What You Need For A Power Outage During Winter
A power outage (I should say power outages – plural) is one of the most common results of a severe winter storm. Heavy snow or ice accumulating on tree branches can rapidly weigh down trees until limbs begin breaking off, some of which may land on power lines and take them down too. Strong winds may accompany a winter storm and will also take down trees, wreaking havoc on the power grid.
The worse the winter storm, the more likely you will suffer a power outage.
Here is what you need for a power outage during winter:
You need to be prepared BEFORE the winter storm. Too many people are not prepared at all, or wait until hours before the onset of predicted weather. Don’t be one of them…
That aside, don’t panic, it’s not that difficult.
One of the big concerns is staying warm (it’s winter). The degree of magnitude here will depend on your climate and will depend on whether or not you’re going through a real cold stretch…
A house without heat will get cold rather quickly – depending on how well your home is insulated. Not only do YOU want to stay warm, but your water pipes inside the walls of your home need to stay above freezing. In my estimation, your water pipes will be okay for 24-48 hours without home heat (more or less depending on your outside temperatures) because it will take significant time for cold to penetrate fully (and this is assuming that the outside temperature is well below freezing). A power outage is typically restored within the time it might take to really freeze up a house.
Tip: If the temperature inside the house drops below freezing, turn on (slightly) every faucet inside the house so that water is trickling out into the basin. This will keep the water moving through the pipes and will slow down (or possibly eliminate) bursting pipes from frozen water.
That said, let’s talk about keeping warm. Without a furnace (needs electricity to run) you have very limited options – but you need to consider them. Obviously if you have a wood stove, you’re all set. Pellet stoves (nearly all) require electricity – so your SOL there… If you already have a generator installed such that it integrates with your electrical panel, then you’re all set – However if you have not planned well ahead, buying a generator the day before a winter storm will not necessarily enable your furnace (unless you really know what you’re doing and have electrical knowledge and experience).
You will need SAFE indoor heat, and/or you will need to wear warm clothes that you wouldn’t otherwise wear while indoors (e.g. ‘long johns’, layers, double socks, etc..).
The best safe portable heater that I’ve come across (and have for my own) is the Mr. Heater Buddy (propane). I’ve previously written an article about it:
Portable Heater For Winter Survival Preparedness
FLASHLIGHTS – LANTERNS
I would certainly hope that everyone has at least one flashlight in their home. But that’s not enough. Every member of the household needs a flashlight and you should also consider a few battery operated lanterns.
If you don’t already have a flashlight with LED technology, then you should make the switch. They stay lit for MUCH LONGER and the technology has come a long way during the past few years. There are many of them to pick from. Be careful though – many of them are cheap junk, and remember the saying – ‘you get what you pay for’.
I’ve written an article on one particular ‘best’ flashlight that fit my needs at the time:
A safe alternative to a traditional lantern is an LED lantern. They will provide LOTS of hours of light, and they’re perfect for simply setting on a table or hanging somewhere. Awhile ago I reviewed what I consider to be one of the best portable lanterns:
PORTABLE BATTERY OPERATED RADIO
With a power outage comes a sharp cutoff of outside information. A battery powered portable AM/FM radio will become a valuable resource to discover information on power outage restoration expectations, storm severity and impact, etc..
I’ve written a number of articles on portable radios. Here’s one which offers up several choices – any of which might interest you:
A Preparedness Resource: Portable AM Radio
Awhile ago I reviewed what might be the best ‘cheap’ pocket portable AM/FM radio:
Best Cheap Pocket Radio
EVERYONE should have a Weather Radio. A NOAA weather radio will provide advance warning to severe weather and is useful in winter and summer (all seasons). I have a number of reviews, one of which identifies several of the best weather radios:
Weather Radio Reviews
NON PERISHABLE FOOD
During a power outage, your municipal water supply should not be affected due to an abundance of gravity-fed water storage (tanks) and/or generators which will power the water pumps at the facilities.
However those of you (including me) who have well water, you WILL NEED a generator to power the pump (unless you’ve rigged up an alternative method to withdraw the water).
That said, it is ALWAYS a good idea to keep on hand an amount of drinking water storage.
Water Barrel Storage For An Emergency
Practical, Portable Drinking Water Storage Container
That said, you will need to eat. Do not open your freezer unless you expect the power outage to linger beyond 24 to 48 hours – at which time the food inside may be thawing (you will need to eat that food – or discard it). Eat any perishable food that may be in your refrigerator during the first 12 hours – otherwise these foods may become unsafe to eat.
You should stock up on non-perishable foods that do not require cooking or refrigeration. There are all sorts of food categories for this. One handy food type is (are) food bars. Many of them will have several hundred calories each, and are also convenient for a preparedness kit. Obviously canned foods are shelf stable. Use your imagination and common sense…
Note: You can eat most all canned foods without cooking them. It’s perfectly safe – although perhaps not as palatable. Got a manual hand can-opener?
A big part of basic preparedness is being in the habit of keeping plenty of food in the house and rotating through it on a regular basis. It is not difficult at all to build several weeks or months of food storage. During a power outage you can simply draw on your stored food.
Of course there are MANY more helpful items to get you through a power outage, but this article would turn into a book.The topics mentioned above should help get you through a typical short term power outage during the winter (Warmth, Lights, Radio, Food & Water).
You could drill down to the next level while considering alternate methods of cooking without electricity, recharging your cell phone without electricity, and more – but the key to power outage preparedness is simply being prepared ahead of time ;)
May I add a tip?
You don’t need to eat all your food in the refrigerator in a long winter snowstorm power outage. You can put your food in a cooler inside or outside depending on the temps outside, and pack it with ice or snow from the storm. If temps are below freezing outside, your frozen food won’t thaw. It also helps to use bottled water or icepacks to freeze them outside if temps are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.
I guess I am turning your article into a book ;-)
Great points! I often use a cooler or two out on the back deck during the cold months when we may have guests over and the fridge won’t hold all the food and leftovers ;)
Another idea is to pack snow into containers (e.g. Rubbermaid’s, Tupperware, large Ziploc bags?, etc..) and put them inside the fridge – which may help significantly, so long as you pack in enough to keep it cool.
sensible/obvious (I would have thought), but I recall during BIG winter storm in Toronto/Ontario, hearing on the news about all the folks asking for (and getting) food vouchers (from government) to replace food spoiled in fridges not working due to power outage. WTF?
Apartment living in many Government housing high rises would not have a place outside without it being stolen I assume.
So they steal food they can’t cook either. Might as well get the satellite dish while they’re at it.
Stardust, if it is such a huge Blizzard/Storm that electricity is off, and folks are putting their perishables outside in a bucket, I am suspecting that it is also too cold for petty thieves to be out stealing the food.
maybe even better,
pack snow into containers/put perishables (milk etc) in snow in container, then put back in fridge.
The more mass you have in the fridge/freezer, the longer it will stay cold (as long as you don’t keep opening the door!)
I usually put plastic bottles/jugs in the freezer if it isn’t full to help keep it cold. It will help keep the freezer and fridge cold and it can provide drinking water when they thaw.
How will you handle the cold in something like a nuclear winter that lasts for 12 months or longer? This is a real possibility. Also, consider the fact that there could be almost near total darkness( or close to it). Where would you get liquid water in such a long period of freezing weather? Frozen condensation would have brought down all electrical power lines.
Now that Iran is putting its ICBMs in Venezuela with Russian warheads on board, who is really safe? This is the Cuban crisis all over again. If you doubt this check it out before you comment.
@Nj, IMO, Ideally one would need a wood stove, a supply of firewood (preferably from one’s own land), a natural spring (a constant and renewing water source), and all the other SHTF preparedness supplies and know-how to survive such an Armageddon. It is certainly a topic (a good one) for another type of post/article, which differs from this one where we’re focusing on a short term (days) winter power outage… ;)
I actually have this article topic on my “to do” list (a ‘nuclear winter’ cause by any number of possible catastrophes such as the one you describe or from a Super Volcano, Asteroid/Comet strike…)
Here’s something to think about – how about a camp stove to heat water (and food) and a coffee percolator (or coffee press).
I’m sure that many of you enjoy a cup of coffee (or a few) during the morning or day. No electricity – No coffee. I know it’s simply a creature comfort, but imagining your life for a day or a few days without your comforts – may initiate ideas for alternatives…
*Use common sense while operating any camp stove indoors
Ken, I use a Jetboil Flash to make coffee during power outages. I also have Solo and Biolite wood stoves and an alcohol stove that I will use on occasion. I used to just suffer but got tired of being a victim at some point. I can pretty much make coffee or do minimal cooking wherever I go. On a road trip I will even make coffee in my vehicle. I spent like 6 months in 2012 in my motorhome on my brother’s land in NH. Off the grid, no hookups. After about 4 months my propane valve busted. It is an old camper and I had trouble getting the valve replaced. No problem though, I just made my coffee quickly and easily on my Jetboil in the morning and cooked on my Biolite in the afternoon. I actually looked forward to making my little fire each evening while I cooked my dinner and boiled water for coffee. Did that for about 2 months.
Anyway, now when the power goes out one of the first things I do is make coffee. Makes things more bearable and pleasant.
And btw, nice website.
was watching news, and they were interviewing various (large) grocery store managers, and often asked them, “what is the most frequent item(s) purchased today, in advance of Big Storm?”
I was surprised to hear “meat” often reported. Now, I may be mistaken, but I took this to mean “raw meat”. Kept wondering, with anticipated massive power outages, how those folks thought they were going to be cooking that raw meat. (am sort of assuming that the folks out buying raw meat today, are not the folks with half a dozen alternate heat/cooking sources….)
This past summer I had my Panelboard replaced since it was a Federal Pacific and labeled a Fire Hazard. With the new panel I had a sub-panel included. The sub-panel is set up to power the Heating Unit, the refrigetator, two rooms for light, and the garage. I can disconnect the sub-panel from the main panel. With the sub-panel I have an exterior connection for a 7500 Watt generator that is dual fuel. It will run on gasoline, or propane. In addition, I have a camp propane stove. I’m contemplating an addtion of a 10 gallon water heater.
Rick, go for a Paloma on demand type water heater, way more efficient than a tank type even if it is gas.
I would stay away from the tankless systems for 2 reasons.
1. It will cut into a potential water source in a SET period.
2. If they are electric, they take a lot of juice to fire up. Just about more than your average generator can produce.
I know this because I worked as a electrician for a while.
Last winter we lost power for a day and some. So, I fixed a pot of crab soup on a propane camp stove. I was surprised how fast the water went to boil. Maybe the better idea would be to replace my electric water heater with propane. Then that would solve a host of problems.
RickS-Hopefully your sub-panel includes an interlock switch or transfer switch so that it is not possible to backfeed generator power into your main panel and on to the outside power lines. This backfeed can be lethal to linemen working in your area, since transformers work in either direction. It would also likely destroy your generator as it tries to power other houses in the neighborhood.
Back to coffee: if you have an auto-drip and the power is out, just measure out one pot of cold water into a pot on your camp stove. Then when it is close to boiling, carefully and slowly add the water over the coffee grounds in the basket. Real coffee…Mmmmm…
Does anyone use the predator generator from Harbor Freight?
I have the 8750 watt predator as I live totally off grid. It works great. Starts easy. Except on super cold temps then you have to crank it a few times but it will start. I am very pleased with it. If I am doing laundry then it will run for multiple hours. When running long periods it sips the gas. 5 gallons lasts about 16 hours. It uses more when it runs only for short periods probably because of frequent starts.
I use a generator to run the basics like the fridge,TV a couple of lights etc but have found that small LED stickup lights in the bedrooms and bathrooms are a huge help. You can get them at the dollar store,they run on AA or AAA battery’s and give enough light to move around,get dressed etc. I also have solar spotlight that have about 70 lumens that can be used and then recharged. I go through power outages every winter and have found how to live close to normal when they happen.
Ken, On a 1 to 10 scale how would you rate that Rayovac lantern for reading?
I’d like to list a few other things that make life easier for me during power outages.
I have a Black Diamond Revolt usb rechargeable headlamp. I keep a charged usb battery in my apartment to recharge the headlamp plus my Kindle and cell phone. That will get me by at least for several days. If my usb battery runs out, I have a fully charged 210 amp hour deep cycle battery in my vehicle with a 2000w inverter. That would last a looong time just charging my headlamp, Kindle, phone and even laptop. What if the power was out for many weeks? Well, I have a 125 watt solar panel hooked to that battery. I can pretty much run indefinitely with my minimal power usage. I also have a Black Diamond Orbit led lantern and plenty of batteries. Candles too.
If you cant handle not having electricity for a cpl of days then articles like these are not gonna help you. Better off you just curl up in a ball in the corner and wait for the National Guard to come and save you.
This blog (and associated articles) are not ‘just’ about SHTF collapse survival – while occasionally I write towards what might be considered a more common happenstance and suggestions to deal with it (them). In this case, a ‘typical’ power outage.
Remember our houses years ago, There was gas in every room. Heaters and lamps were gas.. If you have electric hot water tank your screwed. Same goes for a furnace. Think about if you have a well you need electricity. Go gas products. add a few extra ventless heater in your home. install a gas hot water heater, add a few gas lamps in the house,, of course these can help tremendously in a power outage. The last time we lost power for 5 days my family was comfortable…… We had heat, we had hot water, we could cook, it was like camping for a few day.
After living through the big storms in florida and moving back to the east coast I’m very good at preparing for storms and one of the first things I do because we have a well instead of city water, I fill up buckets so that you can flush the toilets. If you have no power your well pump doesn’t run to get water to the tanks so remember that the next time a storms comin’ cuz trust me when I tell you, a house full of people that have to use the bathroom and not flush can get sour very, very fast!
After years of working through various iterations of backup power (22 kw battery bank, Prius running 6 and 4 kw UPSs, 12 kw LPG genset, several smaller inverter-generators), I always recommend a 2-pronged approach.
2/3 of the time you only need to cover baseline loads. Fridge, freezer, wood stove fan, etc. 200-300 watts. It is a huge waste of gas running a large genset during that time. Not to mention with thermal carryover if things are truly bad you can keep everything off for many hours at a time to save gas.
So, get a 2-3kw inverter-generator for the base loads. This will also be enough power for lighting and in many other 120 volt loads. 2 gallons will last 24 hours, more if it is left off part-time. Then get a cheap contractor “screamer” in the 6-8 kw range. Use this for a well, electric water heater, microwave, etc. It should only be needed 1-2 hours per day. It is also a backup for the smaller one.
Redundancy and gas conservation.
Plainsmedic, Moving the conversation to a related article to keep from losing it in a week. I keep all my spare laundry soap, liquid and powder, in my well house. Also all my bulk cleaning supplies. It’s an 8′ x 8′ plywood structure. Last year I covered the inside walls and ceiling with the 1/2″ foam board with the foil side facing in. It was noticeably warmer with just an incandescent light on. I moved the spare fridge in there before winter. The heat from the compressor keeps the room nicely warm and dry, and now I have no worries about the pressure tank or filter freezing. A grid down situation might require rethinking this, but for now it works. ..
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I have been toying with the idea of how to manage (grid-down) shared space between greenhouse, storage items that shouldn’t freeze, and hot air. Chickens and pigs have nicely hot breath so perhaps adjoining accommodations between sleeping areas and storage? Putting pens inside the greenhouse? Solar powered warm lights at night? Independent heating system like wood stove? Butt structures up against the house to share heated air – don’t know if excess humidity in this climate is what I’m going for, though. Many places, and even some folks I know, have their dwellings on the floor above the barn to take advantage of animal warmth. Keeping people and stuff warm enough during a GSM is on my mind as the weather has turned cooler the past couple days.