What to do during a power outage

While we hope you already read this article and are now more ready than ever for a power outage, here’s what to do just in case you haven’t prepared.

If you are caught off-guard in the middle of a power outage, here are some quick suggestions to help make the best of a difficult situation:

Assess the affected area and likely duration of the outage

Local or short duration power outages can usually be tolerated with minor inconveniences to normal living. Long-duration and wide-area power outages present greater challenges to remain in the home and prevent losses.

Evaluate how current weather conditions affect your risks

Power outages during cold winter or hot summer days can create health risks and unique equipment damage risks in the home.

Determine if excessive heat or cold possibilities affect any family members

When the heating or air-conditioning systems lose power and stop functioning, small children and the elderly may not be able to tolerate the extreme temperatures that quickly change in the home. Life-threatening conditions can occur during long-term power outages.

Contact local family and friends to assist

If the outage is not widespread, it’s very likely that other family members and friends are not affected by the same power outage. During long outages, look for others to assist with temporary housing for at-risk individuals. Check if anyone has a portable generator you can borrow for the outage duration. Ask if others can assist with transferring perishable foods to their freezers or refrigerators.

Establish an adequate food supply in the home

Power outages typically create a frenzy at local hardware and grocery stores. Be sure to get essential items early to prevent empty shelves at the market. Winter or storm conditions usually slow down or prevent the replenishment of stock at local stores.

Consider alternative safe means for cooking

If you have an electric stove, you will lose your normal cooking methods. Do you have a propane or charcoal grill that can be used outdoors as an alternate cooking method? Can family and friends assist with dropping off prepared meals?

Prevent the loss of refrigerated or frozen foods

Short duration power outages will usually not create unsafe food temperatures. Try not to open the doors frequently on refrigerators and freezers while the power is off. This helps to slow down the temperature rise in the food compartments.

Look for available portable generators from nearby rental companies

If you suspect a long outage, then you may want to rent a portable generator. Remember that others in the affected outage area will be looking for a generator too. Rental generators rent out quickly during a sustained outage. Waiting too long to decide can eliminate this option.

Consider buying a portable generator

Generators are available for purchase from many local retailers. The portable-use generators set up quickly and can be used with temporary extension cords for supplying power to critical loads. You will need the help of a licensed electrician if connections are made to the permanent home wiring systems.

Keep an adequate fuel supply for any portable generators

As with food and local hardware supplies, fuel can be in limited supply during a power outage. If you opt for a rental or direct-purchased generator, make sure to get enough fuel for the expected run hours of the outage.

Utilize your vehicle chargers to recharge communication devices

When you venture out in your vehicle, connect your cell phone to the vehicle charger. Charging while the vehicle is running will prevent the vehicle battery from draining too low.

Use battery operated lights and not candles for lighting

Utilize battery lighting units or flashlights for temporary lighting. Do not use candles for lighting. Emergency responders will be very busy during a power outage event. The last thing you want is a house fire during a power outage crisis.

Protect connected electronic equipment and appliances from surges

Power outages are usually accompanied by many on/off cycles of the power. These can occur before, during or after the outage. Any connected electrical equipment will be subjected to these unstable fluctuations. You can help to protect your expensive electronic equipment and appliances by unplugging the equipment from the receptacles. Another option is to turn off the circuit breakers in the main electrical panel until stable power has been restored by the utility.

Consider the potential for frozen water pipes

Long power outages during cold winter days can expose your property to pipes freezing and bursting. After the cracked pipes thaw out, extensive water damage can occur in the area. Pipes for hydronic heating systems are also at risk if you have a boiler. You may need to get advice from your plumber as to the best options for protecting your pipes and mechanical systems.

When the power Is reestablished

Remember that when power comes back on, it may go off again several times. The utility may be switching power lines and rerouting temporary connection on their poles. Try to prevent these unstable conditions from affecting your equipment by waiting a reasonable time before re-connecting your equipment to the receptacles. Surges are more likely to occur during these transitional periods of your utility power supply.


© 2017 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only. Under no circumstances shall HSB or any party involved in creating or delivering this article be liable for any loss or damage that results from the use of the information or images contained in or linked to in this article.

John A. Weber

John Weber is principal electrical engineer for HSB. He has over 25 years’ experience in solving facilities and electrical engineering challenges.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.