The power is out. Are you ready?

Reading time: 2 minute(s)
The power is out. Are you ready?

Winter storms that produce high winds, heavy snow and ice accumulation can create widespread electricity outages that may last several hours or sometimes, longer. With wintry conditions, you may find that leaving your home to find temporary shelter or to obtain supplies can be dangerous as roads may not accessible. 
In that case, you decide that you are going to tough out the outage in your home. 

You can’t prevent power outages, but you can prepare for them. If you think there might be an outage from oncoming storms this winter, here are some ideas to help you manage.


What to eat during a power outage?

Top up the pantry with non-perishable food (canned food, granola bars, nuts, crackers, cereals, powdered milk, juices, bottled water, dehydrated soups, pasta, rice, etc.). And make sure that you have a manual can opener! There are numerous websites that speak to making meals without cooking. Print some off and have the necessary pantry items ready, just in case.

Try those websites for ideas:
14 Recipes for Food to Eat When Power Is Out |
Dining in the dark: getting creative in the kitchen during a power outage |
No Cook Meals for When the Power Is Out |


Check your stock of batteries and charge them

Keep a supply of batteries to run flashlights and a portable radio. You should purchase external battery packs for cell phones and have them fully charged. 

During the storm, you could maybe make use of your car, using a 12V-120V power inverter for plugged-in items, or bring in a battery from a lawn mower, motorcycle or ATV that you could attach the inverter to. 

If you have a house that has an active sump pump that clears out accumulated basement water, you should consider installing a battery back-up pump that automatically takes over when the power goes out.


Safe ways to light your home during a power outage

Lamps, battery-operated LED lanterns, light sticks and flashlights are all safe means to light your home during a power outage. You can also bring in outdoor solar lamps.

Only using safe candle holders/jars and lanterns, you can create an old-time pioneer atmosphere while providing some light. Never leave a candle unattended. Always keep some matches or a working lighter on hand.


How to stay warm when the power is out

If you have advanced warning, turn up your thermostats to raise the heat in all the rooms in the house. 

If you didn’t winterize your home last fall, when the power goes out, you may soon be feeling cold air drafts from doorways and windows. Block these drafts with towels. Reduce the frequency of opening and closing outside doors to keep as much heat in as possible. 

Have your blinds and curtains closed to add some insulation to the windows. If the sun comes out, open the blinds on the sunny side to let in some of that free solar heat. You can even place some dark-coloured material on the floor to take in and hold some of this heat.
Wear several layers of warm, lightweight clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. If needed, wear hats, mittens and blankets indoors.


Fridge and freezer: what to throw away and what to keep after a power outage?

If there is advanced notice, you can minimize the temperature inside the appliance by lowering the fridge and freezer thermostats.

At any rate, the fridge will stay cool for 4-6 hours. Some fresh products will need to be consumed or thrown out after 4-6 hours without refrigeration, but others, like jars and bottled condiments, eggs, hard cheeses, butter, margarine, fresh fruits, fruit juice, fresh unpeeled vegetables, etc., can last longer. Avoid opening the fridge door too often or for too long. 

You can always pack the most perishable food in insulated coolers and place the coolers outside or in an unheated garage. Keep an eye on these so that they don’t freeze. Or alternatively, if stored inside, pack some snow in freezer bags and place the bagged snow in the cooler. Refresh the snow as needed. 

A full freezer can last about 24 or maybe 36 hours. If it is cold enough and you have enough storage bins, you can move the frozen food into these bins and place them outside. If you do decide to evacuate your home, it is suggested that you place an ice cube bag in the freezer: if the cubes melt and the melted water re-freezes, then you know your food is probably compromised. You’ll have to throw the freezer food out.


Heat sources during a power outage

Gas or wood stoves/fireplaces:

Super for heating up an area of the house. Make sure that they have been maintained properly, and in the case of a wood burning fireplace, that you have a supply of dry firewood handy. 

Portable propane or kerosene heaters:

Are safe only if they are labelled “indoor safe” and you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. These are available online or at hardware stores, ranging in cost from $80-$500. Keep an outside window opened approximately an inch whenever you are operating these units. 

These types of units produce small amounts of carbon monoxide just as any gas stove, oven or fireplace does. You should have a functional battery-operated carbon monoxide/smoke detector in the room. If your home detectors are hardwired into your electrical source, they obviously are not of any use during an outage. Keep a battery-operated one that you can pull out and activate during the power outage time. 

Portable generator outside:

If using a portable generator outside, you can plug in an electric space heater. Follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions.


How to cook when the power is out?

  • Gas range: If your kitchen has a gas range, you can still use the top burners. The electric sparker won’t work, but you can still light the gas with a match. Your oven won’t work, however.
  • Barbecues: You can always use your propane or charcoal barbecue outside and cook food and boil water for washing.
  • Camp stoves: Can also be used. These run on butane, propane, canned heat (sterno), etc. But be aware that they do release some carbon monoxide, so only use them for short periods of cooking. You’ll need a back-up supply of fuel on hand. 
  • Fondue set: Remember that fondue set that you hardly ever use? It can now be quite useful for cooking some meat (in oil), or just to melt cheese to make a bread dip. Or make a chocolate fondue. Who says power outages can’t be fun? You’ll need to have the required fuel source on hand, however.


What about generators? 

Before the winter, you have two options here: 

Permanent automatic generator (Genset):

  • Once installed professionally, it will come on as soon as the power goes out and you can run pretty well everything without any change in your everyday activities. They usually run on natural gas or propane, so these units are dependent on you having gas access. With any genset, licensed gas and electrical professionals need to set this up to your existing electrical supply. You need to figure on $5,000 to $8,000 plus installation. To note, if you do not have natural gas or propane, there are also diesel-operating gensets available, but those tend to be more for industrial use. Diesel generators are noted to be much longer lasting and more expensive, but they can claim double the lifespan of a gas-powered one. 

Portable generators (gasoline or diesel fuel):

  • A less expensive alternative compared to permanent generators. A portable generator can run selected appliances like your furnace, well pump (if in the country) and your fridge/freezer, router and some other medical appliances, but it needs to be connected to your home’s electrical system through an approved transfer panel and switch that has been installed by a qualified electrician. 
  • Otherwise, you can run a portable generator outside yourself without an electrician and plug it in directly to an extension cord to power a few selected appliances. Keep some CSA-approved extension cords if you are using this option, to reach the key appliances. 
  • Before the outage, you’ll need to have on hand a supply of gas or diesel to run these generators. In major power outages, most gas stations cannot operate, so it’s best to have your own supply.


For more information on the safe use of a generator, read: During a power outage |


What to do with your appliances when the power goes out?

Protect appliances and electronics from power surge damage by unplugging them once the power goes out and waiting to plug them back in until after the power has been restored.


What to check when the power comes back?

  • If you have a gas furnace, check the furnace to see if the pilot light is functioning. Some gas furnaces continue to operate normally, while others are required to be relit. Unless you are familiar with the complexities of a gas furnace, it is a good idea to call your furnace professional.
  • Make sure that your water heater is working again. It may take an hour or two for the tank to warm up. Check to make sure the breaker did not trip during the outage. Reset the breaker if needed. If that does not solve the problem, call in a professional.
  • Don’t forget to replenish all the supplies that you consumed during the power outage in case it occurs again in the future.


Summary list of items you should have on hand

  • A stocked pantry
  • Batteries, cell phone external battery packs, 12V power inverter, installed battery sump pump
  • Matches/lighters
  • Candles/kerosene lanterns (and kerosene)
  • Coolers, large storage bins
  • Optional: firewood if you have a fireplace/wood stove
  • Optional: indoor-safe portable heater and required fuel
  • Optional: camp stove and required fuel
  • Optional: fondue set and required fuel
  • Battery-operated carbon monoxide/smoke detector
  • Optional: generator: (1) installed by professionals: stationary and permanent genset, or (2) transfer panel and switch hardwired for back-up portable generator. Or just a portable generator not wired in, but to run selected items through extension cords. And the fuel to run them.
  • Optional: extension cords
  • Stock up on old-fashioned card and board games!