What to Do When the Power Goes Out
Here’s how to keep your home and family safe while you wait for power to be restored.
Whether you're dealing with a major winter blizzard, a summer hurricane, or a non-weather-related kind of event, being prepared to go without power for a time can mean the difference between an inconvenience and a whole lot of stress. Prep for potential power outages by keeping your mobile phone charged, your gas tank filled, and having carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup on each level of your home. Beyond that, the American Red Cross recommends keeping a three-day supply of non-perishable food on hand and at least one gallon of water per person per day. Finally, have a Plan B in place for family members who require electricity for medical reasons. Follow the lists below for what to do when the power goes out, so you're prepared for power outages whenever they happen.
What to Do When the Power Goes Out
- Gather flashlights. Do not use candles for light or warmth, as they are a serious fire hazard.
- Preserve perishables. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food in an unopened fridge should stay cold for about four hours. A half-full freezer should keep the temperature for 24 hours and a full freezer for about 48 hours.
- Pack a cooler. If the power outage seems like it may last longer than the fridge and freezer time limits above, pack food in a cooler with plenty of ice.
- Monitor food temps. Use a thermometer in the fridge, freezer, and/or cooler to track food temperature. Toss anything that has been exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two hours or more. Also, discard any food with a questionable odor, color, or texture. Live by the mantra, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
- Leave non-perishables for last. Plan to eat the perishables from the fridge before using food from the freezer. After that, move on to non-perishable foods.
- Safeguard electrical items. Turn off and unplug electrical appliances and equipment (think computers, air conditioning units, etc.) to protect them from potential power surges. Leave just one light turned on so you can tell when the power comes back.
- Practice generator safety. If you’re using a generator, make sure that it is set up outside and well away from windows. Never use generators, outdoor stoves, or heaters indoors.
What to Do When the Power Goes Out in Summer
- Find the coolest spot. Gather family members and pets in a basement or other cool location, if available. The lowest level of a house is usually the coolest.
- Dress to keep cool. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
- Block out heat from the sun. Close curtains or blinds in sunny areas of the house.
- Encourage air flow. Open windows in rooms out of direct sunlight or use a battery-powered fan to increase airflow.
- Cook outside. Use an outdoor grill to prepare food.
- Escape the heat. Spend the hottest daytime hours in an air-conditioned public place, such as a mall or library. Consider relocating to a local emergency cooling shelter if it is too hot to stay in the house.
What to Do When the Power Goes Out in Winter
- Layer up. Dress in multiple layers of clothing to maintain body heat. Wear a hat and mittens, if necessary.
- Gather in one room. Choose one room—ideally a smaller room with few windows—and have family members meet up there with a pile of cozy blankets and sleeping bags.
- Minimize drafts. Use rolled up towels to lessen drafts around windows and exterior doors.
- Skip the stove. Never use an oven or stove to heat your home.
- Circulate warm(er) air around pipes. To help prevent pipes from freezing, keep household cabinet and bathroom vanity doors open to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures.
- Run some water. Let a trickle of water run, preferably from a faucet that is supplied by exposed pipes, such as those on an exterior wall. (It’s also helpful to know where your main water shut-off valve is in case a pipe bursts and you need to cut off the water supply.)
- Know when to go. If it’s safe to leave the house and travel, consider going to a local emergency warming shelter or other heated location.