Super storms like Sandy, major floods and other natural disasters remind us of the devastating impact a long-term power outage can have on a community. But it doesn’t take a major disaster to take down the power—and make life difficult—for days. A basic winter storm with heavy snow and ice can do the trick, too.
“Extended power loss in the wake of a storm or natural disaster can be as damaging and threatening as the disaster itself,” cautioned Ed Del Grande, a master contractor and nationally syndicated home improvement expert. “Food spoiling in the refrigerator or an uncomfortable temperature in your home may be the least of your worries. When the power’s out, your home’s sump pump won’t work and could cause flooding. A home-based business could lose important data and days of operations. And family members with special needs may be especially affected.
With winter rapidly approaching, it makes sense to prepare your home and family to face a potential power outage.
Have a plan that covers how you will evacuate your home and neighborhood, if necessary, an established meeting place if you lose contact with loved ones, and a list of important phone numbers such as doctors, family members, etc.
Prepare an emergency kit using a backpack or a large plastic bucket with a lid. Stock it with three days’ worth of nonperishable food and water, a flashlight with extra batteries, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio, battery-powered clock, first aid kit, cash, medications and a CD or USB drive that contains digital copies of important documents. Store your kit in a secure location that you can get to easily in case of emergency.
If you’re ordered to evacuate, do so immediately. If you’re able to ride out the storm in your home, turn off and/or unplug major appliances like water heaters, stoves and air conditioning units. Unplug electronics like TVs and PCs, microwaves and stereos. This will help prevent damage to appliances and avoid overloading the system when the power comes back on. Leave just one light on so you’ll know when the power is restored.
Never connect a portable generator directly into the electrical system of your home; electricity could flow backward into the power lines, endangering lives. Plug appliances directly into a portable generator using properly rated extension cords. Make sure the portable generator is properly vented to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never bring a portable generator into your home, garage or on a porch. Keep it outside with plenty of ventilation at all times.
To keep your home up-and-running during a power outage, consider permanently installing a standby generator before trouble arrives. While portable generators can power one or two appliances, a standby generator can supply power for your whole house. A professional installer can place a standby generator outside your home; it looks similar to a central air conditioning unit and runs on natural gas or propane, using existing gas lines. When the power goes out, the standby generator automatically turns on to power critical and sophisticated appliances and systems such as heating and cooling, lights, refrigerators, sump pumps and home security systems. Look for a unit that offers clean, consistent power and can handle heavy loads. A generator that produces sub-standard power could damage sophisticated electronics like HD TVs, stereos and computers. A generator that struggles to handle heavy loads will be less efficient and may even fail in a pinch.
Choose a unit that can power up quickly, allowing you to keep your home functioning without interruption. A unit that powers up slowly may only handle a few circuits at a time, forcing you to choose between which essential appliance or system you’ll power up first.
Consider appearance, since a standby unit sits outside the home. Also, look for a unit that is corrosion-resistant—an especially important consideration for homes near water.