By Marilyn Pribus –
Remember that old song, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” It’s that way with electricity, that invisible, but essential service in today’s home.
Hurricanes in summer, ice storms in winter and heavy winds any time can interrupt service. Often lines are repaired promptly, but a major weather event may leave you without power for several days or more.
Sans electricity, you can’t use a cordless phone to call the power company. Depending on the season, the pipes can freeze or the freezer can thaw. The laptop and cell phone and iPad can’t be recharged. If you’re dependent on a well, you’re without water. Critical medical devices, security systems, invisible fences, and garage door openers all need electricity.
Always have basic equipment including a good stash of batteries in various sizes for flashlights, radios, and other electronics. Rotate them so they are always fresh. Candles work for light, of course, but can be a fire hazard, especially if you have children or active pets.
Stay charged. If bad weather is forecast, double check that your electronics are fully charged. Have a cell-phone charger that operates off your car’s battery. Invest in at least one portable “juice-pack” that can recharge electronic devices (and keep them charged-up and available). Most of these portable power sources also serve as flashlights.
In really severe weather, cell towers may be without power. If you still have a landline, keep one phone that plugs directly into the wall because cordless units generally require electricity.
If your power goes out, first check to see if it’s out in your entire neighborhood. Program your power provider’s emergency number into your phone right now. When you call and provide your address, you can often learn whether your power will be restored in three hours or three days.
Secure your fridge and freezer doors to remind you not to open them absent-mindedly. (If you keep them shut, most units will keep food safely cool for as long as two days.)
To prevent damage from either very low power or a power surge, throw the circuit breakers or unplug appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, TVs, computers and such. Leave a light—or a small radio—turned on to let you know when power is restored.
In our recent frigid weather, some homeowners had frozen pipes. Running just a small trickle of water through pipes can usually prevent this. If you do have frozen pipes, be safe in trying to warm them. Hair dryer, yes. Blowtorch, no.
Camping at Home
If you are a camper, you probably already have a propane lantern, stove, and other supplies. If the heat’s off in winter, haul out the sleeping bags. To make things an adventure, set up a tent for the kids. But remember: only use camp stoves, hibachis, or charcoal grills outdoors because of the very real danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Glow sticks are dandy. Just snap them for low-level but usable lighting for up to 12 hours in hallways or bathrooms. If you have solar lights by your sidewalk or driveway, you can bring them in at night (if they’re not buried under snow, of course).They will recharge outdoors in daylight, even without direct sun.
There are also high intensity 30-minute chemical lights available. They are safe and cool to the touch, but they do expire, so check dates periodically. Place any light—propane lantern, flashlight, candle, or glow stick—next to a mirror to increase illumination.
Utility companies have a priority protocol for power restoration. If a single repair will light up a nursing home, an apartment complex, or an entire subdivision, it will be performed ahead of one that brings only a few houses back on line. This means a generator may be a sensible option for some folks.
Many people choose portable generators that can support essential circuits such as those supporting medical devices, well pumps, HVAC units, and refrigerators. These must be started by the individual and must never be used in a garage or other enclosed (or even semi-enclosed) area.
Other people opt for automatic back-up generators. Local contractors and businesses can install these to individual specifications. While some generators can power the whole house, most people opt for including essential circuits only. After all, you don’t need to worry about your washer, dryer, or dishwasher for a day or two.
These automatic generators switch on as soon as the system detects a problem with power from the utility company, often with an interruption of only a few seconds. Depending on the system, these generator often will automatically switch off when the utility company’s power is restored at a safe and constant level.
Generators are typically installed near a home AC unit and electric service panel. Fuel sources are generally natural gas, propane or diesel. If you already have gas or propane, that’s the logical way to go, otherwise diesel is an economical choice and diesel generators may have a longer life span and require less maintenance. Fuel tanks for propane or diesel can be installed or buried inconspicuously.
So don’t put off preparations for bad weather problems. They may not happen, but if they do, you’ll be glad you did.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle. They once had a refrigerator burn out when power was lower than standard for a period of time before being fully restored.