As I sit here writing, relaxing after doing some shoveling, after an eight ½ hour day at work, the possibility of a potential power outage for tonight comes to mind. We are in a lull period between one wave and a much bigger wave for tomorrow, and the winds are picking up pretty bad. Frequently, high winds and snow equal dark nights around here. For those who have been working on your survival plans for a while, you probably have a huge permanently wired backup generator installed, or at least a good sized portable that you can plug into your home electrical system. If that’s the case, then most of this post may bore you. Or maybe not. We can all learn more than we know, and that helps everyone.

Assuming you have no generator at all, what is the best thing to do when the power goes out in the dead of winter? Some people will curl up into a ball and freeze their useless you know what to death. I don’t recommend that course of action. The best thing to do is to not panic.

Here’s some things you should have ready for the winter months;

  • Candles, or oil lamps and matches
  • Warm blankets
  • Flashlights, with batteries if your light is not self charging
  • Fresh water, or stored water, as long as it is clean
  • Cold rations for when you get hungry
  • An emergency radio and/or TV combo. Batteries, and lots of them are needed if it is not a crank unit.
  • A good response plan (most important of all by the way)
  • A portable non electric heater with fuel
  • A portable propane stove with fuel

The first thing you should do when the power goes out is to make certain everyone is ok, and has a light source with them. If everyone is ok, turn the main breaker to your power panel to the off position. This will help when the power goes back on as it will eliminate a surge/drain condition and trip a main circuit breaker at the street level of the electrical grid system. Then turn all of your individual breakers off. When you know the power is back on, turn the main breaker back on, and then turn the individual breakers on one at a time.

Turning your main breaker off is especially important if you are going to be connecting a generator to your own home system. That electrical power can back feed down the line, and possibly electrocute a worker trying to repair the lines. Not only that, it will suck the power out of your generator and cause it to work harder, while leaving you with less power than what you may need. If you have a portable follow the directions when plugging into your homes power via a receptacle or other means as directed. Remember that in many cases an electrical distribution panel, aka fuse box, the power is distributed between an A phase bus and a B phase bus. That means if you plug a simple single phase extension cord into an outlet, only those devices that are wired into that same bus bar will receive power. Don’t be tempted to plug an extension cord into two separate outlets from the same, or a different generator. You probably will not be pleased with the result.

Instead, make sure that the necessary 120volt devices that require electricity are on the same bus bar. These should be limited to your heating equipment and food storage, meaning refrigerator. If you have a freezer, keep it shut tightly and it should be ok for at least a few days. Circuits need to be balanced to avoid any power/voltage differences so make sure that a competent and qualified electrician is consulted or employed to make sure everything remains in compliance with the proper codes. We’ll get into generators in more detail another time, so please keep tabs by visiting here often.

You’ll want to determine how long you should expect to be without power, and therefore a call to the electric company is in order. Try a landline phone before using your cell phone first. The reason for this is that if you have a simple plug in the wall phone that does not have a separate power source, then you will be able to call without electricity. These phones use the low voltage current that is in the phone system to operate. If your phone doesn’t work then that means the lines on your local area grid are down and the outage is at least partially local in nature. Unless it is a widespread outage problem such as the great ice storm of 98, then you should have a reasonably short period of darkness. Maybe.

But call the electric company and listen carefully to their advisements for the outage duration. Usually they will overstate their estimates of duration, but at least you will be able to determine whether you have a matter of hours to deal with or days. If it’s just a few hours than there is little to worry about unless it’s way below zero and the wind is blowing up a gale outside.

So, if heat is needed, then I hope you read my post about Keeping the Homefires Burning, which deals about warmth when the power goes out and have purchased a portable heater and a supply of fuel. I also hope you have scoped out a place where you can purchase more fuel in the event of a widespread outage. These places will have their own generators and be able to stay open even in a power outage and supply you with fuel and basic necessities as well, such as milk, bread, eggs and other perishables. Just as a word of advice, even though they may be more expensive than the guy down the street that doesn’t have a generator, please do your quick stop business at these businesses. You’ll become a regular and when things get tight, regulars usually get preferential treatment. Plus, you’ll make some new friends and meet likeminded people that may be able to help you out when in need.

Remember to keep a window cracked open when using portable heaters. Most of them give off a lot of carbon monoxide and can cause some severe problems if you are not careful. Plus, they consume a lot of oxygen when in use. These heaters are not whole house heaters, so if you have a large home, you’ll need to reduce the amount of open space you need to heat by closing doors to unneeded rooms and the upstairs. Make sure that your kitchen and bathroom areas receive heat as a primary concern because of the water lines. Also, as an added measure, also insulate your exposed waste lines as well. Nothing stinks worse than a broken sewer line leaking into your basement.

And speaking of water lines, all of your exposed water piping should be insulated to at least some degree. The walls that any pipe runs in should provide some protection, but if you have a scenario whereby you will be experiencing days of no power the water faucets should be cracked open allowing the water to run to avoid freezing. This goes for both the hot and cold faucets. I have known of people who opened the cold water faucet, but not the hot and the hot water pipe froze, cracked upon expansion and burst when it thawed out causing a great deal of damage.

Remember that people lived for a long time without electricity, and many people around the world still do, and they get by fine. When you develop your preparedness plans keep a rustic way of life embedded within those plans. You will be able to develop a list of supplies to have on hand that will get you by even during the roughest of times that way. Sleeping bags should be available for every member of your household, as well as extra blankets and warm clothing. Food that can be easily prepared is a must. That is why I prefer the top hat heater style such as the Kero Sun or similar heaters. You can cook right on top of the heater in cast iron cookware, you know. A covered Dutch oven can make a really good stew on top of one of those heaters.

But like I said, the most important thing to remember is to not panic when the power goes out. Develop a survival mindset and prepare for the time when there is no power before it happens and when it does, it will be no big deal to you. Spend a little time and money now to shore up your defenses, meaning heat, food, energy, and living needs, and you’ll be much better off when the inevitable does happen.

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