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What to Do in a Power Outage: The Ultimate Guide

If you're not sure what to do during a power outage, you're not alone. Thankfully, preparing for a power outage is less complicated than you might think—and you've come to the right place. Discover what to do before, during and after a power outage.
What To Do in a Power Outage

Getting Started

Power outages can range from mildly inconvenient to seriously dangerous. Power outages, especially short ones, are more common than you might think. In 2016, customers experienced an average of 1.3 interruptions and went without power for four hours during the year. Most people do not have generators and will be completely without power during an outage.
Read on for the best tips on what to do if you're stuck in a power outage.

What to Do Before a Power Outage

If you're lucky enough to know that a power outage is coming, use the extra time to prepare for the lack of electricity. Here are nine things you should do before a long power outage:

Stock up on food and water.

You'll need to eat and drink during a power outage just like you normally do. Make a trip to the store beforehand and load up on food, particularly nonperishables that don't need to be refrigerated or heated. You should also get some bottled water in case a boil water advisory is issued. Don't forget other helpful items, such as toilet paper or hand-warmers.
Close up of pantry with jars of food

Fill up your freezer.

In your freezer, each item acts as a cold pack that keeps the other food around it frozen. The more fully packed your freezer is, the longer it will keep food cold in the event of a power outage. A fully packed freezer can keep food frozen for up to 48 hours, but that number drops the less full it is. Move everything into the freezer that you can, paying special attention to anything in the fridge that can be frozen.

Create a separate cooler.

If you have any refrigerated items that you plan to eat, or medicine that can't be left at room temperature, create a separate cooler so you can access them without opening the fridge. Use a cooler you already have on hand, or get a cheap Styrofoam one at the local grocery store or gas station. Fill it up with ice packs, or better yet, frozen water bottles that you can drink when they melt.

Consider investing in a generator.

If you live in an area that experiences power outages often enough, it might be worth it to buy a generator. Generators can power essentials, such as water pumps, heaters, air conditioners and medical devices, in case of an emergency. Be sure to choose the right size generator for the items you need to power. Keep the generator at least 20 feet away from your home when it runs to avoid noxious carbon monoxide fumes.
How to Buy Generator Guide graphic with an orange generator

Identify everything in your house that runs on electricity.

You might be surprised by how many things in your house run on electricity. Go around your home and make a list of everything that plugs into the wall. Don't forget to include home automation products that run on Wi-Fi, as your internet will also be down during a power outage. Fully charge all of your portable items such as cell phones and laptops, so you can use them for as long as possible.

Set up surge protectors to protect your electronics.

The power may briefly surge during an outage, damaging any electronics that are still plugged into a live outlet. Surge protectors, sometimes called surge suppressors, help limit the voltage that can flow through them, reducing the risk of damage to your devices. It's a good idea to plug important electronics into a surge protector in case an emergency power outage happens while you're not at home. (If you know a power outage is coming, go ahead and unplug all your devices.)

Make sure your emergency kit is well-stocked.

No matter where you live, everyone should have a basic emergency kit on hand. In addition to food and water, recommends including a first-aid kit, extra batteries, moist towelettes, a manual can opener, local maps and a radio in your kit. Depending on your situation, you might want to also include other items, such as pet food, a fire extinguisher and waterproof matches.
Home lantern lit in front of window with snow in background

Get some portable lights.

Your flashlight batteries always die when you need them most, so periodically check all your portable lights to make sure they're still in working order and that no batteries have leaked. You might also want to get a bigger lantern that you can put on the table or floor to provide more light for a larger space. If you're worried about running out of battery power, look for a rechargeable or hand-cranked light.

Develop an emergency plan with your loved ones.

Power outages can make it difficult to communicate with others, especially when they're caused by weather events that also interfere with the phone lines. Before a power outage happens, make a plan of what you and your loved ones will do, where you'll meet and who is responsible for what. Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but if you do, you'll be glad you have an emergency plan in place.

What to Do in a Power Outage

The power's just gone out. What should you do? Don't panic and do these nine things during a blackout instead:

Don't open your refrigerator or freezer.

Every time you open your fridge, you let out cold air and reduce the amount of time that it can keep your food properly cold. Any time the temperature goes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period of time, bacteria and germs can start breeding on the food, potentially making you sick. Unless you want to throw out all of that food, keep your fridge shut.
Kitchen with lights not on with a refrigerator

Ventilate your home properly.

Do not use a gas stove or oven to heat your home, as the poisonous fumes can build up and cause a serious medical emergency or even death. Generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills should always be used outdoors–never inside the house. Keep them at least 20 feet away from windows at all times in case of fumes or fire.

Check on your neighbors.

Older adults and seniors are more vulnerable during power outages, especially during extreme temperatures. They might be in trouble and be unable to call for help, so if you're able to, pay them a quick visit. Your neighbors will also be able to confirm if it's a widespread power outage or if it's limited to your home.

Turn off or disconnect electronics.

If the power outage was a bit sudden and you haven't done it already, go through your house and unplug all of your electronics, especially those that aren't plugged into a surge protector. While you're at it, turn off your air conditioner. When the power finally turns back on, you should let it run for a few minutes before restarting the air conditioning to make sure that it isn't a surge. If it's a long power outage, you should also turn off your breaker.
Person covered in blanket on a Power Outage Guide graphic

Dress for the temperatures.

Without your heater or air conditioner running, it can be hard to regulate your temperature. Dress appropriately for the season and layer up if you have to, especially in winter. In colder seasons, you can curl up under blankets or pull out thermal sleeping bags that will retain your body heat. In the summer, seek out cool parts of the house and open the windows if there's a breeze blowing.

Leave on one light.

Yes, you should turn off everything and unplug your electronics—except for one light. Leave a switch on in a central location that will be easy for you to see so you'll know if the power comes back on. There are also special emergency blackout lights that plug into the wall like a night light and turn on when the power is flowing again.

Ration your phone battery.

When there's no TV or internet, it's tempting to play around on your phone to pass the time. However, it's a good idea to ration your battery, especially if you anticipate the power outage lasting for hours or even days. Use your phone as little as possible and make sure there are no apps running in the background or other activities that can drain the battery inadvertently.

Make the most of daylight hours.

You'll only want to use your flashlight when necessary, which makes daylight hours a precious commodity during power outages. Open your curtains and blinds to let in as much light as possible. Plan your day so you can get your important activities done while you still have sunlight. If you're trying to pass the time, reading a book or magazine next to a window is a good low-tech way to entertain yourself while the internet is down.

Get out of the house.

If the power outage is localized to your home or neighborhood—and the roads are clear and the weather is good—consider taking advantage of it and treating yourself to a day out. You can go shopping, see a movie, visit a museum, try out a new restaurant, really anything that will keep you out of the house. If you need to get work done, grab your laptop and head to a coffee shop or visit your local library.

What to Do After a Power Outage

Once the power outage is over, there are a few steps that you need to take before you resume business as normal. Here are four things to do after a power outage:

Survey your house and yard.

If the power outage was caused by weather, inspect your house and yard once it's safe to do so. Make a note of any fallen trees that might have downed power lines or of any flooding that might have compromised your electrical system. Do not go near any downed lines, but report them immediately. If flooding was the issue, don't turn the electricity back on until a professional has checked the flooded areas and declared them safe.
Power lien and pole blocking street with electric crew in the background

Turn everything back on.

Once you've determined that it's safe to do so, let a few minutes pass and then turn on the main switch. Give the system a chance to stabilize first and then turn on essential electronics, followed by everything else. Reset clocks, timers, routers, etc. You might also need to restart your HVAC by turning off the thermostat, resetting the breaker and turning it back on.

Check the temperature of your food.

Once your refrigerator is up and running again, pop open the fridge and measure its temperature. If it's over 40 degrees and the power has been out for more than two hours, you'll need to throw out the meats, cooked food and dairy and potentially other items as well. Do the same for the freezer, though it's more than likely that you'll be able to salvage some of your frozen food.
Open refigerator showing food on a How to Maintain Refrigeration Guide graphic

Plan for future outages.

Power outages are no fun, but being prepared for them can make the experience more comfortable and less stressful for you and your loved ones. If this blackout took you by surprise, let this be the last time you're unprepared for a power outage. Go through our list of what to do before a power outage and make sure you've ticked off each one.
We hope this guide answered your questions about what to do in a power outage. Preparing for a blackout can go a long way towards lessening a power outage's impact on your home and life, and it's a great complement to other disaster preparedness efforts. If you experience a lot of power outages and are in the market for a generator, feel free to browse our selection or check out our power generator buying guide. Of course, our customer service expert specialists are always happy to advise you on your purchase and help you make the best decision for your needs.