What to Do When the Power Goes Out in Your Home

Expert advice you'll be glad to know the next time wild weather takes out your electricity.

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What to do in a power outage - lit candle
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What to Do in a Power Outage

Confirm the Power is Out

While this may seem obvious, you want to make sure you didn’t just blow a fuse or burn out a lightbulb.

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Holding flashlight in the dark
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Find a Light Source

Take advantage of any daylight or phone light you might have to locate flashlights and candles. While the flashlight on your phone is great, you’re going to want to conserve phone battery for emergencies, so it isn’t a good long-term solution.

Find out how to prepare for a natural disaster as a family.

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what to do during a power outage - Close up of girl hands using smart phone on power outage with candles at night on a desk at home
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Report the Outage

This way your electricity provider is aware of the situation and can begin to fix the outage. Never assume a neighbour has already called it in!

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What to do in a power outage - hand pulling plug from wall socket
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Unplug Electronics

Power surges can damage your sensitive or expensive appliances and electronics. And when the power comes back on, having too many large appliances plugged in could trip your electrical breakers. Worse, you might forget you had something like the oven on, which could pose a safety hazard if the power comes back on overnight or while you are away. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

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what to do during a power outage - Open refrigerator in dark modern kitchen
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Keep Your Fridge and Freezer Closed

Your food will stay coldest (and safest) if you keep the fridge and freezer closed while the power is off. Your refrigerator should maintain its cold temperature for about four hours without power. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours, but only 24 hours if it is half full.

Bob Gravani, member expert at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) and professor of food science at Cornell University, shares these tips to ensure food stays safely chilled:

Check the temp
Make sure you have an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. Your refrigerator should be at or below 4°C (40°F), and your freezer should be at or below -18°C (0°F). (Find out the best temperatures to set everything in your home.)

Use coolers
Have some coolers on hand to store refrigerated foods. Freeze containers of water (such as empty gallon jugs), as well as ice cubes and gel packs, ahead of time for use in coolers to keep food as cold as possible if the power goes out. If you can, plan ahead and find out where you can buy dry ice and block ice.

Err on the side of caution
When in doubt, throw it out. If at any point food is above 4°C (40°F) for two hours or more, throw it away. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe or depend on appearance or odour. Food in the freezer that still has ice crystals can be refrozen or cooked, but if you’re unsure, it’s better to toss it out. Eating food not kept at the proper temperature may cause illness even when thoroughly cooked.

Stock the pantry
Keep a three-day supply of nonperishable food that doesn’t require refrigeration or cooking, such as canned goods and boxed milk. And don’t forget to buy enough bottled water.

Find out 14 things you should never do during severe weather.

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Pile of warm blankets
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How to Stay Warm

What to do in a power outage during the winter? Well, the most important thing, if it’s cold outside, is to save what heat you have in your home.

Cover windows and doors with blankets, or tape plastic over them, to keep out drafts and to slow down the cooling process inside your home.

Choose a warming room
One room is much easier to keep warm than multiple rooms, so choose a “warming room.” This is a room that you will spend your time in until the power comes back on. The best room is the one that’s small and has the fewest windows. Have everyone in your household bunker down in this room, including pets. Body heat will help keep the room warm if you keep the door closed.

Bundle up
Make sure to bundle up with blankets and hot water bottles. If you have a camping tent, setting it up as your warming room in the middle of the living area or in a bedroom is a great idea too. Tents are designed to trap body heat, and they’re small, so they don’t take long to warm up.

Be safe
Whatever you do, do not use gas ovens, grills or heaters to keep warm. These can cause a buildup of noxious gases in your home that can be deadly.

Here’s what every first aid kit needs to include.

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Filling bathtub
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Water Problems

Making sure your water is safe is important too. When the power goes out for you, it might also be out for the municipal water treatment center, so you may not have water for long. You can stock up on water by filling up your bathtub.

Power outages at water treatment plants can also mean that your water may become unsafe for both you and your pets. “Even though the water coming from the tap looks clean, it could be unsafe to drink. Check with local authorities to see if there is a boil alert in effect,” says Diane Vukovic, author of Disaster Preparedness for Women. If you have a gas stove, Vukovic advises bringing the water to a full rolling boil for one minute or, if you live at an elevation of 6,500 feet or more, three minutes.

If your home uses well water, you likely won’t have water until the power comes back on. The best way to get your water back is to hook your well pump up to a gas-powered generator. Installing a permanent backup generator is a good idea to keep water flowing during outages in the future. You may also want to research if your well system can support the addition of a manual pump that can be used without electricity.

How well do you remember your emergency response training? Take our first aid quiz and find out.

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What to do in a power outage - dripping faucet
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Save Your Pipes

Your home can be at risk without electricity too. During cold weather, pipes can easily freeze and burst if the home isn’t heated. To prevent pipes from freezing, turn on all the cold water faucets in the house so they are dripping. Just this little bit of water flowing can prevent pipes from freezing solid.
“However, this isn’t a good solution when water outages are also a concern,” notes Vukovic. “You’ll need to completely shut off your water at the main and drain water in the pipes (collect it in clean buckets and pots so you can use it later). Also, drain your water heater so it doesn’t crack. To protect your drainage system, you can put antifreeze in the drain traps below sinks, toilets and washing machines.”

Don’t miss these natural disaster survival tips from a Red Cross volunteer.

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Phone with emergency powerbank
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Power Up

You can keep your electronics powered during an outage with a few simple devices. A power bank the size of a deck of cards can be charged up before an outage, or a solar charger can keep phones juiced up with energy from the sun. For larger items, you can use a power station to power fans, small heaters and laptops. Some power stations can even be used with small solar panels to keep them charged for as long as you need them.

Now that you know what to do in a power outage, take a look back at the worst snowstorms in Canadian history.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest