Are you prepared for a power outage? A power outage could happen at any time due to weather, accidents, terrorism, or any other innumerable possibilities. Outages can last from a few minutes to a few days and even weeks.
It is hard to imagine what life would be like should the power go out for more than a few days, but devastating storms and a fragile power grid could mean we live without power for months at a time. Are you prepared? How long could you last without electricity?
When my children were very small, a surprise hurricane left us without electricity for five days. Flooding and downed trees meant closures of most roads. Blown transformers and downed power lines meant there was no power anywhere in our area.
Local stores, including the big box stores like Walmart and Giant, were closed for days. Local hardware stores that opened in spite of the darkness sold out of generators quickly. We traveled two hours on the third day to get hold of a small generator, a propane heater, and some extra extension cords.
Since then, we’ve learned to be better prepared for when the lights go out. It takes a little planning, but the benefits of being prepared are worth the time and money.
What do you need to consider for a power outage?
If the power goes out for any length of time, you will want to cover your basic needs in order to survive. You’ll need to think about your personal situation, the type of home you live in, the storage space you have, and how many people are in your family. You’ll want to have at least two different methods, if not more, to cover the following needs.
- Food. You’re going to need to eat. You’ll want to have some short term snacks, some foods that you don’t have to cook, and of course, means of cooking for long term outages.
- Water. Water is the most critical piece. Will you store water? Or will you use a well? Or a water filter?
- Shelter. Where will you stay when the power goes out? What parts of your shelter needs to be adjusted for power outages? Will your pipes freeze if there is no heat?
- Heating and cooling. You’ll need to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
- Communication. If the electric is out, there is a pretty good chance that phone lines and cell towers will be down as well. And without electric, you cannot charge your phone. How will you get the local news? How will you contact emergency help or share your location with family members?
- First aid. You need to take care of minor and possibly even major wounds. Is your first aid kit handy and up to date?
- Sanitation. If your water doesn’t work in a major power outage, you won’t be able to use your toilets. How will you take care of human waste?
- Bathing. You may be able to get away without a shower for a couple days, but at some point, you are going to need to bathe or at least wash up. How will you provide enough water for bathing and cleaning clothes?
- Lighting. No one wants to live in the dark. How will you illuminate your home?
- Entertainment. Bored kids – and even bored adults – are more likely to be anxious or act out in an emergency or scary situation. What will you do to entertain yourselves when TV or internet service isn’t available?
Black Out Box
Your first line of defense in a short term or long term power outage is a blackout box. A black out box is your first aid kit for power emergencies.
Store your box in a location you can find in the dark, and pack your flashlight with good batteries on top so you can easily access them. While you’ll need to tailor your blackout box to your specific home and location, you’ll want to include items such as:
- A Sturdy Box. Your box should be sturdy, water resistant, and easy to carry. Keep it somewhere you can find it easily, even when the lights are out. The size of the box depends on what you keep inside it, how many members in your family, and the needs specific to your location. A solid box with a good handle means you can take it and go, should the need arise.
- Flashlights. You’re going to need instant lights when the power goes out. Keep flashlights with good batteries in your box and ready to go. Check them often.
- Candles. Eventually, the batteries will run out. Keep candles on hand to cover your needs for light.
- Hand warmers. It may take awhile to get the generator or back up heat up and running, or you may need to work outside in the cold and the wet. Hand warmers will help ward off the chill and protect your hands from frostbite.
- Emergency blanket. It can get cold quickly when the power is out, so keep an emergency blanket or several stored in the box to help your family stay warm.
- Poncho. Since bad weather is often the cause of power outages, keep a poncho or other warm rain gear in your box. You may need to get firewood, fill up your generator with gas, or do some other work outside in bad weather.
- Latex or similar gloves.
- First Aid Kit.
- Crank Radio. Batteries won’t last forever, but you can get the news easily with a handcrank radio. Look for one that does double duty, and includes a flashlight and phone charger.
- Glow Sticks. Glow sticks are great for kids who need to make their way to the bathroom, for flagging down passing cars, or illuminating a walkway.
- Solar USB Chargers. An extended power outage means your cell phone batteries will need to be recharged no matter how sparingly you use them. Solar USB charges are inexpensive and easy to use and store.
What happens to food in the freezer and fridge? If you leave your refrigerator closed, the food will maintain its temperature for around four hours, depending on your climate.
If you have a deep freeze that is at least half full, and you keep the doors tightly closed without opening them at all, the contents should stay frozen for about 48 hours. If the power is out longer than this, you will need to keep your fridge and freezer hooked up to a generator or find alternate means of keeping the food cold and safe.
Opening the fridge or freezer will allow warm air in that will shorten the length of time your food keeps safely.
Which food should I consume first?
Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as items such as bread, butter, and even jelly and hard cheese, can be kept at room temperature. They should be ok on your kitchen counter, even hours after the power goes out.
If you know a storm is coming, load up on fruits and veggies such as apples, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and other foods that have a long shelf life at room temperature. Fruits and vegetables will help you stay hydrated, offer fiber, and vitamins and minerals to help you stay healthy.
On the other hand, since a refrigerator will only stay cold for four hours with the power out, you’ll want to consume any meat or other cooked foods first, as well as milk and other dairy products. Your deep freeze will stay frozen for approximately forty-eight hours unopened, but after that, you will want to consume or process foods quickly.
How to cook without electricity?
If you don’t have electricity, you won’t be able to use an electric range. Most small consumer generators are not well equipped to run one. Depending on your generator, you could potentially run a hot plate, microwave, or even a small coffee maker, although you will probably need to prioritize appliances such as your refrigerator, freezer, well pump, or sump pump.
Other means of cooking without electricity could include a standard camp stove, propane grill, gas stove, and even your wood stove. However, it is dangerous to use camp stoves or grills inside your home and bad weather may mean it is difficult to cook outside.
If the pilot light goes out on your gas stove, you may have difficulty getting your stove going (and never use a gas stove to heat your home). Cooking with a wood stove is possible but requires practice. If the sun is shining, you can make use of the sunshine to cook food with a solar cooker, much like you would use a slow cooker.
Make sure you plan ahead for how you will cook in an emergency, and practice! Keep plenty of no-cook foods on hand in case it is impossible to cook.
How to survive without an electric fridge?
If there is an extended power outage, you may not be able to refuel your generator. If this is the case, you may need to consider how to store food without an electric fridge. It is possible to find and use propane-fuels refrigerators, but at some point, the propane will run out and you may have the same problem.
If the weather is cold, and you don’t have animals that will eat your food, you can easily set your food outside to stay cool in a cooler or bin with a tight fitting lid. This works well if the temperatures stay between freezing and forty degrees. Otherwise, try some other means of preserving foods.
Zeer pot. A zeer pot is a homemade refrigerator of types, also known as a pot-in-pot refrigerator. This mini fridge is made of two, unglazed terra cotta pots with a thick layer of wet sand in between them (one pot needs to be smaller than the other so it can fit inside).
Place your contents into the pot and put a wet towel over top of them. As air blows over the pots, the water in the sand evaporates and cools the contents of the pot. As long as your climate isn’t too warm and humid, the zeer pot will work pretty effectively to keep your food cool. You can find directions for making your own zeer pot here.
Root Cellar. In my area, it is common to find aging root cellars or spring houses close by to old farmhouses. A root cellar is a small underground structure, usually made of field stone, to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. A spring house is a small building that was built over a spring or stream. The cold water kept fruits and vegetables, and even dairy products, cool and safe from animals. You can bury trash cans or even broken refrigerators underground to use as a makeshift root cellar to keep your food fresh for longer.
Solar dehydrator. Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve it for many months, but without electricity, regular dehydrators won’t work. However, solar dehydrators, also known as solar cookers, will work to dehydrate your food. The sun’s rays are harnessed through a glass or clear plastic box to heat and dry the food inside. You can build your own or purchase a solar cooker/dehydrator on Amazon.
Canning. Canning food is a great way to prepare for an emergency. You can prepare food so that it does not need to be cooked when opened. If the food in your freezer or refrigerator is going to go bad in a power outage before you can consume it, you may be able to can it by using your canner over a fire, although some folks do not recommend this for safety reasons.
Smoking. Before refrigerators were invented, smoking was used as a means of preserving meat. There are many different types of commercial smokers available, but if you are going to be smoking meat during a power outage, you’ll want to consider propane, charcoal, or a wood smoker. Prepare for power outages by keeping smoked meats on hand that don’t require refrigeration.
You’re going to need water for drinking, bathing, and cleaning, especially in a long term emergency. While it is recommended to store a gallon of water per person per day, you are eventually going to run out of water if you don’t have an additional source for water for you and your family and your pets and livestock.
Don’t count on city water or well water, because without electricity, your well pump won’t work and your city water may stop working, as well.
Stored water. The PennState Extenstion tells its readers they can store treated water in clean soda bottles with screw caps for up to six months. Store up one gallon of water per person, per day, to be prepared for an emergency.
If you do not have treated water, you will want to buy prepackaged bottled water to keep on hand. However, it is unpractical to store a lifetime worth of water in your basement, so what else can you do? There are a couple other ways to care for your water needs when there is a power failure.
Filters. It is dangerous to drink water from streams, puddles, rain barrels, ponds, or lakes. There could be chemicals, diseases, or microorganisms living in those water sources that could make you very ill.
There are a few filters that claim to make any water source potable. Consider keeping a few on hand, such as a Lifestraw. You can drink directly through a life straw from any water source (just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions!).
Also, Berkey filters, while expensive, may save your life in a power emergency by allowing you to filter dirty water into something that is drinkable. Make sure you have an accessible source of water, whether it is a creek, spring, or even rainwater.
Manual hand pumps for wells. If your power is out, your well pump simply will not bring water into your home. However, there are many hand pumps on the market that can be used in conjunction with your existing well. You will need to know the depth of your well as well as the type of well casing used in your well.
Some pumps need to be permanently installed ahead of time, while others are an easy to use kit that you can store on hand for emergencies. However, it you have an extra deep well, you may need to purchase a larger, more expensive kit or have it professionally installed.
Companies such as Bison, Lojak, and EZWater Hand Well Pumps all sell pumps and kits to turn your electric well into a hand pump well for emergencies.
Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling are more than just comfort. You need to stay warm enough to avoid frostbite and hypothermia in the winter, and cool enough to avoid heat stroke in the summer.
- Battery Powered Fans. If you live in a hot humid area, you will need a means to stay cool. If you are used to living with air conditioning, it may be difficult for you to feel comfortable when it is hot and humid. Small battery powered fans can help you feel cooler.
- Solar Powered Fans.
- Wood Stove or Fireplace. In the winter, you will need a means to stay warm. Keep your wood stove or fireplace ready to go in case of a power outage. Make sure the chimney is clean and safe and keep plenty of seasoned hard wood on hand.
- Propane Heater. Propane heaters can run off of small tanks or tanks you would use for your outdoor grill. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s safety directions and use them appropriately.
- Rocket Mass Heater. A rocket mass heater is a DIY woodstove. These structures are highly efficient for heating and cooking, but they do take time to build and your locale may not approve them for you home.
If the electric is out, chances are, the phones – both landline and cellular service – will likely be down as well. Consider some other means of communication devices.
- Walkie talkies.
- NOAA radios. You may want to stay on top of the weather when the power is out. A hand crank or battery operated NOAA radio will keep you informed of current or upcoming weather emergencies.
- Hand Crank Cell Phone Chargers. Keep your phone charged and ready to go with a hand crank charger.
- Solar Cell Phone Chargers. These chargers will not work in bad or cloudy weather, but they will keep your smaller devices charged on sunny days. Make sure the solar charger you have has enough power to charge up the device(s) you want to use.
When the power goes out, your water and sewer systems may not work. If you use a well and septic system, electric is required to keep the system moving. Be prepared for sanitation issues before the lights go out or you may end up with a serious health hazard on your hands.
- Emergency Toilet. An emergency toilet can be as simple as a toilet seat over top of a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. You can even purchase these kits on Amazon for a reasonable price. Cover your waste with sawdust or leaves after each use to contain the smell. You can create a separate compost area to empty your buckets when needed.
- Compost Toilet. A compost toilet is a great long term solution. It evaporates the liquids and begins the decomposition process of the solid waste, killing bacteria and pathogens. Composting toilets need to be dumped periodically but will last longer than a bucket toilet.
- Bathing. You may not want to go too long without a shower during an emergency blackout, but if your water does not work, what can you do you take care of your personal hygiene?
- Outdoor Shower. Camp showers are a great alternative when the weather is balmy. Hang a shower bladder from a tree and fill it up. The sun will warm the water so you do not have to take an ice cold shower.
- Spray Shower. Some preppers will turn an unused, chemical free sprayer into a shower. Lather up and use the sprayer to rinse off. If your septic is not working, you will need to rinse off into a large bucket or even outside. You can fill the sprayer with water warmed from the stove if you wish. Never use a sprayer that was previously used for pesticides or other chemical.
Lighting will be critical in a power outage. Since you never know where you will be when the lights go out, make sure to stash plenty of flashlights around your house, barn, vehicle, and sheds. Then you will always have a light within arm’s reach.
- Flashlights. These are an easy, obvious choice for a short term emergency. Keep them on hand with fresh batteries and make sure to always stock extra batteries. In a long term emergency, you will eventually run out of batteries and need to try something else.
- Candles. Candles are great to have on hand. Any kind of candle will add warmth and light if you are close enough to it, and they do not have an expiration date like batteries do. Emergency candles will burn for more hours your typical decorative candle. Use carefully to avoid fire.
- Oil Lanterns. Oil lanterns pose a risk of fire, but provide warm, soothing light. You’ll need to stock several lanterns, extra wicks, and plenty of fuel for your lanterns to be effective. Lanterns can be fueled with paraffin oil, kerosene, and potentially even rancid vegetable oil. Be cautious using any type of flame around children and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use and safety.
- Solar Lights. Solar lights can be purchased inexpensively from amazon. However, you get what you pay for. For an easy, dependable lighting solution, look for a more permanent solar light such as the ones you can find at biolite.com.
Don’t underestimate the power of being prepared for entertainment when the lights go out, especially with small children. Stock a supply of books, coloring books and crayons, decks of cards, board games, and other toys or items of enjoyment that do not rely on batteries or electricity to work.
Keeping busy and having fun will help prevent anxiety from setting in when children and adults cannot participate in their normal activities.
Prep-steading is a way of life aimed at self-sufficiency and preparedness. It involves growing your own food, preserving your own food, caring for livestock, and living in such a way that you are always prepared to take on emergencies.
It often means being less dependent on the power grid, so you can seamlessly continue living when the lights go out.
Amanda is a homesteader and a Jesus-loving, mother of 6 toddlers. She’s raising lots of fancy chickens and goats on her small homestead (among other things).