How to Prepare for a Power Outage in Winter

We sometimes forget how much we rely on electricity–until we no longer have it. 

Heavy snow, ice, and strong winds from winter storms and blizzards can damage power lines, sometimes leaving us without power for days. Winter power outages mean no heat and no hot water, on top of not being able to use any electrical appliances. 

Fear not–there are plenty of ways to keep you and your family safe this winter if the electricity goes out. The most crucial step is getting prepared before a possible power outage. Read on to discover how to prepare for a power outage in winter

Tips for Preparing Before a Winter Power Outage

It’s hard to know when a power outage will strike or how long it will last, so the best idea is to always stay prepared. First, gather the necessary supplies and create an action plan. Then, if a winter storm or blizzard is approaching, you can enact the plan. 

Stock Up On Supplies

You should always keep certain emergency items in your home in case of a winter power outage. Your winter power outage kit should include the following:

  1. Flashlights and Headlamps - be sure to get enough lights for the whole family. It gets dark early in winter, so you’ll need these during extended periods of the day.
  2. Portable Radio - use this to listen to the news and any updates on the current situation. 
  3. Batteries - get extra to power flashlights and portable radios.
  4. Food and water - stock up on non-perishable foods and those with long shelf lives like canned food, cereal, boxed milk, etc. See the next section for more details.
  5. Portable chargers - buy several and always keep them charged. Or you can invest in a portable battery station that will charge your devices 10+ times. 
  6. Medicine and first aid supplies - refill any prescriptions before winter weather approaches. 
  7. Pet supplies - if you have any animals.
  8. Blankets and warm clothing - wool, faux fur, and fleece are warm materials to keep in your home. 

Build Your Food and Water Supply

You’ll need enough food and water for each family member for at least three days. Each person will need about one gallon of water per day, not including water for cooking and washing. Store-bought bottled water is the safest option for drinking water. However, you can also use food-grade water storage containers to create a water supply from home. 

Food should be non-perishable and have a long shelf life. It should also require little to no cooking. Some good options are canned fruits and vegetables, canned meats, cereal, dried fruit, boxed milk, granola, peanut butter, protein bars, and other items that won’t spoil quickly. Of course, if you have a baby or family members with specific dietary needs, you must also account for them. 

It’s best to build your food and water supply before winter begins. Grocery stores will often sell out of many essential items once there are reports of a winter storm coming. 

Winterize Your Home

Winter-proofing your home involves:

  • Insulating walls and pipes
  • Using weatherstrips to block drafts
  • Caulking
  • Replacing old windows

Winterizing can be costly depending on how many of these tasks you want to complete; however, the investment pays off in the long run. It will help keep the heat (and air conditioning in the summer) inside your home and reduce bills. If you choose to winterize your home, you should do this before the cold weather arrives. 

Take Out Your Warm Clothing

If you haven’t already taken out your winter clothes, now is the time to do so. Set aside warm and waterproof jackets, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, long underwear, thick socks, and other insulating clothing. It would help if you even located sleeping bags and your warmest blankets. You’ll want these readily accessible for all family members. 

Prep Your Electronics

Ensure your cell phone is fully charged and limit using it before a possible power outage. You’ll want to conserve battery if you need to make any calls. 

You should also locate any electronics or devices that need to be unplugged once the power goes out. Doing this will prevent damage to your devices if there’s a power surge. For example, unplug electronics such as video consoles, microwaves, computers, televisions, modern washing machines, and other computer computing equipment. Another option, instead of unplugging everything, is to use surge protectors. 

Fill Up Your Gas Tanks 

Anticipate the possibility of an evacuation and fill up your gas tank before the winter storm arrives. Be sure to have at least half a tank. Gas stations may not be open during an outage. You should also back your car into your driveway or parking spot for a quick exit. 

Prep Your Fuel

For those with a wood stove or fireplace, you’ll want to stock up on dry firewood. Also, keep extra fuel canisters for gas grills to cook outside in the event of an extended power outage. If  the storm is severe, this might not be possible; however, it’s always wise to have fuel on hand in case the weather permits you to cook outside.

Invest in a Portable Generator 

Purchase a portable, energy-efficient generator to power critical equipment during a power outage. Make sure it’s rated for the power you think you’ll need and that you know how to operate it safely. Fill extra fuel tanks to 95% to allow room for expansion and add a fuel stabilizer. Be sure to install carbon monoxide detectors if you use a generator.

Locate The Water Shut Off Valve

If there’s a pipe burst, you’ll need to know where the valve is to shut off your home’s water supply quickly. The valve’s location differs in each home; however, it’s typically located within a few feet from where water enters the home. You can also check for it in a crawl space, mechanical room, or near the water heater.

When there’s a Power Outage Warning

Once you get a warning of a potential power outage, you’ll want to take the following steps immediately. 

  • Fill your bathtub with water. You can use this water for washing dishes or flushing the toilets–NOT for drinking.
  • Purchase ice or freeze water-filled plastic containers and put them over food in the freezer and fridge. This will help keep the food cold for as long as possible. 
  • Move milk and meat into the freezer so they last longer.
  • Turn down your refrigerator and freezer temperatures to increase the chance of your food lasting during a power outage. 
  • Fully charge your cell phones and portable chargers and keep usage to a minimum!
  • Keep one light on so you know when the power comes back on.
  • Disconnect automatic garage door openers so you can open doors manually. Be sure to test it first. 
  • Prep your generator; ensure you have fuel for it and know how to operate it safely. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never run a generator inside or near closed areas (like garages). Place it at least 15 feet away where fumes can be released safely. 
  • Inform all family members about what to do if the power goes out. Remind them about things like keeping the refrigerator and freezer doors closed and limiting the number of times they open them or conserving phone batteries. Also make sure everyone knows where supplies can be found and safe spots in the house.

As soon as the power goes out, you’ll want to call your electric company and let them know.

How to Stay Warm During a Winter Power Outage

Hopefully, you’ve already prepared your home for a possible winter power outage. Now, it’s time to focus on staying warm. Staying warm during a power outage in the winter is one of people’s main worries. Here are some tips for keeping you and your family comfortable when you don’t have access to electricity.

1. Gather All Family Members in One Room

Staying close together can help everyone stay warm. Choose one room, particularly without many windows or drafts, and hang out there while the power’s out. You can even make a big bed on the floor, and sleep together at night. 

2. Keep Doors Closed and Limit Entries/Exits

Every time a door opens, heat escapes. Try to limit the number of times you go in and out of the house. If you need to leave, close the door quickly behind you. 

3. Block Drafts Coming from Doors and Windows

If you didn’t already winterize your home with weatherstripping, you could block drafts using blankets and towels. Roll up a towel and put it in front of the door or window cracks. 

At night you can cover the windows with blankets AND close the blinds, curtains, etc. Only doing this at night is important because, during the day, you’ll want as much sun to enter as possible to heat the room. 

4. Layer Up

Put on your warmest clothes in layers. Double up on everything. You can even wrap yourself in a blanket during the day and wear your snow boots inside. 

Wrapping Up

Knowing what to do if you lose power in the winter can significantly minimize stress and panic. The key is to get prepared early and have an action plan. Make sure all family members know what to do and are on the same page. If you have small kids and need ideas for keeping them entertained, we have some suggestions for you here. And most importantly, stay calm–you got this.