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Power Problem: 14 Important Things to Do When the Power Goes Out

Girl writing messages on a phone in the night sitting on a couch in the living room at home

In 2017, over 36 million Americans experienced some type of power outage. And that number might continue to go up in the coming years.

So if you haven’t had a power outage in your area recently, you should get prepared. Trying to figure out what you should do once the lights go out can be difficult.

That’s why we’ve put together this quick list of 14 important things to do when the power goes out.

So keep reading below.

1. Distribute Flashlights and Light Candles

Give everyone in the home their own flashlight. This will allow them to move from room to room without having to fumble around in the darkness.

You should also leave a few extra flashlights in main areas of the house, like the kitchen or the bathrooms. If you have battery operated lamps, set one on the back of every toilet and a few on the kitchen counters.

Candles and oil lamps are another good light source. But you should never leave these unattended, especially if you live with young children or pets.

You should also avoid walking around with lit candles. The movement could cause the candle to go out, and the fire can be dangerous if you trip or aren’t careful.

2. Call the Power Company

Once you have some light in your house, use a landline phone (if it has a cable) or a cellphone to call your power company.

You’ll be greeted by an automated recording in most cases, but listen to it. It should tell you why the power went out and how long it will take to get it back.

Don’t call the power company right after the power goes out. The automated message might not be available until 10 to 15 minutes after the fact.

If you can’t wait for information about the power outage, step outside for a moment. You might be able to see how much of the city has been affected.

3. Get in Touch with Your Family

If you have siblings, children, or parents who are away from home when you lose power, get in touch with them as soon as you can. Make sure they’re in a safe location.

The street lamps in your city may have also lost power. So depending on when the power went out, the streets might be darker than usual. This can make driving home dangerous.

Family members outside the house might want to stay where they are or head to a closer place (like a friend’s house) until you know more.

4. Unplug Your Electronic Devices

When the power does come back on, it can create a massive power surge. This can damage your electronic devices, and in some cases, you can lose irreplaceable files forever.

So make sure you unplug your computers, TVs, phone chargers, game consoles, etc.

5. Turn on the Emergency Radio

An AM radio station might be able to give you more information than your local news station. A station like this can give you emergency notifications if needed.

6. Fill the Sinks and Bathtub with Water

This might not be necessary if your power company estimates the electricity will come back on in an hour or two. However, if you aren’t sure how long the power outage will last and if a major storm is happening or on the horizon, you should fill the sinks and bathtub with drinkable water.

Why?

Extensive power outages can make your water sanitation system stop working. You’ll want to ensure you have plenty of drinking water available.

If you’re concerned your water is unsafe, you can also boil it to kill any bacteria.

7. Keep the Refrigerator Closed

Do your best to leave the refrigerator and freezer doors closed when the power goes out. If you don’t open the doors, the food inside can last about four hours. The food inside your freezer can last as long as 24 hours.

That said, if the power outage is a long one, you should start eating your perishable food first, especially the dairy products.

But once your food gets above 41 degrees, it’s time to toss it.

8. Find Alternative Cooking Methods

Unless you have a gas stove, you might have to find alternative cooking methods until the power comes back on. You can light gas stoves by turning the knob (just like normal) and starting a flame with a lighter.

Other cooking methods might include camp stoves or grills.

But never use these cooking methods inside the house. They can release a colorless and odorless gas called carbon monoxide. Breathing it in for too long can cause serious health conditions.

Always cook outside several feet away from your windows.

9. Know How to Stay Warm (In Winter)

Your heater will stop working during a power outage, so you’ll have to find other ways to stay warm during the winter.

One of the best ways to do this is to pick a room where your family and pets will all spend the majority of their time. Make sure the room doesn’t have any south-facing windows and bundle up in warm layers of clothing.

You can also cover the windows with blankets to trap the warmth inside. If you have a wood stove, use it. During the day, uncover any south-facing windows to let in the sunlight.

Line the doors and windows with towels to keep the heat from leaking through the gaps around the frame.

10. Know How to Stay Cool (In Summer)

Unless you live in a very hot location or unless you’re experiencing a heat wave, staying cool during the summer isn’t as necessary as staying warm in the winter.

But there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Don’t open the windows. That’ll only let the heat in. You can also buy bags of ice and place some on your feet, forehead, or anywhere else that’ll help you stay cool.

If the heat ever gets to a dangerous level, you might want to head out to a nearby mall or church that will have air conditioning.

11. Lock the Doors

If you have any pets, bring them inside and keep the doors locked.

Power outages mean home security systems are down, the house is dark, and the landline phones don’t work. This creates the perfect opportunity for thieves.

While the likelihood of something happening to your family is small, it’s always better to stay prepared and stay safe.

12. Keep Your Devices Charged

Although you can’t charge your phone (or other electronic devices) through an outlet, you should do your best to keep your cellphone charged at all times. This gives you a way to call the power company, get emergency alerts, research information about the power outage or storm, and call for help if you need it.

Keep a few fully charged external batteries in your home. Store them with your candles or flashlights so you know exactly where they are when you need them.

If you don’t have external batteries, you can also charge your phone in your car. You can also go out and buy external batteries if it’s safe to do so.

13. Find Ways to Entertain Yourself

You might be cut off from social media, video games, movies, and more for the duration of the power outage. So make sure you have a few other options on hand to entertain yourself, especially if you have young children.

For example, you can gather up some board games, tell stories with shadow puppets, play flashlight tag, hold a game of hide and seek, etc.

If you know your neighbors, you might also have a good time hanging out together and keeping each other company.

14. Turn on the Portable Generator

A portable generator can create enough power to run one large appliance and several lights at the same time. This means you can switch from your refrigerator to your heater and back again.

But remember, don’t run it inside the house. You don’t want to risk exposing you and your family to carbon monoxide.

If you don’t have a portable generator yet, buying one should be your next priority. There are a few different types, such as a portable diesel generator, so do some research and find the one that will work best for your home.

Important Things to Do When the Power Goes Out

One of the most important things to do when the power goes out is to stay calm. Focus on finding a light source (candles, flashlights, etc.) and gathering drinkable water.

With these tips, you’ll be able to safely make it through a power outage even if it’s a long one.

Concerned your worry will keep you up at night?

Make sure you take a look at this guide to learn the real reasons you can’t get to sleep.

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