There you are in the bathroom, brushing your teeth and getting ready to turn in for the night. Your wife is already in bed reading her book. And then, without warning, the lights go out. With a mouth full of toothpaste, you poke your head out of the bathroom and look in your wife’s general direction as if she just killed the breakers from her cozy spot in bed. So it’s 10:30 PM and the whole neighborhood just went dark, what do you do?
First, you would probably grab a flashlight (that is hopefully handy and the batteries aren’t 12 years old) and go check the breakers to see if it’s just your house or not. If those look good, on to step two – calling your power company. Hopefully their number is saved in your phone or posted near the house phone so you don’t have to search for it. The power company is probably very aware of the situation already, but give them a call anyway and let them know that your power is out so you’re “on the list.” Or in the count, at least. Do this while you’re on your way to get your Blackout Kit.
What is a blackout kit?
If you don’t already have a blackout kit, you should put one together. It’s basically the items you would need in case of a power outage. At least the initial stages of the outage.
- Flashlight with good batteries
- Extra batteries
- Oil lamps
- Gas lantern (Coleman fuel, unleaded gasoline) or
- LED battery powered lantern
- AM/FM Radio, battery powered
These are some of the items you would keep all in one place. If the power goes out, you’ve got everything you need (basically, of course) right there and ready to go. That is a lot better plan than having to search for what you need all over the place when it is least convenient.
You can buy fairly inexpensive emergency lighting also and that really makes life easier in these situations. I have found them on Amazon as well as good ol’ fashioned physical brick and mortar stores. I am talking about the kind that plug into a wall outlet and when the power goes out, the lights kick on. So you place them in strategic places around the home like one in every room, one in the hallway, a bathroom, etc. A lot of them double as emergency flashlights as well. So the power goes out in your home, you can go over and pull one of these out of its outlet and use it as such.
Picture this: you are carrying a baby down the hall to put her in her crib when all of a sudden, the lights go out. You may have a blackout kit in your garage and a flashlight in your bedroom, but you’re halfway down the hallway with a baby in your arms. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to at least have these little backup lights kick on when you’d otherwise be walking in the dark and maybe stubbing your toe on something? It’s not a life or death thing, it’s a convenience thing. Or maybe you were at the top of the stairs when the power went out, then it may be a little different! But they are nice to have.
Heating during a power outage
Things can get a bit tricky, or downright deadly, if this is an outage in the middle of January. If your heating runs on electricity, then you should have some kind of backup heating options. Let’s face it, many of the power outages are a result of winter storms. A big one, Juno, just hit New England states and dumped 30 plus inches of snow. If your power was out for a week and it was 20 degrees outside, would you feel very secure or comfortable without a backup heat source? There are so many options out there, it’d be crazy not to have something. Wood stoves, kerosene heaters, propane heaters, something… There are even some do-it-yourself heaters that you can make using terra cotta planting pots and a candle. They’re kinda cool. If you have wood heat, you’re probably not going to be uncomfortable. (And if you do have a wood stove, do you have seasoned firewood?) But if you only had one heater, then that’s a different situation. You could close yourself in a room with your heater and then you’re only heating that one room. ***A word of caution, if you are using kerosene or propane (or any combustibles), open a window a little bit or you could asphyxiate yourself and die because of the fumes. Another option is to just bury yourself in blankets or make a little fort that traps your heat. It is more efficient to heat yourself than an entire room or house.
How about cooling?
Some outages happen in the summer too, don’t they? Late June 2012, West Virginia saw more than half a million homes (homes, not people) lose power for weeks because of lightning storms. WEEKS! It being a hundred degrees outside, those in WV weren’t worried about keeping warm, they wanted to be cool. That can always be dangerous for the very young and very old. But what was happening to everything in their refrigerators and freezers? Everything was going bad. In every house without a generator anyway. We talk about stocking up on food here and West Virginians, for the most part, do pretty well at that. They are pretty self-reliant. But a big problem we saw in 2012 was food going bad because a lot of it was freezer/refrigerator food, instead of dry goods and canned foods. We saw folks in food lines getting handouts because all they had had been wasted in the hundred degree heat. Most people can stand being hot, food will not last long though. Imagine being a garbage man after that, when half a million homes empty their refrigerators and freezers into the garbage for you to take away. Ugghhhh! That’s a day you’d want to quit, huh?
You plan to cook, don’t you?
If the power is out for any length of time, it is safe to assume that you’ll still want to eat. Maybe the first day, you could eat tuna out of the can and a bag of chips, but eventually you’ll want a meal. If you have a gas stove or cook with wood heat, you’re in pretty good shape. If you don’t, you still have options. How about a camp stove? It could be propane or white gas (Coleman fuel), it isn’t a big investment and it’s a portable stove! Mine is actually a “Duel Fuel,” which means I could run Coleman fuel or unleaded gasoline through it. In a pinch, no white gas on hand? Get the gas can. No gas can? Siphon a few ounces from the car and we’re up and running. Really, it should never come down to that. If you have a Coleman stove or lamp, you should have some white gas on hand. And if you have a lawnmower, you should have a gas can, with gas in it! But you live in an apartment, get a gas can anyway! What are they, $15 at Walmart? Get one! And if your wife (or husband) ever calls you saying “I ran out of gas,” you just scored some big points by being there with a gas can instead of her calling triple A. BIG POINTS!
Other power options…
If you drive a car, you’re sitting in your own generator. That is, if you you have a power inverter. An inverter converts (inverts?) the 12 volt DC battery power to AC power. If you have a 1,000 watt power inverter, you can hook it it up to the battery in your car, with the car idling (not inside a closed garage!), and you have power. You can plug your freezer into it for maybe 30 minutes every couple hours and that will keep your food frozen. The same with your fridge or anything you want to run. Almost. No air conditioners or microwaves. But most things that don’t pull too much electricity. Stay tuned, I will write up a post on this soon.
So you see, there are options. Just get the stuff together now. Don’t wait until the nightly news says the storm is going to hit tonight. We see that all the time, don’t we? Here comes a big winter storm and people panic and buy the stores out of everything; food, heaters, fuels, gas, firewood bundles. If you have this stuff before you need it, you won’t get caught up in that mess and the crowds. And you also wouldn’t be buying supplies in a panicked mode. People that do that usually buy more than they need and don’t leave any for others.
I will go deeper into the subject of alternatives or supplemental options for the energy system soon. But this is a good start. If you take some ideas from here and put them to work in your life, your dependence on the power company can be reduced, especially when it fails.
Let us know what you think and some of your own ideas in the comments below. And don’t forget to sign up to get new post notifications from Sick of the System!
Until next time,