9 Power Outage Life Hacks to Help You Live With(out) Power

Whether the result of a lightning storm or downed limb, power outages strike without warning. It’s impossible to predict how long they’ll last, and our reliance on electricity to be productive at work and at home means outages are always disruptive. Calling the local utility to report an outage is an important first step we all can take to restore power, but for outages lasting several hours—or several days—learning a few power outage hacks can bring back the basics and make living without power more manageable.

What causes a power outage?

Severe weather is the number one cause of outages. While hurricanes and earthquakes are less common causes for longer-term power loss, thunderstorms, high winds, and freezing rain and ice during winter months are likely culprits for shorter-term shutdowns.

 

Lightning strikes regularly cause power loss for a few minutes. This is by design. Specialized electrical equipment instantly opens and closes a breaker to clear the short circuit.

 

Mother nature is regularly cutting our power in more mundane ways, too. Birds nest in substation equipment. Squirrels chew through wires. Falling tree branches put whole neighborhoods in the dark for hours.

 

Equipment failures also are common, with cables, connectors, and transformers occasionally failing for a variety of reasons, from faulty components to normal wear and tear. And human error – car accidents, careless tree trimming, digging up power lines – can knock out the electricity for an extended period.

 

In short, power outages can happen at any time for a variety of reasons. Being prepared so you’re not caught off guard when an outage lasts more than an hour or two is important for any home or apartment owner.

How to prepare for a power outage

A few smart purchases and an hour of prep can prevent scrambling in the dark and rifling through drawers for flashlights, candles, or power banks. Get started by assembling a simple emergency kit to have at the ready during an outage.

A basic outage kit should include:

 

Power outage life hacks

With the average outage lasting between 90 minutes and four hours depending on your local infrastructure, a basic outage kit should keep you comfortable until the power comes back. But if the outage moves into overtime, getting creative can help light up the night, protect perishables, maintain connectivity, and keep your home warm.

Spark a Crayola

Smaller rooms can stay functional with a single candle, but if you’ve cashed your candle supply, crayons work well as a substitute. Light the tip of your favorite color (we recommend Burnt Sienna) and let it melt onto a fire-resistant, disposable (or easy-to-clean) surface, like a small plate or saucer. Drip wax on the surface and stand the crayon up in the melted wax before it hardens to create a makeshift holder. Each crayon should last about an hour.

 

Create a water jug lantern

When a power outage occurs at night, the added burden of trying to move through the house in the dark can be a challenge. Flashlight beams and candles can’t always bring the lumens needed to light larger kitchens and living rooms effectively, so here’s a hack to amplify that light. Strap an LED headlamp or use duct tape to direct an LED flashlight beam into a water-filled plastic milk jug to create a DIY lantern. The water refracts the light, giving off enough glow to mimic a 55-watt light bulb. Place the jug in front of a mirror to amplify the light even more.

 

Bring solar lights inside

A clever way to light dark rooms during a blackout is by bringing solar-charged flower beds and walkway lights inside after the sun goes down. For extended outages, place the lights in a sunny window to recharge during the day, or bring them back out into the sun to power up before dark.

Use your washing machine as a cooler

Most of us know that when the power goes out, we should resist opening our refrigerator or freezer doors for as long as possible. According to the FDA, a refrigerator will keep food safely chilled for about 4 hours if unopened. An unopened freezer will keep foods frozen for 24-48 hours, depending on how full it is. If you can travel, load up early on ice and transfer fridge perishables to ice coolers. Or fill your dishwasher and washing machines with ice to create oversized Igloos. As the ice melts, the water will drain without making a mess.

 

Freeze water to refrigerate food

Power outages can occur any time of the year, including winter. When it’s below 40 outside, use the weather to your advantage. In freezing weather, set water-filled plastic bottles or Ziploc bags outside to freeze, then add the ice to your fridge or coolers to keep perishables cold. If the weather is below 40 and above freezing, use a shaded porch or patio as a makeshift refrigerator. If below 0, use your outage kit thermometer to gauge the temperature in your garage before moving your food. Below 40 is essential to keep foods safe.

Use your car to charge your smartphone

A smartphone is an amazing multi-tool, even without access to the Internet. Most devices include a flashlight, emergency contacts, and more. But it’s a worthless brick if your battery is dead. Use your outage kit power banks to give your phone a boost, but when they’re depleted, start your engine and use your car’s USB to recharge your banks and your phone. (Remember never to run your car with the garage door closed! Use the red release latch to manually open your garage door during an outage to stay safe when running your car for power.)

 

Extend your battery stash with tinfoil

Batteries are a must in any power outage kit, but no matter how prepared you may be, there’s always a chance you could run out of a required size. If that happens, take a cue from MacGuyver and convert smaller-size batteries – AAA to AA, for example – with a ball of tinfoil. Insert the foil between the battery and the receptor as an adapter in flashlights or portable fans for a temporary but effective power solution.

Add single-use hand warmers to interior pockets

This hack is great to stay warm during power outages from winter storms when you’re short on firewood or your fireplace isn’t functional. Place battery-operated or activated, single-use chemical hand warmers inside your pockets. Add additional layers and blankets to better trap the body heat.

 

Create a DIY space heater

This one should only be used with great care to avoid burns. Place 4-5 small candles (4-5 votives or tea lights work great) in an 8-inch cake pan. Place a small terracotta pot upside-down over the tea lights to concentrate their heat, propping up one side on the rim of the pan or on evenly spaced bricks to provide air to the candles (avoid larger candles. . . they can overheat and crack the pot). Plug the pot's drainage hole with aluminum foil to trap the heat. Light the candles, and if you have a second, larger terracotta pot, place it over the first to help radiate the heat. You can generate enough heat to warm a small room.

 

Read these step-by-step instructions before attempting. Be sure to keep any fabrics or flammables away from the heater and be sure to use oven mitts when changing or blowing out the tea lights--the pots will be hot!

Fun tips and tricks aside, power outages can be serious business for those affected and those tasked with getting the lights back on. A few smart purchases and an hour of organizing an outage kit can keep you confident and productive when the lights go out.

 

Need some cash to build up your outage kit? Compare plans in your area to see if you can save on your energy supply costs with a fixed rate plan from Energy Harbor.