Preparing for a Power Outage: Lessons Learned

by Christina Brown · 8 comments

in Frugal Living

Preparing for a power outage

I usually consider myself prepared for most things.  But instead of preparing for a power outage, I was distracted by the business of every day life.

I wasn’t prepared for the 80 mph winds that left us without electricity or running water for 67 hours last week.

Others I know had it much worse – some went without power for an entire week!  The experience made me realize how ill-prepared I actually was for severe thunderstorms and a massive power outage.

I had bottled water, but it was really old, and there wasn’t enough to keep all of us hydrated for days of 90 degree weather.

I didn’t have all my gadgets charged and ready.

I had a weather alert radio without batteries in it.

Basic things like flashlights, batteries, bottled water, and our crank-powered radio were…. get this… upstairs.  Not very useful when you’re sitting in a dark basement.

I had a couple of coolers, but not nearly enough room for the contents of my fridge.

We were low on propane for our gas grill.

We had depleted our supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare foods.

Ugh.

The first morning after the storm, several of our local radio stations were knocked off the air, and our cell phones were pretty much useless hockey pucks.  We learned that the area had been hit quite hard – with nearly 12,000 people without power.  So we hurried the 26 miles into town to buy bags of ice, a bigger cooler, an extra lantern, propane and other supplies.

I must admit, I didn’t pay much attention to prices or sales because the stock on the shelves was already disappearing.  I quickly bought the items on my list… most of which I paid full price for… and hurried home before our ice melted.

The biggest challenge for us was not having running water.  The second biggest challenge was coming up with meal ideas with what we had available to us.

The whole experience made me devise a list of things I’ll make sure we always have on hand for any future summer power outages we have.

Preparing for a Summer Power Outage: What You Need

A good weather alert radio.  Make sure that your weather alert radio also has a battery backup feature.  This can quickly alert you to severe weather and let you know when to take cover.

A crank-powered radio.  A battery-operated radio is good… until the battery runs out.  Get a crank-powered radio and then you won’t have to worry about that.  Ours also has a built-in flashlight; some have a weather alert radio built in, too.

LED Lanterns and flashlights.  Sure you can use candles, but with three kids and a dog in the house, I’m just not comfortable with open flames everywhere.  I like the LED lanterns because the batteries and bulbs last forever and they provide decent light. Have a few flashlights so that if you need to go look for something in a dark closet, the rest of the family doesn’t have to sit in the dark.  Consider getting the kids their own flashlights.  With no night lights, it can be a little scary at night, and we found that giving them a flashlight helped.  If you’ve got avid readers in the house, a book light is nice.

Batteries.  Make sure you have enough batteries (and the right type) to power your various lanterns, flashlights, and radios.

A corded phone.  Our cell phones didn’t work at all the first full day of the outage.  Make sure to have a corded phone with a landline so that you can communicate with the outside world.

A grill and grill supplies.  A gas grill is most convenient, but a charcoal grill would also work as long as you make sure you have charcoal on hand.   After our latest experience, we plan to make sure we keep stocked up on propane for our grill.  A propane camp stove is also a nice option because you can boil water for pasta, make pancakes and other items with it.

Non-perishable foods and menu ideas.  Make sure to have canned meats, beans, and vegetables on hand.  Snacks and juice boxes are also nice.  I plan to devise a list of simple meals I can make using the grill and things in the pantry, so that dinners without electricity aren’t so stressful.

Several coolers. You’ll need large one for everything in the fridge and smaller ones to retrieve frequently used items like water or soda. Make sure you buy one that fits what you have and plenty of ice.

Cash.  You’ll need money to buy ice and any other items you may need.  Because so much of our region was hit by power outages, telecommunications were a challenge, and many stores wouldn’t accept debit or credit cards at that time.  Make sure you have a bit of cash on hand, just in case.

Card games, books, puzzles, etc.  We’re technology junkies around our house, so being without our screens was tough.  Make sure you have plenty of things to entertain yourself and the kids during an extended outage.

If you are also without running water:

Bottled water.  At least a gallon per person per day and make sure to have water for your pets, too.

Disinfecting wipes and paper towels.  You’ll want these for cleaning up messy spills and wiping down counters.

Hand sanitizer.  I have a stash of hand sanitizer I got for cheap with coupons.  During the power outage, I kept a bottle in every bathroom and in the kitchen so that we would remember to disinfect even though we couldn’t wash hands.

Personal cleansing wipes.  Anything from Wet Ones to flushable moist wipes to even baby wipes can be used to do a quick sponge-bath.  Definitely not ideal, but better than nothing.

Disposable dinnerware.  I’m really not a fan of paper plates and plastic forks… but when your power is out for days and you don’t have running water, paper plates, paper cups, and plastic cutlery are a real blessing.

Aluminum foil or foil bags.  Since it’s pretty impossible to wash dishes without running water, we ended up cooking on the grill several times.  You can make all kinds of things on the grill – especially when you create aluminum foil packets.  The best part – very easy clean-up!

Final thoughts

Of course, a generator is a really nice thing to have, but they are expensive, heavy, and use a lot of gas.  You’ll have to weigh whether the risk of a power outage is worth the expense of the generator.

Winter power outages bring different worries – like frostbite and frozen pipes.  Make sure to develop a plan for how to handle an extended winter power outage.

An extended power outage is a bit like a camping trip you haven’t planned for.  At times it can be enjoyable, at other times exhausting.  I hope that the next time the power goes out, we’ll be better prepared and able to enjoy our time “roughing it” a bit more.

Now it’s your turn:  How are you preparing for a power outage?


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly Heavener July 12, 2012 at 8:41 am

I got our generator at Aldi for $299. We have had it a year and it works great. We were without power for four and a half days. My husband had just left so it was just the kids and I. The generator was great to power the fan, coffee pot, charge computers and phone, and plug a light into it. I realized there was more that I need to have on hand for emergencies. Each month I plan to get something for our preparedness kit.

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2 Christina @ Northern Cheapskate July 12, 2012 at 9:16 am

Wow! I’ve never seen a generator priced that low! I guess I’ll have to shop around more!

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3 Michaela July 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

I don’t need them here in Arizona, but I always wondered why my family (who lives in New England) doesn’t keep HotHands around for power outages during a blizzard. I’m also a big fan of kinetic flashlights. All you have to do is shake ‘em up a bit and you’re ready to go. No need to worry about batteries!

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4 Tammy H July 12, 2012 at 11:32 am

I have used our solar power lights we have along our deck for night lights in the bathroom. Put them back outside during the day and bring them back in at night. Of course this only works when the sun it out but I have used it a couple of times. Safer than candles with children around!

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5 Marta July 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm

A friend gave me a good piece of advice just before Hurricane Isabel came up the coast ca. 2003… Clean and rinse your bathtub thoroughly. Fill it with water. Ta-da: a huge supply of water for various purposes. I didn’t really think my water would stop running, but it did. And I had a partially-full bathtub of water sitting right there that I could scoop out and keep by the sink for tasks like light dish-washing, hand-washing, etc. (Although I stuck to bottled water for drinking.)

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6 Ann July 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm

We were without power & water for 7 days (those living in front of us along the highway was out 3 days but there were 3 of us, including my 89 yr old mother-in-law, back a long lane – could see the dangling broken wire). We bottled water from my mother-in-law’s pool to flush the toilets (that got old since my husband had recently had 2 surgeries). Other items that came in handy, besides the above mentioned: a car cell phone charger, hand sanitizer by the bathroom sink, and always keep a good supply of current medicines on hand. We had to send my mil to her daughter’s that had power (& AC) so having these items on hand was a lifesaver. This is especially important for those dependent on medicines and the elderly. Also a hand-crank radio/flashlight. My brother-in-law’s home phone service is through the cable company so that was out too. They were dependent on their cell phone but had to find a place to charge it. Our landline was an actual corded phone so we had phone service (without power, cordless landline phones don’t work). Only problem was our sisters-in-law kept leaving messages on our voice mail so they couldn’t be retrieved until the power returned. We got a kick out of listening to the messages later as the messages seemed to get more frustrating that we weren’t returning their calls.. lol June 29th – an interesting way to spend our 27th anniversary!

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7 Beth T. July 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I really appreciate that you are advising to consider light sources other than candles. I’ve been told that fires are the #1 emergency following an earthquake/power outage/tornado, etc.. Burns can be terrible and it may be impossible to get the fire department out in a widespread disaster. Making the transition from candles to flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns might be a life-saving choice.

By the way, headlamps are great, because they free up your hands to perform chores, carry kids or hold leashes, etc.

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8 Clara September 3, 2012 at 8:53 am

interesting story sis…

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