dry and put away. I always have a huge stock of candles and platters to place them on for transort from room to room. We have a generator and have figured out how to use it to heat up our hot water in the tank and run the well pump. We always take a run to the gas station a few days before a predicted storm and fill up the tanks to run the generator. And last, because it takes so much fuel to run the gen to heat the water if we need it….everyone in the house gets a shower right before the storm hits. We have been without power for as much as two weeks straight to as little as a few hours. Almost always, we are prepared. One more thing we do, as well as the garage doors you mentioned…..anyone with a long drive way, if you ever think you may need to leave your yard, park a car AT THE END of the drive way so if trees or lines go down you can still get out. We learned that the hard way one year.

12 margie { 02.22.12 at 1:31 pm }

Well north tx don’t have to worry about that cause we didn’t have a winter. And not exspected to have a winter blast come through. Maybe next year

13 Linda S { 02.22.12 at 1:28 pm }

I never know if natural gas appliances still function during a power outage. I know my range has electronic ignition but if I can get it lit won’t if function as a source of heat if neccessary?

14 Jeff Cappe { 02.22.12 at 10:17 am }

Just a though. A wind-up radio/flashlight can be operated for the duration without any batteries.

Question, How do you use a space heater in well ventillated area without lettin gthe cold air in? I think this should be described in greater detail. Most people don’t understand this concept and therefore several shelter in place survivalists die every year from CO poisoning.

Otherwise, good info. Thanks a lot.

15 petra { 02.22.12 at 9:39 am }

Thank you, that was helpful

16 mickey davenport { 02.22.12 at 9:12 am }

REALLY????????????????????

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