As we become more and more dependent on electricity for everything we do, a long-term power outage can quickly turn from a momentary inconvenience to an outright disaster.
Stop and consider everything you do on a daily basis that requires electricity; cooking, heating or cooling our homes, lighting, running water for drinking, bathing & washing dishes and clothes, refrigeration of food, and communication needs; phones, radio, television and the internet.
And what about family members that are dependent on special equipment such as a respirator, ventilator, oxygen concentrator, suction machine, medication compressor. All items that can easily be powered by a backup power source such as a generator.
You can greatly lessen the impact of electrical power failure by taking the time to prepare in advance. You and your family should be prepared to cope on your own during a power outage for at least 72 hours .
Also consider establishing a contingency plan for extreme emergencies for members of your household with special needs.
Power Outage Survival Kit
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people make an emergency plan that includes a disaster survival supply kit that includes items you can use when there is a power outage..
Your Emergency Kit should include:
- Portable, battery operated-radio.
- Emergency Flashlights and extra batteries.
- Water for drinking and Cooking.
- Portable Heater. (such as kerosene or LP gas)
- Camping equipment such as a Sleeping Bag, a portable lantern and a camp stove
Its best to use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles, gas lanterns, or torches
In an emergency during the winter, try to live in one room. Choose the room with the fireplace or one that can be heated easily with a portable heater.
Back Up Power and Heating Sources
Wood Burning Stove & Generators
You can install a non-electric standby stove or heater. Choose heating units that are not dependent on an electric motor, electric fan, or some other electric device to function.
It is important to adequately vent the stove or heater with the type of chimney flue specified for it.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have the chimney cleaned every fall in preparation for use and to eliminate creosote build-up which could ignite and cause a chimney fire.
If the standby heating unit will use the normal house oil or gas supply, have it connected with shut-off valves by a certified tradesperson.
Before considering the use of an emergency generator during a power outage, check with furnace, appliance and lighting fixture dealers or manufacturers regarding power requirements and proper operating procedures.
Consider the benefits of Alternative Energy, too.
What to do During a Power Outage
- Turn off and unplug all tools, appliances and electronic equipment, and turn the thermostat(s) for the home heating system down to minimum to prevent damage from a power surge when power is restored. Also, power can be restored more easily when there is not a heavy load on the electrical system.
- Use Surge Protectors: It’s strongly recommended that expensive electronics be unplugged during an outage to protect them from power surges when electricity is restored, but for when you can’t unplug, surge protectors will help prevent damage to electronics like computers and televisions.
- Turn off all lights, except one inside and one outside, so that both you and hydro crews outside know that power outage is over and has been restored.
- Don't open your freezer or fridge unless it is absolutely necessary. Make sure food stays as cold as possible, by keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed and placing blocks of ice inside, if possible. A full freezer will keep food frozen for 24 to 36 hours if the door remains closed.
- Never use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment, or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide. Because you can't smell or see it, carbon monoxide can cause health problems and is life-threatening.
- Use proper candle holders. Never leave lit candles unattended and keep out of reach of children. Always extinguish candles before going to bed.
- Listen to your battery-powered or wind-up radio for information on the power outage and advice from authorities
Use of Home Generators
A back-up generator may only be connected to your home's electrical system through an approved transfer panel and switch that has been installed by a qualified electrician.
Never plug a generator into a wall outlet as serious injury can result when the current produced by the home generator is fed back into the electrical lines, and transformed to a higher voltage. This can endanger the lives of utility employees working to restore the power.
To operate a generator safely:
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Ensure that the generator operates outdoors in well-ventilated conditions, well away from doors or windows, to prevent exhaust gases from entering the house.
- Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator. If extension cords must be used, ensure they are properly rated, CSA-approved cords.
When the Power Returns
Step by Step: Resetting Breakers
- Turn off light switches and unplug appliances in all rooms that have lost power.
- Find your circuit breaker box and open the cover.
- Locate the tripped breaker. Circuit breakers are small, usually horizontal switches and may be labeled (e.g., "kitchen," "bathroom" etc.). The tripped circuit breaker will be in the "off" position or in a middle position between "on" and "off."
- Reset the breaker by moving it to the full "off" position and then back to "on." That should clear an overload and return power to the room.
- If the breaker re-trips, it could be for a number of reasons: too many lamps and appliances plugged into the circuit; a damaged cord or plug; a short circuit in a receptacle, switch or fixture; or faulty wiring.
- Identify and fix problems before finally resetting the breaker.
Tips and Warnings
- If a breaker continues to re-trip, reset it only when you've corrected the problem, or call an electrician.
- Most tripped breakers are easily identified by an orange flag that appears when a breaker is in the tripped position.
- If your home has fuses instead of circuit breakers, follow the same steps for finding the blown fuse, then replace it with a new one of the same amperage.
- When resetting a breaker use only one hand and stand to the side to avoid electrical arc if the breaker should malfunction.
- Working with electrical systems is potentially dangerous. If you're unsure of your abilities or about any aspect of the job, call an electrician.
After Resetting the Breakers
- Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting tools and appliances. Turn the heating-system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by reconnection of the fridge and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting all other tools and appliances.
- Close the drain valve in the basement.
- Turn on the water supply. Close lowest valves/taps first and allow air to escape from upper taps.
- Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on the power to it.
- Check food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards for signs of spoilage. If a freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. When food begins to defrost (usually after two days), it should be cooked; otherwise it should be thrown out.
- As a general precaution, keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer. If you return home after a period of absence and the ice has melted and refrozen, there is a good chance that the food is spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out!
- Reset your clocks, automatic timers, and alarms.
- Restock your emergency kit so the supplies will be there when needed again.
Power Outage Safety Tips for Food, Water & First Aid