What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Here’s how to keep your home and family safe while you wait for electricity to be restored.

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Whether you're dealing with a major blizzard, a fierce 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. Among the small steps you can take to prepare for an emergency, you ought to be ready for potential power outages. This includes 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 electricity 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 F 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 Electricity 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 Electricity 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.

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