A power outage is always an unpleasant surprise, but it can be an even bigger problem than normal in the winter. Wintertime power outages can mean dealing with serious situations like frozen pipes, downed power lines and the ever-present need to keep your own body warm.
Power outages might be unpredictable, but you can take steps to be ready if one happens. A well-prepared home will have essential supplies on hand and procedures in place to keep everyone safe if a power outage strikes. These six key tips will help you prepare your home and your family for wintertime power outages.
Keep radios and other communication devices charged and ready.
In a power outage situation, you need to be able to communicate with the world outside your home, particularly if you live in a rural or isolated area. Have a battery-powered radio with fresh batteries ready so that you can keep up with local news and catch any emergency broadcasts. Keeping wireless charger power banks on hand can give you an emergency charge on your phone when you need it the mostâ€”just make sure to get them fully charged before a storm hits.
Protect your pipes.
Extreme cold weather can present a major hazard to your water pipes. Pipes are often located in basements and other places that get very cold, which can cause the water inside them to freeze and the pipes to burst. A burst pipe can knock out your homeâ€™s water supply and potentially cause thousands of dollars in water damage, so take the threat seriously and protect your pipes.
If your pipes arenâ€™t insulated, pick up some foam insulation from the hardware store and wrap them up. During a cold snap, turn on faucets in your house and leave them running at a low trickle to keep water pressure low in the pipes. If youâ€™re leaving the house for an extended period when cold weather is in the forecast, leaving the heat on a little bit will help warm your pipes just enough to prevent freezing.
Have a plan for staying warm.
Although some older homes may have heat systems that stay on in an electrical outage (such as steam heat), most modern forced-air furnaces use a small amount of electricity to run. The current draw from most gas furnaces is low enough that a small generator can often provide enough power, although you should consult an electrician first to ensure that youâ€™re able to wire it safely. Generators should also be run outside to prevent the release of carbon monoxide into your home.
If your home is already equipped with a wood stove or fireplace, these offer excellent heat in a power outage, but theyâ€™re not exactly a plug-and-play solution. Kerosene or propane heaters can be a temporary fix, but they need to be used with a window cracked at all times and shouldnâ€™t be used for more than a few hours at once due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Heating using a gas stove, electric stove or cooking fuels such as charcoal is not safe and should be avoided.
If youâ€™re not using a generator, the best ways to keep warm during a power outage are the most old-school ones: Bundle up in insulated winter clothing and warm base layers, close off as many rooms in your house as possible, use hand warmers and burn some candles (but donâ€™t leave them unattended). Itâ€™s a good idea to invest in some sleeping bags in case a power outage happens at night as well.
Know how to preserve perishable goods.
A power outage will usually mean losing power to your refrigerator and freezer, meaning that your perishable goods might be in danger. If a storm is in the forecast and you think it might knock out your power, turn the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer to its coldest setting to lower the temperature as much as possible in case of a power outage. Then, if the power goes out, you can often preserve your perishable foods by keeping the refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible.
In a pinch, you can also throw perishables in a cooler and keep them cold outside for a few hours. However, be sure to bring them back in before temperatures warm up, and be aware that their smell may attract wild animals.
Be aware of hypothermia and frostbite.Â
The cold can throw all kinds of nasty conditions at you, including potentially life-threatening ones such as hypothermia and frostbite. To protect yourself and your family from these conditions, you need to know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and be prepared to take action.
Frostbite happens when the cold damages body tissuesâ€”usually the fingers, toes, ears and nose. The first signs are typically itching and a prickly feeling in these areas, followed by waxy, hard or discolored skin. Hypothermia is caused by the bodyâ€™s internal temperature falling too low and typically manifests as shivering, confusion, lethargy, shallow breathing and slurred speech.
The correct way to treat either of these conditions is by seeking professional medical attention. In the meantime, frostbite should be treated by gently rewarming the skin with warm water (but not direct heat), and hypothermia with warm blankets, hot drinks and warm compresses to the neck, groin or chest (but not other areas). In both cases, wet clothing should be immediately removed and substituted with dry clothing.
Be aware of electrical hazards.
Winter storms often take out power lines and other electrical infrastructure. If you go outside, be aware that downed power lines may be around. Assume that any line you see on the ground is live and avoid touching anything near a downed line. Your power company likely offers an emergency hotline to report downed power lines, so keep the number handy or call 911 in an emergency.
A power outage can be a big inconvenience, but by taking the right steps you can prevent it from turning dangerous as well. Basic preparations will help you protect your home and family during a power outage so that everyone can enjoy a fun and safe winter season.