Beginners Guide: How to prepare your Home for Energy Disruptions

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It’s a quiet night at home – if your definition of quiet includes kid mayhem, the dog howling to go out, and you boosting the TV volume ever higher to drown out all this domestic tranquility.

Suddenly, darkness. Then, an eerie silence. Finally, the realization that the power is out.

It’s surprising how quickly your peace of mind evaporates when something you’ve always counted on disappears with no explanation. Even the shortest energy disruptions can be unsettling, while longer outages are both frightening and dangerous. And once the lights are back on, relief comes with a nagging question; what about next time?

Taking Stock before energy disruptions

Where does a prepper start? What are the “must-haves?” How long a disruption should you be ready to endure? The Department of Energy provides some basic outage tips, which include:

  • Having flashlights and radios nearby
  • Keeping extra batteries and a car phone charger handy
  • Subscribing to text alerts from your local government
  • Having a three-day supply of water on hand
  • Have a water filter in case your tap water becomes contaminated
  • Keeping your car’s gas tank at least half full
  • A first aid kit should always be within reach

These tips are easy and inexpensive, but to make your home truly ready for the unknown, you need to go deeper.

Before energy disruptions happen, you want to have supplies prepared already.

A good first step is to take an inventory of your home. Go room to room and identify everything that you use and ask how long or even if you could do without it during a power disruption, especially one that lasts a while. Could you cook? How would you keep refrigerated and frozen food from spoiling? Will you have water? What about heat?

It’s easy to underestimate your needs, starting with food and water. The Red Cross recommends having a two-week supply of non-perishable foods that don’t require refrigeration, cooking, or water. That might seem like a lot until you consider the power grid crisis of 2021 known as the Great Texas Freeze.

The Great Texas Freeze lasted more than two weeks, and for much of that time, Texans were freezing in their own homes with no heat, no ability to cook food, and no water because of pipes that burst. Grocery stores ran out of food, and you may have seen the reports of people descending on the San Antonio River Walk to fill trash cans with water.

Anyone who suffered through that would likely have preferred to be “over-prepared.”

Get Your Emergency Kit Together

Once you have a handle on what you need, put together a list of essentials to create your home emergency kit. Some essentials are obvious; candles, flashlights, and plenty of extra batteries. Also important to keep on hand?

  • A 14-day supply of canned food
  • A non-electric can opener
  • A propane or camp stove
  • At least one large pot for boiling water
  • Matches or a disposable lighter
  • Headlamps
  • Deck of cards and board games to keep the kids occupied
  • Blankets to keep your family warm and your pipes from freezing
  • Plastic bags with ties for sanitation
  • A one-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medication
  • Pet food
  • Duct tape (to fix any emergency supplies that break)
  • Personal protection in case the SHTF.
  • Toilet paper (for when the SHTF)

Other items may not come as quickly to mind. Something as simple as a thermometer to put in the refrigerator. This will let you know how long the food inside will be safe to eat. An NOAA weather radio connects you to a national network of stations broadcasting non-stop weather reports.

Since so many of our needs are powered by electricity, a home generator is hard to keep off any essentials list. Depending on how much you want them to do, home generators can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but they can be literal lifesavers, keeping your lights on, your appliances running, and your heating and cooling system functioning.

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It may be tempting to use your generator, grill, or camp stove inside, but that could be a deadly decision since any gas-burning device could fill your home with carbon monoxide or cause a fire. A carbon monoxide detector on each floor is also essential – even if you haven’t lost power.

If you don’t think a generator is practical, an array of fully charged power banks can keep critical devices running for some time. Jackery makes a 110-volt charger that will power your refrigerator and everything else indoors safely. Don’t want to spend $1000? A Rockpals 300-Watt portable power station will only set you back about $300. You can also charge your phone and other devices with adaptors that draw power from your car’s battery.

The Heat Is On​​                                                

Staying warm during a power outage is more than a matter of comfort. If you don’t have a generator but do have a fireplace or a stove that burns wood or pellets, make sure it’s ready to roll when needed. Keep a month’s supply of firewood in the backyard and a pair of sturdy boots, a warm coat, and a hat near the door, so you’re ready to go out and retrieve it.

Investigate non-electric portable heaters that run on propane or kerosene. Again, make sure you choose one labeled for indoor use or you risk carbon monoxide poisoning. An indoor heater comes with an oxygen sensor that will shut the unit off when necessary. Mr. Heater makes a large and smaller units to heat up a living or family room. Either one will do the trick, as long as you remember to close off all the non-essential rooms in your house.

Take advantage of passive solar opportunities by opening blinds and curtains to soak up as much sun as possible. You can even enhance your home’s ability to withstand the cold through the use of energy-efficient landscaping. Many people in Texas wished they had planted more evergreen trees as windbreaks!

Baby Steps

Sometimes the hardest step on a journey is the first one. The good news is it doesn’t have to be a giant step. Your journey toward preparedness can begin as simply as stashing a few coolers around the house. If the power goes out, you can use them to store at least some of your perishable food. You can go even further:

  • Fill some gallon containers with water and keep them in the freezer (keeping in mind water will expand when frozen, so don’t overfill
  • Keep a few freezer packs along with a bag of ice in case you need to fill a cooler
  • Keep all your frozen food grouped together on a bottom shelf to keep it frozen as long as possible
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer door closed. Doing so will allow the fridge to stay cold for four hours. A full freezer will retain its temperature for up to two days…longer if you have a frozen gallon jug inside.
  • The Food and Drug Administration warns you NOT to put any perishable food outside. Even in a blizzard, outdoor temperatures will vary, exposing thawing food to contaminants and animals that may decide to help themselves.

Another easy step is to pick up a few barrels for storing water, figuring that each person in your household will need at least a gallon of water per day. This is one you can set and forget because a purification additive will keep stored water drinkable for years.

Power Up

When the power returns, don’t be too quick to rejoice. The majority of pipes burst during the warm-up and thaw. As you’re prepping your home for energy disruptions, you might as well prepare for flooding and everything else that happened as a result of the power outage. Fortunately, your emergency kit has everything you need. You may want to make sure you store it somewhere high and dry, so you’re ready for any ensuing emergencies. As for that perishable food that’s questionable. When in doubt, throw it out!

Perhaps the most important step is to start prepping now. Those neighbors who laugh at you for going overboard will be knocking at your door as soon as the next disaster strikes. You may be surprised at how, with a little planning, panic becomes a peace of mind.

About the author – Pat Woodard is a freelance writer who takes occasional breaks from high country hikes in Colorado to chase golf balls, rainbow trout, and full-bodied red wines. He’s also a longtime radio and television broadcaster, documentary producer, and runner-up on “Jeopardy.”