15 tips on how to prepare for a power outage in the winter
  • Category:
    Disaster Preparedness
  • Published:
    March 15, 2021

15 Tips on How to Prepare for a Power Outage in the Winter

Many of us know how important it is to be prepared for a winter power outage. Heavy snow, sleet, ice and wind can wreak havoc on power lines. And when the electricity goes out, so does the furnace or boiler. But there are ways to keep the situation from becoming a true emergency by learning how to prepare for a winter power outage. Here, we’ve got your power outage survival guide to teach you how to prepare for a winter power outage. Read on to find tips for what to do before a winter power outage, during the event and after the electricity is restored.

What to do before a winter power outage

Preparing for a winter storm power outage is the key to making it less severe for you and your family. The following are tips and actions you should take as well as winter storm necessities to gather ahead of time.

1. Winterize your home.

Without power, you’ll have limited options for heating your home. So, it’s important to make sure your house holds on to as much of its heat as possible. That’s why you should weatherize your home for winter before the cold weather hits.

Preparing for winter storm power outages by weatherizing your house can range from easy, affordable steps — like weatherstripping around doors and windows or adding draft guards — to bigger projects, like adding insulation to your attic and walls or upgrading your entryway with an energy-efficient door. These strategies, big and small, help your house retain heat and help you stay warm without heat or electricity.

How to prevent pipes from freezing in a power outage

When water freezes, it expands. If it’s in a pipe at the time, the ice can burst it, leading to major damage. Property damage from burst water pipes can cost thousands of dollars to fix. The pipes most at risk of freezing are those without insulation running through unheated spaces. Also, pay special attention to pipes in cabinets or in outside-facing walls.

Insulating pipes ahead of time is perhaps the best method to prevent them from freezing during a power outage. But if you haven’t done that, there are few other tricks that can help. Open up cabinet doors under sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms. Close your garage door (but make sure you can open it manually). And if you know a faucet is connected to a pipe in an exterior wall, let it run at a trickle. Even that much water running through it can keep the pipe from freezing.

2. Stock up on food and water.

Food and drinkable water should rank at the top of your winter storm necessities. The difference between a brownout and a blackout is that the power goes completely out during a blackout. And if the weather is bad enough and leads to a long-term power outage, the food in your refrigerator and freezer will only last as long as those appliances keep them cold enough not to spoil.

To be safe, stock up on shelf-stable foods and bottled water (in case there’s a problem with the tap water or you have an electric water pump). What you have on hand to cook with during a winter power outage, such as an outdoor grill, will determine what you buy. But canned goods, cereals and rice, powdered milk and instant coffee, nuts and dried fruits are all good options. And if you have an infant, don’t forget baby food or formula.

If you suspect your tap water won’t be drinkable during a blackout, you’ll need bottled water, too. A person needs about a gallon a day, not including water for washing or cooking, so make sure you buy enough for you and your family.

3. Set aside warm clothing.

It’s natural to worry about how to heat your home when the power goes out in winter. But there are ways to stay warm other than starting a fire in your fireplace or wood stove. Wearing several layers of clothes, especially starting with insulated long underwear, is a great way to hold on to body heat.

If you know a winter storm is coming, set aside warm clothes where you and your family can easily get to them. Make sure to include hats and gloves, warm socks, sweaters, coats and boots.

4. Gather flashlights, radios and other necessities.

It’s easy to take electric power for granted — until the lights go out and you can’t communicate with anyone. You’ll need flashlights or lanterns handy to be able to see at night. Battery-powered or crank radios can help you stay informed about emergency efforts in your area.

Make sure you have all the batteries you need to power your electronic winter storm necessities. And don’t forget to keep your phone charged ahead of a winter storm. You can also get portable chargers, or power banks, which you can have ready in case of an outage.

5. Know what to unplug if the power goes out.

As you’re preparing for winter storm power outages, don’t forget your valuable appliances and electronics. When the power comes back on, your home’s electrical system could experience surges that could damage them. One way to protect your devices is to unplug all the appliances and electronics in your house. If you don’t want to unplug everything, make a plan to unplug anything with electronic or computing components, including the following:

  • Desktop and laptop computers
  • Televisions
  • Gaming systems
  • Microwaves
  • Appliances with advanced technology (for example, some modern washers and dryers)

And remember: Wait for consistent electricity to be restored before plugging them back in.

6. Get a portable generator.

Having an energy-efficient portable generator as a backup during a winter power outage can make your life much easier. You won’t be able to power your whole house, but you could run a few appliances (like a fridge) and keep your phones charged.

Most portable generators run on gasoline or propane, so you would need to stock up on that fuel, but make sure to store it in a safe, well-ventilated place away from your house. And because the exhaust from a gas generator is toxic, make sure only to run it at least 15 feet from any part of your home.

how to prepare for a winter power outage

How to stay warm during a winter power outage

Hopefully, you’ve prepared your home for winter well before a storm like a blizzard hits. But when one does strike and takes out your power, there are steps you should then take for safety and comfort. Importantly, report the power outage to your local utility. The information you provide could help you get your power back up quicker.

After that, a major focus should be heat. Knowing how to keep your house warm without power in the wintertime is important, especially if you go without electricity for several days. Following some cold-weather emergency tips can see your family through until your power is restored.

7. Condense your living space.

It’s much easier to warm a smaller space than a bigger one. If you have a heat source like a fireplace or wood stove, try to close off the room where it is from the rest of the house to use fuel more efficiently. But even if you don’t have a way to burn fuel, the body heat from you and your family members could help keep you warmer in a small, insulated room than in a wide-open house.

8. Keep doors to the outside closed.

Generating heat is one part of what to do in a power outage in winter. Another part is holding on to that warmth. An open door is a big enough gap in your home to lose precious heat fast. If you need to go out, shut the door behind you as soon as you pass through. Don’t linger, and never leave it open.

9. Block any drafts from entering your home.

Aside from open doors, you can lose heat from gaps around and under windows and doors. You’ll want to seal those gaps as best you can, especially in the room you’re spending most of your time in. One temporary fix is to roll up towels or blankets and wedge them against the bases of doors and windows.

Drafty doors and windows can lead to higher energy costs. When things settle down, it can pay to search your home for air leaks and seal them more permanently.

10. Cover windows and close blinds at night.

Windows can be a major source of heat loss. When the sun goes down, cover them with heavy drapes and/or blinds to keep the room warmer.

What you do during the day depends on your windows. Although sunlight streaming in through the panes can warm a room in winter, if your windows are poorly insulated or drafty, you may be better off covering them. After the power comes back on, you may also want to add weatherstripping to your to-do list.

11. Dress in multiple layers.

One of your best defenses against the cold is layered clothing. Start with a warm base layer, like thermal underwear or long johns, and a pair or two of wool socks. Next add pants (insulated if you have them) and several layers of lighter, looser, warm shirts. Ideally, the outer layers should have a tight weave and be water-repellent.

And don’t forget that people lose a lot of heat through their hands, feet and head. You’ll want a warm hat and mittens, which hold heat better than gloves, as well as warm boots. Top with a coat.

what to do after a winter power outage

Things to do after a winter power outage

It’s tempting to sit back in relief once the power comes back on. But just like you need to know how to prepare for a winter power outage beforehand, you must also know what to do afterward.

12. Check your food supplies.

According to Ready.gov, if food has been sitting at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two hours or longer, you should toss it. Examine items in your refrigerator and freezer for signs of spoilage, such as unusual texture, color or smells. If you’re not sure if your food has gone bad, don’t risk it; just throw it out.

And don’t forget about medicine that needs to be refrigerated. If it’s been left out for longer than 24 hours, you may need to replace it. Call your doctor’s office right away for instructions on what you should do.

How long will a fridge stay cold without power?

If you keep your refrigerator shut after the power goes out, it can keep food cold enough for about four hours. Freezers can keep their temperature for up to 48 hours.

And here’s a tip: Keep your freezer full. It’s more efficient that way because all the frozen items help it maintain the low temperature. So, how long a freezer can stay cold without power can depend on how much you’ve got stored in it.

13. Look for broken or damaged piping.

Extreme winter weather and cold can be very destructive causes of power outages. Without central heating, some water pipes in your home can freeze in frigid temperatures. Some signs of water pipe damage are pooling water under pipes; water damage on walls, floors or ceilings; low water pressure; and faucets that don’t work at all.

If you think your pipes are frozen, turn off the water at your home’s main shut-off valve. And call a plumber right away. You may be able to thaw a frozen water pipe with warm air from a blow-dryer, starting at the faucet and working back along the pipe — but only if you’re not in standing water, because you could get electrocuted. And never use an open flame on pipes to thaw them.

14. Assess your hot water heater.

If your electric hot water heater is not working after a power outage, first check to make sure you’ve given it enough time to heat up the tank. If the electricity was out for a while, the water will be cold, especially in winter. It can take upwards of an hour to reheat.

If you still don’t have hot water after an hour or two, there may be another problem. It’s possible a circuit breaker tripped when the power was restored. You may need to flip it back to the on position. If that doesn’t work, or your water heater keeps tripping the breaker, you may have a bigger problem and should call a professional plumber right away.

15. Replenish your emergency supplies.

One of the best tips in your winter power outage survival guide is to replace any winter storm necessities you used during the blackout. Replenishing nonperishable foods and bottled water, refueling your generator and vehicles, and replacing spent batteries and any damaged or nonworking equipment will help you prepare for the next power outage. In winter, storms can hit back to back and cause additional blackouts.

Staying safe and comfortable during winter power outages

Knowing how to prepare for a winter power outage — as well as before and after — can make a big difference in how warm and comfortable you stay while you wait for the electricity to come back on. No one wants to be without central heat during the coldest months. But sometimes a disaster strikes. And when it does, you’ll be happier knowing that you and your family are as ready as you can be.

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Comments ( 2 )

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sos - 4/11/2022

This is very informative. I like that you mentioned getting a generator- it’s a good tip. It’s definitely essential to get one in case there’s a power outage. Do you have any extra tips on how to pick a good quality power generator?

beth drennan - 1/15/2022

Tell people to put their frozen foods in a large plastic container with a top to keep animals way and set it outside where it will stay frozen. Then tell them to bring tupperware-type containers full of snow and put those all around the refrigerator. These two actions will save 100% of your food. Finally, tell people to set up a tent indoors with cushions and blankets. Keep flashlights inside but NO CANDLES. This will create a very comfortable and warm small space to wait and sleep in. Don’t forget to bring pets into the tent too.

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