So many of us have become accustomed to having a cheap and nearly unlimited supply of electrical power available to us 24-7 that when a power outage happens, it becomes a disruptive event. Short term outages of only a few hours or so are usually easy enough to handle, but what if the power doesn't come back for days, or weeks?
There are plenty of things you can do ahead of time to ensure that you can cope with an extended power outage without a majorly detrimental impact on your way of life.
What to Prepare Now
We're going to start with what you should have ready before you are dealing with a power outage by providing you with a list of products we recommend you have.
Use these recommendations as a guide for what items you normally run off the outlet in the wall won't be available to use when the power is down.
Asses your home and take a moment to think about the items you are dependent most upon currently. Lights, Refrigerators, C-PAP machines, Air Conditioners, Space Heaters, Computers...etc.
How can you power these devices when the power grid goes down?
The are 4 main main topics to think about which we will discuss in this article:
- Off-Grid Power
- Perishable Food Storage
- Heating/Cooling your home
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The most important and easily overlooked category is lighting. When all lights are off and all power is down, it can be nearly impossible to see, especially inside.
We have an article dedicated to the topic, which includes a list of our favorite emergency lighting solutions, but we will do a quick overview here.
There are two kinds of lights you need: Area (Lanterns) and Directional (flashlights & Headlamps.)
Area lights are used to supply non-directional light into a small area like a bedroom or tent.
Directional gives you a focused beam for looking at things further away.
Let's start with small packable lights which are good for both emergency kit use and for home use. Goal Zero makes some of our favorites, and they are easily rechageable via solar power when you don't have access to the grid.
Lighthouse Micro Charge USB Rechargeable Lantern
This little lantern is great, and it does three things at once: area & directional lighting + USB charging for portable electronics. Powered by our favorite rechargeable 18650 battery, it has a multitude of different lighting brightness and run times thanks to two internal lamps and the flashlight LED. At its lowest setting you get 170 hours of light in single lamp mode. IPX6 weatherproof and 120 lumens of output.
Lighthouse Mini Lantern
If you are looking for a little more area light output than the Lighthouse Micro can provide, then take a look at the Lighthouse Mini. It's dimmable lantern can put out up to 210 lumens at 3500k and run for over 500 hours in its lowest setting. It has a USB charging port for your other electronics and is powered on the 18650 rechargeable batter like the Micro. No directional lamp on this one, but if you already have a good flashlight or headlamp you're using for that purpose than this is a good choice.
Home / Base Camp Lighting
BioLite BaseLantern XL
More than just a 500 lumen lamp, it's a 12,000 mah power station with dual USB charging ports. A custom Low Energy Bluetooth app connects with your BaseLantern and unlocks a suite of features like color & warmth control, sleep timers, proximity activation, and real-time battery feedback. Run-time: 78 hours low / 7.5 high. IPX4 rating makes it suitable for outdoor use.
Headlamps are extremely useful because they free up your hands and allow you to work quickly and efficiently in the dark. This is why we think these are must have items in your Emergency kits and in your home.
Flashlights are fantastic, and often provide the longest light throw, but headlamps are most helpful when you have work to do, and need your hands available.
Black Diamond SpotLite 160 Headlamp
An inexpensive but feature rich headlamp made from a well known and trusted manufacturer: Black Diamond. This IPX8 waterproof headlamp runs on 2 AAA batteries for up to 60 hours on the low setting. 160 lumens at max output with a 60 meter beam. Red light built-in is great fr nighttime use, allows you to see without disrupting your night vision.
There are fuel lamps that can be used, which either run on propane or lamp oil. While these are acceptable options for outside the home, we don't recommend using these indoors because of the danger of fume inhalation and accidental fire.
Candles are also an option but also come with the high risk of fire.
If you chose either, please do so very carefully and with the proper safety precautions.
If you're dealing with a power outage lasting more than a day or two it's likely your backup lights and electronics will start running out of power.
Fortunately there are new technologies available that are renewable sources of energy which you can use at night, and recharge in the day with solar or some other source.
Here's a few of our suggestions. For a deeper dive check out our article on portable power.
eneloop Rechargeable AA & AAA Batteries
Typical Price: $4.75 per battery Amazon
Rechargeable alkaline replacements, perfected. We've been using eneloops in all of our devices for years and they are fantastic. They pay for themselves after you use them just 5 times, and can recharge up to 2,100 each! Read our full eneloop battery review here. You'll be glad you made the switch.
USB Power Bank Batteries
For charging anything that gets its power from a USB cable, like a phone, tablet, kindle, or lanterns, using a lithium battery power bank with USB outputs has a lot to offer. Some have large capacities, are weather resistant, have dual-device charging, and can be easily charged from solar sources.
Quality varies widely with these types of products, so stick with trusted brands like Anker, Goal Zero, Voltaic Systems, and Mophie.
Anker PowerCore Fusion 5000
Price: $29.99 Amazon
Anker makes a huge variety of great USB battery packs that are inexpensive and of good quality. One of our favorites is this Powercore Fusion 5000 because it plugs right into the wall and keeps itself charged. Plug your phones into it as you normally would each night and should the power go out, you wont notice the difference as the battery will charge up your phone (1 to 2x depending on the type of phone and how much power you need.)
Battery Powered Solar Base Stations
If you want to really get on-board with battery powered backup's, and want to use solar power as your recharging source then look no further than the Yeti products Goal Zero makes. Their all-in-one systems include inverters to you can plug electronics directly into them.
If you are technically inclined, then you can build your own system like this for much less money or with much greater capacity. Google DIY Solar Generators and you will get a ton of ideas.
Having rechargeable backups is a great idea, but when they run out you need a way to charge them back up. Solar is a good option, but it can be slow, and only works when the weather cooperates.
So we think it's a smart idea to have a fuel powered generator as well. There are a million options out there, and your local Home Depot or Lowes can give you ideas. Local power equipment stores also typically carry generators.
The thing with gas generators is, well, they need gas. And that means long lines at the gas station, assuming the one near you has generator power, during a long term power outage. You can store fuel long term but it requires some research, read our article about it.
Generators can also run on propane and natural gas, but they need to have different types of hardware to do so. There are pre-built tri-fuel generators or you can get conversion kits to make a gas generator tri-fuel. A good proposition if you prefer to store propane, which doesn't expire the same way gas does, or have a natural gas hookup in your home that you can tap into.
Perishable Food Storage
The most immediate concern after light during extended power interruption is the food in the refrigerator and freezer. Depending on how much thermal mass (food and ice) is present at the time the power goes off will determine how long the fridge will stay cold and how long the food will keep.
A general rule of thumb for how long perishable food will keep once power is down: 5-15 hours in the fridge, 24-48 in the freezer.
You should try to have at least one full-sized cooler in your home available. You may be able to get ice from local stores. Steer clear of the styrofoam coolers, which break much too easily.
If you have room in your freezer, keep plastic containers filled 80% with water and frozen. This adds thermal mass which will keep the freezer cooler longer. The more things in your freezer, the longer it stays cold without power.
Some of the best coolers available are made by Yeti, Pelican, and Orca. They are expensive but worth the investment if you use them frequently, as all of these brands will keep ice for up-to 5 days or longer in some cases.
Heating During a Power Outage
If you have a wood or coal burning stove then you are in good shape should a winter storm take out your electricity...as long as you have wood and coal! If you have a wood burning fireplace in your home, you can install an insert which will redirect warm air into the home, while keeping the smoke heading our the chimney. Some of them use electrical blowers to move the air in, so make sure you get a model that can work without electricity if that's your backup plan.
Those who use oil furnaces or natural gas systems require electricity to work. The least expensive backup option is to get a portable fuel generator to run the furnace during a power outage. Furnaces pull quite a bit of power so you don't want anything smaller than a 2500 watt generator. You should have an electrician install a transfer switch on oil fired furnaces, that way you don't back-feed through your transformer, which could potentially kill or harm an electrical worker on the lines outside your home.
You can also have a fixed generator installed that runs on natural gas or liquid propane that can switch on during a power outage. They are permanently installed outside your home and start as low as $2,500.
Generac makes great options, check out their website. We're not affiliated with them, but they are the company some of our neighbors use.
Kerosene heaters can be used indoors BUT they require lots of precautions. Michigan State has a .pdf they created about Kerosene heater safety that you can get here. There are also indoor safe Propane heaters. Same precautions apply.
In a worst case scenario, pitch a tent inside your home or make one with chairs and blankets and sleep in there. It will help keep the warm air your body generates inside a smaller area. Put a blanket on the floor to insulate it, and you can even throw a blanket or two over the tent.
You could also sleep in a closet. The idea here is to minimize the amount of air you need to heat. But if things really get that bad you may want to consider staying in a shelter if you have no where else to go.